Academic Travel: Arrival in Geneva

 Geneva, CH

18 October 2009

   Friday morning was a sleepy one after the late night of the day before. Kyle had fallen ill and I had stayed up late making sure he was all right. After breakfast we were divided into groups by SSB (Kyle, Tara, Neil and myself) and set loose into Lausanne with a timed scavenger hunt in hand. The objective was to single-handedly locate and learn about a variety of famous and beautiful places in Lausanne, record the best answers, and be at a particular café by noon. The reward for the winning team: Dinner with Swiss writer Amelie Plume that night in Geneva. A delicious, free, non-McDonalds dinner was strong motivation.

   The first place on our list was hard to find, but thanks in part to Tara’s French skills, we were efficient from there on, briskly walking, maps in hand, through the sunny streets of morning Lausanne. Our series of destinations led us to the lakeshore, lined with museums, gardens, parks and walking paths. Such fresh, clean water, brimming with birds, lapping and sparkling in the sun, mountains rising in the hazy backdrop. I sat for a moment by the water’s edge with Kyle, gazing at the harbor. Rows of sailboats bobbed at the base of a castle, manicured trees lined the roads. So clean, so Swiss. I love Lausanne.

   The photography museum at Estate Elysee is something I’m going to need to return to. It wasn’t open yet when we passed by, but the young woman at the reception let us ask her questions anyway. I marveled at the few photos I saw, and vowed to myself that someday, I would be back.

    The Olympic museum, a dog cemetery, a dazzling golden pavilion, a crumbling castle tower, the “path of the fox”… we checked the idyllic locations off our list, snapping photos and occasionally asking passing civilians for directions. Swiss police officers helped us find the golden pavilion. The lakeside area had such a feeling of peace, of timeless elegance. Time always runs out.

     We took a tram back to the center of town. Stood in the back and watched the lake glide into the distance through the window, the tram tracks extending further and further away. Off the tram, we found the bookstore on our list and, with five minutes left, desperately maneuvered the bustling streets in search of the confiserie that was our final destination. We were the second team to arrive. One of us would win, and our answers were quite well completed… we sipped coffee from tall glasses while customers examined the exquisite selection of chocolates and decadent pastries. Waiters rushed to and fro with platters of expensive-looking food.

   Atmosphere appreciated, it was nevertheless going to be another McDonalds lunch. Once our answers were delivered to SSB with a handful of brochures we’d collected, we got McDonalds and I accompanied Kyle (who is always hungry) to a Chinese restaurant where we discovered an all-you-can-eat buffet. Kyle was overjoyed. I feasted on a delicious plate of fried rice.

   Back on the Cosmos bus, our home away from home. We resumed our usual seats and, as usual, photographs were taken of Adrienne sleeping. Although I initially viewed the photo collection as merely amusing, such an extensive variety begins to earn artistic merit. I look forward to seeing the finished product.

   Coppet, the exile home of Madame de Stael, was mentioned in the texts we read about her, and the chateau naturally demanded a visit. This home to intellectual salons, to turbulent love affairs and political exile, stood preserved, freezing cold (it was a summer house) and nicely adorned with Chinese wallpapers, golden bedposts, beautifully furnished salons… pianos stood in several rooms. Clearly, this was an enjoyable place to be, a home away from home, or at least away from Napoleon. An occasional home for a constant traveler. Frankie, Cam and Thomas gave their presentation on Madame de Stael. I feel the influences she had, and the way in which she achieved them, are somewhat a thing of the past, but one cannot help but be inspired.

   Exhausted after our tour (again, being talked at does not effectively hold my attention) we collapsed on the bus and continued to Geneva. There, in the hotel lobby, we met Amelie Plume, Swiss author, and asked her questions for over an hour. “Somewhere else is better than here” reads the title of one of her books. Can that statement even be rational, we discussed, when wherever you are immediately becomes the new ‘here’? We talked about home, what it is, and again I contemplated that strange and confusing topic. I suppose its very definition, as with most things, is open to interpretation. Amelie Plume described home not necessarily as the place you like most, but the place that you understand best, that you have a place in; a place whose issues affect you. 

   Our scavenger hunt group had won! The most eager students from the top two winning groups were allowed to come to dinner. We traversed the chilly city to a very nice Genevan restaurant – Adrienne, Melani, Kyle, Cam, Neil, SSB, Michele, Amelie Plume, and myself. Fresh mussels in cream sauce served steaming directly from the pot, fresh bread, red wine, molten chocolate cake… a decadent meal. The thought of my 2.50 CHF cheeseburger was laughable. Our tab topped over 400 CHF and Franklin paid for it all. How amazing is the scholastic life that provides such bonuses?

   Despite espresso with dessert, we were tired beyond compare after dinner. We thanked Amelie Plume for her time, her words and her company – “Bon voyage”, she wished me in parting – and returned to the hotel, where Adrienne, Kyle and I watched South Park until we fell asleep.


    Saturday morning in Geneva was freezing. Our group ventured into the city early for a tour of the Vieille Ville (old city) and a history of Geneva. Yet again, I was disappointed to have a guide who talked at us rather than to us, and in the early morning cold struggled to find significance in her words. Amidst the history of Geneva, of Calvinism, of bankers, conflicts and Bernese invasions, of conventions and international organizations, I was struck by the antique serenity of Geneva in the morning. I composed a text on the spot, which can be found in the attachments. We toured monuments, theatres, churches of varying religions, charming streets and enough art deco influence to overwhelm even my Norwegian media teacher Halvor, who introduced me to the style some years ago. The structural styles in Geneva are grand, classy, elegant; yet the city remains quaint, perhaps because it’s Swiss.

   Our tour ended at the waterfront, on a bridge by an illuminated purple dome – an exhibition of the Genome project: a visually dynamic display, though all in French, of human genealogy. Those in our group more educated in science scoffed a bit at the artistic renditions and simplified explanations that sometimes ignored accuracy in favor of general conveyance. I, the media student, thought it was brilliant. Most everyday people are less interested in scientific details than visual stimulation…

   A free afternoon and evening in Geneva were in store. I joined Kyle in buying a watch to replace the one he had drawn on his wrist (stuck perpetually at 03.15). We got McDonalds again (cheeseburger count: Acacia: 1 Kyle: 3) and met up with Adrienne. We found another place serving artisan beer, and sat in the warm, bustling pub, sipping from frosty glasses, chatting about nothing and the things between, about the inconsideration of some of our fellow travelers. I rarely find myself influenced by their actions, since I room with Adrienne, and spend most of my time in Kyle’s company. Both of them are excellent companions, interested in the world around us and grateful for the opportunities we have. Most of the other students are enjoyable company as well, but every now and then I overhear a comment, a complaint, a complete lack of respect of compassion… words that appall me in their indifference to what we are doing. I cannot believe it… and perhaps these things are the reasons for my skepticism to group travel. I can now thankfully say this has not been nearly as large a problem as anticipated, but that presence is there nonetheless.

   Adrienne and I were exhausted and took a nap back at the hotel. When we awoke, we joined the boys on a Coop shopping trip and spent a while in their room, watching the laughable American news and playing Never Have I Ever. Adrienne and I dressed in our nicest clothes and we all departed for town to celebrate Neil’s 18th birthday (How young! I remember my 18th birthday, what seems like ages ago…) We crossed the bridge to the other side of town in a blustery nighttime wind. City lights reflected off the choppy waves. A night of more McDonalds, of bitter cold and Middle Eastern culture ensued…


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