Travels in Europe: Geneva and France

Our trip with Mom was finishing in the Swiss city of Geneva; as Geneva is very expensive, we stayed across the border in France, in a town called Annemasse. There is not a lot to do in Annemasse (most of the tourist websites recommended traveling to Geneva). We enjoyed staying in Annemasse, as it was very relaxed and from the train station, a ten-minute walk to our rental.

We drove from Rapallo to Milan, where we dropped off the car, and hopped a train to Geneva. When we booked the tickets, it was on one train, but little did we know our train from Italy was not going to make it the whole way. It was quite hot in the train, and full of people, so Jesse and I decided to go check out the bar car, where no one was and it was much cooler; we split a medium-sized bottle of Prosecco and drank it out of the paper cups, sharing a bag of chips. It was all that, and the bag of chips, as we took in the beautiful landscape away from our hot train car.

Well, we had not even finished our cups when the conductor walked through the cabin and said “everyone off, take the train to Berg to Geneva.” We said “ok,” finished our drinks quickly, and went to get Mom and the bags. No one was moving in our train car though, so we were confused. Jesse went back to the bar car and asked one of the attendants if we really were supposed to get off this train (as our tickets said we were not), and he confirmed it.

So we got all our luggage together as quickly as we could, de-boarded and went across the platform to a waiting train, as now we were in Switzerland. There was much confusion among our fellow passengers, but we were lucky enough to sit next to a young Swiss couple, and he informed us that were on the right train, and would change trains once more before we arrived in Geneva. It was not long until we made it to our next stop, then moved all the bags again to the final train. I will say the Swiss trains were much nicer than the Italian ones, but that may be because we sat in the first class seats because it was first come, first serve on these last two trains.

We finally reached Geneva (only twenty minutes or so after our original train was supposed to arrive, which seems slightly odd, like the train company knew this would happen?), and walked across the platform, saw the name “Annemasse” overhead on the signboard, and waited a few minutes for the train to Annemasse, France. We made it to Annemasse in about twenty minutes, walked ten minutes dragging our bags to the apartment, and, once inside, sighed deeply with satisfaction and exhaustion. Jesse and I walked to the local supermarket, where we arrived ten minutes before closing; they are serious about closing time; the security guard pointed at his watch when we entered, and in five minutes was following us through the store making sure we knew we only had five minutes left. We did a solid job picking up the necessary supplies for our next five days in Annemasse, and we made it out just as they were closing the doors.

As it was almost nine o’clock at night and we had eaten only chips since breakfast, we headed out in Annemasse looking for dinner. We found a “burger and taco” place called French Burger and Tacos, and Mom and I ate double-cheeseburgers and Jesse had a burrito that wasn’t much like a burrito; but we had fries on the side (of course) and had a good night’s sleep with full tummies.

The next day Mom and I took a side trip to Chambéry, France, which is a two-hour train ride from Annemasse, to visit her Aunt Rina (who she had never met). We arrived and spry Auntie Rina picked us up at the airport, and using the translator app, Mom’s limited Italian and Rina’s limited English, we were able to communicate, and Aunt Rina drove us to her house in the town of Bassens, nearby.

The view from Aunt Rina’s porch

Rina lives there with her husband, who unfortunately is not in the best of health, but he was able to join us and we even did “chin-chin” when we toasted with our wine at lunch. We were also joined by Aunt Rina’s son, Luca, who is my Mom’s fist cousin (she had never met him as either) and he speaks a little English and Spanish, so it was fun to talk to him and learn about his life and life in Bassens. We ate so well; Aunt Rina served us sliced salmon, asparagus, broccoli, artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes along with breadsticks wrapped in prosciutto, for the first course; followed by tasty gnocchi in red sauce, then meatballs and sliced red peppers in oil.

Mom, Aunt Rina, and Cousin Luca

Then we had espressos, followed by fruit: chopped strawberries, watermelon and some of the best cherries I have tasted. It was so much food, and so good; Mom and I were stuffed when we finished. Mom had brought souvenirs from Chicago and she graciously gave them to Rina and Luca; after gift giving we sat around the table and talked, until it was time for Mom and I to catch the last train back to Annemasse. Time had gotten away from us, so Rina had to book it to make sure we caught our train (as it was the last one of the day), and we made it just in time. Mom and I were tired so we called it an early night, excited to visit Geneva the next day.

Our first day in Geneva started out inauspiciously; I had planned a lot of the trip in Italy, but did not look into Geneva at all; I figured we would explore the city with an open and curious mindset. The train station in Geneva was very busy, so I thought we should head toward Lake Geneva (or Lac Léman for the French portion). Our first stop was the Brunswick Monument, which is quite a sight.

After we took a bunch of pictures we crossed the street and took in the lakefront view; there are some killer lampposts that line the lake, and of course I had to get a picture.

Now that’s a lamppost!

We looked at the boat schedule because we figured a boat tour was a good idea, but not able to really understand it; soon we saw a mini-train car pull up with three cabooses behind it; a tour was exiting and we asked the conductor when the next tour was. He told us in twenty minutes, so we decided to join. We were the only people on the train as it started; taking the wide paved walkway that ran parallel to the Lake, we were treated to nice lake views while Mom waved and said “hello” to passersby. It was relaxed and we were able to see a lot of the park next to the Lake on the western side.

The tour was quite enjoyable and reasonably priced (the tour operator quoted me 24 Swiss francs, but as I only had Euros he took a twenty euro note and called it good). We walked around the city afterward, and I booked us a boat tour for early evening the next day. We found a french burger restaurant (kind of a theme now, no?) that was very tasty and also had one of the best appetizers I have ever eaten called feuilleté aux moreles, which were morel mushrooms in filo dough with a cream sauce. Très Bien! Tummies full, we looked in the souvenir shops, Jesse bought a dozen chocolates that we later enjoyed (and devoured quickly) before hopping the train back to Annemasse. We stayed up late talking and drinking wine, a perfect end to our first full day in Geneva.

The next day was our final full day in Geneva, and as Mom was flying back to the US, she needed a covid test. So we spent the morning bouncing around Annemasse, going to two pharmacies and a clinic, without being able to get a covid test. So we figured we would get one more easily in Geneva, and we were right; we found the clinic within ten minutes walk of the train station, and the test was free (bonus!) and lucky for us, Mom was negative.

I wanted to visit the botanical gardens, so we took the tram near them; to the stop at the United Nations! While, of course, I knew the headquarters of the UN was in Geneva, it had slipped my mind as a tourist stop. There is a super huge chair with one broken leg across the street from the United Nations building.

I was looking on the map for things near the botanical gardens to do, as we had a while until our boat tour; the Musée Ariana (also known as the Swiss Museum of Ceramics and Glass) popped up, and after reading the description, and learning it was free entry, we took the short walk to visit this ceramic art museum.

Musée Ariana c/o thecrazytourist.com (it was overcast and the fountain was off when we visited)

Ceramics, vases, plates and such, are usually found in most fine arts museums, but, as paintings are my favorite fine art (with sculptures a close second), I usually overlook the ceramics. This time, as the star of the show, they really stood out and were so cool. The museum itself was the former residence of Gustave Revilliod, a man of wealth, who devoted his life to travel and collecting eclectic art; he bequeathed to the City of Geneva his estate, part of his fortune, his collections and the museum. The Museum is named for his mother.

There were so many cool pieces that I have way more pictures than I would have imagined; but here are some of my favorites:

What a gem of a museum, and a must visit when in Geneva! After we left the museum we went toward the gardens which are nearby; we walked down the gravel paths, first coming across a centuries old, massive tree.

We traversed the rain-forest greenhouse, but couldn’t stay too long as the humidity inside was stifling.

It’s Tropical

The glass, domed greenhouse shone in the light even on this overcast day; and inside this one were many cacti, with almost all being from the Americas.

Next it was time for a snack and a sit-down; at the park cafe we shared a small quiche (but not a mini-one), an empanada and a medium-sized bottle of Prosecco while we watched the overly aggressive small birds fight for crumbs. After finishing, we took a path through the gardens that led us right to a peacock that was at full mast (as it were); something I had never seen up close before. The peacock put on a show for us and a couple of other visitors; it truly was a sight to behold.

This peacock was not messing around

After we headed to the exit to the park, walking along the lakefront, to catch our boat for the tour. I thought we were going to be late (the map app told us we would reach it with a minute to spare), so I walked quickly to make sure we were not late, as the trains are very punctual, I figured the boat would be as well, but lucky for our tired legs, it was not.

Jesse and I in front of the boat

We took seats on the top deck, and it was no where near full capacity, so we could move about freely. The weather was perfect, there was a breeze but it was not cold; the sun was out but not sweltering. We talked and took pictures and simply enjoyed the tour around Lake Geneva.

We were even lucky enough to see a rainbow within the Geneva Water Fountain!

Another highly recommended trip to take; once done we still had a couple hours to enjoy before our dinner reservations at a fancy french restaurant. The boat dropped us off on the East side of the Lake, and we saw another mini-train tour about to start, so we hopped on, this time exploring the other side. This train had speakers and a prerecorded audio guide in English, so we learned more about Geneva while we saw the east-side of the lakefront, and, of course, more cool pictures.

We window shopped past all the watch stores, world famous, and dreamed on which watch we would want. Then, it was on to dinner. We enjoyed one of the best meals of my life; the wait staff was so kind and accommodating, we had such a good time eating fancy, tasty, french food with great ambiance and fun conversation. Jesse will, most likely, expound on the meal and share pictures, but, for me, it was a one-of-a-kind experience to be in Geneva, with my Mom and wife, eating french cuisine. Wow.

After dinner we took the train one final time from Geneva back to Annemasse; but something we had not noticed before, as we had previously arrived before nightfall, was that there was a bar on the top of the building facing the train station. So we went up for a nightcap, sharing a bottle of real Champagne, trying Genepy liquore (recommended by cousin Luca, as it is from the region) and reveling in our adventures from the past three weeks. It had been a whirlwind trip and we had such fun together.

It was so fun to spend time with Mom, and I realized we had not really spent more than a weekend, or a few days, together, for my adult life. But instead of dwelling on that fact, I look forward to spending more time with her, and having more fun times, and laughing and having adventures in the future. The next morning we traveled to the airport, and our cab driver, who had lived in Geneva for more than 30 years, showed us more of the city on our way to the airport. The Old Town, that we had not even visited, but will, the next time. Until then, farewell Geneva!

Ready for takeoff

Published by Phil Barrington

Currently living in Spain, Accountant by Day, Writer by Night. Lover of baseball, travel ,and spreadsheets. Check out my blog: https://waypastcool.org/

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