This was the trip to Switzerland that I won in the Garnier Nutrisse contest. I can tell you that I was doubtful that it was real until I had the plane tickets in my hot little hands! We asked Lara, who was coordinating the prize, for an extra unpaid-for-by-them week in the middle, since we just don't get out to that part of the world for a true leisure vacation at all, and she cheerfully gave it to us.
These are our adventures.
We start out in the Calgary Airport in front of the jet cow.
My now-wife (fiancée at the time) and her father goof around in the bookstore before we leave for Genève (Geneva).
We will soon come to realize that our luggage isn't the best. If we do this again... we're getting better luggage. Duffle bags are okay for a number of purposes, but not for running around airports, trains, etc.
As with a lot flights out of Calgary to Europe, there is a stopover in Frankfurt. I've been to Frankfurt before, and it's a pretty nice city. Didn't have quite enough time on the way over to go into town and visit, so we left it until later. I do hate waiting in airports, though, especially after sitting on my butt for hours :)
We checked into the Novotel hotel, which was pretty nice, and located fairly close to the lake. Geneva is a nice-looking town in many areas, though a bit run-down "Old Europe" in others. It borders on the lovely Lake Geneva, where there is a pretty spectacular fountain, lots of flowers and some quaint old buildings.
One of the nerdy things that I wanted to go see was CERN, the major particle accelerator in Europe. I did try to book a tour ahead of time, but it turned out that I would have been unable to do so unless I were psychic about winning the contest and book eight months further in advance! We decided to go visit, anyhow.
By the way, a note about going to visit. Down by the train station, you can catch the number 9 bus. Be aware, though, that there are two number 9 buses - and one of them does not go to CERN. Though, as we found out later, it gets close.
The buses are pretty nifty, though it was funny that stops were announced with what sounded like church bells. They have displays that show you where along the bus route you are, and display the name of the next stop on overhead signs.
One worrisome-looking but understandable piece of equipment we saw on CERN's campus was a radiation dosimeter. Eeek, radioactive people!
One thing that was extremely disappointing when we got to CERN. Not only did we not get a tour, for the obvious booking reasons, but the public-facing Microcosm exhibit and store was closed, with no posting or reason that this should be so. I've been told "you didn't miss much", but that's small comfort, really.
So to try to grab a little bit of the experience out of this otherwise foiled attempt to visit CERN, we were getting hungry, and it was temporarily just pissing rain outside, so we went off and ate in the CERN cafeteria. You can see here the specials of the day, "Menu Proton" and "Menu Neutron". The cafeteria was crowded, but the food was pretty nice, and I wish I'd been in the mood for dessert (looked amazing). We found a spot to sit down, and just soaked up the nerdy, buzzing, congenial atmosphere.
After that, with the rain at bay, we ran around outside for a bit. There are a few outdoors displays of retired equipment (hopefully not radioactive - I guess I'll find out sooner or later :) that looks like a large alien's playground.
So we left CERN, and got a bit of a chuckle out of the name of the
campus road. I imagine most of them are like this. We only got to see a tiny
fraction of what was there - for the actual tours, you need your passport because
it crosses into France.
At the bus stop, we encountered a strange-looking little insect that entertained us with its antics. I have no idea what it is. I don't think it bit me and gave me any super-powers, either.
Since it was on the route of one of the buses going back, we decided to try our luck at the Geneva Botanical Gardens.
One nifty display was the "wall of plants" - an entire little roadway
with a brick wall containing all sorts of plants that you can grow out of the crevices.
There were some great flower beds past the brick wall of plants, and we scribbled down a few that were particularly spectacular.
There were a series of greenhouses and outdoor displays with different themes to it. One was "useful tropical plants", where they had planted plants that produce useful things like bananas, coffee, rubber, cinnamon, nearby displays showing the eventual products.
Then there was "The Garden Of Forgotten Vegetables", or as they say there, "Le Jardin
des Légumes oubliées". They speak French there in Geneva, which is no
surprise given how incredibly close it is to France (it's almost "pinched off" from
the rest of Switzerland, given its location). The Garden of Forgotten Vegetables are
things that we used to cultivate and eat but tossed aside in favour of new veggies
or veggie species.
The rest of the grounds were pretty interesting. They have a store (not all that grand a store, mind you), carousels, places for children to play, and even some bugs and animals (including a horrenously loud cockatoo).
Oh, and yes, more plants :)
Geneva was, I must say, pricy. Priciest of all, comparatively, are drinks - about $4 or more for pop. Go to grocery stores (Migros is great) or McDonald's. Mind you, if you don't have a wedding and coming up very soon and a tight budget when you go travelling, perhaps you won't notice so badly.
One thing that is cheap there is chocolate. Ooooooh, chocolate. The chocolate sections in the grocery stores are pretty sizable there (though in Zürich it was even larger). One thing I would highly recommend is getting your hands on some Cailler drinking chocolate - it's fantastic either hot or cold.
Since we were so close to France, we decided to take a day trip out to Lyons, France...
To be continued...