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Geneva: A chocolate fueled pilgrimage

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MARCH 19, 2012

Picture this: an adorable family of brown and white cows sits in a beautiful green pasture, a small town and a vast, white mountain range visible in the distance. This idyllic image is printed on small, perhaps 2 square centimeters, piece of paper, which is wrapped around a piece of the most rich and delicious milk chocolate you have ever tasted. And so began my love of Swiss chocolate.

It was from this experience, at the age of three, one that would repeat for many years after, my desire to visit Switzerland emerged. I grew up next door to a Swiss-American family, so those years were filled with chocolate presents from their visits to the homeland and fresh baked bread (which the Swiss-German name for was “Zopf”) at dinner parties. Seventeen years later, for me Switzerland was still a place of beautiful landscapes and indulgent food, making it a natural destination for my first weekend away from Edinburgh.

Though the happy cow and their green/mountainous pastures aren’t as easy to find in cosmopolitan Geneva, I booked a ticket there because travel from Scotland is pretty much contingent wherever Easyjet or Ryanair have cheap flights. The rest was up to me, meaning there was pretty much no plan.

Fortunately, Geneva is the ideal city for the aimless traveler. There are free buses running nearly everywhere in the main part of the city. My travel companion and I purchased train tickets to get from the airport to our hostel, where we were given passes to the public transportation system; we could have easily thrown those away. Not once was I asked to show a ticket or pass. It worked out even more perfectly that our hostel was just blocks from the Cornavin train station, one stop away from the airport and a central stopping point for nearly every bus and tram line.

Here are just a few places you can reach through Geneva’s stellar public transportation system and a couple general Geneva travel tips:

-If you get to the city center (take a bus to the Rive stop), most essential Geneva sites are within walking distance. Go north for the lake, Jet d’eau, and “Jardin Anglais” (English Garden), southwest for the charming and historic “Vieille Ville” (Old Town), and further south for Place Neuve (a street that is home to Rath Museume, the Geneva Conservatory, and Grand Theatre).

-When you’re done seeing exploring the cultural sites of Place Neuve, check out the park on the other side of the street. There are giant chess and checker sets there, and if you’re lucky as I was, you can watch old Swiss men play each other on them (or play a game yourself!).

-McDonald’s is fancy. It’s two stories, has a hip, urban ambiance to it and you can buy macarons there. I guess even fast food raises its standards for the home of the U.N.

-While Geneva transportation is great for the aimless and cheap traveler, the rest of the city is really only good for the wealthy ones. Souvenirs weren’t terrible but trying to find a meal under $20 was a struggle unless it was takeout (which was a bargain at just over $10 per entrée!). And if you’re thinking to yourself, well I could probably get by on cheap crap from McDonald’s, enjoy your $12 Big Mac.

I survived most the weekend on Swiss chocolate and fresh-baked bread from the grocery stores. At least it lived up to my 17-year expectations.

Contact Alex Matthews at 


MARCH 22, 2012