Finding my Place(s) in Geneva
One sunny day in September, I re-packed my boxes for what felt like the thousandth time and set off to the airport for my big move to Geneva. It was the result of a journey that started with a short conversation one afternoon at the Oxford Botanical Gardens where a friend recommended I apply to the Geneva Graduate Institute’s Masters programme, and ended with me on the sun-drenched roof of my apartment in Geneva soaking in my first proper look at the Swiss Alps.
There is a unique freedom and excitement in the prospect of making a new place your home. Moving abroad has been highly romanticised, and unsurprisingly, life alone in a new place rarely reflects the speedy carousel aesthetic shown in most Instagram reels and film montages. A lot of time is spent wandering grocery aisles confused or realising far too late that you’re on the right bus but going the wrong way.
Although, there are some moments where you really do feel a bit of that much sought after main-character energy, be that when coming across a 103 year old bookstore turned café-bar after battling it up the cobble-stone hill into Old Town (Café Slatkine), buying a bag of autumn chanterelles at the Saturday Carouge Market or when settling in for a long study session in the beautiful reading rooms of the Biblioteque de Geneve.
One of best parts of living in Geneva, all year round but especially in Spring and Summer, is spending time outdoors, be that hiking the Saleve, a mountain made famous by Mary Shelley’s tale of Frankenstein’s monster or taking a dip in the crystal clear waters of Lake Geneva at Perle du Lac or Bain de Pacquis. Bain de Pacquis in particular is one of my favourite places to get a cheap(ish) lunch, especially as they always have a vegetarian option — a rarity in Switzerland. Autumn and winter here also have their own allure, settle in for a bubbling pot of moitié-moitié fondue while you gaze at the lake or have a glass (or several) of vin chaud on your wander around the annual Christmas Market.
Geneva is big enough to always discover new places everytime you leave your front door, and yet small enough that several months of walks and getting lost on the bus system will allow you to really get under the skin of the city. One walk I always find myself returning to, especially on days where work is frustrating or I just need to get out of my box-like studio apartment begins at Pont de Jonction where the Arve and the Rhône meet in a collision of murky green and clear turquoise water. I then keep following the river until I reach the lake at Jardin Anglais and follow it along to Plage de Eaux Vives. When even the sight of the lake can’t fix my mood, I get a decadent filled choux bun and double espresso from Chou or if I’m really in need for a pick me up, I head to Mr and Mrs Renou who make pastries almost too pretty to eat and the most gorgeous chocolate coated biscuits filled with flavoured buttercream.
If I have to get back to university or home, I hop on one of Geneva’s bright yellow boats, known as mouettes, which you can often have all to yourself if you go at the right time of day. The M4 line from Port Noir to Geneve-Chateaubriand is the longest journey, and sitting on the outdoor deck watching the city speed by never fails to remind me why I enjoy living here.
If I have time, I walk through Eaux Vives and Cité as they slowly melt into the Old Town district; everytime I walk uphill into the Vielle-Ville I feel slightly transported to Montmartre in Paris, especially in the early winter rainy season. It’s a place that always feels slightly out of time, with quiet streets offering stalls with roasted chestnuts, extra-long benches to think about life on and unusual small museums like Maison Tavel on the history of the city or the Barbier-Muller Art Collection.
On weekends, I often head over to Planpalais for a rummage through the wares of flea market sellers; my best ever find was a hand-blown blue Murano glass vase for under 10 francs. On Sunday’s especially, do not expect to get any of your errands done, not unless you feel like battling the crowds at the only two supermarkets open or going on an ultimately fruitless hunt for an open postoffice. The best thing to do is get in a swim, either at the Lake if it’s warm or an indoor pool before checking out the market at Planpalais for a wedge of some previously unknown cheese, seasonal vegetables in all kinds of gloriously wacky shapes or several hot empanadas straight from the fryer.
Geneva is a city that, while outwardly unassuming, has so much to offer and uncover. It has been in the process of finding these places that I’ve come to feel just that little bit more genevoise.
Check out my Bimble here for more recommendations around Geneva like Bude Urban Farm, Rollers mini-golf bar or the Fondation Bodmer, a private collection that includes copies of the Egyptian Book of the Dead and Shakespeare first editions.
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All photos by Sarina, except Mr and Mrs Renou from their Instagram.
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