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Day 1 – Dispatch from Geneva – the Land of United Nations and “Private” Bankers

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Geneva (Switzerland) – 2300 hrs GMT – 27 December 2007

The Night Before in Hotel Moderne

The first thing I noticed when I arrived at the airport in Geneva was that there were not HSBC posters any more! For those who have travelled through London often will know the feeling. Instead, there were posters of lots of other banks, and watch makers. As I came out of the airport, it was already 11pm. After fumbling for a few minutes with the ticket dispensing machines at the rail-station to get a train to downtown Geneva, I gave up and headed to a taxi instead. Told the driver to take me to Hotel Moderne in Geneva. “Its on Rue de Berne”. “Oh Ghrooooo de Berne”, he nodded in his thick french accent. I nodded back making note to pronounce all my R’s as Ghrrrrrrrssssss in the future. It took about 10 minutes and 35 Euros to get to the hotel. On the whole it took me about 80 pounds to travel from home to Airport and Airport to hotel (a distance of 40 miles) and an equal amount to travel from London to Switzerland (as distance of around 900 miles!).

Hotel Moderne was neither Modern, nor probably worth calling a hotel! Having seen my room, I felt the need to log back onto the EuropeHotels.com website and look at the description of the hotel once again. They do seem to look much better in pictures designed to lure the unsuspecting like myself. True, it was not the one of the most expensive hotels on the list, but still…I had not asked for solitary confinement in a 10×10 cell with a television chained to the wall as if I would steal it if it wasn’t probably secured. There was hardly any equipment in the room except a bed an an extra pillow.

It was already around 12 midnight and I consoled myself with the thought that I’ll probably go to sleep and wake up to check out early morning so the condition of the room really didn’t matter much. Except that I wanted to finish some left over work on my laptop. I went out to get a Kebab from a Tunisian Kebab house just across the “Ghrroooo de Burne”. I felt comfortable that this time I had all possible types of pin connections including a universal power socket in my electronics bag in the backpack to deal with any kind of contingency. Alas, that was not to be. The Swiss have a strange type of socket pin combination — something that I’ve never seen before. I had seen flat pins, and round pins, and big pins (as in UK), but the Swiss use three thin pins in a circular arc. Efforts to get a pin adaptor from the hotel didn’t work out. Dejected and depressed at the prospect of not being able to finish my work, I decided to go to sleep.

I woke up at 8am in the morning. With the bad taste of the room still in my mind, the prospect of free breakfast didn’t seem that enticing any more. As I entered the breakfast room, I experienced an unexpected “Aha!” moment. There was orange juice that sounded heavenly given the state of affairs at Hotel Moderne. Something in my heart said: “Atleast something familiar that I can enjoy” until I realized that it was the one with that sour taste — Minute Maid type – that I do not enjoy. Croissants, tinned fruits, and raspberry jam made up the rest of my first at last breakfast at Hotel Moderne. Nothing to write home about but it did the job OK.

A Day in Geneva: An Exploration in Christian History

Packed up after breakfast, left my backpack in the luggage hold, and began my day-trip to Geneva. Geneva’s streets are full of Banks and shops containing “Swiss” watches and knives. Every block has several of these. Every corner has a “Private Bank” which I thought was a respectable word for money laundering operations. My first stop was the United Nations building. Although UN is generally an ineffective organization for which I have only marginal respect–it wasn’t as if I was dying to get a picture taken outside the UN building–but somehow I guess we all respect UN a bit and that was the feeling that drew me to the UN offices. UN was closed till January 2, 2008 so all I could do was to get a picture taken outside of the Palais de Nations – the Palace in which UN building is now established – which reportedly is bigger than the Versailles Palance of France.

Wrapping up my uneventful visit to the Palais de Nations, I returned back to the old city in which I was most interested in without knowing what was in store for me. Geneva, as I found out, has a very special place in the history of Christiandom–especially as one of the key cities of the reformation movement. Reformation, by de-emphasizing the role of rituals of organized religion sought to make Bible the center of all religion. For that to happen, Bible had to be translated from its latin version to other languages for common people to read and assimilate. Martin Luther jumpstarted this process by translating the Bible into German. The first English translation was carried out in Geneva and later became known as the Geneva Bible. John Calvin, another very important–perhap a central–leader lived in Geneva and headed the St. Pierre Cathedral here thus making this city one of the centers of the reformation movement.

My first stop was the St. Pierre Cathedral at the heart of the Geneva old city. I climed up 150+ stairs into the tower to get a view of Geneva from the top. The most interesting aspect of the visit to the St. Pierre Cathedral are the ruins of the old Cathedral below the present building. The Swiss have done a fascinating job unearthing and preserving these in a manner that visitors can take a look at them. If anybody has a chance to goto Geneva, I would strongly recommend looking at these. You can see where the oldest building stood, how it was expanded over time, how the shape of the church changed with the changes in christianity traditions and rituals themselves. You can very clearly see changes in construction materials (like annual rings in trees) how walls have been constructed and supplemented at various points in time. It was an absolutely fascinating experience…Definitely a must do for anyone who vists Geneva.   

The second stop on this historical trip was the Museum of Reformation. The small building right next to the Cathedral is specifically dedicated to the artifacts of the reformation movement including original copies of the first bibles, letters from John Calvin, articifacts used by leaders of the reformation movement, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Zwingli, and Farel etc. One of the most interesting experience of the museum was a small room in which a meeting of the leaders of the reformation movement is being held. This is dubbed as The Banquet of Predestination. Using multi-media effects–artifacts, voice, lighting etc.–the environment is created as if these poeple are still present in the room and talking to each other. Chairs light up when particular people are talking and they engage in a very interesting debate on the Christian philosophy of predestination. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I also visited the Wall of Reformation with bigger-than-life statues of major reformation leaders.

The and final destination on my “day list” was the the birthplace of Jean-Jacques Rousseau – one of the leading philosopher, educationist, and writer of his time. “Escape de Rousseau” as it is called in French, took quite a while to discover. Its a small house on a relatively unknown street in the middle of the old town. Once again, Genevans seem to have perfected the art using multi-media to tell a story as obvious in the quality of their Museums. I haven’t been a fan of Museums–having been been to several boring ones in my life–but I can say with surety that at least two of the three historical places I visited were among the best that I’ve been to. Escape de Rousseau was a merely a room in an apartment building where he was born but it had been made interesting to such an extent that a 25 minute walking tour took at least an hour and fifteen minutes to finish. The commentary used photographs, excerpts from his various books, narrations by actor-voices, and actual discussion of his ideas and their evolution over time. All in all, it was an interesting experience for some one interested in learning history…

By this time, it was already about 5pm and I decided to call it a day in Geneva. On my way back, though, I narrowly escaped being hit by a car! Lots of people have talked about and written by how french and italians drive their cars and think of it as their right to runover people on zebra crossings but I wasn’t expecting this in Switzerland (with the benefit of hindsight, I am thinking that these people are french afterall–atleast partially and perhaps I should have been more thoughtful. Anyways, I was crossing the street when a jeep almost brushed past me touching my funny bone (yes, I aint kidding!). Had I been just a step farther ahead, I would have had to probably use the emergency medical evacuation clause in my travel insurance that every person is now required to buy in Europe!

Thus, with a non-event of my lifetime — never had I come this close to an accident — an eventful day came to a close. I am off to my second destination – a 40 minute train ride to Laussane – tonight and will continue my adventure there. Until then, adios!

[I will add photos to this boast in a few days. For now pictures are available at: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=6733754861&ref=mf]

admin @ December 29, 2007

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