The street is chill and almost empty. A fine wet shimmer is wrapped around the tramtracks as I cross them, and even now, in my first few strides, I can feel the morning washing clean the heavy dreams of last night’s dinner.
The first minutes of a run like this are always hardest. A body short on sleep but not so short on years is slower than it should be to get going.
My feet are heavy, and my stomach feels heavier still, with a not so faint taste of Swiss Gamay red lurking somewhere down inside.
I raise my eyes and look around. Across the grey lake, the city lies serene and timeless. Geneva is exactly as I remember her. Unchanged, if just a little wetter.
There’s no plan within my mind, and on trips like this there doesn’t always have to be. I’ll run to sense a city — and turn my legs wherever they choose to take me. With the lakeshore to my left and a flat promenade beneath my feet, there are no decisions calling. I keep running.
A blustery, ineffectual drizzle is falling, and I listen to the crinkling of my rain jacket and the raggedy breathing which follows wherever I run without my iPod.
A damp kilometre goes by, and dimly I recognise this as the route to last night’s restaurant. A leisurely five or ten minutes in a taxi — but how far is that, when you’re running just a few hours later? I’ve no idea.
The rushing traffic is thicker now. A stream of commuters is heading in from the eastern suburbs and across the French border from Evian beyond.
Ten minutes go by, and the scenery doesn’t change until I reach Genève-Plage. It may not appeal for sunbathing now, but a half-full bus pulls up here, the driver watching road and runner cautiously from high behind his wipers.
A few passengers jump off, and I stop to join them waiting by the kerb, pleased to breathe and read a sign ahead, pointing the way to Cologny.
How far was it to the village, in my taxi? A minute, two minutes? I can’t remember. Is there a brief dash ahead, or a long mountain slog?
It turns out in between. Far enough to walk before the top, but near enough to wish I hadn’t. That’s often how it goes.
The restaurant car park is empty, and the panorama across the lake towards the League of Nations building is wet and drab, the Jura Mountains beyond a greyed-out mirage of last night’s purple pyrotechnics. I take a picture, then turn my tail again.
It’s ridiculously easy, trotting downhill from here. The slide back towards the lake fills just three shameful minutes, all spent rueing defeat by such a paltry climb.
But that’s only running, and this journey is about something else these days. By the time I regain the lakeshore, the rain is pelting but my spirits have lifted to an unexpected degree. Here I am, in the heart of central Europe. It’s only half past six and I could be still in bed, but instead Geneva is all laid out in front of me.
Geneva creeps nearer, and soon I can see the flags draped all along the Pont du Mont Blanc just ahead. I cross the bridge, and jog beneath the neon signs for expensive watches and still-solid banks — the old and modern industries which have made this tiny, beautiful and astonishingly diverse country into the unlikely economic success story of Europe’s post-war years.
I take another bridge and head for the old town, stumbling onto Rue Calvin as it meanders towards John Calvin‘s church, these landmarks recording Geneva’s role as the unofficial capital of the Reformation.
This city may be prosperous and rich, smoothly cosmopolitan and yet still intensely conservative and parochial, but above all, like the whole of Switzerland, its streets are as clean as the guiding principles which founded it.
By seven o’clock, I’m back at the hotel, my tour around another corner of this country I know so well complete. The Jet d’Eau fountain will start up soon, and this city will gleam beneath the sunshine to smile at tourists on one more day.