216. Geneva

rainy day geneva switzerland by roadsofstoneIt’s 6 am and raining. Mid-summer has somehow ended in the night, and a different kind of July stands waiting for me as I step outside.

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.

summer sunset from cologny switzerland lake geneva jura mountains by roadsofstoneI turn my collar to the cool and damp, and kick my heels slowly east along the lakeshore.

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.

geneve plage transport hub switzerland by roadsofstoneThere’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.

the climb from lake geneva to cologny switzerland by roadsofstoneWhen the signal changes, my run resumes around the corner, and then uphill. A lot.

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.

lake geneva switzerland at dawn by roadsofstoneThe 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.

pont mont blanc and mont saleve geneva switzerland by roadsofstoneI’m running towards Switzerland’s second city on a fine soft morning, with a clearing head and a spring within my step.

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.

climbing up into old geneva switzerland by roadsofstoneFor a minute or two I race the River Rhône, her waters running quickly on this dull morning towards the sunny summer Mediterranean several days away.

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.

rue jean calvin geneva switzerland by roadsofstoneThis 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.

rainy day view from cologny lake geneval jura mountains switzerland by roadsofstoneAnd I know they’ll see her lovely face, but they’ll never sense the essence of Geneva through soft rain beneath their feet.

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6 responses to “216. Geneva

  1. Thanks, Nikolay. That’s an interesting travel site you have, with more flash widgets than I’ve ever seen anywhere.

    Good luck with your trips and writing, and kind regards from London.

  2. I’m off there in December Roads- can’t wait.

    Last time I was in Geneva I dined at the waterside cafe next to the swimming zone on the lake. I forget the name – it may even have been on your route. The cafe, which doubles as changing rooms for summer swimmers, specialises in fondue – not my favourite by a long shot but on a frozen winters night with a chill wind racing in across the water it was most welcome. As was the mulled wine, dispensed in tumblers from an adjacent kiosk.

    The place was filled with woollen-hat-clad locals trading giggly banter and hearty laughs – hardly stereotypical Swiss at all. Great city, lovely post.

  3. Dear Roads
    You might be interested in my site. In the blog you can see very much photos from Beautiful Holland (Amsterdam, Almere, Den Haag, Blumendaal…) .
    Best wishes

  4. Many thanks, Sweder. Geneva is raw and bitterly cold on those winter days when the east wind from Siberia blows in across the lake.

    I’m sure I ran past the place you mention, although at that early hour it was closed for food (as indeed was I).

    Like you, I love to run on my travels like this. I managed similar outings in Zürich and Istanbul recently. It’s hard to think of two more dissimilar cities, although both have good running routes beside the water. I’ll be catching up with write of passage on those trips before too long.

    As it happens, it rained on me in both places — but as in Geneva on the morning I describe, that’s no bar on savouring a run in a new city.

    Enjoy your trip, and I’ll pass on some more Geneva tips next time we meet.

  5. Hey, I caught that snippet of Paul Simon you sneaked in there! (and well done too)

    I love Geneva. Haven’t been there in ages, since my best friend and I made a late-September trip to eat, drink and shop our way through a couple countries. It was an absolutely perfect time of year to be there.

  6. Thank you, Ella. I’m glad you enjoyed Geneva — in finer weather it’s simply enchanting.

    And yes, that Paul Simon — I turned my collar to the [sic] cool and damp — is one of my favourite lines of all, appropriately enough from I am a Rock.

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