Switzerland, Day 1: Fondue and Flea Markets in Geneva

It took me less than an hour to get to Geneva. I hopped on the bus in France, battled motion sickness for a solid 45 minute, and then suddenly I was in a new country.

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New city, new street art

I had an easy time getting my Swiss Travel Pass – it’s such a relief that everyone in a customer service position in Switzerland speaks a bit of English. (That’s definitely not the case in France – shoutout to the dude at the Orange phone store who looked at me disdainfully when I asked, “Parlez-vous anglaise?” and simply said, “Non!” before turning to speak with another customer!) The pass will allow me to travel on as many trains as I want/need to for the next 8 days, and also grants me free admission to museums and castles and such. It was super expensive – almost $400 – but I’m hoping it will be worth it. Switzerland is, in general, incredibly expensive. That’s part of why I hesitated to visit – a full week in Switzerland is costing me ten times as much as two weeks WWOOFing in France. But I’m so glad nonetheless that I chose to adventure here – as I’m writing this post it’s only been 48 hours in this country, and I’m already deeply in love. And I haven’t even gotten to the mountains yet!

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Thunder storm on the horizon

I’d been warned that Geneva is not the prettiest or the sexiest of cities, and that is true. I arrived in thick humidity, with a thunderstorm on the horizon. My hostel was fine; it was so expensive you’d think it would be a five star hotel, but no, it was just a regular bunk bed in a regular all-women dorm room. And the top bunk no less. Welcome to Switzerland!

The exciting thing about the room is that shortly after I arrived, three other girls showed up – a pair of friends from the UK, Khilna and Kate, and another solo traveler from Canada, Leslie – and they all spoke English! It sounds sort of dumb when I write it out, but y’all, I was lonely for two weeks being the only native English speaker! Elsa made such a huge effort to speak English in groups when I was around, and the other WWOOFers tried their best, especially Anne, but ultimately I just wasn’t able to communicate with most people at the farm to the best of my ability, and so it never really felt as though anyone knew the true me. That’s totally on me – it’s super arrogant to show up in another country and expect everyone else to speak your language! – but it remains true no matter whose fault it was. Being around English speakers felt so comfortable. We all introduced ourselves and then set about doing our own things, but I hoped I would get to see them all more later (spoiler: I did!).

My main goal in Geneva was to have a pot of fondue. It’s one of the local specialities and it’s a pot of melted cheese in which you dip hunks of bread – I’m not sure any further explanation is necessary as to why that was my major goal! I was sort of bummed that the weather was so rainy right upon my arrival, but I tried to look on the bright side: fondue is way better in the chilly rain than in the smothering heat. I’d looked up “the best fondue in Geneva” on the internet because I’ve heard that all restaurants in Switzerland are very expensive, and the price points between “mediocre” and “omg that’s so good I could die” apparently are not much – so I figured I may as well treat myself to the best! I’d already read good things about Les Armures, and then while browsing the brochure the hostel gave us, I discovered an Extremely Important Fact: allegedly, Les Armures is where Bill and HILLARY CLINTON like to go eat fondue when they’re in Geneva!!!!!! That settled it, obviously. I had my evening plan.

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Why yes I did doodle on this photo and send it to my girlfriend, guilty as charged no regrets

It seemed like kind of a fancy place so I called in advance to make a reservation and felt very grown up. I showered and prayed for the rain to stop for a bit and then it did so I took myself on my merry way. I decided to walk because it was only a mile away and I wanted to see the city. I hoped it wouldn’t start raining again.

I got super lucky and the rain held off for two hours while I explored and killed time before my solo dinner date. I visited the flower clock (kind of anticlimactic) and saw Jet D’Eau from afar (also pretty anticlimactic – what’s up with Geneva’s weird tourist attractions?!). I got a bit lost in the old city but eventually made my way to the restaurant – conveniently located right next to St Pierre Cathedral, the church I had been looking for the whole time I was lost.

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Not so impressed with this flower clock?

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Sweet tunes

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Will the rain hold off?

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Yes, or at least until after dinner

The host sat me right away, at a small table with a “reserved” sign on it. My server was super sweet and I felt amazingly comfortable. I ordered a pot of fondue and a glass of white wine, and when both came I was just so happy. I didn’t feel weird sitting alone; I made myself leave my phone in my bag and I only took it out to take some photos of my food, like the basic bitch that I am. I think (no, I know) there was a time when eating alone at a restaurant sounded horrifying to me – I wouldn’t have wanted to do it and I’m not sure I would’ve been able to. Yet my solo fondue date at Les Armures was calm, easy, pleasant…it was perfect. I felt really proud of myself for how far I’ve come. I thought of Hillary Clinton eating the same fondue I was eating. It was really, really good.

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I have been told this is food porn so I guess #NSFW

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Why is that man ruining the photo of Hillary on the wall of this restaurant?!

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The brief moment before the sky opened up as I left the restaurant

After dinner I set off back to the hostel, feeling tipsy and pleased. As soon as I left the restaurant a light sprinkling of rain began to fall from the sky, and within minutes it was a torrential downpour. I had my raincoats but it was zero help. I eventually ducked under an awning and waited out the worst – there was a lot of lightning and thunder! I felt grateful that this part of the storm hadn’t happened while I was meandering before dinner.

I got back to the hostel and thought I’d be the only one in the room, assuming the other girls had gone out on the town for Friday night…but much to my delight, all three of my new friends were sitting on their respective beds, chatting and getting to know each other. I climbed up to my bed and proceeded to join them.

“I hate small talk,” Kate explained, and I know exactly what she means because I, too, hate small talk. I often say, if I can’t connect on a real level with a person, what are we even doing? We’re all gonna die soon and I refuse to go out while chit chatting about the fucking weather, ya know? If I die while talking please let me be learning something valuable about our world, or another soul, or lesbian culture, or even just someone else’s favorite type of cheese – ya know?

Anyway Khilna was teasing Kate and saying she always wants to ask people super deep questions immediately, like “what are your views on abortion?”, so then we all talked about abortion for a long time. We also talked about Donald Trump, white supremacy, Brexit, Charlottesville, marriage, kids, gay bars, WWOOFing, tarot, and traveling. It was the best conversation I’ve had in a long time.

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New friends in our hostel room

Reluctantly we decided we should go to bed at midnight, but we all agreed to go to breakfast together at 8:30am. I fell asleep very full of cheese and had wild dreams.

After breakfast the next morning I said goodbye to Kate, Khilna, and Leslie and set out for the Saturday flea market at Plaine de Plainpalais. Ron, a friend of mine from high school who lived in Geneva for a few years and kindly gave me many recommendations when I reached out, even though we hadn’t spoken in years, had told me about it and I love a good European flea market. On my way there I stopped and took some photos of an interesting looking synagogue. I also reflected on how well I’ve gotten to know myself when it comes to traveling. I love walking around a city if time permits because it allows me to get my bearings and understand the city better than if I just take public transport. I love outdoor things that don’t require I focus on a tour guide or an audio tour – flea markers, for example, and also parks, rivers, lakes, mountains, and self guided walking tours aka just walking everywhere at my own pace. I don’t necessarily love visiting museums when I visit a new place – one has to be really exceptional to make me want to go see it, especially if I have limited time in a place – but if I do go to a museum I’d like it to be a modern art one. Again, this sounds so basic when written out, but it’s just really neat to reflect and realize you know yourself well, or at least better than you knew yourself ten years ago! I am becoming a grown up and I am learning and honoring what I like! And what I dislike! I can travel successfully and happily alone! I can choose cool things for myself to do, things I will enjoy and value. It just felt really nice to acknowledge all that.

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This is the synagogue I found en route to the flea market

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I mostly took these photos for my dad

The flea market was great, as I anticipated, and afterward I decided to walk toward the junction in the city where two rivers meet. I got there easily and it was interesting – one river seemed very clear and turquoise and the other was a muddy grey. Watching them mix together was cool but weird; I wonder why the two rivers are so different. I do not know.

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Flea Market, Part I

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Flea Market, Part II

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Flea Market, Part Gay

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The two rivers meeting at this junction!

I walked back to the hostel, stopping on the way to get some good pictures of the Jet D’Eau and popping into a Laduree branch for an almond croissant and a rose petal macaron. And then I was off – to the train station, to Montreux!

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Geneva is beautiful when the sun shines

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This sign was on a random apartment building and it literally says “I came to Geneva to be gay” and I’m wondering who will make me one for my house in Portland?

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Bye Geneva, you were way cuter than I thought you were gonna be!

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4 thoughts on “Switzerland, Day 1: Fondue and Flea Markets in Geneva

  1. Ray says:

    Fun fact: in 6th grade we all picked countries to research and write up a fake travel journal about, and I picked Switzerland and planned and wrote a fake travel journal about cycling around the country…I still have it! Love this entry, especially the part about knowing and honoring what you like to do as a traveler. That’s one of the best parts about traveling. You’re making me so nostalgic for my European trip!!

    • Vanessa says:

      Um, I’m obsessed with this story. Please show me this report when I visit you? Maybe you should make the fake cycle trip a reality… 😉

  2. Stefan Rhodin says:

    Hi Vanessa.

    Its wonderful to follow You on Your visit in Europe. I managed to find out about the different colors of the two rivers. Here it goes – The river with the clear water is the Rhone, which is just exiting Lake Lehman. The brown river is the Arve, which receives water from the many glaciers of the Chamonix valley (mainly the Mer de Glace) before flowing north-west into the Rhone on the west side of Geneva, where its much higher level of silt brings forth a striking contrast between the two rivers.

    /Stefan R

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