Photography by Emma Krasov

Genève, Switzerland, a rather small city of 186 000 inhabitants is the world center for diplomacy, the birthplace of Red Cross and Geneva Conventions, and home to the United Nations and numerous international humanitarian organizations. Located on the bank of Lac Léman – the largest lake in Europe – surrounded by the Alps and Jura Mountains, Geneva is green, architecturally beautiful, and pedestrian-friendly. Geneva residents are well-educated and open-minded, speak three or four languages, hold important jobs with the 171 diplomatic missions, 35 international organizations linked to the UN, or 250 non-governmental organization. Their quality of life is higher than in some of the richest European capitals.

I flew to Geneva from Zurich in the first class of SWISS. At the airport, I picked up a free train ticket to the city, available to all visitors. Soon I was observing a snowy peak of Mont-Blanc and Jet d’Eau – a 140-meter high water jet in the middle of the lake – from my luxurious room in Hôtel Le Richemond in the 1875 building, previously enjoyed by Marc Chagall, Charlie Chaplin, Louis Armstrong, Rita Hayworth, Sophie Loren, and Andy Warhol. A Geneva Transport Card, handed to me (and all other visitors to the city) at check-in, allowed for free use of public transportation, including boats, and I made a plan to ride closer to the Lake Geneva’s water jet, and explore other attractions.
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A strangely archaic construction in a little park under my window attracted my attention. It was decorated with Gothic columns and sculptures, and “guarded” by mythical griffons. As I’ve learned the next day during my city tour, this copy of the 15th century mausoleum in Verona, Italy, was built in the 1870s, and contained the mummified remains of the infamous Duke of Brunswick Karl II, whose rule was severely criticized not only in his native Germany, but also in Paris and London. A corrupt and inept ruler, the Duke had poor physique, questionable mental health, and suffered from a phobia of being buried under ground. Spending the last years of his life in Geneva’s Hôtel Beau-Rivage, he left his enormous fortune to the city in exchange for being buried above the surface. The Duke’s burial funds were also used to erect several cultural landmarks, like the Opera House and a music conservatory, where composer Franz Liszt used to teach.

As fate would have it, the same opulent hotel became a place of death for another royal person – a sensible, good looking, and popular with the people Empress Elizabeth (Sissi) of Austria. In 1898, an Italian anarchist fatally stabbed her in front of the hotel. Inside, there is a small memorial with her fan, gloves, and other belongings in a glass case.
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The author of “Crime and Punishment,” Fyodor Dostoyevsky, had a sad stay in Geneva, where his newborn daughter Sophia, christened in 1866 Russian orthodox church with gold onion domes, died in 1868. Even before this tragic event Dostoyevsky wasn’t especially fond of Geneva, and called it in his letters “a cold, gray, and silly Protestant city.” It’s a well-known fact that the great Russian writer wasn’t famous for his tolerance. Luckily, Geneva is.
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Humanism and appreciation for life have always been expressed in the views of Geneva’s prominent citizens. As many other places in the center of Europe, Geneva has a long and complex history, ridden with conflicts and conquests. The major difference lies in the fact that history lessons aren’t taught in vain here. In 1815, after the Napoleonic Wars, a diplomat and a state official Charles Pictet de Rochemont came up with an idea of Switzerland’s permanent neutrality, and in 1863, after the Second Italian Independence War, Jean Henri Dunant founded the Red Cross. In 1907, after a series of historical religious conflicts and political turmoil tied to the city’s transitions from French to Italian to German rule, and from Calvinism to Catholicism and back, Geneva adopted a law separating church and state, followed by the most progressive nations of the world.
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As a result of its continuous policy of tolerance and neutrality, Geneva became the largest home for international organizations, and a prospering business and financial center. It’s “green” not only because there are 50 parks and wild life preserves in Geneva, but also because it rejected the use of nuclear power, and directed its efforts to the development of solar and hydraulic energy sources and the use of natural gas instead of coal.

All these and other amazing facts I’ve learned during the walking city tour which took me to the Old Town around the St. Peter’s Cathedral with its 157 steps to the top of the tower; the Reformation Wall – tribute to Europe’s reformers in a magnificent park with old chestnut trees; the largest in Switzerland modern art museum MAMCO, and Quartier des Bains – a contemporary art district with 12 galleries and five larger cultural institutions, and to the Flower Clock that shows the exact time of day in live blooms.

In the city with the centuries-old tradition of watchmaking, I took a tour of the Patek Philippe Museum filled with the wrist watches, pocket watches, pendant watches, brooch-, ring-, and fan watches, enamel miniatures, and musical automata created by the most prestigious brand, founded in 1839.

Overwhelmed with the impressions of the day, I had a very traditional dinner at the 18th century Brasserie de l’Hôtel de Ville in the Old Town. My three-sausage dish, Trilogie genevoise was nicely paired with Calvinus beer…
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Next day I visited the 18th century Italianate village Carouge. My tour guide took me to an award-winning artist-watchmaker; antique furniture repairman; a bookseller of women authors; a fragrant bath products shop; a tea shop, and a hand-woven textiles shop. At the market, I marveled at the brightness of summer fruit and bouquets of roses, peonies, and lilac.
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Then we boarded Savoie – a cruise vessel of SwissBoat on Lake Geneva, and rode to France! Thanks to no-visa passage between the countries, we had lunch in Yvoire – a medieval village with an old castle and cobblestone streets overflown with ivies, climbing roses and begonias.
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And yet, the best lunch I had in my hotel, Le Richemond, where the chefs were trained by the world-famous celebrity Alain Ducasse. On an open terrace of Le Jardin restaurant, I enjoyed market-fresh salad with edible flowers; burrata ravioli in asparagus sauce with tomato confit, and a decadent chocolate macaroon. As if that wasn’t enough to make me feel happy and totally in love with Geneva, a plate of petit fours arrived, containing more chocolate and raspberry treats, and meringue cookies, a.k.a. “kisses” (la bise in French). More information at: www.geneva-tourism.ch.

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Blindekuh,( translates to Blind Cow in English)
an unusual restaurant in Zurich Switzerland, is the first of a new and extremely successful dining trend. The restaurant and bar are staffed almost entirely by blind wait staff and all but one cook. The restaurant is not for the blind, far from it. It was opened as a way to give the sighted a look into the world of those with out sight. The original idea came from blind artists and a minister that worked with the blind.

When we arrived to dine we learned that hand held items are checked at the door. Orders are placed in the lobby from a 3-item menu, meat, fish or vegetarian. Yes, they also have dessert, and we discovered that chocolate tastes even better in the dark!

After your orders are taken, your waitperson vanishes, to return for you when your table and meal are ready. You are lead down a progressively darkened hallway and seated in the darkest room
you’ll never see. The table lay-out is explained and dinner is served. My fork made it to my mouth but was frequently empty on arrival. However, everything that made it to my mouth was delicious!

The “Dining in the Dark” theme has turned so many heads that copycats are springing up in Paris, Cologne, New York, London, Moscow, Montreal and Australia, for profit. Blindekuh is non-profit, as is the dark bar opened by another blind organization in Berlin.
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Blindekuh opened one more restaurant themselves this year, in Basel,
Switzerland. The nay-sayers will be eating more than words, as business is good.
You may be not seeing the hottest trend in restaurants. The experience puts a new light on dining.

Children are welcome, reservations are a must.
Muhlebachstrasse 146, 8008 Zurich,$40 with wine.

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A 16th-century clocktower puts on a show every hour. Bears and jesters kick and whirl, while a rooster crows and a knight bongs a big, brass bell.
The four-story clocktower sits in the middle of a wide, cobblestone street lined with medieval buildings where bears adorn flags, and bear statues guard buildings and grace fountains. Live bears occupy “the pits” by the river.

A wild place, this Bern, Switzerland.
My family and I, heading for Amsterdam with an almost expired month-long Eurail Pass, chose to stop in Bern for a few days in late August. Travelers acquainted with Bern said, “It’s such a nice, easy place to visit.” That sounded good.
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We detrained in the City-of-the-Bear, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. After a quick orientation in the train station’s Tourist Office, we hoisted bags onto an escalator and emerged at a street-level plaza, the Bahnhofplatz. We saw the fancy Hotel Schweizerhof, a “Leading Hotel of the World,” but turned the corner to our moderate hotel, the Hotel Krebs. Satisfied with the fourth-floor, sparkling clean room with big, airy windows, we left the hotel to explore the city.

The Visitor’s Guide from the station provided a self-guided walking tour map which we followed for three hours. Off and on. We dallied for coffee and Nuss Strudel in a Barenplatz (bears square) outdoor café and watched an ongoing chess game, played with 4-foot high chess pieces.
We roamed the cobblestone streets all the way to the Aare River. Along the way, we found 16th- century fountain statues right in the middle of the street. The majestic figures rise 20 -30 feet into the air above fountains.
Drinking water spouts from pipes into the stone basins beneath the statues. The fountains were the sole supplier of drinking water to Bernese citizens for over 300 years. In 1868, the city had a new way to get the spring water — by pressure pumps. Even though no longer a necessity, most of the 37 fountains have been preserved for their artistic value.
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The Justice Statue, designated the “artistic masterpiece” of fountains, was built in 1543. The woman figure, blindfolded and dressed in ornamental armor, holds a sword and balance. The sculptor, Hans Gieng, put representatives of power at her feet — a crowned emperor, the pope, a sultan and the mayor of Bern. Justice, a symbol of the Republic, calls them to account to carry out justice. Nice philosophy.

Our walk also took us to Bern’s Gothic-style cathedral, whose spire, the highest in Switzerland, pierces the sky. The cathedral is open for worship and touring, and its 200 stairs lead to an expansive view of the entire city.
The Swiss government buildings are close by and offer tours. Bern is the capital of both Switzerland and the Canton of Bern.

Bern began in 1191 A.D. as a walled city. Its founders built towers as protection devices. Two towers are part of the old medieval city, an easy walk from our hotel. The present clock tower, first built in 1219, marks the site of the original city walls. The 1256 prison tower, just up the street, marks the extension of the city walls, as does the Christoffel Tower, built a century later.
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As people roam the city with its old sandstone buildings and wonderful fountains, platzes and shops, they hear the hourly music and chimes from the Zyttglogge Clock Tower. By the second day, we knew we had to tour.
The inside tours are offered once each afternoon at 4:30, although the tower’s “performance” occurs for four minutes before each hour.
Inside, visitors see a twenty-foot-high ironworks of bars and chains and gears that move the figures and time pieces. Bellows squeeze air to activate the rooster’s crowing, levers creak and clang to twirl armed bears and a dancing jester and a lion.
Our charming German guide, steeped in the history of Bern and clock mechanics, also explained the Astronomical Clock with its stars and moon movement. She, too, was in awe of this marvel of engineering.
“Can you believe the clockworks were constructed in 1530 . . .even before the time of Galileo?”
Bear images show up all over town – on Swiss flags and on banners flying from downtown buildings, on trash barrels decorated with a flaming tongue bear, on statues that flank the entrance to the Bern Historical Museum. We headed for the real thing, the famous Bear Pits by the Aare River.

The pits are close to the Nydeggbruck Bridge, one of several bridges that span the river that winds around the city in a U-shape. The dismal pits attract tourists by the busload. The trees in the deep pit are dead, and lethargic bears have to stay next to the walls for shade. Perhaps by now there are new trees.

Beyond the bears, tree-lined parkways line the river bluff on the east bank of the Aare. Paths lead to a top-of-the-hill Rose Garden. Along the way, inviting benches beckoned us — a good excuse to stop and view the city scene from a high spot. The red tile rooftops of the tan buildings glowed in the sun, showing off the tiny masonry chimney houses atop each chimney flue.

The river is used for recreation, legal and illegal. We watched a water skier practice his sport while attached to a tree on the river-bank. A Bernese acquaintance, a Swiss government official, said the dangerous activity is not legal. “People can and do swim in the river, though,” he said. “I sometimes walk for 15-minutes upriver, and then swim downstream to the city swimming pool. Ladders and handholds are set up along the banks so people can climb out from the swift current.”

We read an ad offering a city tour in a river-rafting boat. In summer, rafters meet at an arranged point and travel down the river in late afternoon, a two hour tour. They return to the central city via a city bus.
Graffiti “decorates” some of the old sandstone buildings in Bern. They were marked by squared script-like initials, and English and German words. We talked to the government man about it. “Yes, I know,” he said. “They come straight from the New York gang influence.” Whoa.
The graffiti on buildings hundreds of years old did not match the proud, sparkling-clean city. Street-sweeping trucks cleaned the street under our hotel window twice in four days — maybe more. On a rainy morning, as I walked through an arcade (one of the longest covered shopping promenades in Europe), I saw a workman riding a motorized cleaner, power-scrubbing the walks.

For museum hopping, visitors can take in Paul Klee at the Kunstmuseum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Communication and the castle-like Bern Historical Museum. Inside the museum, visitors find four magnificent, 15th-century, Burgundian tapestries. In the “Weapons, Armor and Sculptures Room,” 14th – 16th century armor, shields and pikes highlight Bern’s power centuries.

Two wood statues, carved c. 1590, stand at one end of the room. Here, the legend of William Tell comes to light. Tell has a raised bow and arrow and aims for the apple on his son’s head. In the Swiss tale, William Tell defied the Austrian conquerors of the 13th century, and was punished by being ordered to shoot an apple off his son’s head. He successfully shot the apple and not his son, and has remained a Swiss symbol of independence and resistance to subjugation.

More to see in Bern and nearby: Einstein’s home, a museum, and in April 2005, the historical museum will open an exhibition of science and Einstein’s relativity theory. He developed his theory in Bern in 1905. There are easy day-trips to the Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger mountains, to cities like Lucerne and Zurich and Chillon Castle on Lake Geneva.

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“The sun is out!” Magic words around the Swiss Alps.
After 2 days of gray skies and intermittent rain in Bern, Switzerland, this sunny day would be the perfect one to see the peaks of the Eiger, the Monch and the Jungfrau mountains.

The train from Bern to Interlaken takes only an hour. Then, from Interlaken, trams, cog railway cars and cable cars climb the mountains. My husband and I chose the train package that climbs to the Jungfraujoch, the highest train station in Europe. It is 11,333 feet above sea level, and the top peak of the massive Jungfrau Mountain rises another 2,000 feet.

Our climbing journey began in an electric tram, not as old as the 100-year old Jungfrau Railway, but wooden and noisy. It climbed the steep slope and took wide turns well, but we still had to steady ourselves in our seats.

Oh, the scenery — green hills and wild flowers, a lone house on a slope beyond the track and wooden alp houses for the cows. We saw hikers who followed the narrow dirt roads that cut through the grassy fields.

The tram ride ended at Grindelwald, the transfer point to a cog-rail car. As we shifted the transport mode, we noticed that the warm July weather had changed to crisp, invigorating air. All of the travelers around us scrambled for the jackets they’d been advised to bring.

The cog-railcar rattled uphill, with its advanced power system. We stared across deep crevasses, and looked up to glistening, white, mountain peaks. The railcar stopped at Kleine Scheidegg village and at the Eiger Getscher station to let hikers debark, and then it entered the tunnel that loops 11 miles through the Eiger and Monch mountains.

Two built-in observation spots in the tunnel had wide windows and gave us passengers a chance to see the endless rivers of ice and snow that stretched thousands of feet below. Almost three hours later, we reached the super-alpine Jungfraujoch station. It’s like a small village built down the mountainside. We discovered that the five-story complex includes the station, a Glacier Restaurant, conference facilities, a gift shop and post office, and an Ice Palace. A weather station sits at the very top.
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Elevators travel up and down the complex. Many of us used the stairs to descend the levels of the building. Glass walls separated us from the outside sea of ice and glaciers. Icicles hung from roofs all around us.

The Ice Palace, on a lower level, has floors, walls and ceilings of ice. The ice corridors lead past ice sculptures set in panoramic scenes. Youngsters, and the young-at-heart, detoured through an ice cave. At the exit, we found an elevator and a restaurant with welcome warm drinks. That ended any wish to stay in an ice hotel.

An outside balcony gave us a chance to breathe the crisp, clean, two-mile-high rare air. Part of a 22-mile long glacier rests beside the complex. Ten years ago, visitors could walk on the glacier. Alas, no more.

Back inside the five-story complex, we found the post office that gives visitors a chance to mail sure-to-become-collectible postcards with Jungfraujoch and “Top of Europe” stamps. From there we boarded a waiting train and planned to stop part way down the mountain to explore one of the villages where we had stopped for hikers earlier.
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It didn’t happen. When we changed trains, a conductor shooed us aboard the next one into the overflow area with narrow jump seats, open windows and noise. We missed hearing the long, brass alpenhorns and shopping. But we had a serendipitous trip down the mountain. A local tour guide from Grindelwald sat on an adjacent jumpseat and we got a free talk tour. She told us about the mountains in the winter, and that the tracks and roads are cleared all year, as far as the Eiger tunnel.

“Forty percent of the people who come in the winter are hikers,” she said. The town of 4,000 persons doubles and triples in size in the winter.
“See the small trees? They’re stunted by the cold, but they have strong roots,” she said. “And over there is an alpenrose, just now in bloom, but only for two weeks.”

Her delight in her surroundings showed in her smiling face. Talking with her, dressed in the ethnic dress of a ruffled white blouse, embroidered vest and dirndl skirt, transported us for a time into her world.

The too-short ride ended at Interlaken – the town between two lakes. We walked beside the river and through the town, while the white-topped Jungfrau stood like a sentinel watching over the town. The century-old Grand Hotel Jungfrau faces that mountain and nothing bars its view.

On the balcony of a less-than-grand hotel, we ate dinner and watched the Interlaken world pass by — trains going to big cities, lake boats taking people on a dinner cruise, horse-drawn wagons carrying people in old-world style.
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Back aboard a Bern-bound train, we watched the glacier blue Lake Thun as long as we could, and wished for another day in the Bernese Alps. We might ride the gondola car to the top of Shilthorn Mountain and hike to the tiny village of Gimmelwald. Or maybe come again in another season. Then we could see why the serene Alpine tour guide said, “Oh, in the wintertime, it is so-o-o beautiful.”

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The thing that strikes me the most about Switzerland when I arrive at the airport in Zurich is how calm and orderly everything is, or at least it seems so.

Not to the point of being sterile, but the calm was encouraging after my various trips this past summer to other European countries. Granted, I was arriving in October after the season was over by European standards, but the calm immediately put me at ease.

I boarded a train from Zurich to Geneva where my journey would begin. The train station is located in the Zurich airport so there were no worries about catching a cab, finding a car or even getting lost. Everything is easy in Switzerland and, for the most part, the trains ran on schedule every time.

Arriving in Geneva I crossed the street to my hotel, unpacked my bags and took a walking tour of the city. The first night in Switzerland I had dinner at a traditional Swiss restaurant where I ordered fondue, a must on any visit during the cooler months of the year.

While Geneva is well known from an international standpoint, I enjoyed the fact that it was the city where Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley and Lord Byron spent a famous summer resulting in Mary Shelley’s writing of the novel Frankenstein. The summer home is still standing and you can see the exterior, however it is a private residence and not open to visitors.

The countryside is amazing around Lake Geneva and both Byron and Shelley enjoyed spending time on the lake. In fact, Lord Byron even rowed to Chillon Castle where he wrote his name on a pillar that you can still see today. I decided to take the train to Chillon myself and see what all the fuss was about.
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The Castle is impressive. There is much history on the spot where the castle now stands as it was occupied as far back as the Bronze Age, then occupied by the Romans. In fact, by the 11th century it was already being rebuilt and enlarged. If you are anywhere near Chillon, this is a must. Being a castle junkie I have been to quite a few and this was definitely one of my favorites. If you take the train from Geneva to Montreux you can catch a train right to the castle – the return to Montreux is every hour.
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After leaving the castle my next stop was Interlaken where I toured the city and found it to be quite lovely, a great destination in the summer or the winter. The highlight of Interlaken is Jungfraubahnen. You have probably seen or heard of a mountain called the Eiger from one of the James Bond movies. The Jungfrau, standing 13,642 feet, is one of two sister mountains next to the Eiger. The mountain has an incredible observatory, restaurant and ice palace on top. Known as “the top of Europe,” it is rightly named. Take the entire day and don’t hurry, a relaxing train ride up to the top is the way to go (by way of the Jungfrau railway) and definitely have lunch in the restaurant – it was one of the best meals I had while in Switzerland.

It was getting a bit chilly as I moved on to my next stop in Lucerne. Again, I stayed in a hotel directly across the street from the train station. A tour of the city includes the covered bridge called Spreuer Bridge built in 1408. In the 1600s there were 67 paintings added to the inside of the bridge representing the “Dance of Death.” The other “must see” in Lucerne is the Lion monument called “The Dying Lion of Luzern.” It was built out of natural rock in memory of the heroic death of the Swiss mercenaries at the Tuileries in 1792. The lion speaks of sadness and it is a breathtaking sight built into the side of the rock.
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From Lucerne I headed back to Zurich for the night and enjoyed a tour of the city and a look at the Protestant churches that abound there. When in Zurich, stay in the old section of town where the cobblestone streets or home to excellent shops, restaurants and bars on every corner.
Zurich is an excellent starting point for a trip to Switzerland, or like me, work your way around the country by train and end up back in Zurich for a few days before heading home.

IF YOU GO:

Language:
French, German, Italian and English, depending on where you are in the country.

Don’t Miss:
Red Cross Museum in Geneva
17, Avenue De La Paix
CH-1202 Geneve
+41 22 748 95 11

Getting There:
Best way to get to Switzerland is Swiss – there is no other choice in my opinion. The flight attendants are helpful and friendly and the food is even good.
I departed from Los Angeles and flew direct to Zurich, however Swiss has departures from many U.S. cities.

Getting Around:
The best way to get around Switzerland is by train. Buy a Swiss pass and travel as often as you like for the designated amount of days on your pass. It gives you a chance to be spontaneous because you jump off and on trains without having to continually buy tickets.

Where to Stay:
Interlaken:
Hotel Bernehof
Bahnhofstrasse 16
3800 Interlaken
+41 33 826 76 76
(Right across from the train station)

Lucerne:
Hotel Monopol Luzern
Pilatusstrasse 1
Beim Bahnhof
041 226 43 43