Saturday, 26 May 2012

A week after I was robbed, Geneva, Saturday

It is exactly a week since my bag was stolen, literally from under my feet at Geneva Cornavin station. You might have expected that passing time would have made me more resigned to the situation, but no.

Every day that passes I discover something else that is essential to my life is missing, whether it be something cheap and easily replaceable like lip balm or a torch, to something more expensive and difficult to replace like prescription sunglasses or my camera. The latter I have already replaced, together with my iPad and iPod. But one of my stolen digital cameras had a viewfinder, something I find essential when, as has been the case this week, the sun has been shining which makes the image on an LCD screen almost impossible to view.
Until this morning, I was making progress with my passport renewal. But eagle-eyed friend Michael spotted that I could only use the form that his wife had brought from London if I was actually in the UK. So I will have to cut short my long-planned rail trip to Europe and get back to Bern to apply for an emergency one. More needless expense and a total pain.
No news at all from the Geneva lost property department, who had given me some hope that the passport was quite likely to be recovered.
Of course all sorts of other matters have come to light. Skype warned me that it was running out of credit because one of the lost cards was used to fund it; I couldn't make a purchase on Amazon for the same reason. The fact that my bag was taken probably just for cash makes me so mad; I would almost have happily just handed money over, had they asked, just to avoid the inconvenience of it all.
To say that the incident has marred my visit and my view of Geneva is an understatement. Everyone I have spoken to has been sympathetic, understanding and caring. But, almost immediately, they tell me of friends they know who have also been robbed in Geneva. Everywhere you look here, there are posters warning of the scam of the coin under the cups trick; almost as frequently you see people of Eastern European appearance ripping people off with it.
I have asked Geneva Police to tell me what is being done, but don't hold your breath for much information. Tourism is big business in this city and the last thing they want to do is make visitors think that the situation here is much worse than any other place. But it is. Geneva is not London or New York. It is a small town, which happens to have some pretty important institutions based here. Ask any staff member of the International Red Cross or the United Nations and they will tell you that they, or a friend, have been robbed.
But let's not dwell on crime. Let's look at what Geneva has to offer.
Firstly, like all of Switzerland, it is scarily expensive and you really have to budget carefully if you are not to have a serious hole in your pocket. A small basket in the supermarket can easily cost two or three hundred Swiss Francs, probably over half as much again as you will be used to spending at home. Eating out is eye-wateringly costly, with even a basic menu costing forty CHF. The canny Genevois, of course, head over the border to France when they can, buy their groceries, have their meals and buy their booze.
One thing that Geneva certainly has to offer is a really efficient public transport system. If you are staying in a hotel, they are likely to give you a ticket for the duration of your stay. That not only covers buses, local trains, trolleybuses and trams, but also the little red and yellow mouette ferries that criss cross Lac Leman.

The Geneva Card, available for 1, 2 or 3 days, gives you access to all sorts of things from trips by boat around the Lake to museums and even the cable car up Mont Saleve.

I combined both cards to take a trip on the number 8 bus to the end of the line, the Veyrier Douane, or customs post, followed by a short walk to take the steep ascent on the cable car.
You wouldn't even know you had crossed the border, a bit of a relief for those of us who are not in possession of a travel document!

At the top, stunning views over Geneva and Lac Leman and the chance to watch as people attach themselves to colourful bits of nylon cord and material and throw themselves off the 1000 metre high cliff.
But, somehow, I find myself drawn again and again to the Lake and all it has to offer. From 'Les Bains de Paquis' where the locals enjoy their croissants or fondues while watching or participating in a bathe in the rather chilly lake - to a trip on one of the beautifully restored 100-year-old paddle steamers like Savoie or Simplon.

I took one such trip to the French medieval village of Yvoire, where an absolutely splendid lunch was taken on the terrace at the Auberge du Bacouni, before taking the paddle steamer back to Geneva. In fact a very nice lady at the CGN ferry company suggested I also take in Nyon, but the lunch and the view was so special, that I rather lingered over my barracuda souffle and my plat de fromages. A real treat – and a LOT cheaper than eating in Geneva.
If you have a Swiss Flexi Pass, not only does it cover your rail journeys, but also gives you boat trips, funicular railways, cable cars and buses. On my trip on Savoie, the First Class saloon was almost empty, but booked to be completely full for dinner. In any case, I spent a lot of my time just marvelling at the engineering of the century old steam pistons driving the massive paddle wheels.

My friend Michael took me to visit Carouges, where folk will say they are from, rather than from Geneva itself, just across the river. I can only compare it to a London mews, twee little properties and even more twee little shops. As we supped coffee, a man loaded top of the range champagne into the back of his illegally parked 4 x 4. It's that sort of place.

But the lure of the Lake is always powerful, watching the iconic jet d'eau pump water hundreds of metres into the sky.

Nearby at 'Le Grange', taking lunch at the café run by 'The Swiss League for women abstainers' is just one way of realising that most folk in Geneva are great. It's just a few incomers who are spoiling it for the majority.
But somehow, watching the world on the lake go by, such issues seem so very far away.
On Monday I set off on my Rail Trip, slightly anxious about my lack of passport. But I have my pass and I have my booking to Paris, so another adventure beckons.

Best of my photos from the whole trip are at:  

The very best of 'Around the World - Backwards'