The Swiss Franc Ate My Dollar!
I nervously ordered a drink in my best French accent. “L’eau con gassom” s’il vous plait. Our local Geneva colleague nodded approvingly. “Three languages used in one sentence, now you are truly a Swiss.”
Any country with four official languages is bound to be somewhat confusing for someone who doesn’t speak any of them. Most amazing is that so many Swiss can drift effortlessly from one language to the next, scarcely aware of the transition. A Red Cross colleague at the headquarters there explained. “Some words translate my meaning better in French, some in English. We find ourselves selecting the right word from among the languages we speak.” Hmmm….Geneva is probably not the city for a French immersion course. Or as I learned, for anyone on a budget.
I would go so far as to say that the words ”Geneva” and ”budget” are almost never used in the same sentence. However, creative traveling and tips from Red Cross local colleagues allowed us to experience the “real” Geneva instead of the larger than life Private Swiss Banking version. What I found out is that a few really great experiences are free or very inexpensive. For example, all public transportation is free for visitors, and excellent. The buses run often and extend way out of the city. Attractive villages are scattered along the route, often with a post office and restaurant set around a fountain. The bus routes extend into France along two different borders. We found that out by accident when we took the bus to a village about 30 miles outside of the city and wandered into France for lunch. We didn’t realize it until we were eating lunch on the front patio and noticed that down the road we had just walked was an abandoned border crossing kiosk from the pre-EU days of passport stamping.
I won’t say it is possible to eat inexpensively in Geneva, but our Red Cross colleague shared a great secret for low cost dining. Our favorite place in Geneva is neither a bar nor restaurant, but a sort of public beach complex run by a neighborhood cooperative dedicated to keeping it accessible to all. It is of all things a bath-house , on the right bank of Lake Geneva, jutting far into the harbor almost directly opposite a tall plume of water, the lake’s landmark fountain. From afar, the fountain might not seem remarkable. But from under the 459-foot-tall column of misting water, it’s an awesome spectacle, especially when it’s illuminated at night. Between the funky public bath atmosphere, great food, reasonable prices and water show, Glen and I clinked our free tap water, toasted our anniversary and agreed we were lucky to find ourselves in this corner of the world where “simply ordinary” is never used in the same sentence as Geneva.