A Genevan dash ...

Geneva looks unremarkable upon arrival in its main station, perhaps like any other city. Its architecture is block-like and unappealing and gangs hang around on street corners. Rather than appearing a pristine Swiss city, it has the atmosphere of a rough French quartier. It isn't until you approach the shores of Lac Leman, where glamorous waterfront buildings have their name emblazoned in large, upright letters on the rooftops that you realise how wealthy the city is. Where Rolex, Cartier and Chanel sit side-by-side, the city meets the lake and a large jet of water spurts 140 metres into the sky at a speed of 200 kph.

The jet d'eau is perhaps the city's finest attraction. Water taxi services ferry city dwellers across the lake and back, providing tourists excellent photo opportunities. There is a nice little cafe situated on a promenade into the lake at the Bains des Paquis. In the summer it serves as a beach with fenced-off lake swimming; we watched a thunder storm approach over the nearby hilltops while sipping freshly squeezed orange, carrot and ginger juice. We dodged runners in the Geneva Marathon and wound through delightful parks with a plethora of pink and purple flowers. In one was an enchanting sculpture of a pony.

Walking around the Rive Droite, or Geneva's red light district, is astonishingly appealing. We stumbled across a little Moroccan bakery selling traditional sweets: typically an almond paste encased in fried dough. Excellent restaurants at reasonable prices are a feature too. We dined in Al-Amir, a lebanese restaurant on Rue Chaponniere. Fresh houmous as a starter and spicy vegetables with rice made for one of the best meals I have enjoyed out in Switzerland. Having hoped to practise my French, I was disappointed to discover that this is one of those places where locals reply in English, and the latter language seems to be the more commonly spoken.

People here are unassuming, compared to Zurich or Basel where the city has a distinct identity and a dress-code to accompany it. The old town is a quaint spot with a pretty spire and the usual cobbled streets. The city boasts some important attractions. The United Nations European Headquarters and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, to name just two. The UN building is pompously large and has a driveway lined with the flags of the nations - an impressive sight. Across the road, beside a patio of water jets, is a chair built to remind of the horrors of land mines: it has just three legs, the fourth being shattered.

We stayed over night in Hotel Les Nations, just around the corner. It is a charming business hotel with a homely feel and interesting exhibits on each floor, such as a collection of old irons. Worth a look is its Poya (traditional painting from the region that shows cows journeying to alpine pastures for the summer) which is the largest in the world. Meeting up with Tim's sister and brother-in-law, and seeing how much his little niece Charlotte has grown was a real treat. She is the smiley-est child with the most infectious giggle. Three-hour train journey back to Zurich was a bit of a bore, but revealed a scenic landscape of vineyards and mansions ...
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