Geneva, Switzerland: Day 3

On Saturday, Estelle and I started off my final day with eating breakfast with her whole family. The meal was filled with a mixture of French and English conversation along with laughter.

After breakfast, we took the bus into Geneva to sight-see.

We started off at the famous Lake Geneva where I could see the city’s pride and joy: the Jet d’Eau. As I would say in English, the city’s water fountain.

Lake Geneva featuring the Jet d’Eau

After I took a lot more pictures, Estelle and I walked further along the lake taking in the view.

Estelle and I walked back to where we originally started and hopped onto a boat to head to the opposite of the lake where we would be able to walk up close to the fountain. The sun decided to emerge from the clouds and a beautiful rainbow formed in the spray of the fountain.

Can you see the rainbow?

After admiring the fountain, Estelle asked me if I wanted to walk behind/through the spray of water. Is that even a question? We carefully walked along the sea wall and got slightly sprayed in the process. Staying on the opposite side of the fountain was short-lived after the wind changed direction and it started to “rain.” Laughing, we quickly made our way back the way we had come.

Behind the fountain

Next, Estelle and I walked through a park area where there were statues and a clock made in the grass. She explained the history of how the city was founded to me.

Once we finished in the park, Estelle led the way to Geneva’s cathedral. For a small fee, the two of us were able to go to the top of the church and see Geneva from above, which Estelle had never done before. While we were up top, it began to rain slightly and a faint rainbow formed (see picture two below!) Going to the top of the church was worthwhile in my opinion! My local “guide” pointed out different famous buildings in Geneva to me and was able to show me where old Geneva started and the new more modern Geneva began.

After wrapping up at the church, Estelle showed me some canons that had been used to defend Geneva along with the oldest high school in the city. We also peeked inside a Russian Orthodox Church, went to see the longest wooden bench in the world, and the reformation wall.

Near the Reformation Wall, were two of the university buildings Estelle has her college classes. She bounces between three separate buildings for her studies, which are all within walking distance of one another.

At this point, Estelle and I were ready for some lunch. I wanted to eat something I could not eat at home, so Estelle suggested Eritrean food. The dish Estelle suggested involved selecting a “curry” of sorts, which would then be placed on a crepe. When the food arrives, you dig in with your hands. The portions were enormous and the food was delicious!

Eritrean food!

After lunch, we decided to pop into a cafe for a dessert and some tea. Despite being full, Estelle and I were able to manage a sweet treat!

Sweet treats! We opted for a chocolate dessert…yum!

Once we finished tea and dessert, Estelle and I hopped on the tram and went back to her house. Then, the two of us hopped in the car and Estelle to France to an area called the Saleve, which provides beautiful views of the Alps and Geneva when the weather is clear. We almost decided not to do this because the weather was quite foggy, but Veronique convinced us to still go and I am SO glad she did!

The road was curvy and Estelle did a fantastic job managing the twists and turns and avoiding the crazy drivers. After parking, Estelle led the way to the hill we would hike. The two of us hiked and hiked through the snow. I slipped a few times and trekked onward. Let me just say, falling in the snow and battling the wind was 100% worth it! Unfortunately, my camera got a bit too cold when we reached the top so I only have one picture of myself.

Estelle and I hiked back down and decided to take the paved road, which was less time consuming and a bit warmer.

We went back to her house where Veronique and Jean-Marie were preparing another traditional Swiss dinner: raclette. For raclette, you first boil little baby potatoes. Then, you slice cheese. Next, you place the cheese on a little mini skillet. During this stage, you can add spices to your slice of cheese before placing it onto the hot plate/mini stove. While your cheese melts, bubbles, and browns, you place the baby potato onto your plate and mash it with your fork and add sides like meat or pickles. Once the cheese has melted, you pour it over your potato and eat it. Traditionally, half of a cheese wheel is placed in front of a fire and the melted cheese is scraped off onto the potatoes. The skillet version is much quicker and more people can eat at once.

Because I decided to live in the moment, I did not take any photos. Below, you will find raclette photos taken from Google.

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Melting the cheese in the mini skillet
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The final product! Cheesy potatoes!

After dinner, Estelle and I watched a movie together before heading to bed.

My three days in Geneva, Switzerland, were absolutely amazing! My favorite parts by far are the moments I spent with Estelle and her family and Jana and her family. I felt so at home and thoroughly enjoyed having a local experience. Forever thankful for all the opportunities exchange has brought into my life! Big thanks to Estelle and her family for welcoming me with open arms. I cannot wait to return!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Geneva, Switzerland: Day 2

On Friday, Estelle and I woke up around 10:00 am to get ready to ski at Monts Jura in France. All week, Estelle had been checking the weather to determine which day would be the best to ski. Prior to me arriving, she decided that Friday seemed to be the best option with clear skies. For a beginner like me, clear weather would make the experience more enjoyable and the views all the better!

Now, I am sure you are wondering why Estelle would take me to France to ski when Switzerland has mountains. Switzerland is an expensive country to live in and to travel to for a vacation. A “cheap” sit-down meal is 17 Swiss Francs, which equivocates to roughly the same price in U.S. dollars as the exchange rate is almost 1:1. Geneva is also a 15-minute drive from the French border and the Swiss typically will cross the border to grocery shop or to ski to save some money. Going to France is normal for the Swiss just like driving to another state in the U.S.

We loaded up the skis, boots, coats, and the food we had purchased from the day prior and hopped in the car. The border crossing made me laugh because all there was to signify we were passing into France happened to be a building.

The French/Swiss border

Soon after, Estelle and I arrived at Monts Jura. We both suited up in ski pants, jackets, helmets, goggles, gloves, and ski boots. I awkwardly followed Estelle with my skis and poles in hand to the window to purchase our ski passes.

Once we each had our pass tucked into our jacket pocket, we walked through the turnstile with our gear and hopped onto the gondola to head up to the runs.

Estelle and I hopped off the gondola once we reached the top and the teaching commenced. She taught me how to snap my skis onto my boots, how to position my skis to “break” or “speed up” among other things. Most importantly, though, Estelle told me to be patient. She had gone through three years of ski school as a young child.

When I felt ready to give skiing a go, Estelle instructed me to grab onto a moving rope, which would take me to the top of a beginner hill where I could practice going down. I fell down numerous times and got back up again. Every. Single. Time. Estelle had to sometimes assist me in getting up because if you do not have ANY arm strength (like me) pulling yourself to your feet with ski poles is HARD! My ski instructor of a host sister continued to give me guidance until I finally started to get the hang of things. I had to really concentrate on maneuvering my hips and angling my knees together. Once I had those movements down and they felt more natural, I was going down the beginner hill and performing turns without any issues.

Once my instructor deemed me good to go, we moved onto the larger beginner hill. I had apprehensions about going down because

  1. The hill was significantly larger
  2. There were more people going down the hill and I did not want to run into anyone since my coordination was still not 100%

Well, I gave the hill a go and guess what? I wrecked and got back up again. Estelle continued to give me pointers and I would go down the hill again. Pretty soon, I had the hang of skiing. I cannot even begin to describe to you how accomplished and triumphant I felt for learning how to ski in less than 2 hours. There is no better feeling than pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and coming out on the other side with improvement. If there is anything I can encourage travelers to do is to simply say ‘yes.’

With that, Estelle asked me if I was ready to eat. Falling down and learning a new skill is hunger-inducing! After eating, I could decide whether to go down a run or go back down one the lift to practice on the beginning hills again.

Estelle and I hopped onto the lift and headed up. We took off our skis and found a nice rock to eat our lunch. The fog had melted away and we had a perfect view of the Alps.

After lunch, I decided I was ready to give the downhill slope a go. Estelle led the way and continued to coach me nearby. I fell down and tumbled more than once. However, there were moments where I made numerous wide turns and went down the slope pizza-ing so hard and felt nothing but exhilaration and euphoria.

With the Alps before me, disbelief filled my head. At 21-years old, I had learned to ski in France with my Swiss host sister overlooking the Alps. If I never would have gone on exchange to Australia and my family would not have opened up their home that same year to an exchange student, there is no way I would have found myself on that slope with an open mind ready to experience the world.

Skiing at Monts Jura in France with the Alps in front of me. Absolutely incredible.

After completing run number one, Estelle and I went up again in the ski lift and did two more separate runs. By the time I finished up run three with Estelle, the ski resort was closing up for the night. We loaded back onto the gondola to head back down. I felt sore and exhausted, but happy and joyful at all that I had accomplished.

Estelle and I stripped down to our normal clothes and headed back to her house. She gathered up her volleyball gear and I grabbed a few things before we headed out the door again.

I was eating with Jana and her family again for dinner as I would not be able to see them on Saturday since they were heading to their chalet to snowshoe. Estelle dropped me off at the tram station and I took the tram to Jana’s apartment. There, I met up with her and Enrik and we walked to the nearby bus stop to pick up her husband, Emmanuel, who had returned the night before from a business trip to Spain. Enrik and I played with Beyblades and the four of us sat down to dinner laughing and talking.

One last photo: Jana, me, and Enrik

Jana, Emmanuel, and Enrik dropped me off at Estelle’s house where we said: “See you later!”

I sat down at the dinner table with Colin, Timotee, and Jean-Marie who were wrapping up their dinner. We chatted and Estelle arrived home soon after. The five of us ate some Swiss desserts Veronique had purchased.

Pretty soon, I headed off to bed and fell asleep sore and exhausted from my eventful day of learning how to ski.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Geneva, Switzerland: Day 1

Hi, everyone! I am back with a recap of day one in Switzerland! I apologize for the delay. Tuesday involved finishing up homework and studying for my first British Studies exam and Wednesday involved writing the said exam and traveling to Ireland where I am currently typing this blog post.

So, Switzerland. First, some back story on how I ended up in Geneva.

Way back in 2014, I was preparing to go on exchange to Australia with Rotary Youth Exchange. Since there would be a spare bed in our home, my family decided to host an exchange student. Enter Estelle, my Swiss host sister who lived with my family while I was abroad for a whole year. I did not depart for Australia until after her arrival, so I had the opportunity to get to know her for a couple of weeks before flying out.

Welcome, Estelle!
Departure day for Australia circa August 2014: Gavin, Estelle, me, Mason, and Delaney

Now, flash forward to summer 2015. Estelle was getting ready to depart and her family flew to Indiana to meet our family. I cannot say we all understood one another, but we made countless memories nonetheless.

The Americans and the Swiss

During this same time, I was battling reverse culture shock and having a hard time acclimating to life in the midwest. A coworker of mine put me in touch with her friend, Jana, a former Rotary Youth Exchange Student to New Zealand who now lived in Geneva, Switzerland. For a couple of months, I corresponded with Jana via email. Writing her was therapeutic because her experiences and mine mirrored one another.

Now, fast forward to 2019.

I flew out early from London Gatwick airport to Geneva very early last Thursday. Estelle greeted me at the airport with a warm hug. We headed to her house and our conversations just flowed despite not having seen one another for over two years.

At the house, I freshened up and we plotted out our day. The weather was projected to be rainy, so Estelle suggested we go to the Red Cross Museum in the afternoon. She asked if I wanted to eat dinner with her brothers, father, and grandparents to which I said yes.

Before lunch, we went to the ski shop to rent my skis and boots for the following day. Estelle and the ski lady conversed in French while I stood standing with a smile on my face and nodding my head because I did not know what either of them was discussing. I was so short that I ended up with junior skis and boots to match (haha).

We went back to the house and Estelle’s brothers came home for their lunch break. Colin greeted me with a hug and went in for the traditional three cheek “kiss,” which took me aback as I am not a touchy sort of person. When Timotée came in for a hug, I was prepared! Jean-Marie, Estelle’s dad, and her grandparents soon arrived. We sat down and ate a delicious meal of steamed artichokes, sausages, salad, and fruit. Colin had falafel since he is vegan.

Once lunch wrapped up and the house cleared out, Estelle and I took the bus to the Red Cross Museum. The museum covered the history of the organization, humanitarian work, and a rotational exhibit covering prisons. I felt the museum provided a great mix of interactive displays, great audio guides, and visual information. Estelle and I stayed until the museum closed and honestly could have stayed longer as we did not have enough time to get through the prison exhibit. If you find yourself in Geneva, the museum is an absolute must!

Afterward, we walked to see the exterior of the United Nations and Broken Chair. Broken Chair “symbolizes fragility and strength, precariousness and stability, brutality and dignity.” Originally, the sculpture was supposed to be temporary, but its popularity and symbolism resulted in it becoming a permanent fixture. “Broken Chair is a reminder to the world’s nations to protect and aid these civilian victims. It invites each one of us to denounce what is unacceptable, to stand up for the rights of individuals and communities and to call for their rightful compensation.”

In case you travel to Geneva, Estelle did not recommend touring the United Nations because she said on the tours you mainly see conference rooms. Seeing the free view of the exterior was very neat to see in person!

By the time we wrapped up, it was time to head to Jana’s house for dinner. First, though, we stopped by the grocery store to grab some food for our ski picnic for the following day. Estelle purchased bread with black olives in it, Swiss cheese, thinly sliced Swiss beef, along with some other sides. After checking out, we finished the journey to Jana’s house.

When Estelle and I walked into Jana’s apartment, we were greeted with hugs and a friendly smile. I instantly felt like I was meeting a long-lost friend.

The three of us chatted for a bit. Not long after, Estelle departed for volleyball practice. While Jana prepared dinner, I played with Enrik, Jana’s 7-year-old son. He was thoroughly impressed that I knew what Beyblades were and knew how to operate the spinning tops. We dueled for a bit and then I helped cut the bread for the Swiss fondue.

Eventually, the three of us sat down for dinner and I had my first taste of the fondue. Essentially, you take a piece of bread (or potato) and stab it with your fork and swirl it around in the cheese. Then, you eat it! Traditionally, wine is mixed in with the cheese, which is what Jana did for the dinner. I really enjoyed the food and am thrilled I had the opportunity to try a traditional Swiss dish!

Eating Swiss fondue with my new friend Enrik

For dessert, Enrik prepared each of us little bowls of berries. Then, he and Jana instructed me to place a little pre-made meringue on top with some Swiss cream. The dessert reminded me of Pavlova, which is a dessert I had a few times in Australia.

After dessert, I helped Jana clean up the kitchen. She tucked Enrik into bed and we talked until 11:00 pm about everything and anything.

I am so glad I was able to reconnect with Jana after 3.5 years of no email correspondence. Because of studying abroad and hosting exchange students, I am now a part of a vast network of individuals who open their arms and home to you based on a shared experience. For that, I will be forever grateful.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo