In the land of the Helvetes


The Rhone in Geneva, with the giant water-spout in the background

I have just returned from Geneva airport, where I waved goodbye to P, Big Boy T and Little Boy G. We have spent a long week-end together in Geneva, before they returned to Sunny Wales, leaving me in the land of the Helvetes on my own for two weeks. Tomorrow I’ll be starting a stay at the Fondation Hardt, an association specialising in the study of Greek and Roman classics. I have always wanted to go, and as I am on academic leave this year, this is the time. I am quite apprehensive, as I have never been away from my boys for so long, but I hope I’ll have a productive stay.

The weather in Geneva this week-end has been scorching (Big Boy T’s choice of word). In fact, I don’t think the boys have ever experienced such high temperatures. This has somehow limited the amount of sight-seeing we have been able to do, but we still managed to visit several interesting sites and walked many miles (perhaps too many!). T requested a visit to the Patek Philippe museum, aka the watch museum. I am afraid to say that the historian of science that I am was rather disappointed. The displays on the making of watches had very little in the way of explanations, and we were followed by a child-unfriendly guard. The rest of the collection was very pretty, but looked more like a jewellery than a museum. I felt rather uncomfortable during the entire visit. T, however, enjoyed it because of the grand staircase with glass dome at the top, which reminded him of the staircase on the Titanic (don’t ask!).

Surprisingly much more child-friendly was the Ariana Museum, devoted to ceramic and glass. There was a children’s corner and a little activity leaflet for them. The exhibition was absolutely gorgeous. My favourite artefact was a Doulton vase from the beginning of the twentieth century. T and G enjoyed the bird and monkey shaped dishes. I also spotted a few pharmacological containers.

Also well worth a visit was the museum of the red cross/crescent. There was relatively little on the history of the medical services offered by the red cross, as the museum focused more generally on the red cross’s humanitarian mission, but this was still a fascinating museum. The exhibits, many of which are digital and interactive, were very moving. G (who is 3) got very little out of it, but T (who is 8) found it very interesting, if rather sad.

A third-century Roman mosaic under the cathedral of St Pierre, Geneva

A third-century Roman mosaic under the cathedral of St Pierre, Geneva

We ended both our Saturday and our Sunday with a visit to the Cathedrale St Pierre. There, some Horrible Histories myths about the reformation starting with Henry VIII had to be debunked – I believe I achieved something there. On the other hand, I completely failed in convincing G that we were visiting a church rather than a castle. We also enjoyed a visit of the archaeological site under the cathedral, where one gets a very good sense of the long history of the cathedral, from the Roman period onwards. G was a bit confused to find ‘Romants’ in Switzerland – he must have thought he had safely left them back in the UK.




The view from the top of the Old City of Geneva

The view from the top of the Old City of Geneva

However, what most impressed T and G were the public fountains. At the very top of the city, there is a little parc (the site of a former prison) with a great view and – more importantly – a fountain. There they spent a long time splashing themselves and drinking the water, wondering at how cool and delicious it was.


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