Using Lausanne as our base, we took off on our first day trip, testing the efficiency and punctuality of the Swiss transport system. Our destination for the day? Geneva. Most of you might be wondering why would I want to visit such a city when there are so many other interesting towns and villages to visit. My main reason was the United Nations, while the rest of the family wanted to do some shopping.
A quick check of the train schedule allowed us to hop onto one of the earliest non-stop train to Geneva. Don’t worry, there are plenty of choices even if you missed your connection.
Using the Swiss transport or actually any other public transport in Europe is pretty simple. Don’t worry about the number of lines or which colour are you supposed to be on first. The most important thing is to know where do you want to go, if possible, the name of the bus/tram/train/Metro stop. Then in order to know which direction on the platform that you are supposed to be on, look for the last bus/tram/train station that you are heading towards.
For example, I am heading towards Genève Nations from Genève Cornavin. From the schedule, there are two numbers that passes through my stop — a #8 bus and a #15 tram. I’m supposed to be heading TOWARDS Nations, so the last station would have to be AWAY from Cornavin. For the bus it was Genève OMS and for the tram, Genève Nations. Just my luck, I see the tram heading my way, usually the last station will be shown on the display at the front of the bus/tram.
Most of the time, the same numbered bus will also travel in the other direction, so saving you another hassle of looking at the map.
“That was quick,” quipped Mom.
“Welcome to Switzerland, where everything is right on time.” I answered.
We saved a lot of time with these fast connections, not having to spend more than ten minutes of waiting time at the stops.
The checking of your tickets on the buses and trams is virtually non-existent in Switzerland but don’t test your luck!
Saw an interesting event while we were on the tram, there was a ticket check and at least half a dozen passengers leapt off the tram once the officers made their way into the tram. Looks like there were a few people taking advantage of the notion that you’re supposed to have a ticket for your travel. This was only one of a handful of times we saw ticketing officers doing their rounds. Most of the time, the checks were for long distance travel. Travel within the city on the buses and trams, almost none.
We were there early in order to take advantage of two things, a visit to the Broken Chair sculpture by Daniel Berset and to be the first in line at the United Nations.
“Can anyone tell me what does this chair means?” I asked.
“Buy original furniture?”
“Save the trees?”
“Jack and the beanstalk?”
“You people are ridiculous, the chair is to remind us of the dangers of landmines,” I replied.
There is also a fountain display right behind the sculpture, a place to watch little children play when the weather gets hot. Especially days like these. It was only 9am in the morning and we were sweating from taking photos underneath the sun. The lack of clouds probably had something to do with it.
The entrance for visitors is located 750m or a 10-min walk away from the main entrance at Palais des Nations.
The Palais des Nations houses the European HQ of the United Nations, usually for the branches pertaining to WHO, ILO and UNCTAD. We make the brief walk to the side entrance for visitors, which was about 750m away. Depending on the security guard’s mood, be prepared to get a stern warning when you try to enter the same way as most of the employees of the UN.
We were amongst the first to queue up for the visit. The queuing is important as it ensures that you get priority when you do the tour. A must for us, because we were on a tight schedule. The tours can be in any of the five official languages recognized by UN, I think it is English, French, Spanish, German and Italian. The tours are also staggered accordingly, so if you missed one, you might need to wait an hour for the next one in your native language.
Due to security purposes, photography is not allowed inside. So as usual, I had to be sneaky and take some photos as proof.
We had to follow a UN tour guide during the one hour tour. He was quite informative and although the place was a bit bland, it was something that I can tick off my to-do list. UN in New York is a bit too far for me, so this will have to do. The tour brings you into the meeting rooms and conference rooms, that only a UN employee would have access to. By the way, if you’re an UN employee of whichever branch in the world, entrance is free. For people like us, this will set you back CHF12 per person.
“Here is a test for those geeks out there, how many countries are in the UN?”
There is another monument located within the gardens of the Palais des Nations that you need to see.
Be prepared to walk throughout the tour with a dose of stair climbing.
Tip: There is a post office located inside the United Nations, so you can send your postcards home. My suggestion is to buy postcards from the outside and bring them in. The ones on sale inside are flags of the world and the UN emblem. Nothing else. Pretty spartan if you asked me.
Museum of the International Committee of the Red Cross
Right across the street from the Palais des Nations is the International Red Cross Museum. It costs CHF15 per person and unlike the UN, this is an interactive multimedia tour.
This museum will open your eyes to the other functions of the Red Cross. All of us probably thought that their only job was to provide aid in times of disaster, but once you have a visit, you won’t think that again. The Red Cross not only takes part in disaster relief, they are also involved in making sure that prisoners of war are treated humanely. There is a collection of memorabilia donated by the prisoners to the Red Cross society aid workers on display within one part of the museum.
During and after the two World Wars, relatives of the soldiers can find information on the deceased through the help of the Red Cross. There are basically rows and rows of index cards, showing the date and place of death, it is a painstaking project but somebody has to do it.
You will also hear and interact with stories of people displaced by war and the hardships they had to endure in a country other than theirs. All the while, worrying about what was going on their family still entrapped in the warzone.
It is a pity that there weren’t any visitors while we were there. Although it was just a quick walk across the road. I think the International Red Cross organization is not getting enough coverage in our news and I do hope that more can be done to help them out.
(to be continued)