Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Geneva is not a wallflower after all

It seems that come August, Geneva drinks a little too much from the bottle of fun she’s had stashed away in the drawer all year, rips her shirt off, runs around yelling and generally just goes a bit nuts. And I’m glad to see it.

It starts on 1 August, Swiss National Day. I wasn’t here for it this year, but I’ve heard that Geneva starts to warm up for that; apparently there are some events on a smaller scale but most people keep it relatively quiet. I’ll have to wait until next year to find out for sure.

Cine Transat is a rarity in Geneva - it's free
Then there’s the variety of events – concerts, theatre, films – throughout the city. It’s summer, where the city herself throws off her inhibitions and loosens up. One event is Cine Transat, the outdoor cinemas that have the lake and mountains as an amazing backdrop. They show a mix of films – cult classics, newer releases, and international titles. I caught Romeo +Juliet on Friday night, which I fondly remember seeing in the cinemas as a 16-year old. The truly amazing thing about Cine Transat though is that it’s absolutely free. They have gone nuts.

The weekend just gone though was on another scale altogether and wrapped up what is – I guess – one of the biggest events Geneva sees in a year; the Fêtes de Genève. It’s a massive party along the shores of the lake for a week, with carnival rides, games stalls, food tents, performers, concerts; I was pretty impressed.
Geneva explodes in a riot of fireworks
for Fêtes de Genève

However, I was blown away on Saturday night. Nearly an hour’s worth of fireworks were blown up where Lac Leman meets the River Rhone in an awesome display of beauty, perfectly timed and coordinated to music. That amount of fireworks must have cost a – er – bomb.

I was reading in 20 Minutes yesterday morning – that’s the free Swiss commuter paper – that over 500,000 people turned out to watch it. Quite extraordinary given that I don’t think half a million people live in Geneva. 

The traffic jam afterwards suggests that there were that many people there, which is one reason why we took the train. I know that I’ve complained about Swiss trains before but, honestly, there’s no comparing to the Swiss for thoughtfulness and efficiency – Swissifficiency.
An hour and a half after the fireworks ended – 1.30am – and the crowd on the train station platform is ten deep waiting to get home. We were speculating who was going to get left behind, given we knew the trains that usually took us home won’t be able to hold half the number of people that were waiting.
2am in Nyon - crowds pile off a double
decker train thoughtfully provided by CFF

Just a minute late, a train pulls up – but it’s not the regular train type that takes the route through Nyon. In their Swissifficiency, the CFF (the French abbreviation for Swiss National Railways) decided to thoughtfully provide a double decker train that usually does routes to Zurich or Basel.

In just a couple of minutes, the platform is emptied and everyone is on board and on their way home. Until next year…

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