Tuesday, April 03, 2007

February 2007 - Geneva, Switzerland - Watch Afficionados' Mecca

On our way to Zermatt we spent several days in Geneva exploring the picturesque city and shopping for watches.

A symbol of the Geneva watch industry internationally-known : the famous "Horloge fleurie", literally "flower clock", located at the edge of the "Jardin Anglais", literally "English Garden", since 1955. It is a masterpiece of technology and floral art with 6,500 flowers marking the hours of the day. The seconds hand of Geneva's Flower Clock is the largest in the world (it is more than 2.5 meters long).

This is the Jet d'Eau, the world-famous fountain that has virtually become the city's symbol. Situated at the point where Lake Geneva empties into the Rhone River, it is visible throughout the city and from the air, even when flying over Geneva at an altitude of 10 km. Five-hundred litres of water per second are jetted to an altitude of 140 metres by two groups of pumps. When it is in operation, at any given moment there are about 7,000 litres of water in the air.

Here is the Jet on a windy day spraying across Lac Leman (aka Lake Geneva) which is one of the largest Alpine lakes and sits between the Jura Mountains and the Alps. The crystal clear dark blue water surrounded by snow-capped mountains make Geneva an absolutely beautiful and sparkling city. Also, thanks to the strong north winds that blow away all air pollution, this is one of the healthiest cities in the world.Here is Casandra in the Jardin Anglais with the Jet D'Eau in the background.

The Old Town, or Vieille Ville, on the Left Bank, is dominated by the Cathédrale de St-Pierre, cour St-Pierre, which was built in the 12th and 13th centuries and partially reconstructed in the 15th century. Recent excavations have disclosed that a Christian sanctuary was here as early as A.D. 400.
In 1536 the people of Geneva gathered in the cloister of St. Pierre's and voted to make the cathedral Protestant.
The church, which has been heavily renovated over the years, has a modern organ with 6,000 pipes. The northern tower was reconstructed at the end of the 19th century, with a metal steeple erected between the two stone towers.
After 145 steps, here we are at the top of the north tower enjoying the panoramic view of the city, its lake, the Alps, and the Jura Mountains.
There is Casandra peeking through the top of the tower. Look at the magnificent Jet behind her.
Old Town is full of small narrow streets with charming little shops. We particularly enjoyed this street lined with Swiss flags.

We also stopped at the birthplace and former home of philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau which sits on the Grand Rue - the main pedestrian street in Old Town.

The Grand Rue leads to the Place du Bourg-de-Four, one of the most historic squares of Geneva.

After some cultural sight-seeing, we did some serious watch shopping. Here is the main Patek Philippe store.
We were impressed that all of the wall clocks at the United Nations were Patek Phillipe. We discovered that high end walk clocks are quite popular in Geneva.
Here is a beautiful Panerai wall clock mounted at the watch shop where Casandra bought her first adult watch.

Here is a Jaeger LeCoultre wall clock also mounted in a watch shop.
Here is Casandra's first adult watch. Not a great picture because the glare from the BLING makes it difficult to capture. This may be the best souvenir ever.

On our last day in Geneva we spent the afternoon at the Patek Philippe Museum. Kenny was like a kid in a candy store. But even Casandra thought the museum was amazing, particularly the Antique's collection featuring watches built into beautiful decorative objects such as brooches and hand held mirrors all decorated with jewels, hand-painted designs and even ostrich feathers. Kenny, on the other hand, was most impressed by the display featuring the world's most complicated watch with 33 complications. It can be ordered from Patek for just $250,000, give or take a few. That's not bad considering it takes a master watchmaker two years of full-time labor to produce the timepiece. Here is what we learned: Founded in 1839, the Patek Philippe company, of course, is one of the most venerated watchmakers in the world. The Antiques Collection contains a wide array of Genevese, Swiss, and European watches from the 16th to 19th centuries. A good portion of the pieces are historically significant to the history of horology. The Patek Philippe display showcases the more than 160 years that the company has been in business.
Here is a statute of Jean-Jacques Rousseau located on an island on the Rhone River which separates the Rive Droite (Right Bank area) and the Rive Gauche (Left Bank area) with New Town on the Right Bank and Old Town in the Rive Gauche. Rousseau, (June 28, 1712 – July 2, 1778) was a Genevan philosopher of the Enlightenment whose political ideas influenced the French Revolution, the development of socialist theory, and the growth of nationalism. Rousseau also made important contributions to music both as a theorist and as a composer. With his Confessions and other writings, he practically invented modern autobiography and encouraged a new focus on the building of subjectivity that would bear fruit in the work of thinkers as diverse as Hegel and Freud. His novel Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse was one of the best-selling fictional works of the eighteenth century and was important to the development of romanticism.

Every once in awhile you have to stop and take a picture of something just because its so weird. This man walked around with an organ grinder cart. But there was no monkey to come take your money, just a really fat cat balanced atop the organ digging into her midday meal and another really fat cat sleeping in a basket hanging off the front of the cart. How these cats weren't terrified of the people or distraught from the loud organ music just amazed us.
We took the scenic walk along Lac Leman (aka Lake Geneva) to the Palais des Nations. This former home of the defunct League of Nations is the present headquarters of the United Nations in Europe. The complex of buildings is the second largest in Europe after Versailles. The monumental compound was constructed between 1929 and 1936.

These are the views of Lake Geneva from the back of the UN compound.

We went on a tour of the UN buildings which included the Assembly Hall, with a balcony made entirely of marble and lofty bays looking out over the Court of Honor,

and the Council Chamber, the home of the Conference on Disarmament with its allegorical murals by José Maria Sert, an artist from Catalonia.Across from the UN compound is the museum of the Red Cross. Its dramatic story from 1863 to the present is revealed through displays of rare documents and photographs, films, multiscreen slide shows, and cycloramas. Displays range from the battlefields of Europe to the plains of Africa to see the Red Cross in action. When Henry Dunant founded the Red Cross in Geneva in 1863, he needed a recognizable symbol to suggest neutrality. The Swiss flag (a white cross on a red field), with the colors reversed, ended up providing the perfect symbol for one of the world's greatest humanitarian movements. This striking memorial to the Iran hostages (those are life-size statutes wrapped in cloth) sits in front of the Museum and it stops everyone in their tracks as they enter the building.
The area surrounding the Palais de Nations is home to many international humanitarian organizations such as UNICEF.

While in this French region of Switzerland we enjoyed some casual French food with all of the taste and none of the attitude. Despite not being able to communicate with our French-speaking waiter (other than with hand gestures), we had a wonderful meal and made friends with the Swiss locals sitting around us.

We also explored the local Swiss cuisine starting with a cheese fondue appetizer and ending with a big plate of boiled pork parts. It is was all much tastier than it looks.

A walk on the River Rhone really helped us digest all that cheese. Of particular beauty (for Kenny) were the lit up watch houses. Here are Jaeger and Vacheron-Constantine 2 of the oldest and Kenny's favorites.

On our last evening in Geneva we went to a beautiful Thai restaurant, Patara, which is highly recommended by the locals and quite the chi chi spot. I think we dined with Geneva's "beautiful" people. This is the most creative Thai food we've ever had.

We finish with photo of the Rhone at sunset with the Jura Mountains in the background.

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