Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Up until now, we've been satiating ourselves with, to be quite frank, copious amounts of alcohol. Anybody who knows me would know that I'm not a big drinker at home; however there's something that has seemed to snap in our brains; possibly the fact that I'm in a strange city with a group of people that I don't really know - the loosening effect of alcohol is a comfort and an ice-breaker. It can't last, however, and I think the spirit is beginning to wane. I've spent the last few days since my previous post basically drifting; hanging out here doing nothing but looking at YouTube videos and playing an addictive (but unforgivably and sometimes frustratingly hard!) game called Uplink.

One brief respite to all this was a trip to Nyon, a mere 20 minutes by train from Geneva. I initiated the trip; which consisted of a text message to everyone. It wasn't long before all but one had agreed to go. I think the others had been doing much as I had, and the boredom and frustration of doing nothing when one expects to be constantly going compelled us to do something. I didn't know much about Nyon, but I knew it was close-by and cheap to get to and somewhere else. That was enough. Although I obviously haven't explored all the merits of Geneva, I find myself already running out of ideas for entertainment that doesn't involve spending large amounts of money.

Nyon had the air of a ghost town when we reached it; we can't have seen more than 10 people in the 10 minute walk from the small train station to the lake shore. When we got to the shore though, we could see where all the crowds had gathered. There was an impressively large flea-market going on, all along the lake shore. There were hundreds of stalls, selling basically everything. The atmosphere was pleasant; even though there didn't seem to be much worth buying if you weren't an antiques collector. The sellers seemed to be much more interested in having a day out chatting to prospective buyers than making money - any profit would have been just an added bonus, I think. I wandered around the market for a bit; not with any intention of buying anything but just to soak in the congenial atmosphere and to pass away more time - there wasn't exactly an overload of things to do in Nyon. unfortunately it was again a cloudy day, and what would have been impressive views of mountains to the South were masked in fog - as usual.

The Alps from just above the lake in Nyon. Every time we go somewhere scenic it's bloody foggy!

After our walk through the stalls of the flea-market, we went to what seems to be the only other thing to see in Nyon on a Sunday: the castle. This is a pretty looking castle from the outside:

It's got a watermark from a programme called photomatix, which allows you to make HDR images. If you don't know what they are, it doesn't really matter!

Nyon has some Roman ruins - apparently it used to be a major Roman port.

Inside however, it's a different story. They have taken a perfectly serviceable castle, and turned it into some sort of bizarre modernist museum-cum-art installation. The insides are filled with pretentious art with stupid descriptions, dull displays of ceramics, and creepy photographs of random Victorian-era people. In the main none of it is historical, except for the cells which have been preserved - these have some interesting graffiti dating back to at least 1820 (even one of these houses a video player and TV playing an arty repetitious video consisting of a few images - my pet-hate withing the world of modern art) , and a very meagre description of what each floor had been used for in the past. I can't understand it, it seems to be meaningless, and a waste of Nyon's only tourist attraction. Oh well. Each to their own I suppose.

There were about twenty or so of these odd statues around the castle. Very authentic, indeed...

Disheartened by the castle, which looked promising, but still happy to have done something, we got the train back to Geneva early. Our wish to make the most of our time here was still unfulfilled. We're in some kind of strange twilight zone - we're not quite tourists but we feel we should be; we can't treat it fully as a holiday (for financial reasons as much as anything else) but we're not exactly full-time residents either. We don't have that many hours of college, not enough to take over our lives anyway. So we have to make the most of this once-off opportunity. It's difficult to strike a balance between just living here, and doing the whole touristy thing. It's not something I anticipated before coming over here, and I reckon it's going to be a big challenge not going home dissatisfied.

Further to what I was talking about in the previous paragraph, I'm tempted to get up really early tomorrow and go somewhere. Sion looks interesting. I chose to go to Switzerland mainly to do stuff like hiking, and there seems to be a fair bit of that going on there. And it's not too far away either - so the expense wouldn't be that great. It's getting pretty late though - so who knows if I'll actually be able to go! I'll see how I feel in the morning I guess. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Thunderstorms are go!

There was a fairly mild thunderstorm here last night; I counted perhaps 10 sheet lightning strikes, and what I believe was one incredible, huge, fork lightning strike. I stayed up until about four in morning, desperately hoping to capture one like it on camera - it never came, however. All I got for my efforts was about 100 noisy pictures of Mont Saleve and an orange-hued sky. Not even one picture of sheet lightning!

I'm beginning to think that I like photography not for the end result (even though it's a bonus), but because it forces you to stop and smell the roses - it forces you to examine your surroundings for details you wouldn't pick up if merely getting from A to B. If it wasn't for the incentive of taking photos, I would never have stayed up until four last night, being awed by the rolling thunder, the impressive (if sparse) lightening, and the driving rain. I would never have spent so much time walking around Geneva looking at neo-classical buildings; or sat on a park bench gazing intently at seagulls and ducks and their patterns of taking off and diving for food. I certainly would never have gone to a botanical garden and examined flowers for peculiar patterns; I wouldn't have noticed - much less be fascinated by - strange insects collecting pollen from them.

I'm convinced that the small details that I usually miss out on at home, but that I'm seeing now (thanks to my desire to photography), are enhancing my experience of life - perhaps not in a dramatic way, but it's nice all the same. You often hear people say that by being obsessed with taking pictures on holiday or at an event with a still or video camera are ruining it for themselves because they're not really living through it first hand - they're too busy trying to record it for the future. I have to say so far, I've experienced the opposite.

I often look up at the sky and note to myself: "Hey, that cloud is pretty cool" But the desire to take photographs forced me to give it a second look.

Without photography, I wouldn't have given this feller a second glance.

It seems to be widely believed that unless you're taking photos for money, it doesn't matter if anyone else likes them, as long as you're happy with you own work. I would go one further: I don't even care if I like them, as long as I'm having fun.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Red Cross & Botanical Gardens

I keep meaning to write some sort of analytical post about Geneva, praising its transport system, cursing its dullness, generally something that will make me remember in years hence what it was actually like; the feeling of being there, the mood - not just what it looked like. However, I'm getting obsessed with recording what I do on a daily basis, even though this will seem insignificant when I read this later. A real record of my time here should probably consist of my personal attitude towards the place, more than just some sort of tourist guide that will be useless to me if the point of all this is posterity.

On that note, here is what I did today! Yeah, really. I can't bring myself to ignore the daily goings-on of my time here. I know if I don't record this stuff now, it will be lost for good. I don't have a very good memory for small details.

So on to my day: Another Sunday, and happily another Sunday that was put to good purpose: sightseeing. We had heard that the Red Cross museum was one of the best in Europe, so off we went to find out for ourselves. The Red Cross museum (and headquarters, I assume) is in the 'Nations' area, home to various UN offices, a terrifying Russian embassy of some sort (I have a picture of the razor wire in my first post), and many other international organisations. The area is pretty unimpressive, however. (The UN European Headquarters looks architecturally interesting, what little you can see of it through the fences and walls) I suppose the need for security - which results in high, ugly gates and walls - is more important that anything else. I didn't get a sense of importance getting off the tram, that's for sure. Maybe it's because a lot of these organisations have outlived there purpose; they are a product of their time (the post-war era), and are a bit ineffectual now that period is over. But I digress...

The international conference centre, in the 'Nations' area of Geneva. About the most impressive building there.

So in we went to the Red Cross museum. In the entrance courtyard there is a striking sculpture; a group of bound and hooded figures. The effect they have is chilling - especially looking back on the pictures now:

I must say I'm quite fond of this 'putting captions on stuff' malarkey. These were taken in the entrance courtyard to the ICRC Museum.

This sculpture is a good symbol for the rest of the museum: sombre but not overbearing, emotional yet meaningful. The museum traces the creation of the Red Cross and the Geneva conventions, through fantastic alingual (I have no idea if that's a word, but what can you do?) multimedia displays, and an impressive collection of original items, from medical equipment to original drafts of the Geneva convention. The nature of the organisation, a real working one, means that it's not purely historical. It has a message to tell, about the importance of humanitarianism, which it puts across without preaching or pushing you in a particular direction. Just being there, looking at the various installations on things from landmines to 3rd world street children, tells you something about the world but lets you come to your own conclusion. One thing that dissapointed me, to be expected I suppose, was that it doesn't really comment on its less than perfect record during the Second World War (including one Red Cross delegate calling the concentration camps in Germany 'Strict but fair'.

The Red Cross organisation interests me, and while it does good work I think that sadly its original reason, dealing with prisoners of war, has fallen to the wayside. Unfortunately this is not because we have seen the end of war, but rather a stark change in they way it is 'practised'. I fail to see how the Red Cross can adapt do a global society which treats prisoners of war as illegal combatents with no rights; one in which Governments get around torture by changing its definition. The Red Cross and the Geneva convention was conceived in a time which may have been fairly savage and brutal, but which at the very least was willing to adhere to strict rules regarding engagement. I think the same problem afflicts the UN.

After the Red Cross museum, we went to the Botanical Gardens, something I was looking forward to because of the oppurtunities to take photographs. I think it would be much more impressive in Spring or Summer; there wasn't much colour around and the conservatory was closed. Not really much more to explain about this, I'll just throw up a couple of photos I like:

There was some good opportunites for shooting little critters. If only they'd sit still for a little longer!

I'd love to catch a bumblebee in flight, but I think it's an impossible task. They seem to move slowly but they really don't.

Somebody's dog. Seemed to love the camera but for some reason I couldn't get a shot of his face.

One of the few instances of colour in the whole place, unfortunately.

Another of the vast number of waterspouts throughout Geneva.

I'm sorry about all the bees.

Really, I am. It's my phantom hands making me put them here.

I don't know what this is, but it was impressive. Its wings moved really fast, and it was over and inch long and quite fat.

Another of this weird insect.

Aaand another bumblebee. Last one, I think.

A statue in the 'Nations' area. I have no idea what for, I'm afraid.

This dude again. I think the curly thing at the top is how he collects pollen.

Right so, another post done. I hope I enjoyed it.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Climbing Mount Saleve

On Wednesday the 14th me and another of the Students climbed a nearby mountain, Mount Saleve. I was itching to climb it since I first saw it piercing through the clouds on our flight over. When I realised that it was an easy 2 hour climb (It's not exactly Alpine - it's only 1200 metres high) I was even more determined. We set off reasonably early, on got a bus from the centre of Geneva to Veyrier, a nearby village - half of which is in France. We passed the border and asked the staff at the cable car where the walking route was. Luckily it's well signposted, and not particularly difficult, although there were a few hairy moments. About 1/3 of the way up we reached a village, which looked like a very pleasant place to live. It is somewhat ironic that our first sighting of typical Swiss mountain village houses was actually in France!

Here we picked up our 'guide' - an enthusiastic dog who followed us for the next 2 hours! This is him:

He was an able climber, bounding up ahead of us as it clearly wasn't his first time climbing the mountain. He did have a tendency to get in fights with large dogs however, leading to us getting disapproving looks from their owners for not keeping 'our dog' on a leash.

About an hour later, after some quite steep climbs, we caught our first glimpse of the Alps, making it all worthwhile. Unfortunately it was a very misty day, leading to dark photographs; you'll have to believe me when I say it was better being there:

So that's the Alps anyway - I'm really looking forward to taking pictures of them from not so far away! We continued our climb - which was actually pleasantly civilised, not like the wilderness if you climb an Irish mountain; in fact there were quite a few restaurants and bars on the way. Eventually we reached the cable car station, and had a satisfying rest and a bite to eat. The view from here was also spectacular, as you can see the whole of Lake Geneva, shrouded in mist:

We met the others in the group, who had cleverly decided to take the cable car from the bottom, and kept on climbing to reach the top, and were rewarded by more stunning views. They pretty much speak for themselves, I'm afraid I'm not a good enough writer to enhance them. Here you go:

So that was that. It's really satisfying to know that something so amazing is also so accessible. I'm looking forward to more walks like that, particularly in the depths of winter when the place is carpeted in snow.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

First post

Hi, I'm a student from Ireland, and I've moved to Geneva for four months as part of the Erasmus exchange programme. I've decided to attempt to make a record of the next four months, mainly for myself, and mainly to put up some photos that I'm happy with. I'm going to steer completely clear of describing the people that I'm over with, eight other students from my university; not because I have bad things to say (on the contrary I've been extremely lucky and we all get on as a group), but because I'd feel a little uneasy talking about people on something that is published to the world - even if I am the only one who will ever see it. So it'll probably seem as if I'm on this trip on my own, while in fact I'm with a group of funny, easy-going, up for a laugh people, without which I would probably be going ever so slightly mental.

I'll start off with the first few days, and while I'd love to write a detailed account I really couldn't be bothered. After a uneventful flight, we landed, and I stayed the first night in a dorm in a cheap hostel, and the second night in an individual room, in another slightly less cheap hostel. I was expecting the worst, but both were surprisingly fine. They were definitely basic, but they were Swiss basic, which means that the rooms, toilets and showers were flawlessly clean and everything was very efficient. I guess coming from somewhere like Ireland you expect a slightly low standard when it comes to dirt-cheap accommodation. For posterity (or something) here's a picture of the street the first hostel was on:

I came over with no permanent accommodation arranged; not through lack of trying, and this was something that was playing on my mind from the moment we set foot in the city. This problem didn't last long though, thanks to a mixture of blind luck, and also good old Irish clannishness (with I severely doubt is a word, but anyway) Several others in the group had managed to find accommodation in a student residence, and when they walked through the door for the first time were surprised to be greeted by 'Conas a ta tu?' - the Irish for "How are you?". In a perfect example of 'luck of the Irish' it turned out that one of the people working in the residence was from Derry, and within a few days had somehow managed to find us as room there, this in a city which apparently has a 'grave crisis' of accommodation, for students in particular. So we basically fell on our feet - a comparatively cheap room, with rent and wireless Internet included. The residence is... interesting, to say the least, but I think I'll leave the description for another time.

So with that worry out of the way, we took to the streets of Geneva for some sightseeing, as we didn't have to begin college for a couple of days. Geneva is built on the shore of a lake (Lake Geneva, surprisingly), and of course the Jet D'Eau, a 140 metre man-made waterspout is the most famous landmark and can be seen from much of the city:

The lake shore is thronged with tourists, and it's funny to see little groups of people where ever you look, standing with their back to the jet, posing for the obligatory 'I was there' photo'. I quite like the jet, I think it's an elegant and imaginative idea for a landmark. It's also extremely impressive close up, with the spray in your face and the sound of thousands of litres of water being hurled 140 metres into the air:

The following couple of days involved a couple of leisurely strolls through the touristy parts of Geneva, with me snapping frantically - I'm no photographer but I love taking pictures. My tactic is to take as many as possible, with only a vague sense of composition and light. Hopefully that will change as I practise: I'm certainly doing an awful lot of that!

Right so, I think post up a couple of pictures. I'm going to make a conscious effort to stay away from the typical tourist shots, but I'm sorry to say that I'm weak. There's a reason things become over-photographed: everybody wants to take a good picture, and impressive buildings and landmarks usually make good ones. Also, the Internet connection I'm working on seems to be run by an arthritic sloth with a penchant for cheap gin, on his day off. So appreciate the amount of frustrating time this is taking me!

Geneva is littered with neo-classical architecture, and it's tempting to take pictures of every one, although you do get sick of it after a while:

The Geneva convention, and other important stuff, were signed here:

Autumn is a nice time to be in Geneva - and a great time to photograph. There are trees everywhere, all deciduous thankfully, which means fantastic colours all over the place:

We spent Sunday morning complaining a bit about the strict laws in Switzerland that mean that nearly everything except for maybe a couple of petrol stations are closed on Sundays. However, we walked to a park in the centre of the city, and the reason and logic behind the laws were instantly apparent. There were families everywhere; soaking up the late winter sunshine, watching and playing chess with giant pieces in the park, just generally enjoying themselves. The chess-playing is something which seems to be done with a great degree of gravity but a definite sense of fun, as this player deep in contemplation while his opponent makes his move would probably agree with:

Sunday is still a day of rest in Geneva, and I would assume it is in the rest of Switzerland. It's highly commendable that in probably one of the most consumerist societies in the world (You can buy just about every expensive designer item you could possibly think of) they can still have a law that puts the enjoyment and mental well-being of the ordinary individual over profits - for one day of the week at least.

Two more generic 'touristy' shots (I don't mean to use that condescendingly, I don't see myself as some sort of high-brow artisty type or anything, I just realise that it's probably a bit pointless publishing pictures that you could find superior versions of on the Genevan tourist board website) The first is the reformation wall at the edge of the park I mentioned, and the second is the UN European headquarters - I've never been so afraid of taking a picture before - I decided to go way back and use the zoom lens. I was afraid of being carpet bombed in case I accidentally took a picture of the wrong person or something:

There are waterfountains everywhere - not particular exciting but I just like this shot:

I took this basically by accident, and it's one of my favourite photos since coming to Geneva - pity it's the French flag, not the Swiss one! It does illustrate to a degree the extent of the Frenchness of the town. I was expecting blue-eyed blonde-haired Heidi types, just speaking with a French accent. On the contary, the people here are dark with brown eyes, and the architecture in most of the city would remind you of something from Paris or another French town:

The next two were taken from the shore of the lake - not much else I can say about them really: That Geneva has swans and flowers perhaps? (Who'd a thunk it?)

Well now wasn't that fun? That's everything for now - this blogging malarkey takes an unhealthy amound of time and I actually have to get up at a reasonably early time tomorrow! Oh the humanity!