Sometimes an opportunity comes along you just cannot refuse. This happened to my family in December when my husband was asked to teach for a week in Geneva. We jumped on the opportunity to take the kids; even though this was definitely not a trip we had planned for at all. Geneva has never been on my radar as somewhere we would go independent of a larger trip to Switzerland. Finances were also a concern given the fact that we had done zero planning in advance for this trip-which was scheduled approximately 4 weeks before we left.
In fact, immediately I was faced with the choice: Do we do an in depth week in the city or do we tackle a more broader trip with the kids (and without my husband)? I knew nothing about Geneva, other than it housed the United Nations AND that it was the hub of Swiss banking. However, given time constraints and the fact that we did want to actually hang out with Jason after he was done teaching for the day, we opted to dig deep into the city of Geneva.
I am SO glad that we did!
First of all, every year Geneva celebrates in its Old Town the Fete De La Escalade, which commemorates the City’s victory over a Paris invasion in 1608. This festival just so happened to be the weekend we arrived. It involved patrols of the Old Town by soldiers in period clothing (a portion of Geneva that is filled with cobblestone and notably, St. Peter’s Cathedral), demonstrations of drums, sword fighting, mulled wine and sausages, a SECRET TUNNEL only opened one weekend a year, and ends with a giant bonfire at the base of St. Peters. Approximately 600 volunteers march through the city to ignite the fire and celebrate their continued independence.
Oh and let’s not forget the chocolate sculpted cauldrons with sculpted candy vegetables that you break open with a sword in celebration! We got in on the action ourselves by buying a small pot and breaking it open with Maizy’s Swiss Army Knife!
I would say one of the highlights of the festival was the free access to the bell towers in St. Peter’s Cathedral. If you arrived after 2pm you were given access to all three. This involved what seemed like a never ending ascension into the towers by winding cobblestone and rock stairways. There were three separate towers: The original bell tower (which was complete with hand rung bells), the mechanical tower, and the watch tower.
St. Peter’s Cathedral served as a lookout for invaders and was continuously manned until after the end of WW1. The bell in that tower was used to warn the city about fire and invasion up until that time.
What an experience we had being thrown into the heart of this truly Genevian celebration. Geneva is primarily a French speaking town; although we were able to communicate just fine with our limited French ability (think Google translate) because most people understood and spoke English as well. Regardless, our experience with the festival was truly magical. We felt like we got to see a glimpse into a side of the City not available any other time of the year.