Someone once told me, that if I were to visit several cities in Europe all at once, then Paris should be the last stop. Otherwise, everything after it would prove to be a disappointment. I consciously ignored that advice. Yes, Paris is unrivaled. But other European cities have their own unique character, their own something to love. Geneva has that something.

We took the TGV to Switzerland’s third largest city after three busy days in Paris. Clutching a Le Monde I could barely read, I stared languidly out the window, at the French countryside blurry before me, and then the Alps in the distance. We barely had two days in Geneva, and we were lucky enough to be staying with my cousin Tina, her wonderful husband Bernoulli, and their three adorable children. I’m still facepalming myself, over the fact that I didn’t take a single photo of us in that bright, homey apartment filled with art. Tina’s sister Bingbing and her son Javi were also visiting from Stuttgart. And it felt comforting for me to be with these older, wiser women who are both in the same life stage as I am. Also, I hadn’t seen them in years.

We took what was left of our first day to explore Geneva’s Vieille Ville or Old Town, which is actually Switzerland’s largest historical site. It was great to walk its narrow cobblestone streets, to pass numerous galleries and museums and historic buildings. There are small shops in the Bourg-de-Four Square, and outdoor cafes where you can kick back and people watch.

Find the wooden benches under a tree in front of the historic St. Pierre Cathedral, and wait for the bells to toll. If I lived in Geneva’s Old Town, I would go there every day.

We visited the nearby Museum of Art and History, a small but beautiful, free-for-everyone museum with works from Pissarro, Renoir, Modigliani, Rembrandt and Hodler. And some Picassos at the time.

That night at the apartment, we had Swiss fondue and some pasta for dinner made by Tina who is a great cook.
Our second day began early with a trip to the Plainpalais Flea Market, located in this huge open space in central Geneva. There was a lot of art, furniture, clothing, old watches and books, and vintage kitchen and serving ware that would make a food stylist swoon. Other days, farmers and artisans sell food there. The weather was nice, so we took a leisurely walk around the whole thing. Finally we picked up a small, old painting by an unknown Spanish artist from this old gentleman. He said it was 24 Swiss francs.

I hesitated.

Me: Nineteen, s’il vous plait.
He laughs.
Old Man: Where you come from?
Me: Manila. Long way from here.
Old Man: (smiling) Ya….ok.

Later that day, we headed to the lake. Called Lac Leman in French, more than half of it belongs to Switzerland and the rest to France. The lake is super-clean, the water so clear. We took a water taxi to the restaurant Bains des Paquis (Quai du Mont-Blanc 30, CH 1200 Geneva) for a late lunch.

The restaurant is set in the middle of the harbor in a sort of pier. There are turkish baths, a bar and restaurant (for great fondue), and a deck where locals were lounging under the sun. Other people simply lay on the pier or sat on the beach. This place is a must for anyone visiting and is usually packed with people. That day it wasn’t so bad. The week’s special was a hefty plate of trout and ratatouille.

It was pretty fun feeding seagulls and swans on the beach with our leftover bread. The seagulls were particularly enthusiastic—catching the morsels in mid-air. Tina and I suddenly started missing our kids so much. Hers were at school, mine were halfway across the globe. Sob.

From the lake we stopped by the department and grocery store Manor (Rue Cornavin 6, 1201 Geneva) to pick up a few things for dinner, and chose a lamb curry and hummus from this awesome middle-eastern section. They also have a large part of the ground floor dedicated to chocolate, mostly Swiss and other European brands, where people just basically end up hoarding. I know, because we were those people.

Although our time in Geneva was short, I truly felt like I took a breather from all the running around in this trip. Almost immediately, as soon as we began to leave the next day, we were running again, and almost missed our train. I said goodbye to my cousins, wondering when I would see them again, and grateful for the time we spent together. Soon our train would be zipping past the lake, and then into long tunnels inside rocky mountains. I’m a little phobic about tunnels and found myself holding my breath a couple of times. My cousins told me to just sleep through it. But I stayed awake because the scenery was, for the most part breathtaking, and also because I was excited about what was to come.

After the nearly six hour journey, we would be hearing the sounds of lilting Italian. Florence and Rome were up next.

And thanks for reading.

*All photos by Ina Amor Mejia