TGV: Paris-Geneva

I may have mentioned in previous posts that I’m quite a big fan of trains. Whatever the reason for this (blame Dublin Bus), I’ve been looking for an excuse to take the TGV for a while. Paris to Geneva is a decent stretch of the legs, so why not.

The name must surely be a joke: “Big Fast Train”. But accurate! It’s double decker, goes at 300km/h and is about six miles long. The specs are impressive…train nerd heaven!


We pull out of the Gare du Lyon (served by the very swanky, driverless, suicide-proof No. 14 metro line – deserving of a blog entry by itself) at 10.30.

By 11 we’re more or less fully accelerated and it stays that way for another hour when we make our first stop.

Still in France, we take off again but never regain top speed; soon we’re winding through mountain country and it’s not long until we’re into Switzerland. The Paris-Geneva line is scheduled for an upgrade to TGV standard but not for some years to come.

Full speed was fun (for one thing, I’ve never heard an electric engine make so much noise) and now it seems unbearably slow even though we’re surely still doing at least 70 miles an hour. Irish speeds!

Or not…for some unknown reason we arrive in Geneva about 20 minutes late. Swiss Rail or French Rail…? Not impressed!


Off to Paris

I’m off to Europe tomorrow evening for a week; the main reason for travelling is to visit family in Geneva but I’ve had a hankering now for a while to take the TGV from Paris to Geneva and that’s what I’m going to do…three days in Paris and then three days in Geneva with a spin on the TGV on Wednesday.

Can’t wait. How’s my French…


Saturday was a rest from Geneva, as I headed up to Lausanne to visit a friend currently studying there.

This also afforded me a chance to experience the Swiss trains as Lausanne is only 40 minutes from Geneva by rail. First impressions were fantastic. On a minor note, as with the buses, they don’t bother with checking everybody’s tickets as you board (so there’s no bottlenecks at the gate/doors). And the differences from home continue:

  • double decker carraiges (a first for me)
  • all-electric
  • virtually silent – you’re so far from the ground and there’s no engines
  • punctual, obviously

Now that’s infrastructure!


Lausanne is hilly. San Francisco-like. Incredibly hilly. Especially when you’re walking up and down it in the baking heat.


It seems that the International Olympic Committee have their headquarters in Lausanne; was Geneva full? I think Swiss neutrality and a central-European location are only excuses for these international organisations: the real reason they’re here is for the views of Lake Geneva.


We couldn’t resist Lake Geneva and ended up on a paddle boat out in the middle of it. Not a very good position for somebody who can’t swim, but there you go.


With Lausanne exhausted (and us), we headed for Montreaux. By an amazing coincidence the 40th Montreaux Jazz Festival was in full swing. Well, they have even better views of Lake Geneva than the IOC, but in the 3 or 4 hours we wandered about we didn’t see any jazz. Great festival, shame about the jazz!



International Relations

Today was ear-marked for some of the international bodies to which Geneva is home. One side of Geneva houses the UN, the International Red Cross, UNICEF and the WTO. These are all within about 10 minutes walk of each other. I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world where you find such a grouping of international organisations.

First up was the UN; naturally, we arrived without any form of identification whatsoever, so the Red Cross (opposite) was bumped up the list until we could return home for our passports. The building sports a museum which guides you through the history of the Red Cross (and, seemingly by extension, the history of warfare for the previous two centuries). By happy coincidence a saxophone quartet were giving a free concert afterwards. A common thing in the Red Cross it seems, but today it was indoors owing to the inclement weather.


A brief stop home (very brief – more on Geneva’s transport in an upcoming installment!) and we were back at the UN. No such thing as a free tour here, but it’s well worth the 10 francs. They have the right idea here; start in the newer 1960s section (grey, minimalist, soul-destroying) of the “palace” and then progress to the older 1930s rooms (art deco, high ceilings, artwork, like a New York skyscraper of old, inspiring).

Guess which one is which.



Our guide was very chatty and walked extremely fast (we did get lost once). She gave a good history and introduction to the organisation and answered all our questions with only a little evasion (“and five countries are permanently on the security council….next question!”). The Geneva site is the second most significant UN site and is the world’s largest conference centre, with 34 conference rooms – 1 of them capable of taking 1200 delegates. Not today, though.


The 1930s section was funded by Rockefeller and it really is remarkably like being in some of the great New York skyscrapers. Not so much from the outside, however, although it reminds me of some of the buildings from New York and Washington. Not a coincidence I’m sure!


In fact, the Rockefeller “wing” was originally built to house the League of Nations. Here’s where they used to meet. De Valera sat in the centre I think.


After this we were a bit tired (well, I was) so it was off for dinner. We did rather take the scenic route, however, dropping into the Botanic Gardens and walking alongside Lake Geneva on the way to the unknown restaurant. This was all very nice, I have to say. Every city should have a lake. No wonder it’s so popular with the UN and company.




It’s about time I sneaked away from work for a while. The easiest place to organise was Geneva, since I have relations there. It took only 30 minutes to book a flight with Aer Lingus. In fact, it was a little too easy, as I discovered when I tried to cancel the flight – owing to a small oversight with dates the flight home clashed with a fairly important engagement back home.

It was well worth missing that, however.


The flight over was uneventful if a little turbulent. While approaching the airport the plane was surrounded by a thunder and lightning storm. I’m sure this happens all the time and that the planes are built to cope with it (although I can’t imagine how). Very interesting observing lightning from above.

Of course, the world cup is in the knock-out stage by now and the relation was invited out by a gang of Portuguese for dinner/beer/football.
It turns out the Portuguese are the biggest immigrant group in Switzerland; bizarre, but fairly evident by the number of flags draped from apartment blocks.

It was a pity they didn’t win against France since – again bizarrely – there’s less French in Geneva than Portguese, apparently. But the celebrations on the way home were still impressive. What struck me was how there is absolutely no atmosphere or excitement around the World Cup at home, it really makes a difference when the streets spring into life after a victory. I guess that’s just another great thing about living in central Europe.