Posted in Travel

Geneva: CERN and other things to do

In December 2016, after our trip to Zermatt and Montreux, we stayed with friends in Versoix, a pretty village with a little harbor on the outskirts of Geneva. During our short trip here we visited CERN, downtown Geneva, The Red Cross Museum and the Jura Mountains.

Versoix harbor


Being science geeks, we were most excited about visiting CERN. Getting tickets was a bit of a palaver and involved stalking the website at a precise day and time. However, we succeeded and so on our first morning in town we got the train then the tram to CERN HQ. Aside from being freezing cold and having to passively smoke about 15 cigarettes, the journey was simple.

On arrival we were first invited to visit the Microcosm, the coolest part of which was a display of a full scale replica of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Then we gathered as a group in the lobby and followed our guide outside for a long cold walk to a nondescript building. Inside we learned from the guide about the history of CERN before heading through more doors to see CERN’s first particle collider. This was geek heaven for us and I was very impressed with the presentation of this somewhat esoteric topic.

CMS in the Microcosm museum
CERN’s first accelerator: the 600 MeV Synchrocyclotron

Back out into the cold we following our guide across the road, past a giant blob of a building (AKA The Globe of Science & Innovation) over to the LHC control building. Of course we couldn’t go down into the LHC – that’s just for VIPs – but we saw the control room from behind glass and watched a 3D presentation. We also saw a pretty awesome Lego model. The whole tour lasted a couple of hours and by the end we’d learned a lot.

The Globe of Science and Innovation
Mural depicting the ALTAS detector – 1/3 scale!
Control Room
Awesome Lego model

We headed back on the tram to the main train station and I used my very rusty French to get us a couple of sandwiches and hot chocolates at a café. Refueled, we went for a walk around town. We didn’t really know much about Geneva, having done precisely zero research beyond CERN, but I had procured a tourist map from somewhere so we wandered around admiring cobbled shopping streets and churches and alleyways until we arrived what was apparently the main attraction: The Big Fountain (known as Jet d’Eau). Having lived for five years in another city with a Big Fountain we just had a quick look then moved on.

Jet d’Eau

Red Cross and the Mountains

The next day, our host took us to the Red Cross Museum. This was a sobering place with exhibits about disaster relief efforts and the organization’s role during WW2. We could’ve spent many hours there but our next agenda item was a drive into France and into the Jura mountains. Disconcertingly, there didn’t appear to be any border post between Switzerland and France. It was a grey day in Geneva, a common situation in winter, but we were heading into the mountains and soon we burst through the cloud layer into the blazing sunshine. Then almost instantly we arrived at our destination: the restaurant Le Refuge de Florimont.

Inside we were confronted with a thick smell of cooking meat. We were shown to a window booth in the sun and we rejoiced in taking off our coats and being warm. There were furs on the seats and light fittings made out of antlers. We ordered a dish that you cook yourself on a hot stone in the center of the table. It was delicious and not too complicated. There may have been ice-cream for dessert. After lunch we drove further up into the hills to a spectacular viewpoint.

Geneva is under there…

That evening back in Geneva, our hosts took us to the neighborhood ice rink where we joined the locals in an evening’s skate. At one point the local ice hockey team coach came out and started batting a puck about, which the kids on the rink thought was awesome, until one of them fell over backwards and brained himself on the ice… (he was fine).

Not Easy Jet

It was a few days before Christmas when we left Geneva to fly back to the UK. We got the train from Versoix and arrived at Geneva airport two hours before departure. We were flying with EasyJet (never again) and we found ourselves at the back of the longest queue I have ever seen in an airport. It might have been a quarter of a mile long because, in their wisdom, all EasyJet flights back drops were in the same line.


It took us an hour to get to the bag drop and with that done we raced to security and were confronted with another gigantic line, but this time with all the people in the airport in it, and everyone being shameless about pushing in. After about 45 minutes we got through security and with 15 minutes until departure we ran through the terminal, briefly skidding to a halt at the passport check, and got to the back of the line as boarding started.


Geneva is an interesting place with a variety of museum-y and mountain-y things to do. CERN is a significant highlight for those interested in science. On the whole we enjoyed our trip to Switzerland, and I’m sure we’ll be back… perhaps in summer though!


Travel, photography, blogging, being an expat. And that's just in my spare time.

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