Gratitude Friday: Our time in Geneva

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Thank you, Geneva.   We are grateful for our time here.   We have learned many valuable lessons.

We have struggled with a new language, cursing it, shedding tears, and jumping for joy when finally mastering a phrase or actually starting to form these foreign sentences in our own heads. While we still are far from French speakers, we value what it has taught us.  Humiliation (ourselves).  Appreciation (those who are kind to us even when we butcher the pronunciation).  Admiration (that the Europeans know so many languages).

We realized a language barrier isn’t always the biggest roadblock.  Most of the time, we delighted at the cultural differences.  Other days, we didn’t.    We judged when to bend the rules (still running at crosswalks sometimes) and when to really respect them (Bonjour, Madame.  Bonjour Monsieur).

We met truly interesting people.  The small table, 3 serving dishes, and 6-place setting we brought thinking we wouldn’t meet any true friends here, soon became a laugh.     We were fortunate and met oodles of fantastic people.   We learned from them.  We traveled with them.   We taught them about Halloween, 4th of July, and Thanksgiving.  They generously shared their customs with us.   Our way of thinking and understanding the world broadened and became different because of them.

At work and through my volunteering, we got exposure to having a professional relationship with different nationalities.  At first, we languished the difference in speed and approach, yet walked away later thinking maybe our workaholic mentality has a lot to learn from other countries.

We fell into the pace.  While we once spent life apart in different cities, we enjoyed precious evenings together.  Just us.  No obligations.  No dozens of activities to consider and balance.   We only had a working TV for half the time and didn’t miss it a bit (maybe had to do with my VT football team having such a cruddy season!).   We walked to the market on Saturdays we were here, just to buy a fresh chicken and some vegetables.  We attended every festival Geneva had to offer and came to really adore the fabulous street food that came with it…roasted boar anyone?     We embraced a leisurely during-the-week  lifestyle with less stress and chaos.

We got healthy.  We enjoyed not eating steroid-induced, processed foods.   Gabe ate full fat yogurt every day (that tasted more like ice cream) for breakfast or a “pain au chocolat” which is like a croissant stuffed with chocolate.   He still lost 15 pounds over here.    I loved the bread, getting fresh baguettes a few times a week.  I went from needing chiropractic care, acupuncture and massage weekly for chronic back pain, to having a body free of any maladies.   When I went home, my masseuse, she said that my back…it wasn’t the same one she used to treat back then.

We became weekend warriors, soaking up all Switzerland and the neighboring countries had to offer.  We learned to adore France and eat our way through most of Italy, traveling to each country over 10 times.   We also made it to the United Kingdom, Ireland, Scotland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Turkey, The Vatican, Monaco, Greece, Spain, Thailand, and Cambodia.   And visited over 30 UNESCO world heritage sites.  What I never dreamed I’d see in a lifetime became a reality in less than 2 years.

We fortunately skied on the Alps many times.  And we watched it snow almost every single day the December before we had to move.   We continually witnessed amazing winter wonderlands that continually took our breath away.  Long periods spent in the car became a delight instead of a dread….just seeing the snow on those Alps and those tall pines…I always got giddy.  God did amazing work here in this part of the world.

We built our first home here.  Having moved a few days after the wedding, we are honored to have spent the first year and a half of our marriage in this place.  We are grateful for the strong foundation that this expat experience brought to us.  We wouldn’t trade it for a thing.

Genève:  Merci beaucoup, toujours.  Au revoir, ma chère ville.

A Page From The Swiss Rule Book: Leaving Switzerland

For as hard as Switzerland is to get into as a resident, they surprisingly make it pretty hard to leave.   In the US, you just notify the post office, send friends & family a “New Address” card, and you are off.

Here are a few differences we encountered:

Uber-notification.   Globo Gym requires 3 months notice by registered post.    So I have to go to a post office, pay CHF 6 to send them a letter, signed in blue ink, by us.    Also required as an attachment is an official letter from the company or a copy of a one-way plane ticket showing your departure.   We ourselves received five weeks notice on our move, and still don’t even know where we are officially going.   I actually composed the letter the day I received the official notification from Gabe’s company we had to depart Geneva.  While it was Dec 4, and we were leaving Jan 14, I figured we’d have to eat the other 7 weeks of membership.   In turn, I received a letter notifying us our membership was cancelled effective APRIL 1, 2013.   My Dec 4 letter wouldn’t take affect until the next first of the next month..January 1.   So, we are looking forward to paying 750 CHF extra in gym fees AFTER we leave.  This is coming from a gym we belonged to for 20 months.

Permission to leave.   Before we can cancel things like our mobile phone or our internet, we have to have a letter from the canton (equivalent of county in the States) saying they acknowledge our departure. It also serves as a guarantee you are going to pay all your debts before you move, like your phone & electricity.   This becomes a problem when you get short notice like us.  You need the letter to do things….but you don’t know when/where you are going, so you don’t have firm details in order to secure the letter.

Flawlessness.   I had a Pre-Inspection one month prior to the move, so they could detect anything wrong with the flat so we’d have time to fix it.      I nervously cleaned the apartment from top to bottom and used an entire box of my imported Magic Erasers to clean up scuffs, deep clean the sink, and stove, before the committee was to come.    Even with my bad French, I knew the gentlemen muttering ” dommage” and “dégât” was not good news.   Before this, I thought “dégat” was reserved for circumstances like tornados and hurricanes but apparently not in the eyes of the Swiss.   Our  small apartment inhabited by just 2, no pets, for 1.5 years, and cleaned by me for a solid day, was in his mind, a ‘disastrous situation’.   Floor technicians – an actual hardwood company – had to be hired to address the scuff marks and scratch he saw.   Additionally, we had hung 20 paintings/photos on our walls.  I had to show evidence I’d paid a painter (CHF 150, in fact) to patch my holes….they required evidence of a professional….no DIY putty jobs here in Switzerland.

Also, after your movers come, you are required to hire a professional cleaning crew.    While Gabe’s company kindly helps us with this, this crew costs 1042 Swiss francs, so like 1200 USD for cleaning a tiny apartment.  Insanity.  And maybe I should’ve been a cleaning lady here.

Soon after, comes the Final Inspection.  This is where the committee judges your final work and decides if you are allowed to leave.   Not to put any stress on the plane tickets you have for the next day.

Turning Out the Lights.   In Europe, you have to provide your own light fixtures.  So, we had to purchase them or either live with a lone lightbulb dangling from each room.   We requested that we are happy to leave our fixtures here for the benefit of the next renter, since we cannot use them in the United States.  Perhaps it could save them a few hundred francs we wished we didn’t have to spend?   This was debated and in the end, we are allowed to leave OUR light fixtures here in our apartment….as long as we promised each would have fresh new bulbs.  It was cheaper than hiring an electrician, which is required for the electrical work to install and take down your fixtures.

Too bad one of the bulbs got stuck and we ended up having to hire an emergency electrician to help us out in changing to a new fixture to comply with the agreement.

Letting in Strangers. Even though we are renters, we are obligated to show people the flat who are interested in becoming the next tenants.   While it didn’t happen to us with our crazy tight timing, it would be expected that arrange our schedule we show them around, with a complete tour.   Isn’t this nuts for renters to have to do this?

Immediate Bank Account Closure.  You have 90 days to transfer all funds out of Switzerland.   These days, they aren’t too keen on Americans due to the US regulations which forced Switzerland to turn over private banking information.  Thus, you are only allowed Swiss bank accounts now as a resident.    You are given 90 days of course, so you can make sure to pay all those bills you owe from your move.  Ouch.

Oh, Switzerland, how I’m gonna miss your rules.

Saying Au Revoir

We are officially packed up and in a hotel.  Our entire Swiss household has been loaded into a container that will travel across the Atlantic arrive to the United States in March.

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Snowy moving day

Goodbyes are hard.  Today in particular.  I managed not to cry all day until a happy hour with Gabe’s colleagues where I erupted in emotion as they handed us a bag of Swiss memories – a fondue pot, chocolate, and a yodeling Swiss mug.   Yes, I cried over a yodeling mug.  But it had been building throughout the day, saying goodbye to some very special people.

And, let me tell you – another lesson learned….tears aren’t pleasant in below freezing temps.

Let’s hope for warmer weather tomorrow.

 

The reasons we’ll miss Europe….and the reasons why we are excited to come home

Our time is running short.   There are lots of lists on the blog lately, but I thought I’d sum up our list on what we’ll miss and what we are excited to come home to.    If you are friends & family, it goes without saying….we can’t wait to see you and on the flipside to new Geneva friends, we’ll miss you.  So, here is the rundown of all the other things:

Why we will miss Geneva / Europe:

Respect for environment – Sure I may complain about the time it takes to recycle here, but these guys sure do have their stuff together when it comes to less waste.  And I challenge you to count the amount of to-go cups, bottles, you see walking around Geneva.  You may get to ten in one day of counting.   People don’t take the lazy way out as much as we do in the US.

In the end, I got used to separating 8 different types of recyclables and taking them to different places each week

Food supply - It’s nice not to question if your food is good for you or not.  I’m not talking about BigMacs here either.  In the USA, you always have to question what drugs your meat has been given and whether your apple has been hyped up with steroids. In Europe, these horrific practices are illegal.  We’ll be buying organic when we return. Our bodies have never felt better during our time in Geneva.

The Plainpalais farmer’s market

Pace – We have a really nice balance here.  Stores are closed after 7pm and on Sundays so that employees can spend time with their families.  Vacation time is revered & respected in Europe.   In the USA, people (including yours truly) tend to wear stress like a badge of honor.   I’ve heard it called “the rush to the grave”.  We will miss the slower pace here.
Public transport – It’s awesome not to get road rage from a car.  Not having driven the entire 1.5 years we lived in Europe, it is actually a refreshing change.  Also, it’s nice not to figure out who is driving when we go out for dinner or drinks….the bus is our automatic designated driver.

Hermes tram, I’m gonna miss you!

Squares/plazas – There is not much better in Europe that hanging out in a square / plaza, piazza, place or platz.   We love doing this when traveling.  We’ll miss having many options just walking distance from our flat.

Place du Molard, one of our favorites

Fashion – This was Gabe’s.  He enjoys the variety and trendiness.   This is actually not on my list….see point #4 below.

The man scarf with a tee shirt is popular here.

Multiculturalism – We are constantly surrounded by different cultures and traditions.  It is very eye-opening to have exposure to friends and co-workers from all over the world, who open our minds to new views.  We have learned a lot from them.
Easy International Travel – What do you mean we can’t jet off to Italy for the night?  This will undoubtedly be one of the biggest things we miss.  We loved the accessibility to new and different places in Europe.
Being uncomfortable daily – There is a quote from one of my favorite brands, Lululemon, that says “do something everyday that scares you”.   Living in Europe as a foreigner has given us plenty of opportunities for this saying.  Every day, we have our challenges.  And, I think it is good for us.  It has given us a real sense of adaptability and also humility.

Geneva can be a little cold & lonely. But that can be good.

Why we are excited to come home:

 
Customer service – We have been stripped of any expectation of customer service during our time in Europe.  Forget a waiter checking on you or actually having a issue resolved.  In Switzerland, the store owner is always right and you should feel indebted to him for being allowed to even enter their establishment.
Speed/efficiency – Being a person who loves things done fast, I had to give up on any shred of this in Switzerland.  Hello, bureaucracy.  Can’t wait to go back to the States where speed is a virtue.
Being able to read things – I look forward to understand packaging and all signs.  Okay, maybe not political signs but all the other ones.

Hopefully I won’t buy the wrong ingredients anymore!

Not walking all our groceries home – as charming as walking everywhere is, hauling all your goods on your back is not so charming.  More like sweat and tear inducing.  I will vow to take my bike to the farmers market, bakery and occasionally the Harris Teeter, but will be happy never to have to carry all our groceries up “devil hill” anymore.

Won’t miss you, grocery cart thing

Gym clothes are okay – As someone who has gotten worse looks that the average Geneva homeless person, I can’t wait to get back to a country where it isn’t a crime to grocery shop in your lululemon. Seriously, people.  How do you wear your stilettos on cobblestones anyhow?

Grilling – oh how we have missed the deliciousness of grilled meat.  the fun of a backyard BBQ.  Corn on the cob. Baked beans. Steaks that actually taste good.  Mmmmmm.

No more fake grill

Laundry horror stories  – Having a load of laundry take less than an hour……heaven.

Won’t miss the 5 hour load, or having restricted hours!

Closet space – in Charlotte, my closet was actually the previous owners’ nursery.   Moving into a closet that was smaller than any broom closet I’ve ever seen, my clothing will be very happy to spread out. Even sharing with my hubby still gives both of us each 6x the room we have in Switzerland.

Lack of cobblestones – Sure cobblestones add charm and character.  But living with them and walking on them in day-to-day living can grow old.  I’m excited for some flat pavement.

Control over our own thermostat.  Living in a flat, we are at the mercy of when the regie thinks it is appropriate to turn on the heat in the winter.  Also, as much as we got accustomed to living without air conditioning, it can be hard to sleep in 95 degree heat sans A/C.  We’ll use our heat and A/C more sparingly now but will be awesome to have control again.

I was always one cold ducky

The Swiss Rule Book: Drinking in Public

Drinking in public isn’t a big deal in Europe.    We are constantly reminded of this with our guests.  We bring along a bottle of wine to a picnic or on a train and they ask us, “you can’t actually drink that here, can you?”.     The answer is yes.      Europeans are far more lax about things like this.  As a result, there are actually far less drunk people because it isn’t so taboo.  In fact, the Swiss can start drinking wine and beer at 16.  It’s 18 for hard liquor.  And, we have never seen drunk teens.

Here are a few photographic reasons to further demonstrate the point:

Recently, in Italy, we had a glass of champagne at a risotto fair.   They gave us cloth glass holders to string around our neck so that we could take it “to go”.   This has become my favorite new accessory.

Me with my champagne glass necklace, walking around town

They  put reminders up about the legal drinking age:

Babies can't drink in public.

Babies can’t drink in public.

However, some don’t pay attention.

Before….

After….

Sorry little guy.  You have to wait a few years.

And, those ‘on duty’ don’t mind enjoying a cold one.

This guy might have just had his 16th birthday

People drink in random places.   It is most common on the bus to see a guy in a suit enjoying a beer on his way home from work.   I prefer this photo of a lady in her 70′s opening up her bottle she purchased grocery shopping and drinking it out of the bottle at the bus stop.  There is no time like the present.

It’s 5 o’ clock somewhere.

Here’s hoping that this New Years Day, you didn’t have too much to drink!

The Apéro or Après-Ski….Two Alternatives to What We Know As Happy Hour

When we lived in The States, we frequently had “Happy Hour”.   Whether it was with colleagues or friends, it was common to get together after work, enjoy a drink and catch up.  In the US, it is also common for bars and establishments to have Happy Hour Specials such as dollar beers or half priced glasses of wine, etc.

In France, they have a similar tradition, however usually without the discount.  We’ve had the pleasure of experiencing them before but while in Morzine for Christmas, we feel like we’ve really gotten a lot of practice!

The first is “L’Apero”, or The Apero.    L’Apero is the French bridge between your normal busy day and the start of the evening.   Enjoying an ‘aperitif’ before dinner is classified as a gesture of health or well-being, to start your appetite.   The typical aperitif consists of :  champagnes, martinis, vermouths, sherries, or a light or sweet white wines, as well as small snacks like olives, chips or nuts.  A fruit juice is also an alternative to the alcoholic beverages.

Having Champagne for an aperitif

Having Champagne for an aperitif

In ski towns, the apero has a fun spin in terms of the “Après Ski”.   Literally translated, it means ‘after the ski’.  Crowds gather at the most popular bars to start the night.    Here the drink selections are more broad, including beers and mixed drinks.

The Après Ski buzz

The Après Ski buzz

Enjoying the Après Ski with friends

Enjoying the Après Ski with friends, including a special birthday celebration

Finally, after dinner, it is common in France and other European countries to be served a digestif.   Many times this is included with the meal, and is intended to help your food settle.   In Greece, it is raki or ouza.  In Italy, many times it is limoncello.  Here in France, we had homemade apple and pear liquor as well as a hot rum digestif.

While I have heard of “the night cap”, an alcoholic beverage consumed before going to bed, in the US, I typically know it as a sleep aid vs. a digestive aid.

It sure is hard to do this research, but we are happy to do it for the benefit of the blog!  Happy New Years Eve, everyone!!

Gratitude Friday: Christmas in the French Alps

We spent Christmas in Morzine, France, just a short hour’s drive from Geneva.   We were fortunate that some of Gabe’s colleagues and partners/spouses were also interested in spending a joyeux Noël skiing, so worked together to select a place and it ended up being the French Alps.

The village of Morzine, France

The village of Morzine, France

We couldn’t find a chalet for the group on short notice, but the hotel, Le Tremplin, ended up being a fabulous location:

Hotel Tremplin

Hotel Tremplin

The slopes literally run into the hotel, making it really convenient for the skiers

The slopes literally run into the hotel, with two different lifts, making it really convenient for the skiers

Image & vantage point courtesy of B

Image & vantage point courtesy of B

The hotel also had several restaurants attached and a cool patio.  While service wasn’t hot (they were still ironing out some beginning-of-the-season kinks), the heaters at least were.

Hanging out on Le Tremplin's patio

The guys with their beer

The ladies with our wine

The ladies with our wine

Le Tremplin's patio was nice for après ski action, with a band and a lively crowd

Le Tremplin’s patio was nice for après ski action, with a band and a lively crowd

Our room had a village view so it was neat to wake up to the sun rising and setting on the town:

Morning in Morzine

Morzine in the morning

Morzine at night

Morzine at night

The skiers had a good time, enjoying a nice variety of slopes accessible from the town.  While I wasn’t skiing due to an injury, I still was able to get access on foot to witness some of the beauty.

At the top of the Pleney telecabin lift

At the top of the Pleney telecabin lift, I saw some nice panorama

Gabe and friends skiing.  Photo courtesy of J.

Gabe and friends skiing. Photo courtesy of J.

One of the members of our group even organized a gift exchange so all shared in that on Christmas Eve night.  It was fun to open something!

Having fun at the gift exchange

Having fun at the gift exchange

We had phenomenal food, in the Haute Savoie style.   We enjoyed the hearty meals, although I wish I could have been skiing to burn them off!!

Rack of meat from L'Etale

Rack of whisky meat from L’Etale

 

Grilling food at L'Etale, an traditional alpine meal

Grilling food at L’Etale, an traditional alpine meal

We also had a nice traditional meal for Christmas Eve at a local restaurant, La Grange.   It was nice to have the treat of turkey which is uncommon here.

Thanksgiving dinner, image courtesy of B.

Thanksgiving dinner, image courtesy of B.

Our French turkey dinner

Our French turkey dinner

The cheese plate that came after dinner

The cheese plate that came between dessert and dinner

While we missed being with our family this Christmas, we are grateful for all God’s blessings, especially this special experience of seeing this beautiful area of the world.

Christmasy Carouge

One of my favorite neighborhoods in Geneva is Carouge.   It just has a beautiful feel to it, with an influence of Mediterranean in its architecture and its many artisans for residents.  In fact, you can often see them working away in their shops, making everything from hand.

As December arrives, Carouge dresses up in the finest Christmas decorations to show its spirit, and also make its lovely shops inviting.  Last week, my photo group met up for a drink and to take some photos of this great neighborhood.   Here are some of mine:

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The moon and the Christmas tree

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An example of the lovely storefronts

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Frosty leading the way

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Many have beautiful garland like this

And also there are the Santas!  Every shop has one, but they are slightly different in dress.

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Some are even themed to their shop!

 

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Santa at the eyeglass store

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A pink Santa

 

Merry Christmas!!

 

 

Gratitude Friday: The AIWC

Last Friday, the American International Women’s Club hosted its annual Christmas luncheon.  This was my first time, and also sadly my last time as we’ll be leaving Geneva soon.

The AIWC (top floor) on the day of the luncheon.

The AIWC (top floor) on the snowy day of the luncheon.

Anyhow, wanted to reflect on this wonderful organization and how lucky I’ve been to be a part of it during our time in Geneva.

I had researched and found the AIWC before moving from the States, so my first week in Geneva, when Gabe was traveling to Belgium for work, and I didn’t know a soul, I walked up to join.    I was greeted by some friendly ladies, Shannon and Paige, who gave me English books and magazines and were so kind.

I took them home and read every word.  A magazine in English!!! With activities !!!!  And articles about living in Geneva!!! Joy!!

While the club started as an oasis for English-speaking, it became so much more.   I joined the hiking group at first.  Each and every Friday, I’d join up with several women to hike in nearby Geneva countryside.   It was very comforting to have that time to look forward to, for connections and also to ask my silly questions…where do you go to get alterations in Geneva?  Where do you buy vanilla extract in Geneva?  Plus, it was amazing to not have to worry about getting lost, how to navigate, and to enjoy the amazing scenery:

Hiking with the Friday HIkes Group

Hiking with the Friday HIkes Group

As time moved on, I joined several other groups: the photography group, Traveling Gourmets, and of course, took weekly French lessons.

Shooting near Bellevue

Shooting near Bellevue with the ladies from Photography Group

My Monday French class

My Monday French class on E’s birthday

Traveling Gourmets

Traveling Gourmets Christmas party

 

And it broadened…I soon was able to put professional skills to use by writing for the organization’s magazine, helping with PR and communications, and working in teams.

Teaching a blogger class

Teaching a blogger class

What stands out to me most is the diversity of women that I now call my friends.    The women vary in age from mid-twenties to 93.  And I’ve truly become friends with a lot of women from every generation.  Not to mention nationality.  Since English is just the common denominator, there are at least 50 nationalities represented in the club.   Typically, I can be the only American in the group.   I’ve learned a ton about different cultures, methodologies, and traditions.  It’s been priceless.

With my photography group leader

With my photography group leader, W, from The Netherlands

We are excited to go back at the beginning of the year to the USA and be closer to friends & family.  But, sadly, I’ve made some great friends here in Geneva, and it makes it hard to leave.  I’ll miss my time with them, learning and growing.  I’m just thankful for such a great experience at the club.

Bon weekend, everyone.

8 Fun Facts about Lake Geneva

I find it interesting that many of our guests have the takeaway that from first impression, Lake Geneva appears small.

Image courtesy of Lake Geneva Region Tourism.  This map makes it look small too!

The first few times someone mentioned this, it perplexed me……Lake Geneva is so big.   In fact, it takes over an hour at top speed on a freeway to drive to the end of it.   Driving around the perimeter on good roads takes about 2.5 – 3 hours.

There is not a bad view driving around the lake.

But, looking more thoroughly, I see where someone could come up with this conclusion from the vantage point of the city of Geneva.  Geneva rests at the far west end of the lake, at the very end.   Not to mention, the city lies in the skinniest alcove of the lake.   Thus, at first glance, the body of water appears that it stops soon after Geneva.

How one might think the lake ends over there on the horizon…..

In actuality, the visible part in the picture above is just this portion. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

So, on today’s blog post, just wanted to clear up this issue by providing a few fun facts on Lake Geneva:

1 - It is big!  Specifically, the lake takes up 224 square miles.

2 -Driving around it can add time to your European road trip.    The Mt Blanc tunnel costs 48 euros (around 75 USD) to travel through one-way.   The tunnel takes 20 minutes.  The other option is driving around Lake Geneva, which could add 3 hours to your trip.

Mt. Blanc dominates the lake

3 - It is deep!  Because it is an Alpine lake, it mimics the Alps, in the inverse.   The average depth of Lake Geneva is 507 feet.

4 - It has dual citizenship in two countries.   About 60% lies in Switzerland and 40% lies in France.  Multiple ferries traverse the water each day and are often used by commuters.  In fact, in the below photo taken in Montreux, we are standing in Switzerland but the Alps in the background are French.

5 - It has contributed to science.   In 1827, Lake Geneva was the first place for the speed of sound to be tested in fresh water.

6 - Expensive bottled water likes to call it home.   Evian comes from several springs near Evian-les-Bains, France, which rests on the shores of Lake Geneva.

There is an Evian museum on Lake Geneva

7 - It contributes to great French wine.   The Rhone flows into and out of Lake Geneva, joining the Aarve River, and down to the Mediterranean.  The famous French wine in the Côte du Rhône region sits on the banks of the Rhône, of which the river flow is derived directly from Lake Geneva!

La Jonction, where the Rhone & Arve rivers meet

8 -It doesn’t just go by “Lake Geneva”.   In French it can be called Lac Léman or Lac de Genève.  In German, you might hear it referred to as Genfersee.  In Italian, it can be either Lago Lemano or Lago di Ginevra.

Does anyone else know any other neat facts about the lake?