A Page from the Swiss Rule Book: Duties of Swiss Citizens

Many say Switzerland is said to have the most trained army in the world.  For a neutral country, you might find it surprising.   However, with their central location and a century of world wars, they had a need to be prepared.

Even today, as a Swiss man, you must serve in the military. If you aren’t qualified to be in the military or don’t fit the requirements, you can be exempted.  However, you must pay an additional 3% income tax until the age of 30.

As a Swiss woman, you can volunteer to serve, but it isn’t required.  It also isn’t required for foreigners.

My 86-year old French teacher, E, has told us on multiple occasions about the potato patches that apartment dwellers were allowed to cultivate in city parks.   She went on to say that if you own land in Switzerland, you are still required keep a potato patch.  Thus, if the country goes to war, there is a food supply to rely on.  I haven’t been able to find much evidence of it online, but I find it interesting that it could be still residual from WW2.  Although, a simple trip to the grocery store shows that they are in full agreement of supporting their own food infrastructure as a result of the wars.

You may recall from our post on our basement, that all buildings must have bomb shelters.  In fact, Switzerland can house 114% of its citizens in these fortifications if something happens.

Today, you can tour many of the secret fortresses built in the World Wars.  Many of the links below detail more about the cool places you can visit.

Related Links:

Rick Steves – Swiss Military Secrets

Wikipedia – Gun Politics in Switzerland

The Adventures of Miss Widget and Her People – In Plain Sight: Villa Verte and Villa Rose

Schwingen in Switzerland – The Swiss Army – Ready to Blow Their Country to Smithereens

Schwingen in Switzerland – The Tobelerone Line, One Sweet Barrier

Schwingen in Switzerland – Why didn’t Hitler invade Switzerland?

Schwingen in Switzerland –   Fun in the Alpine Fortress of Furigen


Discovering Geneva: The Museum of the Reformation

On Tuesday, after our tour of the site archeologique, we took a quick lunch break at Creperie St. Pierre and then moved onto the final stop: La Musée de la Réforme de Genève.   This museum retraces the history of the movement started by John Calvin in Geneva.   It includes artifacts and exhibits from the start until the current age.

The Museum of the Reformation

The museum was interesting; however, a little disjointed.  We were lucky to get English audio guides, but not all of the numbers could be found and they were out of order in most cases.    We spent a lot of time on the ground floor figuring this out while we learned about the origination and first century of the Reformation.

As we moved on, we learned just to hit the #s that we saw that looked interesting to us and continue on that way.

The basement floor contained history from the 19th and 20th centuries.  There were exhibitions on the role in civil society, the progression and dynamics of mission work, a computer screen depicting the statistics of the denominations of religion in the US, and audio of Billy Graham and the evangelistic movement.  That part was pretty neat to see how Calvin’s impact echoed through society today.

You are not allowed to take photos so we don’t have anything to show.

Bottom line – this museum is full of intriguing and interesting exhibits.  However, it might be best to make it your only stop in the day so you can comprehend the full depth of history and really take the time to visit both the ground and bottom floor.     We were a little tapped out from hitting the archeological site first, both in terms of standing and mind-power, so we wore ourselves out before getting to the basement.

Those who do visit this museum, make sure to check out the Reformation Wall in Parc des Bastions as well!


Discovering Geneva: Archeological Site of Saint-Pierre

This past Tuesday, E-dawg and I bought a combo pass to the Espace St. Pierre.  For 18 CHF, it included passes to the site archaeologic underneath the cathedral (8 CHF), the Museum of the Reformation (13 CHF), and a pass to climb to the top of the Cathedral for the view (4 CHF).

Since there was a peak of sunshine, E-dawg started out by touring the Cathedral and climbing up to the top to see the magnificent view of Geneva from above.   I had done this before and due to the condition of my feet, I passed on the climb and sat in a pew and relaxed.

After she’d taken in the panoramic view above, we descended beneath the Cathedral.  From a previous post, I mentioned there were many different Roman temples and other Christian churches on this site prior to the current St. Pierre / St. Peters.  The archeological site allows you to see the evidence from the previous structures.

A model which lit up to show you the different eras, before your physical tour of the space.

Below is a cross section of photos from our visit.  Two of the most interesting things to me were the mosaic tiles in the reception hall of the bishops, and the tomb of the Allobrogian where someone had drilled a whole to pay homage to his skull.

This web page does a marvelous job of showing the timeline of events, in case you are interested in learning more about the history.

We really enjoyed the site and both rated it a 9 out of 10.

Discovering Geneva: Palais des Nations

On E-dawg’s second day we had pegged the Palais des Nations as a possible stop for the rainy Monday.  It was a good choice because, by default, it was literally the only museum open on Monday.   Also E-dawg had it on her Geneva “must visit” list.

She had read there was a lot of walking and warned me but I decided I was up for it – couldn’t be more than a km or so. We took the bus to Nations.   This was our first mistake.  Or my first mistake.  I just assumed that tourist rolled right through the colorful flags into the Palais des Nations to enter.

The grande entrance to the Palais des Nations. This is the oldest building and is bigger than the Palace of Versailles.

However, the actual tour entrance is was a 1 km walk away from the grande entrance.  This detail would not have been very important to the old me.  However, it is very important to the present-day me with healing feet.    Thus, I wanted to show those readers who might be a little walking challenged where the entrance is.  The #8 bus, Appia stop, gets you considerably closer.   It’s important to conserve energy as this tour does include a lot of walking.

They are very protective of the safety of UN workers.  Rightfully so, since 3000 have died in operations or just by being in UN offices in times of terror.   So, checking in for the tour required multiple steps.  First, you go through an airport-style metal detector.  Then, you approach a desk to register by showing your passport for scanning, getting a new picture taken, and  that photo being printed into a picture badge.

Next you go down an escalator, pay 12 CHF, and walk a distance to the entrance and gathering group of the tours.   You approach the desk, give your language preference and wait.  Then you get a bright orange lanyard indicating you are a tourist so that you can be easily spotted.

We were very lucky to have an amazing tour guide.    We started the tour by seeing some of the conference rooms.   There are over 9000 meetings a year so they need a lot of conference rooms.

We learned that in the traditional rooms, the member states sit in alphabetic order.  Then comes the observer non-member states  (like Palestine, Vatican City), then the NGOs that provide the link between civil society and UN.  Then approved media.

E-Dawg overlooking a traditional UN conference room

The UN has six official languages – English, Arabic, French, Mandarin, Spanish and Russian.    If you want to address the UN in a non official language, you have to bring your own translator.

Human issues conference room. The ceiling was done by a Spanish artist and was donated by the country of Spain. His intention was for the textured color to peak like waves of ocean. The color represents the diversity of opinions in the world. The art was unveiled and conference room reopened in April 2009. The current issues in Syria are discussed here.

E-dawg and I in the grand assembly room in the Palais des Nations. The UN logo is different in this room, with the globe view from the top, showing no country is in the middle at the UN.

Original council room of the League of Nations. The League of Nations was formed after WWI. However, they failed at preventing WW2 so it disbanded. Mr. Pettyjohn would be proud I was seeing this place as we learned a lot about it in Freshman History. Now this room serves as the council of disarmement, preventing nuclear and chemical means of warfare.

Some fast facts about the UN:

-It was formed in 1945 after WW2 with the UN Charter

-It started with 52 members.  Now there are 193.  South Sudan was the last joiner.  Switzerland didn’t join until 2002!

-The UN is decorated with art from all over the world, to represent its diversity among member states.    In a grand entrance, there are colored marble in different designs.  Our guide pointed out that the marble comes from 3-4 different countries to show integration and how great works are possible with collaboration.  Pretty cool.

E-dawg stands by the hall of traditional artwork donated by member states

The Russians donated the Conquest of Space and Time statue - made out of titanium like space shuttles. Sorry, its the tiny thing in the distance - I took all these photos with my iPhone.

Trees are donated from all over the world to adorn the park, creating diversity in landscape

What is the difference in Geneva and NYC?

NYC handles more of the political and economical issues while Geneva focuses on human rights, science, technology, health, and world disasters.

The chair with the missing leg was donated by Handicapped, Intl to represent the lives and limbs lost by unnecessary land mines

The WHO (world health organization) is one of the bigger departments here in Geneva.  Also, UNHCR – the high commission for refugees, which helps 20 million people a year!

Why did they pick Geneva?  

NGO, The Red Cross was already there (1863) and it had been proven to be a good place for a headquarters.  Plus,  Switzerland was a neutral country making it additionally easier to facilitate an organization such as the UN.   Third, Geneva was known as a very diverse city which helped exemplify what the UN’s goals are.  Finally, geography – Geneva is in the center of Europe and is accessible by train and airport.

The views aren't bad here either.

Currently, there are 8500 employees in Geneva, but 25,000 delegates participating here each year.    Building on that, 163 of the 193 member states have permanent missions in Geneva.   I know a few women at the women’s club whose husbands work for the missions so this fact a was interesting.

All in all, it was a good tour.   I give it a 7 out of 10 and E-dawg rates it a 6.5 or 7 out of 10.

Château Chillon

Post by Lauren

On our second day with the fam, we planned to go to Château Chillon.   The group had unanimously voted that a castle should be on the vacation itinerary.

Image of Château Chillon courtesy of Wikipedia Commons / Dilaudid

However, we realized the day we were leaving that the castle closes earlier in the winter and with a later wake up time with jet-lag, we might not be able to make it on the train as planned.  We still yet had to take a bus to the train station, validate Swiss passes, wait for the train, take the hour long train, get to another bus stop, wait for the bus and take the bus to the castle.

So, Gabe took off work a little early and drove everyone sans me in Frau Hilda (our car) since they could go directly to the castle.  They fit six. Pretty sure that it broke some Swiss highway rules but nonetheless, everyone really enjoyed the excursion.

We knew that they would. When we went on our house-hunting trip last year, we really fell in love with the beautiful Château. The place dates back to the Bronze ages.  However, the castle itself only has records back to 1150 when it served as a guard point for the House of Savoy for roughly 400 years to control the passing of people along Lake Geneva.  After that, it still was a prison and fortress during the Bernese period until the Vaudese Revolution in 1798.

The castle inspired many writers and poets.

Our first trip to Château Chillon, January 2011

The family adventuring in the castle

I am so glad that Plan B worked out.   Kudos to Gabe and Frau Hilda for getting everyone there safely so they could experience this magical place!

Geneva’s Old Town Train

Post by Lauren

With my feet out of commission, I had been brainstorming ways to show our most recent guests around Geneva.

Luckily there are three tourist trains in Geneva – one that goes to Old Town, Left Bank, and Right bank.   The Left Bank train became my friend last summer when I didn’t know anyone.  It spoke English and was comforting to hear it pass now and then as I was sitting on the lake front.  Good thing I made friends and didn’t have to the rely on forms of transportation for my social life.

Anyhow, on the day that our crew of 5 arrived from the States, we took the Old Town Train.  This particular one starts at Place du Fusterie and winds around the middle of town for 35 minutes.  It costs 10 francs and passes by the following stops:

The little Geneva tourist train

The Statue of General Dufour

University of Geneva

The Reformation Wall

Palais Enyard

Palais de Justice

Bourg de Four*

L’Hotel de Ville

Statue of Pictet de Rochemont

Bust of Henry Dunant

La Maison Calvin

Calvin’s Auditorium & La Cathedrale St Pierre

La Maison Tavel

Le Musee Rath

Le Grand Théâtre

Le Conservatoire de musique


I would rate this train a 5 on a scale of 1 – 10.   It was hard to hear the announcements – they were muffled by the street noise.  Also, the website conflicted with the times that were posted at the entry point causing some confusion.   But for my current condition, a moving vehicle that took us by some Geneva highlights** so that I could fill in commentary was a great thing for us.  If you do have guests or if you are visiting Geneva yourself, email the company for confirmation when and where it will pick up the day you plan to take it.

*I have a friend who lives in Old Town. She detests the Old Town train because of the noise it makes passing her window.  I kind of felt guilty taking it but at least we were going in the middle of the day.

**Our guests asked the baggage guy in the airport what there was to do in Geneva.  He gave them a blank stare and said they’d come to the wrong place for activities.  He did mention Old Town was one thing that they should check out.  Good, glad we had this on the itinerary.





Guests: How Spelling Errors can be Deadly

Post by Lauren

One thing I noticed on my first trip to Europe is that you need make sure to know city names in the native language. Example: when going to Venice or Florence, look for Venezia or Firenze, their Italian names.

This was amplified when we moved to Switzerland. There are 4 official languages, so you always need to know the other versions for each city so you are sure you know where you are going.

To make matters worse, many cities sound the same.

Lausanne sounds like Lucerne a little. When we have had friends come, it has been a tripping point. Wait…are we going to Lausanne or Lucerne? Or are they the same? They are both cities in Switzerland but not near each other at all.

Complicating that with the multiple language concept, Lucerne is French. It is Luzern in English, Lucerna in Italian and Lozärn in Swiss-German. If I saw Lozärn on a train board, I am willing to bet bet I would think it was just a variation of Lausanne.


This is Lausanne, not Lucerne.

In fact, in WWII, the British Air Force got confused and bombed Geneva instead of Genoa (Italy) on June 11, 1940 in three successive waves. Four Swiss people died because of the mistake and a dozen were injured. They are noted to have gotten off-position and said, “We thought it was Genoa.”

How terrible to die of a spelling error.

To our visitors, please note Geneva is Genève in French, Genf in German, Ginevra in Italian and Generva in Romansch. We don’t want you to end up in Genoa, Italy.

Discovering Geneva: Bel-Air

Post by Lauren

Today’s post is going to cover an area in Geneva known as Bel-Air.

I know I got you all excited by my recently celebrity post, but I hate to inform you that Will Smith does not live in our Bel-Air.

Nope; Will Smith is not in our Bel-Air

Bel-Air is an area in the centre ville that serves as a major hub for the TPG transportation system. It actually even has two stations, regular Bel-Air and Bel-Air Cité.

It was recently made an even larger hub and there are a lot of folks who are angry about how the new system works. For more on this, and why it might not have been smart to build a hub on a bridge, see Schwingen in Switzerland.

Bel-Air hub

However, before this bridge / island was a highly debated tram stop, was actually part of the Geneva fortifications. On the map we introduced on Tuesday’s Old Town post, you can see an island in the middle of the two banks. This is Tour d’île / Bel Air.

This island/bridge is one of the reasons why Geneva was so coveted. This bridge was the only route over the Rhone in olden times. In 58 BC, Julius Caesar actually made the trip to Geneva to destroy the bridge so that the Helvetians couldn’t advance.

Later, in the 13th Century, it had been rebuilt and there was a chateau / castle built to help in the defense against the Duchy of Savoy and protect this crucial passageway to France.

During this time, the island also became a market. Butchers built their shops so the blood could run directly into the Rhone.

During Reformation times, the chateau was converted into a prison.

After surviving multiple fires, the bridge finally burned down in 1677. Only the clock tower (seen in the top photos) survived. My french professor at UNIGE said that the reason it is called Bel Air as when everything burned down, the air smelled a lot better since there was no longer a rotting meat stench. I’m glad as I spend a lot of time there connecting trams these days.



With or without a fresh prince, now you know a little bit more about our Bel-Air.

Discovering Geneva: St. Peter’s Cathedral

Post by Lauren

It’s always nice to have folks in town because you can see the city through different eyes and also in different seasons. On Monday, Gabe had to work, but Pascal, Giselle and I set out for an afternoon of Geneva exploration.

We started with a walk to Old Town, or la Vieille Ville, in French. I have talked about this part of Geneva before on the blog, but case you are just joining us, it is the old walled city.

When I took a tour as a student of University of Geneva, one American frat guy asked our professor which side of the wall the city was on – the really high hillside, or down below. The teacher held it together. Of course, the town was on the hill. Towns in that day and age had to build high and fortify for their protection. Geneva was an extremely coveted independent state and had a very desirable bridge across the Rhone at a strategic point…actually, the only bridge in the Roman era. When I recapped the Escalade Festival , the post recaps the most famous attempt to take Geneva.

It’s actually pretty neat that underneath the St. Antoine parking structure, you can see the original Roman walls that still exist and are well preserved in the transformation to parking garage. They didn’t know they were there until they started work on this parking structure and now they have a little exhibition underground so you can get an idea of what the city looked like when it was walled and surrounded by moats for protection.



This city model in the Maison Tavel museum depicts how the city was perched above and how moats/dredges were dug so that enemies were kept out.


St. Peter’s Cathedral (St. Pierre’s in French) commands the view in Old Town as the tallest building/steeple. It was originally Roman and from the 8th to 10th centuries, it was one of three different cathedrals to co-exist on the site. Underneath the present cathedral, excavators found remains of 4th Century Christian sanctuaries, portions of mosaic floors from the Roman times and a crypt.


St. Peter's Cathedral - present day

However, St. Peter’s is most notably known for being where John Calvin gave his sermons in the mid 16th Century.

Ferdinand Hodler’s painting of Calvin preaching in St. Peter’s

In the 1530’s, Martin Luther had just started in Germany, the printing press had begun to print copies of the Bible, and Geneva had just opted for the Reformation. Calvin, a young French man, was passing through Geneva (he stayed at a hotel in nowadays Place du Molard) on his way to Strasbourg. He hadn’t planned to stay, but later returned to contribute to the foundation of Protestantism.

Geneva then became a refuge for Protestant people to escape persecution in France, Italy and other neighboring countries. More on this and its contribution to Genva society as we know it can be found here in an earlier blog post.

Someone who doesn’t know the teaching of Calvin might characterize St. Peter’s cathedral as the most bland church in all of Europe. However, it was intentionally so. Calvin was very strict in his views that money should not be spent on embellishing the church. So much so that all its altars, statues, paintings and furniture were stripped away during his time. There is still very little decoration, only tiny stained glass windows.


Recent trips to cathedrals in Madrid, Siena, Florence and Lyon show that the Spanish, Italian and French have different theories than Calvin on church decoration


Despite its very simple interior, there are really amazing views from the top of the cathedral. This were actually taken in the Fall vs. our winter trip as it was a bit cloudy that day.


I find it interesting Geneva still serves as a haven for those escaping religious and political persecution. Makes me grateful that I was born in a country in which we didn’t have to fear for either.

Celebrity Hideout

Post by Lauren

Switzerland is a great choice for celebrities to own homes because of its characteristics of discretion and privacy. The Swiss would never start a conversation with a stranger in line or on a bus, much less invade someone’s privacy by asking for autograph.

Here are a few celebs hiding in the hills:

  • Yoko Ono lives in Geneva since 1968.
  • Shania Twain lives near Montreux on Lake Geneva.
  • Phil Collins lives on Lake Geneva
  • David Bowie lives in Lausanne on Lake Geneva.
  • Tina Turner lives on the lake near Zurich

Sometimes the privacy is a nice benefit. Since I am not yet a fluent French speaker, its nice not to have people continually starting conversations with me and not able to properly answer them.

Sometimes its not so nice. One of my friends had her hand slapped by an elderly lady when she was trying to assist her getting her grocery cart on the tram. And, since US me was quite a chatter, this new lack of human interaction can be lonely sometimes.

However, I certainly understand why celebrities would find this environment a pleasant change to their over-exposed lives. And for that matter, any other wealthy folks trying to keep money in secret in the Swiss banks!