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Geneva

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Geneva reflects its international status in both ancient and new architecture, dining, sightseeing and its people. It is like a whirlpool of languages, sights and smells. For the first time in many months I began to feel relaxed as I wandered around the old town. I was not talking too much since everyone was speaking French and I like to think they wouldn't notice me. After a quick stop at an ATM for money, I walked to the Cathedral of St-Pierre just across the river. This is where John Calvin preached during the Reformation. There was a small fee for the privilege of climbing up the steps to the tower, but it was worth the effort to see the interior construction of the vaulted ceilings. The wood joining and the later conversion to steel was something right out of an architectural history book. The view of the city and Lake Geneva was unreal. I must have spent 30 minutes just gazing out. Additional tourists in the tower broke the spell and I was off with a gallop down the stairs and into the town. The small restaurants and coffee shops were scattered between shops of all sizes and products. There were imports from Germany, France and Italy, more antiques and artwork than I could afford to look at. The buildings were fun to see and it was clear how the city developed and grew. But it was time to return to the hotel to check in.

In the early evening I met my fellow travelers at dinner and was fortunate to meet Nick Malgieri, the renowned author and international chef. The next day, he would be our guide to the "backstage" of the kitchen at Restaurant Le Neptune in the hotel. In the morning, more adventure was scheduled with a trip on a fishing boat with Chef Franck Ferigutti, to catch the perch that would be prepared and served for lunch.

Thursday morning I awoke with renewed energy and went out to explore the old town with Mrs. Gianna Mestermann from the Geneva Tourism. Her enthusiasm and knowledge of the town was enchanting. When she spoke it was as if she was sharing a personal secret. The streets led us up and down the hills, covering almost 600 years of history and social development. Then it was "Gone Fishing" time to meet one of the local fishermen who supplied the restaurant. It was interesting to learn how fish is harvested from Lake Geneva. It is even better to be on the boat when the nets are brought in!

Back on shore, after a quick snack, Gianna was convinced that we were worthy of the privilege of eating a "sizzling steak with phenomenal butter sauce" at the restaurant "Cafe de Paris." This sauce was so thick and buttery that I could almost feel my arteries clogging up, causing my face to take on an almost angelic smile.

Later that afternoon it would be a trip to the countryside for wine tasting with Jean-Michel Novelle, who is an enologist and a wine grower. He shared with us several remarkable Swiss wines that are produced locally. The climate of Switzerland is suitable to a variety of wines but not to bulk production, so few wines are exported. I would later learn that there is a company in New York that does import small quantities, although the demand is greater than the supply.

That night, we enjoyed a meal prepared by Chef Franck Ferigutti at the "Le Neptune" restaurant. "Le Neptune" is a one Michelin star restaurant within the Hotel Mandarin Oriental Hotel du Rhone. The meal is as close to perfect as one can get. From presentation to service to pallet pleasure, this must be what heaven is like: Dormeur Crab in raviolis and Piglet from Aire La Ville.

Sleep that night allowed me to dream only of this meal.

The Friday morning sun was greeted with a satisfying smile that hid my love affair with the meal of the previous night, although my fellow travelers must have been suspicious. That day, we were on a tour of the international part of Geneva and a visit to a nearby winery: "La Vigne Blanche" that has been in the same family for generations. The wine is produced in such small quantities for local consumption. By now I got the message that to enjoy Swiss wines one must go to Switzerland. Wine, food and the people all go together.

That afternoon we took a tour boat trip around Lake Geneva. On the boat we had a tour and a light lunch. The tour is about an hour and a half long and gives much a better overview of the city and countryside around the lake than the bus tour. The tour boats operate during the warmer weather as one can imagine how cold it would be on the lake in the winter. After all this boating and eating, it was off to the cigar shop of "Gerard Pere et Fils." It is an entirely unique experience to be in a walk-in humidor filled floor to ceiling with cigars from all over the world. Yes, even famous Cuban cigars! Here is where Mr. Gerard stores and supplies his customers their own favorite brand.

It was a short walk back to the hotel to prepare for tonight's dinner at the "Parc des Eaux-Vives." Recently renovated, the restaurant sits within a 19th century mansion house overlooking Lake Geneva. As the sun went down we toasted our trip and the adventures to come.

On Saturday, the trip would take an unusual turn. Typically on tours the group stays together but, in this case, the group was divided up into several teams, each on an individual itinerary. My particular tour took me to Lucrene, and unfortunately I was alone, since the overall group was of an odd size. Now traveling single was an adventure.



Part 1 - Switzerland
Part 2 - Geneva
Part 3 - Lucerne
Part 4 - Zurich