Geneva 2

On Friday I visited the Palais des Nations, the European headquarters of the United Nations. It was a short walk from the hostel so I left at 09.30 and got there shortly before its 10.00 opening. In front of the main entrance was a chair sculpture of gargantuan proportions. One of its legs was damaged, and it was only supported by three legs. I later found out during the guided tour that the sculpture was created to make an anti-landmine statement. The main entrance also had all the flags of the 192 UN member states on display. It was a sight to behold. The flags are always on display, unlike at the New York UN headquarters, where I believe they are only on display when the General Assembly is in session.

Security was very tight at the Palais des Nations. All visitors had to go through an airport security check, and I had to present my passport. My photo was taken and a security guard created an ID badge for me on-the-spot. I waited in the gift shop for an English tour. Only English and French guided tours were available.

The hour-long tour took us through several meeting rooms of both the old and new parts of the Palais des Nations. I especially liked the old part, which used to house the League of Nations. Artwork was on display throughout the entire building and each piece, even the carpets, were gifts from member states.

There was a much larger gift shop at the end of the tour and I was ecstatic to find the book Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing, published by UNESCO. This very book was in my shopping cart in my last on-line Amazon order yet I declined to buy it in the end sight unseen. Here in Geneva I had every opportunity to peruse the book and I fell in love with it immediately. It was also far cheaper than the price offered on-line.

I found it quite ironic that the only postcards of the Palais des Nations that I could find were from off-site souvenir shops and street vendors. There was not a single postcard of the building or its gardens or interiors for sale in either gift shop on the premises. The only postcards for sale were ones depicting the flags of the member states. I picked up about twelve cards (some duplicates), showing the flags of the UN’s microstates (Monaco, Tuvalu, Nauru and Liechtenstein) plus Canada, Switzerland, Finland, North Korea and Nepal (the last one only because it is the world’s only national flag that is not four-sided). Other postcards for sale at the Palais gift shops were “propaganda” cards, depicting the UN’s activities throughout the world.

After visiting the Palais des Nations I headed for the Rive bus stop. I was going to visit the border village of Gy. All hostel guests received a transit pass for the duration of their stay, yet I refrained from using it on purpose, as I prefer to spend my time walking around a new city in order to acquaint myself with it. I wouldn’t feel that I had been there if I only saw it through a window of a bus or tram. However on my trip to Gy, I needed to take a bus.

Gy was the last stop on Route 33. The trip was half an hour long and I kid you not when I say that ten minutes into the trip, you are out of Geneva city limits and into rural farmland. Imagine driving ten minutes out of Toronto’s Elizabeth Street bus terminal: you’d still be on the Gardiner. I got off at the end of the line, at the Gy church, and walked south past the mayor’s office to the post office. I mailed five postcards from Gy, and the postal worker even showed me a sample of the village’s cancel imprint. It merely says “GY”, no “SUISSE”, no nothing else. You might think that the “GY” is an abbreviation, but it is the full name of the village.

Why did I want to go to Gy? Two reasons: it’s a border village, hugging the French village of Foncenex. I thought I’d take a walk into France and take more border pictures.

Gy is also one of the shortest place-names in the world. It’s the third two-letter place-name I have visited, after Ii, Finland and Rø, Denmark. I still haven’t made it to the holy grails of Y, France or Å, Norway.

I photographed a few border stones between Switzerland and France, yet didn’t go nuts snapping a pic of every one I saw. In one of the photos there’s a field of sunflowers in Switzerland yet across the single-lane road is a cornfield in France.

It is now half past midnight and I am in Laax at the Casa Caltgera. The opening reception and dinner have ended and the first day of my course is tomorrow. During the reception the presenter talked about how much a change there was in international attendance numbers this year. I was expecting her to say that there was a greater diversity in attendance from international students, but I was thinking in the wrong direction. Of the 71 students this year, 69 are from Switzerland. That leaves only two non-Swiss: me and a guy from Germany. There are 47 women enrolled and 24 men. The average age of the student body is 52. There will be ten students in my class, level four.

Time for bed. Buna notg.

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