Friday, 20 September 2013

Geneva – but too tired to hire a bike

I'm always moaning about how much I despise the whole 'international' thing at airports: the way businessmen are cossetted by air hostesses in the advertisements, the way international brands – Dolce & Whatnot, Gucci, Omega, Rolex and so on – are advertised to travellers as if, being part of the international 'jet set' suddenly means you can aspire to owning these branded and so-called luxury products.

As soon as I cross into the no man's land beyond passport control, the general assumption is that everybody aspires to own these brands. Until, that is, you find yourself at the gate, waiting for your flight to board. If you're flying with a budget airline, the great myth that only the affluent are regular flyers is exploded. Suddenly there are tattoos, denim jackets, beer guts and football shirts – that's what I like about budget airlines, they are, in a sense, the great leveller. Proof, if any was needed, that the affluent are not alone in the skies.

Geneva has devoted acres of space downtown to shops selling the above-mentioned brands (and others) and everywhere is like the perfumery department of a big store. Downtown Geneva is, quite frankly, a bit boring.

Advertisement on the way to Gate B32, Geneva airport, 20 Sept 2013.
Or is it me? Geneva is located on the banks of the beautiful Lake Geneva and is surrounded by the equally beautiful Alps. What has London got?  Perhaps everywhere is boring if you dwell upon it, something you're prone to do if you're on your own with nobody to talk to; if you dine alone and have to debate whether to bring a book or a magazine with you or simply 'people watch'. I sat in a restaurant the day before yesterday with a trade magazine, which was fine; and the restaurant was good too. So good that I went back yesterday, although I didn't opt for the 'suggestions' menu and instead chose from the main offerings: tomato and basil soup followed by pasta with artichokes – very nice, but not as good as the night before, albeit much less expensive.

I walked from the restaurant in the dark of early evening back to my hotel, which doesn't have a restaurant or bar (thankfully) and went straight to my room. I switched on the television (some movie with Mark Wahlberg) and fell asleep, waking just before midnight. For the rest of the long night, I drifted in and out of sleep.

Now I'm sitting in a restaurant at Geneva airport and, believe it or not, the airport has more character than downtown Geneva (if you ignore the Gucci and Dolce & Whatnot crap). Fortunately, I'm occupied. I could have picked up my trade magazine again (and will later on the flight), but there's power in the lap top and there's free WiFi so why not get on the keyboard and write for a while?

The restaurant I mentioned above was very good and that's down to all sorts of things. First, the ambience of the place; second the service (the waiter wore a white tunic that shouted 'proper waiter' and he was a proper waiter: courteous, helpful, friendly and, above all, efficient and hard-working). Then there was the quality of the food: it was excellent, even if going away from the 'suggestions' menu proved a mistake, albeit a minor one. The food was still of good quality. And to be honest, I wasn't that hungry. I was tired, having spent a lot of time sitting down listening to people talking about this and that. But also, I'd been walking for about two hours non-stop through the streets of Geneva, past all those awful shops with their swanky brands and the constant smell of perfume, either wafting out from shops or when I was caught in the slipstream of a woman who had either been using the testers or had been conned into buying some expensive fragrance or other. Not impressed and never will be.

So, it's 1420hrs (that's 1320hrs in the UK) and I'm still sitting here in the restaurant – it's not a restaurant, it's a kind of food court with seating surrounding the various styles of food on offer. I could have enjoyed Thai food or a 'grill' but opted instead for the Italian and a German wheat beer. I might buy a tiny bottle of red wine so as not to pay the extortionate 'in air' price of my budget airline, but am I really that stingy?

It's a 70-minute flight to London Gatwick where things will change drastically. As soon as I come through arrivals I'll see all those forlorn-looking mini cab drivers holding up small boards on which people's names have been scrawled in felt tip. And I will waltz past them en route to the train station (via the shuttle) and the reality of UK living: the coalition government, jobsworths, tabloid tat and people peering out from behind the net curtains. When I was a kid I used to think it was 'neck curtains'.

I'd better go and check the gate for my flight home. But before I go, a word about budget airlines. It's all a con. You have to pay extra for your bags if you want to check them in, then you have to pay if you want to get a different seat – I wanted a window seat (I always do) but the flight was full so I had to stay put in seat 4e, but at least I was at the front of the plane. These days you have to pay for everything, it seems and there's always someone there to tell you, "you'll have to pay."

The south coast of England very close to Gatwick airport
Well, the good news is that once seated in seat 4e I noticed, after everybody had boarded, that seat 3f in front was vacant, so I moved and had a window seat for free, proving that there is justice in this world.

No cycling – but plenty of bikes for hire!
On the cycling front, I didn't do any, but I could have done quite easily yesterday. There was plenty of shops hiring out bikes, but I felt it was a little too busy traffic wise and decided to put in a few miles on foot instead. I walked a long way and tired myself out in the end, so much so that I didn't really enjoy my dinner. I strolled back to the hotel from the restaurant and, as I said earlier, switched on the television and promptly fell asleep.

Before I go, let me provide you with the details of the restaurant. It's Restaurant le Milan, Rue Chaponniére 9, 1201 Geneve. And if you want a telephone number, it's + 41 22 732 46 65. There's even a website, and if you want to email them it's

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