Geneva, a beautiful European city, located on the bank of Lake Geneva near Rhone River in Switzerland, is a renowned tourist centre. Omololu Ogunmade, who visited the city recently, writes about its uncommon qualities
Geneva, one of the most popular tourist cities of the world, has continued to pride itself in its allures which attract tourists from different parts of the world. In the past decades, the city, with its quiet and serene environs, has distinguished itself as a notable tourist attraction having played host to several international events of immense value while also serving as a relaxation centre for holiday makers. With a small population of about 194,458, Geneva, with its sophisticated and classic infrastructure, is the second most populous city in Switzerland. Its beautiful layout and quiet outlook have earned it a place as one of the famous tourist centres of the world. Though, the second most populous city in Switzerland (after Zurich), Geneva is the not only the most popular city in Switzerland, it is also ranked among other notable tourist centres of the world. Because of its popularity, many often confuse the city as the capital of Switzerland moreso that the city of Bern, the nation's capital, is not easily known to many. Geneva is to say the least, the delight of holiday makers, tourists and participants in international conferences.
The city, which has become the headquarters of Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) - the body of all federal legislatures in all democratic nations - again played host to parliamentarians from over 160 nations of the world between October 7 and 9. At the event which witnessed the participation of Nigerian delegation led by Senate President David Mark, burning issues across the world were highlighted, discussed and prompt decisions taken. Also, in the Nigerian delegation were Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, Senators Ganiyu Solomon, Ehigie Uzamere, Adbulazis Usman and Helen Esuene, among others. The population of Geneva is a reflection of the paltry population of the entire Switzerland. The nation has a total population of just 7.9 million, less than half of the population of Lagos State, Nigeria's industrial hub. Described as the most beautiful city in Europe, over 40 per cent of the 194, 458 population are foreigners while the main industries in the city are banking, inter and non-governmental administration, technology and tourism.
The city, whose existence dates back to over several centuries ago, has over 130 hotels ranging from five star edifice to hostel style buildings. Geneva is the capital of Swiss Canton, situated along the banks of Europe's largest lake otherwise known as Lake Geneva and bordered by Jura mountains in the West and French Alps in the East. While the city is about one hour and ten minutes' flight from Frankfurt, Germany, it can be accessed within a maximum of two hours' flight from any part of Europe while it is also accessible by high speed train from Paris, Milan, Spain and Germany.
Although Switzerland has three official languages - French, German and Italian- the predominantly spoken language in Geneva is French. Only a quarter of the population, majority of who are foreigners, speak English. However, in common places such as hotels and international markets, English is spoken as one of the languages of transactions even though in most cases, this English is not fluently spoken by the Swiss.
Switzerland's currency is Swiss Franc. The currency is stronger in value than United States dollar. For instance, the sum of 500 US Dollars is exchanged for 440 Swiss Francs. Transactions are mainly conducted in cash even though a sizeable number of residents make use of credit cards while Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are found in various parts of shopping Malls. Although the weather is cold in Geneva at present, it is moderate.
Nevertheless, it was learnt that the city usually records the highest volumes of rain between September and October while it is extremely cold between January and February. Geneva is not only peaceful but its crime rate is also relatively low as THISDAY learnt that violent crime rate within the city is put at only 1.99 per 100,000. However, petty crimes such as pick pocketing are said to be common in places such as central train station.
But as beautiful and desirable as Geneva may be, it has its own shortcomings. Notable among them is the existence of prostitution as a legal enterprise in the city as well as other parts of Switzerland. The country has Red Light District. Red light districts in many countries are designated for the establishment of sex industries. In such places, prostitution legally takes place. As it is the case in most countries where prostitution is legal, this immoral act in Geneva as well as other parts of Switzerland is however, subject to regulation.
Against this backdrop, outside the Red Light District, anyone caught in acts of prostitution will be arrested by the police. This implies that prostitution is only legal in Geneva provided it is practised in designated places. Other countries of the world where prostitution is legal include Singapore, Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Germany. Others are Netherlands, England, Canada, Mexico and New Zealand. While in Canada, street walking, brothels and advertising of prostitution are not allowed despite the legality of the act, sex clubs, on the other hand, are legal in Geneva and by extension, Switzerland.
Besides, Geneva is not a place that is visited with bags full of gifts upon a return as it is relatively an expensive city. Living standard is quite high in the city and therefore cost of goods and services are consequently high. To this end, two days of search for items to be purchased in a popular shopping mall, known as Migros, by this writer yielded no result as it was discovered that such items could be purchased in Nigeria at far cheaper rates. For instance, fairly beautiful female and male tops go for as high as 139 Swiss Francs, an equivalent of almost 150 dollars (over N20,000) while wristwatches sell within the range of 55 and 250 Swiss Francs depending on size and quality. However, food items such as bread, fruits, cosmetics and household utensils are sold at moderate prices. Coins are also of immense value in Geneva as they are useful in making a good number of transactions.
However, Geneva is a home of technology. Geneva International Airport for instance, is one of the airports across the globe that is ahead in modern technology. The airport has begun the process of phasing out the services of ticketing and reservation officers as it is now equipped with modern technology which enables passengers to check in themselves instead of waiting on the queue for airport staff. The passenger is expected to place its international passport under the top of the device and then follow instructions displayed on the screen. Because this device is still new, it is a tasking adventure for most passengers. This is moreso that the mechanism on the screen is highly sensitive as a single error of double clicking may stall the entire process. It is particularly risky for passengers who are in haste to meet up with their flight schedule as they stand the risk of missing their flights in the course of struggling to check in using the facility. To avoid this, passengers may have to arrive at the airport hours ahead of their flights so that such hours could help them to make up for the time that may ultimately be wasted in the course of checking in.
As part of Swiss government's efforts to make life less difficult for residents, free bus tickets are often provided for commuters. The ticket qualifies commuters to enjoy free ride to their destinations through usually long and white buses. But such buses are not available on all routes while the cost of boarding taxi in Geneva is very high. Because Geneva is a tourist centre, businessmen in the city take advantage of the system to run hospitality business. Against this background, a number of hotels are built in form of hostels with each room containing double bunker beds. The rooms are relatively small to the extent that tiny spaces are reserved as toilets and bathrooms. But the size notwithstanding, inside of such hostels are very neat and desirable. And even though there are double beds in each room of such hostels, two travellers are not allowed to pair together. Instead, it is one person per room. The small room costs over 120 Swiss Francs, an equivalent of about 140 USD, which is almost N20,000.
Road infrastructure in Geneva is excellent and residents are orderly in observing the rules as motorists, riders and pedestrians, religiously observe traffic light rules and other road signs. Unlike Nigeria where riding a bicycle on the streets will almost be likened to being cursed, it is prestigious to ride a bicycle on the streets of Geneva. Some residents who cannot afford motor vehicles opt for bicycles as a convenient means of transportation.
One other interesting factor to note in Geneva is that residents are not racists. But for language barrier, the people of Geneva are very hospitable and they relate with people without paying cognisance to the colour of their skin. They are often eager to help to the best of their ability whenever their assistance is sought.
It is also worthy of note that as small as Switzerland is, it consists of four racial groups which are divided into 26 cantons, each of which has its own parliament and government. Switzerland has existed for over 4,000 years and yet it has a population of only 7.9 million.This is moreso that research shows that as far back as 1960, Switzerland's population was put at 5.4 million while 53 years after, it has not been able to add up to 4 million to its population.
In a nutshell, it is a food for thought for big nations, like Nigeria, which still grapple with the problem of underdevelopment, that despite Switzerland's limited human resources, it has been able to position itself as a nation to reckon with in the comity of nations.