Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Geneva - an unexpected treat

Until a friend moved to Geneva earlier this year the city didn't have a place on my "to visit" list.  It had been somewhere I had passed through on my way to various ski resorts but I had never thought to stop. However after a 4 day visit last week my opinion has changed and I would definitely recommend a trip.

Geneva is an expensive city but many of the museums are free and the biggest bonus of all is free transport for tourists which surely cancels out some of the other expenses incurred.

Free transport for tourists

All travel on the extensive network of buses, trams, trolleybuses and even taxi boats on various routes across the lake is free as is transport to and from the airport by train (around 6 minutes). When you check into your hotel/hostel/campsite you are given a dated card for the duration of your stay.

Getting around isn't limited to these forms of transport either as from mid April to October you can hire bikes for free (up to 4 hours) too.

You might wonder how you can initially get from the airport to your hotel for free.  In the baggage collection hall is a ticket machine that dispenses free transport tickets valid for 80 minutes. There is a big sign saying "Public Transport to Geneva - Free Ticket" but I witnessed several tourists paying for tickets at the machine next to it.  Scroll down on this link for a picture so you know what to look for.  All you need to do is press the button and a ticket will emerge from the slot.

You can even use your free transport card to go over the border into France but don't forget to take Euros.

There are two things that you need to be aware of in Geneva - firstly that the Old Town is at the top of a very steep hill (although bus no. 36 can transport you up there should you wish). Secondly the town is sometimes on two levels which makes reading a one-dimensional map difficult.

What to see

Whenever I go abroad I tend to seek out the smaller attractions rather than the big museums which in some instances are similar to those we have in London.  After enjoying Secret London and Secret Brussels I bought a copy of Secret Geneva which gave a lot of historical details about some of the odder things around the City.  You can read my review here.  One thing that I didn't get to do was count up exactly how many statues there were in the city which depicted people in the nude - there certainly seemed to be a lot! For other suggestions of things to do in the City this website (which also covers other cities) was useful too.

Maison Tavel

This was my first museum visit in Geneva and was definitely my favourite.  It is the oldest house in Geneva and houses the Museum of Urban History and Daily Life. The museum is free but it is definitely worth investing in 5 CHF for an audio guide which really enhanced my visit.

The tour starts outside where you gaze up at the mysterious heads on the outside of the building. I have never seen anything quite like this before.  These heads are replicas, the originals were removed to prevent further decay and can now be seen within the museum.  No-one knows exactly why they are there. I would love to be able to go back in time to find out the real story.  It was incredibly hard to get a good picture of the outside as it is a very narrow street but if you scroll down to the last page of this booklet you can see where the heads are situated.






Every single floor had something of interest to me and it really was a place full of surprises.  The vast cellars are from the original house pre-1334 which destroyed the rest of the building. Originally these cellars wouldn't have been connected to the main house; access was via a set of enormous doors from the street.

The other highlight from the house was the amazing Magnin relief map which showed the City prior to the removal of the defences in 1850. I spent at least 10 minutes looking at this model in all its intricate detail.



Before you leave it is definitely worth watching the video about the history of Geneva from the Ice Age onwards which lasts 12 minutes.

The museum is in the Old Town and bus no. 36 stops nearby if you want to avoid the steep climb up the hill.

Museum of Art and History

There were two reasons I wanted to visit this museum the first of which was to see a number of rooms that had been transported from Lower Zizers Castle - quite bizarre.  Again my photos aren't up to much but hopefully they will give you an idea.  Within these rooms were some enormous china central heating structures complete with a seat on the top!




The second reason to visit this museum was to see the exhibition on Geneva and English Satire which is on until the end of August.  I discovered that it was in a separate building in Promenade du Pin which I eventually found when I discovered that I was on the wrong level and looking at a park on the map that didn't seem to exist in real life - there was several lanes of traffic where the park should have been - until I discovered that the park was actually above me!  I didn't quite succeed in getting my head around this aspect of Geneva.

Both exhibitions were free.




The building housing the Cabinet d'arts Graphiques was quite anonymous looking and seemed to be deserted. However I soon discovered the exhibition was on the 3rd floor. The exhibition compared the satirical cartoons of London and Geneva; it was fascinating for me.


Ariana Museum

Visiting this museum on my last morning in Geneva, I didn't quite have enough time to do it justice. It is an amazing building.  It was built to house the collections of Gustave Revilliod and today holds an amazing collection of ceramics and glass.  There is a small tea room with a lovely balcony too.  I got there via tram no. 15 from Gare du Cornavin to Nations the last stop on that route, right next door to the United Nations building.

I was a bit anxious about getting back in time for my flight so I really must return at some point in the future for a proper look.







My second to last recommendation is to visit the tower of St Pierre Cathedral.  It is free entrance into the cathedral but well worth paying 5 CHF to go up to the top of the tower.  Quite by accident I ended up halfway up the tower at 12 midday and it was amazing to hear all the bells of Geneva chiming out of sync. If I had been really organised I would have been at the top of the tower where I could have seen the bells too.




When I came back down from the tower I went to the back of the Cathedral and down a steep flight of steps - Passage des Degres-de-Poules which emerges opposite the Lutheran Church which doesn't look anything like a church from the outside.  The reason why is in the Secret Geneva book but I don't have it to hand at the moment.  I was at the church for one of their regular free lunchtime recitals. On the way down I passed a shady garden.





Finally, whilst unexpectedly taking a black cab from London City Airport right through Central London to Heathrow at the start of my trip (as my flight to Geneva was cancelled)  I couldn't help but share a few London tips with my fellow passengers. In exchange I discovered that there was free live music at sunrise at the Bains des Paquis by the lake in Geneva and free outdoor cinema too. Unfortunately I ran out of days to do either of these things but they are definitely on my to do list for next time.

The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is a qualified City of Westminster Tour Guide who specialises in food and drink themed walks in the West End of London. 
Details of all her walks are listed here.  
To sign up to Joanna's mailing list click here
Follow on Twitter @wwalks
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Monday, 26 May 2014

Soho Summer Strolls

When I started working as a tour guide I tended to avoid Soho with its narrow streets and busy pavements. However over the past 18 months or so I have developed a couple of foodie themed walks and now love guiding in the area. It is busy - especially on a Saturday afternoon - but some streets are quieter than others and Soho has such a fascinating history that it is now one of my favourite places in Central London.

Last weekend I led a new walk for Walk London* entitled The Real West End which was in the vicinity of the Jubilee Walkway and included parts of Covent Garden and Soho.  Taking up to 50 people on a walk where previously I had only led half that number (and in a less busy part of town) initially filled me with trepidation.

However I purchased an amplifier (a bargain at £5) and planned the walk so we only stopped at places where there was enough room for us and  passers by without anyone having to step in the road.  It meant a bit of forward guiding eg talking about the House of St Barnabas before we arrived there - but there were also places where we were able to stand with a big group opposite the building in question and everyone could hear me too.

Over the course of the weekend I led the walk 3 times and from the applause at the end together with some tips plus two 5 star reviews on Trip Advisor it was a great success. 

There were a couple of challenges to overcome on the walk - Seven Dials was busier than normal with a shopping day and people picnicking in the middle of what is normally the road, meeting another tour group halfway along Goodwins Court (a very narrow passageway that links St Martin's Lane with Bedfordbury - see picture below), and a disinterested elderly man on the 3rd (and hottest) walk of the weekend who in retrospect I now wonder if he had signed up for the walk by mistake and was really one of the film extras that we encountered at the beginning of the walk - the co-ordinators there were similarly dressed to us.

Goodwins Court WC2. Photo by Jenny Pedler
After the success of last weekend's walks my Foodie History Tour of Soho this coming Saturday for up to 15 people (especially finishing at Imli Street with some Indian-inspired cocktail samples) should be a doddle!

* Walk London organise free walks 3 times a year - Spring into Summer (just finished), Autumn Ambles (27 & 28 September 2014) and Winter Wanders (usually January).  Bookmark their website to be kept informed of walks coming up.

The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is a qualified City of Westminster Tour Guide who specialises in food and drink themed walks in the West End. 
Details of all her walks are listed here.  
Both the foodie walk mentioned above and the Soho pub-themed walk can be booked for private groups
To sign up to Joanna's mailing list click here
Follow on Twitter @wwalks
or like on Facebook

Monday, 12 May 2014

New pub discoveries

There has been an unexcusable gap in my blog postings recently mostly because I am doing too much. I am still looking for the perfect work/life balance - a part-time job rather than ongoing temping (which I have too much of) so I can have more time for guiding and for relaxing too!

On Saturday night (after leading a walk in St James's) I managed to fit in the last 3 pubs of Part Z of Londonist's 2 year alphabetical pub crawl. Out of 26 crawls I managed 10 although unfortunately I was not always able to complete the whole evening.

It was good to finish Part Z in a pub I had never previously visited.  Yards from Borough High Street and St George The Martyr Church (which I have been to) I never knew this pub existed. The Royal Oak, Tabard Street reminded me somewhat (I can't quite explain why!) of another pub near Waterloo East. After several pints I couldn't remember the name of the pub nor the street but my description of "Coronation Street style houses" was enough for one of the London/pub aficionados with me to instantly guess correctly. The street is Roupell Street - see the photo below. The pub there is the King's Arms.
Roupell Street, SE1. Photo by Banalities via Creative Commons

The King's Arms, Roupell Street, SE1. Photo by Ewan Munro via Creative Commons
The similarity is possibly because they are both on a corner but I need to re-visit both to double-check.

The Royal Oak has a really local feel to it. Look at the net curtains in the windows.

Photo by Ewan Munro (who was on this same pub crawl but earlier in the day) via Creative Commons
The Royal Oak is one of only two pubs in London (the other being in Wandsworth) that is run by Harveys the Sussex brewers. 

I know a lot of great pubs in Central London but it's great to find that there are more to discover. This is the second good one to be added to my repertoire in recent months having been introduced to the Cleveland Arms near Paddington Station via the London Travel Planner.

Looking at Londonist's list of their favourite pubs in Borough and Bankside I see there are 3 more I don't know in that area. I may have to spend some of my temping lunchtimes (I am currently temping close to Borough Market) visiting a few more (drinking shandy of course)!

The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is a qualified City of Westminster Tour Guide who specialises in food and drink themed walks in the West End. 
Details of all her walks are listed here.
To sign up to Joanna's mailing list click here
Follow on Twitter @wwalks
or like on Facebook

Friday, 14 March 2014

A Soho singalong

On Tuesday night this week, rather by accident, I did something I've never done before - I took part in a singalong around the old Joanna.

I arrived at the Coach & Horses, Greek Street just as the pianist was starting. She rattled off a few well known tunes - My Old Man, Roll out the Barrel etc but at 7.30pm most people in the pub ignored her.

Photo courtesy of https://twitter.com/London_Nut
Only an hour later it was a different story.  Although it turned into a bit of a karaoke session at one point - with groups of work colleagues singing along to tunes from the Jungle Book and Oliver (words provided) - after a short break she was back on the traditional songs.  Soon loads of people were singing along (including me); not needing words to the famous Londony songs. I can't sing that well so really hope she was attracted to our table by the much better voices of @London_nut and his girlfriend A.

We were amazed to discover that Lili Davies - or to give her her stage name, Magic Betty, was from Romania!  She said she had learned all the songs from scratch. I must admit I initially felt a bit cheated. I wanted her to be London born and bred.  However she is very entertaining and I will definitely return.

The Coach and Horses has singalongs around the piano every Tuesday and Saturday at 7.30pm. I expect Saturday evenings will be a different crowd entirely. There are a number of different performers; Magic Betty will next be performing there on Saturday 22nd March.

There are lots of other good reasons to visit the pub. They only serve vegetarian food, upstairs there is a "secret" tea room and they sell at least 5 varieties of pickled egg! (I have to confess I have never eaten a pickled egg - maybe I should try one here.)  Any recommendations for a particular flavour?

The pub has got a fascinating history too and if you want to discover that why not book on my Soho Sunday Pub Themed Stroll - a new public date coming very soon.

The author of this blog (Joanna Moncrieff) is a qualified City of Westminster Tour Guide who specialises in food and drink themed walks in the West End. 
Details of all her walks are listed here.
To sign up to Joanna's mailing list click here
Follow on Twitter @wwalks
or like on Facebook

Monday, 10 March 2014

New competition - Win 2 places on one of my walks!

Where in London can you find this sculpture?

I posted this picture on Twitter at lunchtime today with that very question.  I've had a couple of re-tweets but no correct answers so wonder if I should give you a clue.

Clue - I found this sculpture on one of the tube strike days when walking between London Bridge and Westminster Bridge on the south side of the river.

Does that help?

First person to respond with the correct answer - either on Twitter, Facebook or in the comments below will win 2 places on one of my walks. I am planning to add some walks into my calendar very soon so watch this space!