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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Goodwins Court WC2. Photo by Jenny Pedler|
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!
|Roupell Street, SE1. Photo by Banalities via Creative Commons|
|The King’s Arms, Roupell Street, SE1. Photo by Ewan Munro via Creative Commons|
|Photo by Ewan Munro (who was on this same pub crawl but earlier in the day) via Creative Commons|
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.
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!
It’s only since qualifying as a tour guide in 2009 that I have realised just how much there is to see and do in London, and how much of it is free. In the past few years I have discovered Londonist, Ian Visits, Tom Tired of London, Tired of Life, and many other London blogs all with ideas of unusual things to do in the capital and of course London Historians which has introduced me to many other London obsessives and I would thoroughly recommend joining.*
As fast as I discover places I have new ones to add to the list. It’s great! These are some of my best finds over the last few years.
Cafes in unexpected places
Their “small tea” consists of a toasted tea cake, a portion of scones with cream and jam and a pot of tea; all for £9.10. With the addition of mini bagels the cost is just over £14 and even with a glass of Champagne you are left with change from £25. It’s not the grand affair that you would get at some of the Mayfair hotels – and not as much food – but taking afternoon tea at a hotel with a glass of Champagne you would be looking at least double that! Sotheby’s cafe is only open Monday to Friday – 9.30am-5pm and you do need to book. Whilst there have a wander around their galleries to see what is coming up for auction.
Also discovered on my exam walk is the cafe within Dover Street Market. This isn’t a market in the usual sense of the word but a very expensive clothes shop selling designer brands. I have to admit when I first visited the shop I found the shop assistants rather scary but now I just head to the lift to make my way to the top floor where the cafe is situated.
The Rose Bakery is the London outpost of a British cafe which opened in Paris in 2002. It was founded by Rose Carrarini who is sister-in-law to Rei Kawakubo founder of Comme des Garçons the principal designer within Dover Street Market which is probably how the cafe has ended up in this location. Tokyo and Seoul now have Rose Bakeries of their own too.
The cafe is light and airy with a small outside terrace. The food is good too and comprises salads, sandwiches, soups and cakes. It’s open every day but it’s best to check the opening times first. I am quite surprised to find that it now has its own page on the DSM website as previously there has been barely anything online; it really is a word of mouth type of place.
I thought I knew Mayfair pretty well having studied there for my guiding exam, based my course project on it and been guiding through it since qualifying. So I was very surprised last year (when taking a short-cut) to discover a set of 3 sculptures commemorating the famous photographer Terence Donovan close to his old studio. These 3 sculptures – depicting the photographer, the model (Twiggy) and a shopper who has stumbled across the “photo shoot” – really are in deepest Mayfair.
The sculptures are by Neal French and can be found in Bourdon Place which is parallel with Grosvenor Hill and Grosvenor Street. Incidentally Brown’s Hotel in Albemarle Street nearby have named their bar after him – Donovan’s – where they display some of his photographs; the more risqué photos can be found in the “Naughty Corner”! (See my blog post here about Browns’ Bloody Mary.)
Both my Belgravia and St James’s walks also include hidden sculptures – some of these are so tucked away I sometimes wonder if the only people to see them are those on my walks!
Just around the corner from the Mayfair sculptures can be found another favourite place – Hedonism Wines – an amazing shop, really worth visiting.
My favourite small house museum
The next place I am going to share in this post isn’t in Mayfair; in fact it’s not even in Westminster but in Hammersmith.
Some time ago I signed up to receive email newsletters from London Shh, Small Historic Houses which keep me updated about museums such as the Handel House Museum, the Benjamin Franklin Museum and, a new one on me 7 Hammersmith Terrace, home to Emery Walker. I am ashamed to say that not only had I not heard of the museum but I had no knowledge of typographer and printer Emery Walker either. When I discovered that 7 Hammersmith Terrace is the last Arts and Craft interior left in Britain and that it is practically untouched I had to visit. I took the opportunity in May 2012 to arrange a visit for the Westminster Guides and I have to say we were all practically blown away by the interior.
Emery Walker was a friend and colleague to William Morris and because of this the house contains many Morris originals – wallpaper, wall hangings even William Morris lino. The architect Philip Webb was also a friend and left his possessions to Walker and these are also to be found throughout the house. There is so much more than this though – it is like a time capsule. The house has remained virtually unaltered because Walker left the house to his daughter who in turn left it to her companion who then formed a trust to preserve it for the future. More details about the house can be found on the excellent Londonphile blog.
I have been to many historic houses over the years and am sometimes dismayed that the houses are bare and lacking in possessions; I have now been completely spoiled with this one and would thoroughly recommend a visit. Each tour is limited to 8 people so you do need to book in advance. They are currently looking for volunteers to help out this summer so if you live in the area maybe you could help.
A walk along the Thames afterwards with lunch at the Dove is a great way to complete your visit to Hammersmith.
A hidden church
Lastly, this unusual shaped church is a recent find and I hope to include it in a mainly pub-themed walk around Fitzrovia soon.
This is only a small selection of places I have discovered in the past 5 years or so and I’m continuing to discover more many of which will end up on one of my walks. All my walks include hidden tea shops, pubs and anything else I may have discovered along the way together with of course the historical narrative.
This post is just about London but there’s so much more to discover in the rest of the country. I’ve just nominated a couple of my hidden London favourites on this map but you may want to look at what else has been suggested around the country or even add some yourself.
*London Historians hold a monthly pub meet for members and non-members alike. It’s held upstairs at the Windsor Castle pub, Francis Street SW1 from 6.30pm usually until closing time on the first Wednesday of every month – next one is Wednesday 5th February. There’s no obligation to join if you go along and it’s just a social so turn up any time. Maybe see you there!
I am sure it was via Twitter that I kept seeing the area of St Martin’s Courtyard cropping up. As a Westminster Guide I was ashamed to say I didn’t recognise the street so set out earlier this week (in the rain!) with a mission to find it.
It turns out that St Martin’s Courtyard is a new name for Slingsby Place – an enclave bordered by Mercer Street, Long Acre and St Martin’s Lane in Covent Garden.
Within it can be found a number of shops, bars and restaurants. Some of the shops were unfortunately out of my price range but there are a number of restaurants that look worth visiting.
There is another reason to visit as from now until Christmas Eve the Courtyard have a special Random Acts of Kindness event where random shoppers, diners and even browsers are given amazing prizes such as a meal, a makeover or a wine tasting! Definitely worth dropping in if you’re nearby.
And tonight from 5pm to 7pm (Thursday 19th December) and this coming Saturday there will be live music and mulled wine too.
Thursday 19 December, 5pm-7pm – English National Opera Community Choir
Saturday 21 December, 2pm-4pm – Roo Savill
There are also some fabulous Christmas decorations! Worth another wander I think!
The location of St Martin’s Courtyard can be found on this link.http://www.stmartinscourtyard.com/FindUs
Find out more on Twitter from @smccoventgarden or follow the hashtag #RAOK.
Injuring my foot in June this year whilst on a walk in Walthamstow was not a good thing to happen to a tour guide. I cancelled walks, I gave away walks to other guiding colleagues and did what the doctor ordered (mostly) which was to rest. Without a car not walking at all was impossible but I did try. Instead of walking from Victoria to Westminster Abbey or Liverpool Street to London Bridge for my various temping assignments (in my other job as a legal secretary) I took the bus. Nordic walking in Epping Forest is (still) on hold.
I am still guiding – in fact the next week is quite busy with a number of Christmas Lights walks – but I’m trying to be sensible in between as I’m still not fully recovered.
This sedentary lifestyle has of course had an adverse effect on my weight which has shot up in the last few months. I don’t usually watch my weight but the fact that I can’t get into quite a few of my clothes tells me all I need to know.
I have also got myself into a bit of an unhealthy lifestyle – drinking a bit too much, having a few too many late nights and then not able to get up in the morning, missing breakfast and grabbing a croissant on the way. Not good. I have known for a while that things need to change but haven’t done anything about it.
So when I received an invite to a Healthy Eating Class at the Underground Cookery School organised by simplyhealth I thought this was perfect timing and would hopefully be the catalyst for me to start changing my diet and lifestyle.
On arrival at the School’s base in City Road near Old Street we were offered a choice of carrot or orange juice. Strangely I have never tried carrot juice so I had to go for this. It turned out to be a mixture of not just carrots but celery and spinach and I have to say was delicious. I am seriously considering buying a juicer now!
|Photo courtesy of the Underground Cookery School|
I have never yet included a recipe on a blogpost but this was so delicious I have to share it!
To make about a pint of juice:
The next part of the event was a talk entitled “Eat Yourself Young” by nutritionist Kate Cook. This was a real eye opener. I recognised lots of bad habits I had got into mostly caused by a lack of sleep and the knock-on effects the next day. I have also never really thought of the long-term effects on my body. Kate told us that “Genes load the gun but lifestyle pulls the trigger”. That really made me think.
One of the keys to a healthy lifestyle is to keep your blood sugar level well balanced. I was amazed to discover how much sugar is in a glass of orange juice; it’s much better for your body to drink the aforementioned vegetable juice than the usual fruit juices.
Kate’s reference to The Numskulls who used to appear in the Beano made me laugh but it brought the point home; showing how your body is affected when your blood sugar level is raised.
Kate emphasised that it’s much better to slowly change your diet to a good one than to diet off and on. She did encouragingly say that it’s impossible to change your way of life overnight; it will take time.
More of Kate’s advice can be found on this post by simplyhealth the hosts of the event.
The next part of the day was to do prepare and cook our meal. The menu was:
We were split into groups and my group’s first task was to fillet a mackerel. This was nowhere near as hard as anticipated.
After washing my hands my next task was to peel some pears. I was slow but I was methodical. However I completely failed at the third task which was to de-bone a chicken. It probably didn’t help that I was feeling a bit under the weather and was standing next to the cooker but I started to feel a bit unwell at the thought of pulling the chicken apart and had to abandon this and watch from a safe distance.
The last (and best) part of the day was to eat the meal we had helped to prepare. I am there – honest! I was at the far end of the table and can just about see my turquoise clad arm!
The highlight for me was the pan fried chicken with puy lentils which had a spicy kick and was absolutely delicious. I definitely want to cook it for myself – minus the de-boning part of course.
The recipe to this dish can be found here. If you want to make it spicy the ratio is half a large red chilli de-seeded per portion.
I have recipes for all the items on the menu above so please feel free to ask me if you would like any of them.
What an enjoyable way to spend a Sunday; I learned so much and hope to start putting it all into practice soon. I am also planning to ask my GP to refer me to a podiatrist so I can find out what is wrong with my foot and get fully back to my normal energetic self.
This is the third year running I’ve produced a list of free carol concerts and services in London. I am already getting a number of views on my now out-of-date lists so the time has come to bring it up to date. This is really only a snapshot of what’s available so please add any you may know of in the comments below.
1. My list starts with the RNLI’s Annual Festival of Lessons and Carols which takes place at St Simon Zelotes Church in Chelsea on Tuesday 3rd December at 7pm. Entrance is free but a collection will be taken. More details can be found here. If I wasn’t leading a walk on Tuesday I would definitely be attending.
This year myself and some other Westminster Guides volunteered at Tower RNLI for the Thames Festival and I’ve now signed up as an occasional volunteer so hope to return there soon. My blog post about my day volunteering can be found here.
2. Trafalgar Square
The world famous tree will be lit on Thursday 5th December and from Monday 9th to Sunday 22nd December there will be carol singing around the tree by a different group each night – 4pm-8pm on weekdays and 2pm-6pm on weekends. More details can be found here.
The Priory Church was founded in AD 1123 as part of a monastery of Augustinian Canons but the church is probably more well known by the general public for having featured in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral. There is a cafe here and I have just discovered that the cafe is open some evenings until 7pm and serves wine, monastic beer and cocktails!
There are a number of carol services listed here including a lunchtime one on Monday 22nd December at 1pm. If I’m free I’m going to try to get to that and will try out their cafe too!
4. St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street
The journalists’ church always has lots of private carol services for neighbouring companies. However there are two that are free and open to the public:
Friday 20th December at both 12pm and 5pm. Scroll down on this page for details.
5. Just up Fleet Street from St Bride’s is St Dunstans-in-the-West which I used to visit regularly for lunchtime recitals when I worked in the area. I always enjoyed their carol service which was usually followed by refreshments. However details aren’t yet on their website.
6. Another church where I used to regularly attend lunchtime recitals when working in the area was St Martin within Ludgate. This church is in Ludgate Hill almost opposite City Thameslink.
Thursday 19th December at 1.05pm followed by mulled wine and mince pies
I started putting this list together last week and at that point discovered a number of carol services some of which are free and some of which aren’t. However for some strange reason I now can’t find the list on their website! There is one listed though for tomorrow, 2nd December at 6pm (details are on the left-hand side). No doubt the other events will reappear. For those carol services that have refreshments a £5 donation is encouraged. However it would normally cost you £4 just to visit the church.
While you’re there check out the Crypt Gallery
Thursday 12th December – 1.15pm – 2pm Lunchtime Carol Service
Sunday 22nd December – 6.00pm Christmas Carol Service by Candlelight
Only one of two Wren churches outside the City of London (the other being the RAF Church St Clement Danes) there are a number of carol services taking place here including Carols for Shoppers on Tuesday 17th December at 5.30pm.
Despite being supposedly at the top of my “To visit” list a year ago after reading London Historians’ post about it I am ashamed to say I still haven’t made it here. However my limited mobility in the summer due to a foot injury did prevent me from doing all that I wanted to.
There are a number of services here including one in French on Monday 16th December at 6pm.
And lastly the Big Three:
Until a few years ago I would regularly attend St Paul’s either to see the Celebrity Speakers’ carol concert (19th December this year) or their free production of the Messiah. However each year it was increasingly harder to get a reasonable seat and at my last visit to see the Messiah a couple of years ago when I was absolutely frozen at the back of the cathedral I said to myself never again and that I would rather pay to see the Messiah in a smaller (or warmer) venue. I now see they are providing big screens in Paternoster Square for various of their carol services which means it must be even harder to get in without queuing hours before. That’s not for me. If however you are more hardy than me the link to all their services/concerts is here.
It’s the same really for Westminster Abbey although in their case all tickets have already been allocated via Eventbrite. Having temped (as a legal secretary) for much of 2013 in the building next door to Westminster Abbey I should really have got my act together earlier!
And finally one that I have managed to get a ticket for. The Mayor’s Annual Carol Service at Southwark Cathedral on Monday 16th December.
As mentioned above any additions welcome!
As students at Sadlers Wells we shared the dressing rooms with fully-fledged members of the company.
For some reason I was resting on a bench recovering from a sick turn when the doors burst open and Margot Fonteyn herself flew in, late for class and very flustered.
There was one mother waiting for her daugher besides me and I was struck dumb with admiration.
Margot hastily changed into her work clothes and suddenly realised that she had forgotten some lambswool for her feet. Dancers need protection for their toes when they do pointwork.
She asked the mother if she had any spare wool but she hadn’t. Still star-struck I stuttered hoarsely that I had some which I shyly offered to her and handed it over. Gratefully she accepted it and we watched as Margot carefully wrapped up each toe in my lamb’s wool.
Ah the joy!
|As a child before studying at Sadlers Wells|
|Mum in her 20s (on the couch!) performing for Perth Rep – maiden name Margaret Ferguson.|
|Mum (and Dad!) at my sister’s wedding in October 2013 (photo by Joanna Brown)|
Read my Mum’s other post about life as a Sadlers Wells’ student here – which is at the moment the most read post on my blog!
Update April 2016: Maggie Moncrieff – 8 February 1928 to 17 April 2016