Geneva in a day. No way…?

imageAbsolutely no way. It’s an insult to any major city or country to say you can ‘do it’ in a day or even just ‘do it’ at all. But can you fly into Geneva from the UK and do some heavy duty sightseeing and experiencing and then fly out all within 12 hours? Yes you can.

I’m a big fan of British Airways. I follow them on Twitter so when I read they were launching cheap day return flights to 6 European cities for under £100 I sat up. Dublin, Edinburgh, Rome, Munich, Vienna and Geneva are the first 6 of these test day returns. The downside is that at the moment they are only available from Heathrow. Good for me as I live not far away. The upside is…BA.

So last Saturday, I put it to the test and flew out for a day trip to Geneva. Just what could I get done in how much time and at what cost?

imageBA’s cheap day returns are only available on the weekend. It’s hand baggage only of course. I took the first flight to Geneva from Terminal 5 (the 4th departure of the entire day) at 06:40. The flight was around 1hr 20mins so was on the ground in Geneva around 9am local time. No baggage to reclaim so headed for the exit. TIP ONE: do your research. Found out from Trip Advisor that EVERYONE who lands in Geneva gets a free 1hr travel pass into the city centre. I did my research and was able to help other new arrivals who hadn’t. A ticket machine is stood next to the exit from the baggage reclaim. Press the button. Get your free pass et voila.

TIP: Google or consult Trip Advisor before you go.

I’ve done a fair bit of first time travelling to European cities this year to make comparisons. I did find Geneva wanting in terms of clear directions for travellers but if you’ve got any sense and logic you’ll find your way.

So off into Geneva. Follow the signs to the buses and look for the No. 5 (usually parked outside the exit from the Terminal). Don’t expect the driver to open the door for you. Figure it out and you’ll open it yourself. Don’t expect him to look at the ticket you show him on entering. No-one pays. It’s all free. For an hour.

TIP: don’t throw away the boarding pass from your flight. You may need it to prove you are a new arrival by bus ticket inspectors.

imageYou won’t need an hour to get into a Geneva. I got off the bus at the ‘Nations’ stop. Having done a Google plus asking a sleeping Swiss sat next to me I knew this was the stop for the European HQ of the United Nations. Why is this a place to see? Well look, the Geneva Convention on human rights was brokered here. 160 international organisations are headquartered in this district, in major world crises Geneva is never far from the headlines and the world’s decision makers plus….they have some lovely fountains you can run through and get soaked in.

imageOnwards from the UN, I decided to walk into town. As ever I have a map on me. I always travel with one but never use it. If you (if anybody) read my blog from Oslo..I seldom use one. Yes I consult and study maps before I travel but not so far when I’m on the road. I head down what I think is the way to town. No sign of Lake Geneva yet or the one landmark by which I hoped yo navigate my way around – the ‘Jet d’Eau’ – or the 150ft high fountain which is the city’s signature. I spot the very top of it rising above the buildings as I descend.

imageSoon I spot signs to the City centre. I can set my course from these and from where I saw the Jet d’Eau but I walk through a residential area in a clearly poorer district of the city and one mostly populated by migrants. Their sort of car boot sale was on that day. Streets were closed and wares were for sale displayed on rugs and sheets just on the pavements. It was a generally a nice atmosphere. Some techie stuff looked too good and new to be 2nd hand and nothing was in packaging. I was just passing through but apart from a couple of photos, I felt it best to keep my iPad tucked away, hold onto my bag and to move on quickly, especially after I noticed some guys paying too close attention to me.

The guide books tell you that Geneva is small and compact, which it is in the centre. If you are not at all interested in the UN, ignore it, head to town and gain time elsewhere.

Into town and all before 11am local time. Found my way to the lakeside to be confronted by that fountain. And it is impressive. It shoots up the highest of its kind in the world – 150ft.

TIP: check the weather before you travel. The fountain will be switched off in adverse weather conditions.

Booked a 1hr 15min cruise on the Lake. If you want an instant tan in just an hour, forget tarting around on so sunbed. I’m brown skinned and I tanned in an hour and my workmates noticed.

Being honest, the best bit about the boat cruise was just being on a clear, freshwater lake in the sun on a Saturday that might otherwise be spent mowing the lawn. There was commentary in a dozen languages it seemed, but for me the joy was just being there. And I did at last get to breeeeeeeeeeaaaaaathe and chill.

imageBack on dry land and the short walk of say 20 minutes to the Old City was next. You can’t miss it…it’s on a hill and part of the city skyline. As you leave the modern city and head into the old I felt a very distinct change. Bearing in mind I was there on a Saturday, which is heaving at home. The Old City is sedate, refined, quiet, social, dignified and beguiling all at once. It was like I stepped over a line in a movie. It all became quiet and almost rural. Distant sounds of traffic, the square where I found a gorgeous Italian restaurant to eat was filled with the hubbub of people socialising and eating together. Just outside the al fresco restaurants you could hear the spring water public fountains from which travellers fill their bottles.

imageOnwards and upwards to the Cathedrale de St. Pierre. If you are into religious history at all, Geneva was a hotbed of the Reformation under Luther and Calvin. I’m not, so that kind of washed over me. The Cathedral I thought was sadly dead inside and depressingly austere. Its one redeeming feature is the hike up the tower to see the view over the city, but one I didn’t take. If you go, don’t follow my lead on this. As long as the Jet d’Eau is in full Flow, you won’t find any other viewpoints overlooking the fountain and city you can get to in time to make best use of your day so get your arse up those loooooong stairs.

So how were the Genevans or Genevois as I’ve read they are called? Geneva is the 4th first ever visited by me city I’ve landed in this year. As with the others, people were friendly, and welcoming and English widely spoken. That said, there is a very welcome caveat. English was not as fluent as I’ve heard on my other travels and surprising for a city that is host to the European HQ of the UN, also the HQ for 160 international world organisations but it was so good to practice the basic French I knew that sped back to mind just being there. The Genevois I met were all that one could want in a city you are visiting for the first time: welcoming, communicative and not surprised to see you there. It is without a doubt the most cosmopolitan city I’ve visited this year so far, bar London.

I still had time to mooch around town before my flight home but didn’t do that much shopping. Plenty to tempt me but I never went for that. I stepped into THE MOST amazing department stare ever visited called The Manor built on 5 storeys. Never seen any shop like it ever. Utterly fantastic and a must go visit.

So to costs. Flight was £79 return, scheduled from Heathrow. My travel to Heathrow was covered on my monthly London travel pass. Travel into Geneva from the airport is free for all arrivals. The 1hr 15 min cruise on the Lake cost £10. Lunch was the most expensive e item at nearly £40 (main, 2 beers and pud) and the 6 min journey out to the airport from the city cost £3. A couple of Starbucks coffees to add. Considering my normal weekly shop is around £70 and my cupboards and freezer are well stocked, this was money well spent and I would do it again and most likely will, hopefully with some friends in tow.

imageBritish Airways launched these day trips to fill otherwise almost empty regular routes at weekends. I can see why and so forbid any readers to forward this blog post on. On both the outward and home bound flights I had a whole row of leather-clad seats to myself. On my homeward, I had the entire back of the aircraft just for me. Thanks to the BA mobile app, I could check-in on both flights and choose my seats for free while drinking coffee in Starbucks. Unlike other national carriers I’ve travelled with this year, BA just does it for me. Smart, helpful, efficient and believe it of not…friendly staff. Complimentary anything is a bonus on any flight over 2 hours. My flight was 75 minutes and though it may seem just token, but you feel valued with a drink and snack. You’d think the sleek Scandinavians would have got this before us, but if they did they don’t now and are a poor shadow to what BA provides as standard.

If you are in a reasonable travelling radius of Heathrow, Geneva via BA is a a really good buy.

TIP: research all 6 cities via Google. Especially check for how far the airport is from the city centre so you can be realistic about how much time you will have there before you decide your itinerary. Not all flights you will find will be under £100 but not that much over. Be flexible about your dates of travel and check random weekends well ahead of time to see the going rate.

Eurovision 2014: My predictions…

imageThere’s an unusually fervent interest by the British media in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest being beamed globally from Copenhagen tonight. No doubt this is down to the UK entry being ranked among the hot favourites to win – not just here but all across Europe. While the British population at large remains outwardly nonplussed about the whole shindig, each year the broadcast ranks among the highest TV audiences here and globally to around 160 million (the true figure varies). My friends have always known me as a sad Eurovision geek from schooldays (the first contest I got to stay up and watch as a kid was 1975 and I’ve seen every one since). I have normally seen and heard all the entries – those that made it to the final and those who didn’t – before most people know the contest is on. Last year I correctly predicted the winner on hearing it the very first time and without hearing all the others yet. This year I’m going to do the same – at least that’s what I thought until today. Now I’m not so sure. In what is being dubbed by the press here as the ‘closest contest in a decade’ here are my Top 5…


This is the one I was so sure is going to win hands down. A good marker of how the contest will go is to keep an eye on what the federation of Eurovision fan clubs predict by their pre-contest voting from all across Europe. Their verdict was that this song will be a runaway winner. I’m not so sure but it will be up there. Sweden takes Eurovision deadly seriously. Their ‘Melodifestivalen’ to choose their entry runs like our X-Factor over several weeks and commands dominating TV audiences. Singer Sanna Nielsen will no doubt get the benefit of the Nordic block voting.

Song: Undo
Artist: Sanna Nielsen

imageThe Netherlands

This song has rocketed up the Bookies odds after a stunning performance in the Semi Finals that drew the 10,000 Danish crowd to its feet. It was barely noticed before hand but is now an odds-on favourite. A very classy, non-typically Eurovision number with a country & western flavour that will go down well with the Nordic audiences. It would not be a travesty at all if this one won.

Song: Calm after the storm
Artists: The Common Linnets


It might surprise some to know that in recent years UK voters have awarded more points to Greece than Ireland and this year will be no different. This for me is the 2nd best of the upbeat entries. Israel fielded the best one but for whatever reason did not make the final. British interest here too as one of the boy band, riskyKidd, is a Londoner. This should finish in the Top 5.

Song: Rise up
Artists: Freaky Fortune feat. RiskyKidd


Fans of X-Factor who remember the year Alexandra Burke won might remember Ruth Lorenzo, the Spanish girl who entered the UK contest because there was no Spanish equivalent at the time. Ruth was popular then being voted into the final 5 and could be with Brits again tonight singing a song she wrote herself some years back after she was dropped by her music label. This was originally among the favourites for tonight but has dropped down the ranks as others have surprised audiences in the Semis. She’s still among my faves though and on my blog that’s all that counts.

Song: Dancing in the Rain
Artist: Ruth Lorenzo

imageUnited Kingdom

It’s been a long while since a UK entry featured in my Top 5 and this is a good song which has been received well across Europe. The federation of fan clubs voted UK into 4th place in their pre-contest verdicts and when snippets of the video have been played at both semi finals it drew loud cheers from the audience. I don’t think the media hype here is over stated; this is a strong entry and will do well. Molly also got an added boost yesterday when she was drawn to perform last in the show tonight. As long as she can deliver a cracking performance, British viewers can I think look forward to an enjoyable experience this evening.

Song: Children of the universe
Artist: Molly Smitten-Downes

Others to watch…

Most Bookies and press rate the bearded transvestite from Austria to be a very close contender and he/she would not be the first transsexual to win following behind Israel’s Dana International. I don’t like the artist or the song so balls to that. Also watch out for Armenia who will deliver the best male vocalist in the contest. This will also do well but (hopefully) not a winner. Other than these….Norway, Malta, Finland worth keeping an ear on.

If politics is going to play a hand tonight then it will be the battle between Ukraine and Russia who both qualified for the final. The 10,000 strong audience booed the Russian success at their semi final and we may see a repeat of that tonight. The worry is that countries loyal to Russia may vote tonight to support Russia or conversely western public sympathies might side with Ukraine and this will skew the results completely. Let’s hope not as 2014 sees the strongest line up of entries for decades.

imageA note on the venue

I got close to tonight’s venue when I was in Copenhagen a couple of week’s ago. I have never seen an uglier building from the outside and it is fair to say the Danes I talked to about the contest were embarrassed at the choice of venue. It’s a huge, drab concrete warehouse on a derelict island in Copenhagen harbour. At the time I visited, my taxi driver told me there are no working toilets on the island and no amenities or eateries. He was even convinced the roof is going to fall in and kill everyone. No doubt the smart Danes have put contingencies in place. But when you see the stage tonight – quite the best of any contest EVER and for me the real star of the show – you will see why they needed such a huge and high building. By the magic of televisual trickery we will be in for a treat.

So to my prediction…

I think I am going to stick with my initial gut feeling that next year we will all be tuning into somewhere in Sweden but I hope it will not be by a huge runaway margin.

You’ll find your way

imageTime to leave Oslo. Came here as a follow on from my time out in Copenhagen. Why is all in the last post.

No earth shattering revelations in Oslo – unless rediscovering old forgotten truths is earth shattering.

I’ve always known I’m a very able solo traveller. From a young kid I always seemed to figure out how to get places without a map or with only a cursory glance. My ability to do that came back to mind here and I prayed about it. Why this ability?

In the warm Spring sunshine under a sapphire Norwegian sky yesterday I walked along the harbour and thought about many things, not least my overwhelming desire to find my way back in spirit to a place I once was before I let life, doubts, sheer laziness, unwillingness and listening too much to others cover over the trail.

Before I came out here, I was trying to find Norwegian music to listen to on the flight over to get me in the mood. I couldn’t find any so tuned into a Swedish Christian radio station affiliated to the one I work for. They were playing a certain song. Ironically it wasn’t Norwegian or even Swedish. The moment I heard it I knew I needed to download it. Then I forgot about it. Yesterday on the harbour front I remembered it. Playing it then it all made sense. My life made sense or at least I can now see direction of sorts. While I have been confused in trying to adapt to new ways I have buried instincts born in me that were put there to help guide me to be me. It is those I need to return to.

It was odd to be choking back tears on such a beautiful day. But they weren’t sad ones.

The song us called “You’ll find your way” by Andrew Peterson and is available in iTunes. It’s written from the perspective of a loving father having let his son go and face the challenges of life hoping that he has taught him enough to find his way through..

You’ll Find Your Way

When I look at you, boy
I can see the road that lies ahead
I can see the love and the sorrow

Bright fields of joy
Dark nights awake in a stormy bed
I want to go with you, but I can’t follow

So keep to the old roads
Keep to the old roads
And you’ll find your way

Your first kiss, your first crush
The first time you know you’re not enough
The first time there’s no one there to hold you

The first time you pack it all up
And drive alone across America
Please remember the words that I told you

Keep to the old roads
Keep to the old roads
And you’ll find your way
You’ll find your way

If love is what you’re looking for
The old roads lead to an open door
And you’ll find your way
You’ll find your way
Back home

And I know you’ll be scared when you take up that cross
And I know it’ll hurt, ’cause I know what it costs
And I love you so much and it’s so hard to watch
But you’re gonna grow up and you’re gonna get lost
Just go back, go back

Go back, go back to the ancient paths
Lash your heart to the ancient mast
And hold on, boy, whatever you do
To the hope that’s taken hold of you
And you’ll find your way
You’ll find your way
If love is what you’re looking for
The old roads lead to an open door
And you’ll find your way
You’ll find your way
Back home

Before. During. After.

imageI recently came back from Denmark. In my previous blog post I wrote of my state of mind prior to going and why I went away. From time to time a read a Christian devotional called ‘My Utmost for His Highest’ written by Oswald Chambers (again see last blog post for more on him). This is the reading for the 3rd April, a few days before I flew away, which pretty summed up my state of mind at the time:

If Thou Hadst Known!

If thou hadst known . . . in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. — Luke 19:42

Jesus had entered into Jerusalem in triumph, the city was stirred to its foundations; but a strange god was there, the pride of Pharisaism; it was religious and upright, but a “whited sepulchre.”

What is it that blinds me in this “my day”? Have I a strange god – not a disgusting monster, but a disposition that rules me? More than once God has brought me face to face with the strange god and I thought I should have to yield, but I did not do it. I got through the crisis by the skin of my teeth and I find myself in the possession of the strange god still; I am blind to the things which belong to my peace. It is an appalling thing that we can be in the place where the Spirit of God should be getting at us unhinderedly, and yet increase our condemnation in God’s sight.

“If thou hadst known” – God goes direct to the heart, with the tears of Jesus behind. These words imply culpable responsibility; God holds us responsible for what we do not see. “Now they are hid from thine eyes” – because the disposition has never been yielded. The unfathomable sadness of the “might have been!” God never opens doors that have been closed. He opens other doors, but He reminds us that there are doors which we have shut, doors which need never have been shut, imaginations which need never have been sullied. Never be afraid when God brings back the past. Let memory have its way. It is a minister of God with its rebuke and chastisement and sorrow. God will turn the “might have been” into a wonderful culture for the future.

On the 11th April I flew to Denmark. On the 12th this happened to me. This is the post I put on Facebook at the end of that day:

Something happened to me today. Another one of those God things that have happened in the past. I’ve tried to blog about it here in my hotel room in Copenhagen but I’ve given up so here it is:
I came here to seek solitude and reconnect wit…h God. I’m meant to be having breakfast in the hotel this morning but the restaurant is full. I notice it’s sunshine and clear blue sky outside (a rarity in Denmark I’ve read). I decide to skip the breakfast I paid for and head out. I’ve started to pray again and keep on doing as I try to find my way to the Little Mermaid statue without a map. I find it. It’s beautiful outside. Then as I head back to the city on foot I hear words in my head. Not words from me. Words outside me yet in my head.

Open your heart to hope again.
Open your soul to believe again.
Open your mind to imagine again.

Things like this have happened to me before. I have blogged about it and put it in the public space for anyone to read. To try and describe how these words sounded would be impossible yet I knew they were not from me. I have had a few very strange encounters with God which I have openly blogged about. They are very, very rare. But with all my heart and honesty I attest to them as true.
The time this happened as I walked though the Kastellet, an old fortress and former military barracks by Copenhagen harbour. It was around 9:59am. Why do I know this? Not because I had a watch and iPad on me but because there is a church on the Kastallet – looking like any English country church – that started to peel the 10am chimes. Just before then I had stopped, got out my iPad and had recorded a note of the words I heard. As I finished the church bells started to chime. Those chimes ended in a full verse played by the church bells of a hymn we know well in the UK:

He who would valiant be against all disaster
Let him in constancy follow the Master
There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent to be a Pilgrim.

I stopped walking and just listened to the chimes. It was as if all my inner turmoil was being addressed in those bells.
Funny how my day would have been so different had I decided to stay at the hotel insisting on the breakfast I paid for.
For me, the words and the peel of the church bells spoke exactly into my life and where I was and am right now. The shock I felt has remained with me all day. This post won’t make sense to some of my FB friends or be welcome by others. I can’t apologise for that but if you have known me to be mates with me this long this will not come as any surprise. I am just me on here, warts, wounds and all. For my FB friends who understand and welcome this post. We are never too long in the tooth or too buried in life’s shit to be disqualified from a visit.

Then when I returned to London travelling to work on my first day back, I was still trying to take in my encounter in Denmark. I turned once again to that day’s reading in ‘My Utmost for His Highest’ and found this:

Can You Come Down From the Mountain?

While you have the light, believe in the light . . . —John 12:36

We all have moments when we feel better than ever before, and we say, “I feel fit for anything; if only I could always be like this!” We are not meant to be. Those moments are moments of insight which we have to live up to even when we do not feel like it. Many of us are no good for the everyday world when we are not on the mountaintop. Yet we must bring our everyday life up to the standard revealed to us on the mountaintop when we were there.

Never allow a feeling that was awakened in you on the mountaintop to evaporate. Don’t place yourself on the shelf by thinking, “How great to be in such a wonderful state of mind!” Act immediately— do something, even if your only reason to act is that you would rather not. If, during a prayer meeting, God shows you something to do, don’t say, “I’ll do it”— just doit! Pick yourself up by the back of the neck and shake off your fleshly laziness. Laziness can always be seen in our cravings for a mountaintop experience; all we talk about is our planning for our time on the mountain. We must learn to live in the ordinary “grey” day according to what we saw on the mountain.

Don’t give up because you have been blocked and confused once— go after it again. Burn your bridges behind you, and stand committed to God by an act of your own will. Never change your decisions, but be sure to make your decisions in the light of what you saw and learned on the mountain.

I am still walking in the light of all the above and will be flying away again very soon for part two of my personal retreat. I wonder what deeper insights await?

My utmost for His highest

imageIt’s rare that I recommend a book essentially because I am a poor reader but if I were ever asked to go on the radio show ‘Desert Island Discs’ and name my one luxury item to take with me other than my record choices, the Bible and the complete works of William Shakespeare, it would be this book.

I can’t remember which friend it was of mine who first introduced me to it when I found faith. It’s written by British author with the unlikely name of Oswald Chambers in 1924 after his death in 1917. Chambers came to faith via the early Pentecostal movement in the UK and My Utmost for His Highest was written as a summary of his teachings to students of his Bible College and soldiers on the battlefields of the Middle East. MUFHH became one of the most popular religious books of all time in the UK. Sadly I don’t hear much reference to it nowadays. The writings were turned into daily devotionals spanning each day of the year and then repeat. For me, after the great CS Lewis, Oswald Chambers is my favourite modern Christian author (if 1924 can still be classed as modern).

imageWhat comes through his writing that touches me every time is his clear living relationship with the God he writes about. He knows Him as friend, father, teacher, Lord, comforter, encourager, chastiser and so much more. It is impossible to read any one of his daily devotions and not be caused to ponder in a good way deep inside. Often the thoughts provoked will remain with you all day and beyond, which is why it is best not to be tempted to read more than one devotion a day.

There are no rules to reading the book. Though each reading is set over each day of the year it is entirely valid to not move on to the next because you are still taking in the last even if that means you are out of kilter for the rest of the year. Likewise it is entirely valid to dive in at any random point you choose. The readings are not timed to coincide with seasons or the church calendar. In short, bite-sized written thoughts oozing to overflowing with more than your 5-a-day in spiritual goodness I would recommend every Believing household has access to this book.

imageI’m going away shortly on part 1 of a two-part spiritual retreat to three cities in foreign places I’ve never been to before. I’m going on my own yet taking two friends with me. Mr Chambers will be one. The other will, by His own unique magic, be both travelling with me and awaiting me on the other side. I need to get away. The need for some clear head space since last year has been crying out to me for a while. Yet so much of the working out of my faith is under question. The person of God and his reality to me is not under the microscope. The day that He became for me something beyond the stained glass windows and ceremony to being a living person who wanted to interact with me and have relationship with me is still too real in my memory. Yet Christianity I see in the UK today does seem to be in a quandary as to what it believes and I’m caught up in that too.

It is because I am secure in my still living personal relationship with God that I am in no sense of crisis and am open and honest enough to make my feelings public. I don’t expect to come back from my two retreats having had a life and perspective changing experience. Of course that is what I’m wanting but my faith is not based on feelings and holiday memories. What I do know I will get is the reconnect with the God I chose to follow that I have allowed life to rob from me. I’ve done huge amounts of prep on the 3 cities I will visit but doing and seeing all those things are 2nd priority to the main goal: to come away with Him. For the record, none of the cities being visited has any religious significance. They are just 3 cities I’ve never visited.

My relationship with church and church leaders has never been the easiest, though I still do strongly believe in both. But it seems to me that the Church and Christians at large are in a quandary as to what they believe and I am caught up in that quandary too. I need time out to seriously realise what I, Ian-Luke, believe and where I stand with God. More so than that, I need to get away for a while from the politics and debate of all around me – not easy to do when you work in a major Christian multi-media hub – and enquire of Him what He asks of me in these times. In the many periods I have had out, though, the writings of Oswald Chambers has been my friend reminding me of the goodness and dynamism of a God who still wants to be in relationship with me even though I shut Him out so much of the time. And so I end this post writing to anyone reading who is in a similar place or who is taking time out of church, reading the Bible or possibly out of faith completely. This book is for you. It won’t preach at you (though I’m talking to Christians here). It won’t chastise you in a way you won’t be up for. You won’t find hypocrisy or thoughts too difficult to grasp. Oswald puts some hot stuff into his mugs of thought. The good news is that he always leaves you with a handle on it to pick it up and not scald yourself. You’ll find honesty and an intermediary between you and the Friend you think you have fallen out with.

My Utmost for His Highest is available in book form at any good online retailer or Christian bookshop. It is also available as an App or you can read and sample for free here.