The Jester in Geneva

This blog entry about the events of Thursday, August 23, 2012 was originally posted on August 26, 2012.

PART 2 (DAYS 2-4): “See the name of the building? Les Florentines? It’s got my name on it. That’s why I got it,” Florin joked to me as we pulled into a parking spot of his condo complex in Ferney-Voltaire, the French/Swiss border town outside Geneva on the French side. It was just passed 12:30 a.m. — two hours later than we’d expected since my flight from Berlin was delayed — but we were still in good spirits. In fact, Florin, who I befriended on the W trek of Torres del Paine in Patagonia, was still the fast talking, wisecracking guy I remembered. Back then, John McClain had declared him the court jester of our trekking group, and twenty months later, nothing had changed thus far.

“I’m still a clown, but I’m a lot worse now,” Florin joked.

When we arrived to his flat, we weren’t alone — in fact, it was a full house. His Galacian girlfriend Sylvia had just landed two hours before me, after a visit to her family in Spain, only to be surprised by the family of four also visiting — Florin’s friends Carmen and Alin from his home country of Romania, and their two daughters, Carla (5) and Wana (3).

“Are you hungry?” Florin asked me, as Sylvia played with her favorite girls.

“Uh, I could eat.” It had been a long time since that currywurst I had at Berlin’s Curry 36.

Florin had envisioned a grand welcome at the airport — followed by dinner — with everyone all together since I should have arrived at the same time as Sylvia. Alas, I was late — but at least I’d made it. Florin and Sylvia told me that delayed flights that end up landing at GVA after midnight are usually rerouted to Lyon since GVA shuts down, and people are then driven on a long bus ride from Lyon to Geneva and don’t arrive until 4 or 5 in the morning.

“Sylvia just came back from Spain. She got some really good lomo,” he told me. He opened the fridge and scanned the contents before handing me things left and right. “Take this cheese, man. And hmmm, what goes good with the cheese… A plum. Here take this. And take this…” Soon I was out on the terrace table with bread, meats and cheeses, and prosecco for a shared late night snack.

“You want some pasta with pesto?” Florin asked me, the generous host. There was some leftover. “You want me to warm it up?”

I had it cold, much to Sylvia’s chagrin. “It’s okay, you should have seen what we ate in Patagonia,” I told her.

The grand Patagonia reunion that we’d wanted for some time was not to be (yet), but two out of nine wasn’t bad. There were enough guests in the full house anyway, and they all stayed up for late greetings and conversation — although it took the girls some time to warm up to me and my English.

“They know the [English] words. They’re just shy,” their father Alin said. He too could follow in the wisecracks and banter of Florin — perhaps it was a Romanian thing.

“Watch what you say. Don’t say anything,” Florin announced. “It will end up on his blog. I don’t want to a clown. I am respectable.” It was hard to take him completely seriously though. Conversations included Florin’s “photo of the day” challenge on Instagram — a recent one he posted showed himself in the mirror, looking quite dorky.

“I saw it,” Sylvia said, smirking. “But I didn’t push the like button.”

THE GOOD TIMES CONTINUED THE FOLLOWING AFTERNOON when we regrouped at Les Bains des Paquis, a beach area on the shores of Lake Geneva, right in the middle of downtown Geneva. I had just commuted there via tram after a long day at CERN, the famed nuclear research center outside of Geneva, where I’d spent the day shooting a new video for Discovery. To make a long story short (you’ll see it all when I finally get to editing it), I spent the morning on tour there, seeing the Globe of Science and Innovation — the external face of CERN — which holds a futuristic visitor exhibit inside, explaining what they do there. I also saw the ATLAS detector center, where nerds in the control room collect data from the Large Hadron Collider 100m underground, a “racetrack” for subatomic particles that collide and simulate the Big Bang Theory — thus explaining the mysteries of the universe. Lunch in the cafeteria followed, where I chat up the CERN bloggers before performing and shooting an experiment I came up with that — not to give too much away here — involved magnets and the cheese I’d bought at the Carrefour in France that morning. (CERN is literally on the border between France and Switzerland, and you often cross the border back and forth, just driving around campus.)

In the end, the CERN scientists and I never used the cheese I bought (they had their own scientific cheese), and so it was only added to the pile of snacks we had when Alin, Carmen, and the girls met up with us at the beach too.

“Did you ever think you’d be here swimming on the lake?” Florin asked me after we’d swam and chilled out on the floating platform (picture above).

“No,” I told him; I had no plans of any beach time on this trip, and it was all a bonus.

The beach snacks tied us over until dinner at some tourist Swiss restaurant that was good and convenient to go to with kids — although the service was less than stellar when they often forgot to bring things. (This is why most Europeans I know actually prefer the American custom of tipping; without it, waiters have no real incentive to serve you well.) Nonetheless, it served as the stage for Awkward Dinner Photos (Florin’s Instagram photo of the day), as I ate a fondue au cognac. There was flambé in the end, which was sort of like a Patagonia campfire for Florin and me — but no John McClain to complete the “Three Wisemen” reunion.

THE REST OF MY STAY on the French/Swiss border was casual, with more food and drink at Florin’s eponymous condo, and a walk around his French village of Ferney-Voltaire, where the famous Voltaire spent his later years in a big house for eight years before he died. Florin had suggested we do the Geneva sunrise concert on the lake, a daily summer morning event that would have been nice if not for the thunderstorms that passed through at the wrong time — we had awaken at 5:30 am only to realize this. “It’s not going to be as good as Torres del Paine, man,” Florin told me in a whisper as we tried not to wake anyone. Thunder sounded signaling us to maybe call it off.

“I’ll go, but there’s no guarantee I’ll go in the lake,” I told Florin after. I told him the evening before that I’d swim with the others in the frigid morning water.

“Since when are you changing the rules, man.” More thunder, and lighting. “Get some hours of sleep,” Florin told me, calling off the plan. “The kids won’t let you soon.”

The girls not only painted Sylvia’s face (and vice versa), but started to warm up to me — showing me how to squeeze a lens cleaning air pump into Florin’s butt, and showing off their new supplies they got for the upcoming school year. Alas, all of our time was short; the Romanians left to continue their family road trip — this next leg to the Croatian coast — but not without an open-ended invite to visit them in Kluge, Romania, formerly Transylvania. “We are all vampires,” Alin joked. “Related to Dracula.”

To a Romanian, the dracula jokes probably never cease, just like they didn’t when John and I met Florin back in Chile. And so, to make the trio complete, we decided to call him on his cell phone since I had his number saved. He was already in the office, surrounded with papers, wishing he wasn’t. “I can tell you this is already the best call I’m going to have all day,” he told me after welcomed banter between him and Florin. Our former jester may be in Geneva, but he’s actually only a phone call away — when he’s not busying posting an awkward picture on Instagram, of course.


Gone are the days of Eurailing; it’s now faster and cheaper to bounce around Europe with budget airline easyJet — however it’s not always easy. EasyJet has a strict ONE carry-on bag only policy — this includes handbags or laptop cases. I’ve managed to get by with my just-at-the-limit bag, but one Swiss easyJet employee wasn’t convinced as I boarded a flight from Geneva to London, and told me to put it in the sample allowance box you see in airports. It took some wiggling, but the entire thing fit. “But you forced it,” he told me.

“That’s because the extra compartment got caught on the bar. But look, it totally fits, with room to spare,” I told him.

“No, no, no, you cannot force it in. It says it right on your boarding pass. I do not see that it fits.”

“Uh, but I see that it DOES fit, you see it right there.”

“No, but you forced it. If you force it here, you will have to force it on the plane.”

So what? I thought. So I’ll force it on the plane and it will fit; there won’t be a bar there in the real scenario.

“You can not force it, look here,” the Swiss guy said, pointing to a section on my boarding pass that supposedly explained his argument — a weak one at that.

“THERE’S NOTHING HERE ABOUT FORCING IT OR NOT,” I said after reading nothing of what he spoke of.

“Well it says it on the website. You should read the website more carefully.” The guy charged me the 80 Swiss francs for checking in a bag.

What a Swasshole.

Next entry: When You’re with R. Kelly, It’s Always Friday

Previous entry: No Sleep ‘Til Berklyn

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Comments for “The Jester in Geneva”

  • Not nearly as exciting as Patagonia, I know…

    More to come.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/26  at  07:26 AM

  • yes, not as exciting, but still funny… Florin’s humor comes out through your narrative

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/26  at  05:07 PM

  • whose the CERN blogger in the blue?  Hey now.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/27  at  08:07 PM

  • did you make the cheese float?  Seem to remember seeing something on tv the other day where they were using super magnets to levitate things…. inquiring minds want to know! wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/27  at  08:19 PM

  • LIZ: Not exactly. Wait and see!
    ODB: Australian chick.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/29  at  03:16 PM

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This blog post is one of six travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Gone Europin'," which chronicled an eleven-day whirlwind journey to Germany's capital Berlin, scientific Geneva, Aberdeen in northern Scotland, and southern England.

Next entry:
When You’re with R. Kelly, It’s Always Friday

Previous entry:
No Sleep ‘Til Berklyn


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