Daily Archives: June 20, 2019

Cathedrals old and new (wherein Connie explains physics)

The other highlights of our trip in Geneva were visiting the Cathedrale Saint-Pierre and CERN. First things first, we walked downtown from our apartment (about a 30 minute trip) to the old city in Geneva and got lunch en route (Bolivian food for once!). We reached the Cathedrale Saint-Pierre after going through some passages. Downtown Geneva is made of a bunch of hills, but over the centuries, they’ve been scraped down some and removed in other places or just tunneled through so that they fit in more or less with the street structure. That does mean sometimes there are two levels of streets or roads. Some of these passages are closed most of the year, but we came up one that emerged just behind the church. The cathedral itself is interesting because it was a Gothic cathedral built in the 1500s, but during the Reformation, it became a Protestant church removed of all the gilt, icons, rood screens, and art that Catholic cathedrals are well known for. Inside, you can even see a few examples of where stone carvings are defaced and cracked. (I’m guessing they took that second commandment real seriously.) The only thing that’s left are the rose windows and stained glass windows. The Cathedrale Saint-Pierre is known for being the church of John Calvin, who preached at the church literally thousands of times. There was one wooden chair known for being Calvin’s chair in the building, and it seemed kind of small, but then, as Steve remarked, they were all smaller back then.

We paid 5 CHF each to climb the tower to the top of the cathedral. It was a gorgeous view in all four directions. To the east, we could see over Lac Leman where the Jet d’Eau comes out. To the south is Salève the mountain and France. It’s apparently the shortest mountain (or something that could be called a mountain) in France, but looming way behind it is Mont Blanc in France, the tallest mountain in Europe. To the north and west are the Jura Mountains/ national park in France, which are also quite tall and form a solid barrier of sorts. So Geneva looks quite closed off for that reason. After we checked out the cathedral, we walked around the Jardin Anglais which is downtown by the lake. There were public pianos around, which some people kept playing tracks from Amélie on (just in case you forgot you were in the French part of Switzerland), and it was a lovely sunlit afternoon. We walked home afterwards.

One last thing about Sunday: Switzerland is very trying on Sundays. That’s because absolutely nothing is open. Pretty much all the supermarkets and normal stores are closed on that day, and it’s very sleepy indeed. The church was probably the only thing we could count on being open. I was definitely kind of disgruntled that we were not able to visit the Coop to buy presents and groceries, and probably the only person around who really wished for Monday to come faster.

On Monday itself, we got up early and took the nearby tram 18 all the way to its end at CERN. I had almost forgotten CERN was here when we booked our trip to Geneva. Thankfully, a friend who is doing his post-doc there asked if we wanted a tour, and we were very glad to accept. CERN is the European Organization for Nuclear Research, established in 1954. It’s more appropriate to call it the European laboratory for particle physics these days, since that’s what CERN has been concerned with since then. It is presently the home of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is a 27-kilometer long circular tunnel where particle beams are collided at high speeds to simulate what the world looked like closer to the Big Bang. That’s the 5-second explanation. In reality, what we learned about was much more complicated but also more interesting.

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