Some four years ago I had the privilege of visiting Brussels, a treasure trove of fun things to do and places to visit for avid Tintinologists. I did a good deal of research on the Tintin-related things there were to see there, and I remember while I was searching I accidentally found a site that linked to a brochure for Nyon, a small town in Switzerland that Tintin visits in The Calculus Affair. The town is obviously nowhere near Brussels, so I ignored it, and I remember specifically thinking ”no way will I ever make it over there…”
I am very happy to have been proven wrong.
As it turns out, I was able to stay in Geneva for only two nights this summer, but it proved long enough to see just about everything I set out to find. The difference between visiting Geneva or Nyon, compared with visiting Brussels, is that Brussels has a lot of Tintin related locations, but not a lot of locations Hergé actually drew in the albums. Instead, there is an entire train stop that he painted with all of his characters, a wall on a building where he painted a blown-up version of a panel with Haddock and Tintin going down a fire escape, and even an Hergé museum (which I didn’t see because it wasn’t finished at the time). But very little of Brussels is identifiable as where Tintin lives. I have heard that early on Hergé was encouraged to draw Tintin’s ”home town” as nondescriptly as possible because the English were starting to believe Tintin lived in London. Afterwords we barely see Tintin live outside of Marlinspike Hall, though he seems to still have a house in town. However, once Tintin is out of Brussels, Hergé would go to great lengths to make sure that the places Tintin was going to really existed and looked like they did in real life, and while we see examples of this in just about all of the books, Hergé put most effort into this aspect when he sent Tintin to Switzerland.
In The Calculus Affair, Tintin and Haddock travel to Geneva to find Professor Calculus, whom they rightfully believe is in danger. They’ve found the name of the hotel he’s staying at, the Hotel Cornavin. Sure enough, the hotel really existed, and still exists. Since then it’s undergone quite a few changes. And while I suppose I could have seen some of them through visitor photos on tripadvisor, what would have been the fun in that? Instead, I did some exploring and found the hotel myself.
It’s not like it was hard to find. The hotel Cornavin is facing the Place de Cornavin, right in front of the Cornavin Station that, incidentally, Tintin and Haddock stop at to get to the hotel (I only saw it from the outside as I have heard it looks nothing like the train station in The Calculus Affair). If you have a copy of The Calculus Affair with ytou, you might want to read this part of the story to get the most out of the post, unless you remember it perfectly.
I brought my own copy of The Calculus Affair with me and had a blast comparing certain panels with reality. The front of the hotel is still very similar to how Hergé drew it, although some of the letters have changed:
I hope I don’t get into any trouble for posting pics of The Calculus Affair; my purpose is only to compare Hergé’s work with his drawings.
There was a very nice little exhibit in the window to remember the fact that the Hotel Cornavin had been recorded in The Calculus Affair, if only for a page. As you can see here, the hotel looked identical to how it did when Hergé drew it.
Anyway, I found a couple of very interesting surprises inside the Hotel Cornavin:
First of all, I noticed Tintin in the window, along with a bunch of Tintin trinkets that I’ll show later (I got pictures of them ALL).
Snowy was there too:
I then looked around to see just what Hergé got right about the interior of the hotel. And surprisingly…it was fairly accurate. Of course everything was much more modern, but the feel of the hotel is similar to the one he drew. There were two obvious similarities between reality and the album that I believe Hergé copied deliberately. The first was the wall of keys:
Sorry that picture is a bit blurry, but you get the idea. Even today it looks much like the keys on the wall in the book, and it’s easy enough to imagine somebody leaving the hotel while that man’s back was turned.
The second similarity was the elevators. They are indeed on your left as the man behind the counter says, though technically they are only slightly to your left as you walk down the hallway, which is actually to your right if you are looking at the check-in counter. Nonetheless, the elevators are situated just like in the album:
Only two elevators, side by side! Sure, they have steel doors now, but they look like they might be in the same shafts Hergé would have looked at. Professor Calculus comes out one door just as Tintin and Haddock go up the other elevator! Very strangely, the exact same thing happened to me at a separate hotel on this trip: I was looking for a few of the guys I went travelling with, and went up to the room to see why they weren’t downstairs yet. As it turns out, they had left the room and were coming down at the exact same time I was going up. Apparently I have to follow every possible detail of Tintin’s steps whether I want to or not.
So then I set out to ”find Calculus’ room.” I did some research ahead of time so I didn’t fall into the disappointment others have when they found out: Room 121 doesn’t exist on the fourth floor, so there is no way to go to Calculus’ ”exact room.” Hergé got a lot right about this hotel but for one reason or another messed up the room numbers. There IS a fourth floor though. Room 122 is just on the first floor. So first I went to the fourth floor:
And then I went down 3 floors to room 122:
It was good enough for me. No smoking, it says on the door, so I guess Bordurian cigarettes are out. I don’t think those Bordurians would be allowed to smoke in the lobby either. Which brings me to the list of reasons why, had Tintin and Haddock lived today, they would have made that train to Nyon. First, they would not have been able to have been tripped:
The lobby is huge now, and even if they had walked as close to those white chairs as possible, I doubt they could be tripped. It would make no sense to walk there anyway…you’ve got a huge amount of space for your bags. But most importantly, even if, let’s say the Bordurians distracted them some other way, Haddock still would have had one of his first lucky days:
The revolving door no longer revolves! It is simply two automatic doors, thus keeping the air conditioning in, but giving those staying at the hotel much more space. Unless Haddock found a way to push too hard on an automatic door, I don’t think he would have gotten stopped in there for long.
That, added to the fact that the station was just across the street, makes me think that they would have caught the train in time.
And speaking of time, I discovered the most unexpected thing in the Hotel Cornavin. Never would I have imagined that the Hotel actually held a Guiness World Record!
At 30.02 meters height, the Hotel Cornavin holds the record for the world’s biggest mechanical clock. It is in Switzerland, after all. I was utterly surprised to find it at this hotel of all places, though. I looked up at the pendulum, and it literally goes up eight stories:
I went up to the eighth floor and saw the top of the clock:
30.02 meters is impressive, but I’ve kind of surprised nobody has beaten that record. I hope they don’t though, for a while at least. It makes the hotel an even more fun place to visit.
The real reason that I went up to the eighth floor was because the elevator said there was a panoramic café up there. I imagine it is only for those staying at the hotel, but the place was closed anyway, leaving me to enjoy the wonderful view of Geneva without paying anything (truly an amazing feat, where prices are sky high anywhere you go in Switzerland, let alone Geneva).
The church in the Place de Cornavin. I don’t know what it’s called, but I hope they finish construction soon.
You can’t see it very well in this pic, but you can actually see the Mont Blanc in the distance. I don’t know if Calculus got a chance to see it from here or not. That floor looks newer than the rest of the hotel. It was fun to see, anyway. It let me get that shot of the train station from earlier.
And, as promised, the trinkets in the display in the window. There was a letter, or maybe a quote from a book of his, from Michael Farr about the hotel and the story that so many fans came in asking for Calculus’ room that they had to put up a silhouette of Tintin and a sign apologizing for the numbering system. I found no proof that they ever renumbered their rooms to let people stay in a room 122 on the fourth floor, though it might be possible that they changed the system so that there would be a room 122 at all. However, the hotel is pretty big and I think there always has been a room 122. The display in the window apparently replaced that old apology, and the man at the counter said the only Tintin stuff they had to show was in the window.
Tintin is ”Tim” in German. But I was in French speaking Switzerland, so I’m not sure why this is there. Maybe it just belonged to the owner of the display. Maybe he speaks German? Anyway, where would you have bought a Tintin pennant?
My favorite is this very cute Professor Calculus doll. Is it too much to ask for this to come out again?
The ”room keys” Calculus leaves.
Somebody needs to stand Haddock back up, though of course he would fall down…
Well, that’s all I saw of Tintin in Geneva. Check back for my next post, where I’ll tell you all about what I found in Nyon! And, if you want any MORE pictures of the Hotel Cornavin, you could find them at tripadvisor here. But it’s much more fun to go in person. If you actually stay there, I’d love to hear from you!
I’ll post again soon. Thanks for reading.