Launched! Check out the all-new JeffWilsonExplore.com: My outlet for info about my PBS travel shows, the all-new, all-electric, Real Road Adventures, and the classic, multiple Telly Award-winning, Real Rail Adventures. On top of that, you’ll get my musings on adventures great and small, behind-the-scenes extras, featured stories, and more. Coming soon will be a store for travel bags, gear, and food from treasured destinations (like fondue…you know you want it – now you can have it delivered straight to your home!), and trips and tours that take you to some of the fantastic destinations we’ve covered in our shows. Bookmark JeffWilsonExplore.com and check back regularly – the adventure is only just beginning!
Every once in a while you come across something so magical, so beguiling, that you feel compelled to see it first-hand. The automata of François Junod is one of those things. Junod’s work has it all – art, physiology, engineering, history, and philosophy, all rolled into objects that can only be described as magic.
It was September of 2019. We had just finished shooting Real Rail Adventures: Swiss International Hubs for public television (also on Prime Video here). After three weeks of shooting abroad, most of the crew headed home to the U.S., but my wife (and one of our talented videographers on the show), Sherri James, and I stayed on to shoot a few “extras” for a new online series we’re tentatively calling, “The Works.” The idea for the series came from my work on Handmade Music for the DIY Network some years ago. As the networks all began programming nearly 100% reality shows, they left the how-to stuff to migrate to the internet. When Handmade Music was canceled after 40+ episodes, a network executive told me that I should take it online. Well, some years, a few TV series, and a couple of kids later, we’ve finally found some time to bring a few of these to life.
The work that originally led me to Junod was his remarkable “La Fée Ondine,” an exquisite rendering of a nodding fairy with lightly beating wings reclining on an undulating lily pad. A water lily opens and closes, revealing a bejeweled butterfly flitting from its center.
I looked up Junod’s website and contacted him, fully expecting to be rebuffed by a sniffy assistant. To my surprise, Junod himself emailed back. He asked a few questions about our work but was otherwise open to a visit. The man we met was friendly and enthusiastic if a bit distracted by his many ideas and obligations. The day we arrived, he ushered us in, gave us a hasty tour of his atelier and gallery, told us some stories of how he became who he is today, and left us to shoot whatever we liked. No, really. He just turned us loose in his house of wonders. For two days.
During the tour, Sherri gamely tried to follow Junod and me around with her camera-on-a-gimbal setup. His excitement for his work and for the history of clockwork mechanics in Sainte-Croix led him to flit from object to object, winding up a music box here, a gramophone there, getting distracted for a moment, only to have another idea set us off in a new direction. I listened, scribbled notes, and cursed my lack of French. But most of all, I looked on in awe and wonder.
We travel for a lot of reasons, but one of the most important for me is to renew that sense of awe and wonder as we get older and, inevitably, more jaded. The work of François Junod (and the man himself) reminds me to rekindle my own youthful curiosity. I hope it does the same for you.
What travel experiences have moved you? And what artisans and objects should we cover in The Works? Let us know in the comments here and keep an eye out for other videos in the series.
While travel may have slowed a bit due to the pandemic, the crew here at Real Rail Adventures has been hard at work producing more exciting travel programs. A new series debuts nationwide (with all-new travels and an exciting twist in our modes of travel) in April 2022, but until then, you can catch up with us on the PBS Video App.
Whether you want to watch on your iOS or Android device or on your smart TV, the PBS App gives you access to over 4000 amazing PBS programs, including all four hour-long episodes of Real Rail Adventures. As a member in good standing at any level of your local PBS station, you can stream all of this programming for free.
Make a night of it! Whip up some fondue as an appetizer and settle in with the first episode, Real Rail Adventures: Switzerland, to get a whirlwind overview of travel by rail in Switzerland. Then, kick it up a notch with another Swiss specialty, capuns, and take the Real Rail Adventures: Swiss Grand Tour. Next, indulge in some luscious Torte di Pane while being swept away by Real Rail Adventures: Swiss Winter Magic. Finally, pour yourself a finger or two of kirsch and hop on the train to everywhere in Real Rail Adventures: Swiss International Hubs, our most award-winning episode to date.
A little tired now? That’s okay, after all of that train travel you’ll be dreaming of Switzerland.
Tell us your stories and dreams of travel by train in Switzerland and Happy Viewing!
Don’t miss the multiple Telly Award-winning Real Rail Adventures: Swiss International Hubs as it airs nationwide on Create TV on Sunday, June 27th, at 10pm ET…and make sure to follow us now on social media to get a sneak peek at our all-new travel series that will really get you amped up to travel!
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Some years ago I was asked to host a show called Handmade Music on the DIY Network. It was a good fit – without the talent of a Carnegie Hall-level musician, my classical piano degree had helped to keep my construction skills up to snuff. I “got” both music and how things were built. Every week, we visited an artisan’s workshop and they led us through the process of creating a one-of-a-kind musical instrument.
The show was more interesting and more fun than any job should be – in it, we covered cajun accordions in Eunice, LA; we shadowed builders at the Chicago School of Violin Making; and got the low-down on Dudenbostel guitars from Lynn himself. Unfortunately, the 40-some episode series eventually came to an end because, I was told by network execs, the audience was only a few hundred thousand die-hard fans. Enough for the interweb, maybe, but not for network television selling ads. Soon after, reality TV subsumed even my beloved DIY Network, and how-to shows went the way of YouTube.
It’s always been in the back of my mind give that series new life as an online entity. If only for my own curiosity, I wanted to get back to seeing artisans practice their hard-won skills to turn raw materials into works of art. I’m tentatively calling this new series The Works.
As a pilot, I couldn’t have asked for a better subject than Daniel Bernasconi of Soma Sound Sculptures. Not only is the process of making his handpans interesting to watch, but the instruments are mystically enchanting when played. With some help from his partner, Ana Paz, and her artistic touches, Daniel’s “flying saucer” handpans become even more stunning with intricately-designed etchings. And Daniel’s story, from banker to traveler to artisan, is inspiring as well. Late in the day, we follow Daniel to a high hill on the edge of Rehetobel where he puts on an impromptu concert, flooding the valley with a meditative, late-afternoon melody.
This is what we hope to achieve with The Works: To tell the stories of artisans and their work, demystifying the processes they use in their creative endeavors, while taking the viewer to new, interesting places. And we’ve decided that while we will cover many musical instruments, we will also seek out other interesting subjects like the second video in our series, where we visit Saint Croix, Switzerland, and the atelier of automata-maker-extraordinaire, François Junod.
Watch, comment, and subscribe. We want to hear what you’d like to see covered in the new series. If you are an artisan or know of someone who creates unique objets d’art, anywhere in the world, let us know – we want to highlight your story! And I’m also open to title suggestions…please weigh in. Enjoy and stay tuned for more!
Every time we come home from a Real Rail Adventures shoot, I can’t wait to go back for more. If you’re enjoying Real Rail Adventures episodes on public television, Create Network, and through Amazon Prime Video but still need more Switzerland, we’ve got you covered. After completing our shoot for Real Rail Adventures: Swiss International Hubs last fall, a couple of us stayed on to cover a few other far-flung Swiss stories.
In this first side-trip, I visit the Toggenburg region of eastern Switzerland where I meet Roland Liechtensteiger of Toggenburg Tourism for a tour of the “Klangwelt,” or Sound World. On a spectacularly beautiful day in the Alps, we hike the Klangweg (Sound Trail) and tour the Klangschmiede (Sound Forge) Museum, where I learn a bit about the history of Swiss sound and get a workout forging a real Swiss cow bell.
Where should I go next? Tell me all about off-the-beaten-path adventures you’d like to see on our show (or here on the very small screen). And, as always, stay tuned for more!
Many of you may have had the chance to catch our new episode of the Real Rail Adventures series. Swiss International Hubs debuted on April 1st, and is now making the rounds of local PBS stations across the country. Check your local listings and, if you don’t see it scheduled, contact your station and ask them to air the shows as soon as possible (tell them they’re available via American Public Television‘s (APT) digital service).
The show was another one for the record books as our crew bravely criss-crossed the Alps and took on challenges like shooting a canyoning trip through Grimsel Canyon outside of Interlaken and making our own salami in Bellinzona. We even made a Swiss watch at a workshop put on by Initium in Geneva, toured rooftop beehives with the owner of Honig Kuchen in Zurich, took a leisurely float on the Rhine with something called a “Wickelfisch,” and checked out the urban street art scene from the back of a graffiti-covered Bentley (really) in Basel. All while finding plenty of time to enjoy the odd Aperol spritz.
This post will likely find you and yours holed up in some kind of home, apartment, or bunker as we ride out the COVID-19 crisis. I do hope you’re all well and weathering this in the best way possible. As we wait, I’m keeping my spirits up, in part, by planning trips for the future. As a tool for escape, I find trip-planning to be very helpful. In that spirit, here is the itinerary from our late-summer 2019 shoot for Swiss International Hubs. As in past itinerary posts, I’ll give the standard warning that this itinerary is merely an aid in planning your trip. Don’t try to mimic what we insane TV-show-producing people do, as we’re cramming as much must-see-adventure as possible into every day so that we can deliver a watchable show on time and on budget. With that caveat, here’s the itinerary:
Real Rail Adventures: Swiss International Hubs Itinerary
Day 1: Leave U.S. for Hamburg, Germany
Day 2: Arrive Hamburg. Overnight in Hamburg
Day 3: Explore Hamburg. Overnight in Hamburg
Day 4: Board ICE train to Interlaken. Explore Interlaken and overnight
Day 5: Canyoning adventure in Grimsel Canyon with Outdoor Interlaken. Evening funicular to Harder Kulm for Two Lakes Platform and scenic dinner. Overnight in Interlaken
Day 6: Board ICE train to Basel. Afternoon street art tour. Relax at Sandoase Bar overlooking Three Country Corner. Overnight in Basel
Day 7: Morning tour of Basel’s Kunstmuseum. Afternoon float in the Rhine River. Evening dinner riverside. Overnight in Basel
Day 8: Board TVG train to Paris. Overnight in Paris
Day 9: Explore Paris. Overnight in Paris
Day 10: Board TVG train to Geneva. Overnight in Geneva
Day 11: Tour Red Cross Red Crescent Museum, U.N. Place des Nations, and St. Pierre Cathedral. Afternoon boat ride to Jet d’Eau waterspout. Overnight in Geneva
Day 12: Morning watch-making workshop at Initium in Geneva’s Altstadt. Make your own Swiss watch as a souvenir. Afternoon train to Zurich, passing through scenic Lavaux wine-making region. Overnight in Zurich
Day 13: Morning stand-up paddling tour of Zurich. Afternoon visit to Honig Kuchen to learn about Zurich’s rooftop bees. Tour of Climeworks carbon-capture facility in Hinwil. Overnight in Zurich
Day 14: Board train to Bellinzona, passing through the 35-mile long Gotthard Base Tunnel. Explore Bellinzona and overnight
Day 15: Tour Bellinzona’s castles and Salami-making workshop. Afternoon visit to Coldesina bottling factory. Overnight in Bellinzona
Day 16: Board train to Milan. Overnight in Milan
Day 17: Explore Milan. Overnight in Milan
Day 18: Leave Milan for U.S., arrive U.S.
Does this help? What did we leave out that you’d like to see us do in the future? As always, don’t hesitate to reach out with travel questions of all kinds. My advice is free. If you’re looking for more involved trip planning, I can put you in touch with my people “on the ground” in Switzerland who know our show itineraries well and can arrange any type of adventure you can dream up.
Dream now, travel later, and take care of yourselves. We’ll be back at it in no time.
Blew through all of the latest episodes of your favorite streaming shows already? I feel you. If you’ve already streamed or watched Real Rail Adventures: Swiss Grand Tour and Real Rail Adventures: Swiss Winter Magic, checked out the clips at www.RealRailTV.com, followed us on Facebook here and here, Twitter here and here, and Instagram here and here, AND made your own fondue, here’s a tip.
How about a “free” ride on Switzerland’s best trains? I know, I know, it’s not the same as being there, but it’s what we can manage right now. Seriously, though, these 360-degree videos will help you get a feeling for what the different trains are like. They’re a great way to pick some favorites that you’ll want to experience first hand once we’re able to travel again. And I promise, that day will come. And you’ll be ready!
Enjoy this YouTube playlist and let me know which ones are your favorites. And stay in touch – I’m here to answer your questions about travel in Switzerland any time. Cheers!
It’s a tough time for everyone. My heart goes out to those who either have the coronavirus or who are susceptible to its worst effects, of course. We wish you well and aim to do our part to keep the illness at bay. I also want to thank those medical workers, first responders, government officials, and journalists who are all working to care for, maintain order for, strategize for, and inform all of us. Thank you from the entire human race.
Humans are resourceful and innovative. If you’ve ever doubted that, I’d suggest a read of Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens. It’s a broad and deep history of homo sapiens that shows how we’ve used our abilities to communicate to overcome limitations of building trust with strangers to create ever-larger communities and societies. It’s a compelling account, presented in a storytelling style, that will possibly change your thoughts on everything from money to politics to travel to pandemics. It certainly makes a strong argument for seeing the arc of human history as an ongoing story, and that cooperation and communication, not separatism and hate, are our strongest tools.
On the other hand, if you just want to be scared out of your wits for fun, read the sci-fi novel Earth Abides by George R. Stewart. It’s a good, old fashioned pandemic horror story with philosophical undertones. It, too, has a hopeful ending, but the road to it is fraught with post-apocalyptic terror. I read it as a 15-year-old and reread it as a 40-something and got something different out of it each time. Be forewarned – it was written in 1949, so while its author may have been forward-thinking for his time, it reflects the mores of that era. Still, it’s worth a read with that caveat. And for those who have read it, I’ll just say: Rattlesnakes!
I’d also suggest keeping up with current events outside of social media and especially outside the propagandist, faux-news outlets leading you astray for the sake of controlling your vote through short, false narratives. My antidote for that is a subscription to the venerable, trusted Economist. As a progressive, I find the news spot-on and the opinions a challenge to my instinctual take on things. Not only is The Economist a great way to keep up, but it’s also a really excellent way to learn about the world, and see what’s happening in the places you might someday wish to travel. I know Rick Steves has mentioned reading it, and he is, of course, a model traveler.
Speaking of travel, if you’re looking for a way to escape, might I suggest keeping an eye out for the nationwide debut of our new episode? Real Rail Adventures: Swiss International Hubs was shot last August/September, long before the coronavirus was on our radar. It begins airing in April, so check your local PBS listings and/or https://www.aptonline.org/wheretowatch. In this all-new episode, I travel to Switzerland from Hamburg, enjoying the street art in Basel, canyoning near Interlaken, visiting the Red Cross & Red Crescent Museum and building my own Swiss watch in Geneva, and visiting rooftop honeybees and a carbon capture plant in Zurich while riding plenty of trains along the way. We also take short side trips to Milan and Paris, which should help you get a look at those places while we await the loosening of the pandemic’s grip on society.
And, as always, you can watch our other episodes as well. All three are being regularly scheduled on Create TV nationwide. Check where to tune in locally and for scheduled airings at http://www.CreateTV.com. If you can’t wait, stream two of the episodes on Amazon Prime (free for Prime members). Real Rail Adventures: Swiss Grand Tour, which includes panoramic trains, treetop adventures, biking, and St Bernard puppies (who can resist the puppies?), can be purchased on DVD or streamed here. Real Rail Adventures: Swiss Winter Magic, in which I kite ski, bobsled, paraglide, and hold baby Valais Blacknose Sheep (almost as cute as the puppies) can be purchased on DVD or streamed here. I’ll note that any of your DVD purchases (including those you might make at http://www.RealRailTV.com) help defray production costs and to make future adventures possible. Thank you.
And, if you’re dreaming about traveling to Switzerland, I might suggest La Place de la Concorde Suisse by John McPhee. It will give you an educating and entertaining look into Swiss society through the eyes of a soldier doing his compulsory military service. Believe me, it’s a fun read.
One of the best parts of travel is the dreaming and planning we do well ahead of the actual trip. This is a great time to do that. Read, search, plan, and don’t hesitate to ask me questions. I can do everything from free advice to helping you plan a custom guided or self-guided trip. And, once things get back to some semblance of normal, I’ll be leading some trips myself.
So, let’s dream. And let me know: What are your escapes while doing your humanly duty and remaining housebound? I’d like to hear about books, podcasts, movies, or anything else you’re using to keep your mind active and entertained. Keep in touch!
Much to the amusement of the group of strapping Australians thirty years my junior looking on, I gracefully scotch the landing at the bottom of a 50-meter rappel off the canyon wall and fall, rear-end-first, into the icy flow of an alpine stream, inducing immediate sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia of the gluteus maximus (read: brain freeze of the buttocks).
Jet lag, schmetlag. I have, at long last, found the cure.
After flying through nine time zones, shoehorned into economy and conveniently seated next to the busy loo, one would think that bedtime in that first hotel would be a welcome relief. One would be wrong. Despite a hallucination-inducing lack of sleep, one still found oneself unable to breach the Z-horizon, staring up at the bloody ceiling, weeping silently to oneself throughout the infinite night.
Shooting a television program demands strict attention to call-time, so, sleep or not, we rise promptly at dawn. Coffee? Yes, please. Even fortified by the best Swiss brew, however, still I stumble foggily about, mumbling greetings to the crew. It takes excruciating mental effort to follow the instructions of our canyoning guides. They gently point out that I’ve put the dry suit on inside-out and gamely repeat safety instructions, as though to a small child. Even hoisting my leg over the railing to hang over Grimsel canyon doesn’t awaken me.
However, rising from the accidental, bone-chilling bath I’ve taken in the milky stream, I am fully present. We begin to make our way down the canyon, leaping from boulders, plunging into deep pools, and wriggling through cracks and crags. A short zip-line section near the end makes for one of many excellent photo ops, which you can take advantage of by snapping your own action camera to the provided mount on your helmet. Egged on by the other participants, the adrenaline surges through our veins. This, my friends, is the ultimate homeopathic treatment for travel-induced insomnia.
Our trip started with a short drive out of Interlaken, arguably Switzerland’s outdoor sports capital, up to Grimsel Canyon. Our adventure lasted several hours, but both longer and shorter trips are available, depending on your taste. All gear, including dry suit, river shoes, gloves, helmet, harness, and ropes, are included in the trip price. Guides are competent and careful to ensure our safety – at no point do I feel that I’m being asked to do something truly dangerous. The water is cold, but manageably so. Previous climbing and rappelling experience aren’t necessary, and while a moderate level of fitness makes the excursion more fun, you most certainly don’t need to be a marathoner to feel comfortable. As if the canyoning part wasn’t enough fun, at the end, we’re treated to an impromptu picnic and cold beer.
Ready to take on the canyoning challenge in Interlaken? Feel free to contact me for more details about travel and adventure in Switzerland and stay tuned! More adventures to come soon.