Take a Virtual Ride on Switzerland’s Amazing Trains

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!

Dream On: A Short Guide to Armchair Travel

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!

The Cure for Jet Lag

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.

Scenes from Grimsel Canyoning in Real Rail Adventures: Swiss International Hubs

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.

Follow Me! Real Rail Adventures: Swiss Winter Magic Itinerary

There’s something about Switzerland in winter time that makes it magical. Back home, we might despair at another snow storm in February, but the same storm transforms a Swiss village into a quaint snow-globe scene, and beckons us out for one more sled run.

When the Real Rail Adventures crew visited Switzerland during winter months, we found a cornucopia of frosty outdoor activities to try, of course. But we also availed ourselves of the requisite complementary fireside tipples and treats to keep our souls eternally willing to plunge back out into the storm. For what is a bobsled run without a proper fondue to follow? And how do you muster the courage to jump off a snow-clad mountain for a frigid paraglide without the promise of a bit of curried lamb and kirsch at the end?

Have you dreamed of visiting the winter wonderland of Switzerland? Dream no more . . . here is the itinerary that closely matches the one our Real Rail Adventures crew followed while shooting Real Rail Adventures: Swiss Winter Magic. Once again, I caution readers that, as a film crew, we are forced by time and budget to cram quite a bit into our schedules. Use this itinerary as a planning tool, but, as they say, don’t try this at home.

Haven’t seen the show? Stream it on Amazon Prime here. And send me your thoughts on the perfect winter pursuits in Switzerland.

Real Rail Adventures: Swiss Winter Magic – Itinerary

by Jeff Wilson

Day 1:   Leave U.S. for Switzerland

Day 2:   Arrive Zurich. Train to Chur. Overnight in Chur

Day 3:   Explore Chur. Overnight in Chur

Day 4:   Leave Chur aboard the Albula-Bernina line. Arrive in St Moritz. Explore St Moritz and overnight (highly recommend the Waldhaus Sils hotel, in nearby Sils)

Day 5:   Bobsledding on Olympia Bob Run morning. Snow-kiting lesson on Lake Silvaplana afternoon. Pre-dinner horse-drawn sleigh ride. Overnight in St Moritz

Day 6:   Morning horseback tour with Stella Costa farm. Daytrip on Bernina Express over snowy Lago Bianco pass. Return to St Moritz for overnight

Day 7:   Morning “Yoga on Snow” lesson and skiing, St Moritz. Afternoon trip up Muottas Moragl. Lunch at Hotel Romantik at top, then sledge-ride to bottom. Return to St Moritz for overnight

Day 8:   Board Glacier Express. Side trip to Goms region. Arrive Reckingen. Explore Reckingen and overnight (Hotel Joopi, preferred)

Day 9:   Day trip to Oberwald. Morning skate-skiing lesson. Afternoon tour ski-museum and Roggenbröt baking. Return to Reckingen for “Cholera Pie” dinner. Overnight in Reckingen

Day 10: Re-board Glacier Express. Arrive Zermatt. Explore Zermatt and Matterhorn Museum. Overnight in Zermatt

Day 11: Ski-day in Zermatt. Lunch on mountain. Après-ski at Cervo. Overnight in Zermatt

Day 12: Morning helicopter tour with Air Zermatt. Afternoon tour of Julen farm to meet their Valais Blacknose Sheep and lambs. Dinner at Schäferstube, a Julen restaurant. Overnight in Zermatt

Day 13: Leave Zermatt via train to Gstaad via the GoldenPass line. Tour Gstaad and overnight

Day 14: Morning fat-tire snow-biking tour. Afternoon day-trip to Glacier 3000 on cable car. Select winter activities, including suspension bridge peak walk. Lunch at mountain retreat, Refuge L’espace. Return to Gstaad for overnight

Day 15: Board train to Lucerne. Boat to Vitznau and cogwheel to Rigi Kaltbad Hotel. Spa experience at Rigi Kaltbad Hotel and overnight

Day 16: Morning snowshoe tour. Fondue lunch at Restaurant BärgGnuss. Afternoon paragliding tour from Rigi Kulm to Arth Goldau. Train to Zurich. Late afternoon walk and dinner at “Top of Zurich.” Overnight in Zurich

Day 17: Morning walking tour of Zurich and Aldstadt. Coffee at Café Voltaire. Afternoon walking tour of trendy West “Züri” and dinner. Overnight in Zurich

Day 18: Leave Zurich to U.S., arrive U.S.

Sound like a plan? Let me know your thoughts below. And don’t hesitate to ask for advice . . . that’s completely free. If you’re interested in custom itineraries and trip bookings through my on-the-ground partners, or trips to Switzerland led by me, that’s available, too.

Follow Me! Real Rail Adventures: Swiss Grand Tour Itinerary

We’re back with another installment of the itinerary series of blog posts. This time I’ve prepared an itinerary that closely follows Real Rail Adventures: Swiss Grand Tour episode (episode number two, if you’re counting). If you haven’t seen it, check it out on Amazon Prime here.

As usual, I offer this itinerary with a caveat: Due to money and time, our production itineraries have to pack lots of stops and activities into a relatively short amount of time. I don’t recommend following our trip to the letter, but encourage you to choose the bits you like and build your own dream tour. I write more about that in the first installment here.

That said, here it is:

Real Rail Adventures: Swiss Grand Tour – Itinerary

by Jeff Wilson

Day 1:   Leave U.S. for Switzerland

Day 2:   Arrive Zurich. Overnight in Zurich

Day 3:   Explore Zurich. Afternoon train to Schaffhausen. Explore Schaffhausen. Evening walk to sunset view at Munot Fortress. Overnight in Schaffhausen

Day 4:   Explore Schloss Laufen am Rheinfall museum, then walk to Rheinfall. Take boat to climb rock in the middle of the falls. Afternoon climbing, swinging, and zip-lining at Adventure Park Rheinfall. Overnight in Schaffhausen

Day 5:   Board river boat to Stein am Rhein. Pick up bike for leisurely 3-hour ride to Romanshorn with lunch on Lake Constance along the way. Drop bike in Romanshorn. Train buffs can spend an hour at the Locorama rail museum (including train driving simulator). Short train ride to St Gallen. Overnight in St Gallen

Day 6:   Explore St Gallen and its Altstadt. Tour Abbey of St Gall and library. Overnight in St Gallen

Day 7:   Day train trip to Appenzell. Short food tour of Appenzell. Cable car ride up to Ebenalp. Short walk to Wildkirchli caves and lunch at the popular Aescher Hostel. Overnight in St Gallen

Day 8:   Train to Chur. Board Albula-Bernina line, crossing the famous Landwasser Viaduct. Disembark at Preda to hike the Railway Adventure Trail to Bergün. Re-board train at Bergün to St Moritz. Overnight in St Moritz

Day 9:   Day train trip to Alp Grüm. Hike near Palü Glacier and tour hydropower plant. Lunch at Alp Grüm Restaurant (try the Capuns). Return to St Moritz for overnight

Day 10: Board Glacier Express, traveling west. Train change to Ilanz. River rafting on the Vorderrhein through the “Swiss Grand Canyon.” Re-board Glacier Express to Andermatt over the Oberalp Pass. Overnight in Andermatt (I prefer the River House boutique hotel)

Day 11: Train to Martigny. Tour Giannadda Museum and St Bernard Museum (say ‘hi’ to the puppies for me!). Overnight in Martigny

Day 12: Day train trip to Emosson Hydroelectric dam via the Emosson funicular, Emosson Panorama Railway, and mini funicular. Short hike and lunch at Emosson Dam. Return to Martigny and overnight

Day 13: Train to Trübschachen and Kambly Experience cookie tour. See Swiss Heritage Museum and Rope Trail. Train to Lucerne and overnight

Day 14: Lucerne-Engelberg Express to Engelberg. Tour Benedictine monastery and gardens. Overnight in Engelberg

Day 15: Kayak narby lake Trübsee. Ride Titlis Rotair gondola to Mt. Titlis. Tour Glacier Cave, walk the aerial suspension bridge above the glacier. Lunch and return to Engelberg for overnight

Day 16: Train to Zurich. Overnight in Zurich

Day 17: Leave Zurich to U.S., arrive U.S.

There you have it – one possible itinerary from an unlimited number of possibilities. What would you do if you had the chance to travel through Switzerland? Leave comments and suggestions below.

Want help with your itinerary? Just ask! I can also recommend a trusted travel partner in Switzerland and I offer trips, fully-customized to your tastes (and, if you like, guided by me and my wife) for up to 8 fellow travelers. Stay tuned to the blog for more Real Rail Adventures!

Follow Me! Original Real Rail Adventures: Switzerland Itinerary

One of the most common questions I get from viewers is: How can I take the same trip you took on your TV program? Usually, I point them to the show’s website, www.RealRailTV.com, where they can find full show descriptions and links to regions where we’ve traveled. The question comes so often, though, that I began to wonder if I was shirking my responsibility as a host and virtual “guide.” When I decided to go back and write a useful itinerary for the original episode, Real Rail Adventures: Switzerland, I was surprised by just how difficult it was to square our production schedule with a usable travel itinerary.

After careful review of the episode and my notes from the time, I’m happy to say that I’ve put together an itinerary that viewers can use to plan their own, very similar journeys. As I look back, I’m struck by just how ambitious that original trip was – we shot over 17 days, with little down time, often shooting 4-5 experiences in a day along with specific trains, interviews, and meals. Eric, our extremely talented camera operator, was rarely able to put the camera down.

So, while I’ve included this itinerary as an academic exercise, I don’t really recommend that anyone literally follow in our footsteps. My advice? Slow down, spend at least three nights in each location, and remember that Switzerland will be there next year (and the year after that, and the year after that). Travel requires time to really absorb the landscapes, culture, food, and all of the subtle feelings that come from being exposed to something new.

That said, here’s that itinerary:

Real Rail Adventures: Switzerland – Itinerary
Jeff Wilson
Day 1: Leave U.S. for Switzerland
Day 2: Arrive Zurich. Overnight in Zurich
Day 3: Explore Zurich. Afternoon train to Chur. Explore Chur. Overnight in Chur
Day 4: Leave Chur aboard the Albula-Bernina line. Stop in Bergün to tour the Albula-Bernina Museum. Re-board train to St Moritz. Overnight in St Moritz. This route can also be done on the Glacier Express, without the Albula Museum stop
Day 5: Day trip to Piz Corvatsch to view glacier via cable car. Return to and overnight in St Moritz
Day 6: Leave St Moritz aboard Palm Express Post Bus. Arrive Lugano. Lunch and tour Lugano, train to Bellinzona. Overnight in Bellinzona
Day 7: Tour Bellinzona castles. (Side trip to San Gottardo Train Club in Mendrisio if local events allow). Overnight in Bellinzona
Day 8: Gotthard Panorama Express to Flüelen; boat in Flüelen to Lucerne. Lunch on board. Stop in Vitznau to take Rigi cogwheel train to Mt Rigi. Return to Vitznau and boat to Lucerne. Overnight in Lucerne (possible side trip to Lake Ritom via Ritom Funicular)
Day 9: Train to Alpnachstad for cogwheel ride up to Pilatus Kulm. Explore Pilatus and return to Lucerne. Overnight in Lucerne
Day 10: Train to Stans for morning Cabrio cable car to Stanserhorn. Lunch on Stanserhorn, then return to Lucerne. Explore Swiss Transportation Museum. Overnight in Lucerne
Day 11: Leave Lucerne. GoldenPass Lucerne-Interlaken Express Panoramic train to Interlaken. Explore and overnight in Interlaken.
Day 12: Board Lötschberg boat to Brienz. Day excursion on Brienzer Rothorn historic cogwheel steam train. Lunch at mountain cottage. Return to Interlaken by train and overnight in Interlaken
Day 13: Day excursion to Jungfraujoch. Overnight in Lauterbrünnen.
Day 14: Day excursion to Schilthorn via train, bus, and cable car. Tour “Bond World” and lunch in Piz Gloria Restaurant. Overnight in Lauterbrünnen
Day 15: Leave Lauterbrünnen to Montreux via GoldenPass. Explore Chateau Chillon and overnight in Montreux
Day 16: Day excursion to Gruyères and Broc aboard historic “Chocolate Train.” Tour Gruyères and Gruyères Cheese Experience. Fondue lunch. Train to Broc and tour Cailler Chocolate factory. Return to and overnight in Montreux
Day 17: Leave Montreux. Morning excursion to Rochers-de-Naye. Lunch on Rochers-de-Naye. Train to Visp. Glacier Express Panoramic train to Zermatt. Explore and overnight in Zermatt
Day 18: Day excursion on Gornergrat Railway and the Matterhorn. Overnight in Zermatt
Day 19: Leave Zermatt via train to Zurich. Overnight in Zurich
Day 20: Leave Zurich to U.S., arrive U.S.

Ready to plan your dream trip to Switzerland? I can help! With my years of experience traveling there, I can help you have a travel experience well beyond a pre-packaged tour. With my connections to folks “on the ground,” I can help you create a custom itinerary and ensure that your trip goes off without a hitch.

Let me know what you think and stay tuned – more itineraries and a raft of travel advice will be coming your way in the coming months!

Update: Watch Now on Prime!

Haven’t caught our Real Rail Adventures travel docs on your local PBS station? While they are playing nationwide, sometimes it’s hard to find the time to “appointment view” these fun shows. Well, now the wait is over . . . now, two of our three Real Rail Adventures episodes are available to stream for free on Amazon Prime. Watch Real Rail Adventures: Swiss Grand Tour, and my personal favorite, Real Rail Adventures: Swiss Winter Magic right now. And don’t forget to rate our shows and share your reactions on social media!