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!

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.