Follow Me! Real Rail Adventures: Swiss International Hubs Itinerary

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.

International man of mystery, Jeff Wilson relaxes at the Sandoase Bar, overlooking Three Country Corner, Basel, Switzerland

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.

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!

Real Rail Adventures: Swiss Winter Magic

Real Rail Adventures: Swiss Winter Magic is one of my favorite projects to date. The third hour-long travel documentary in the series, we traverse a stunning Swiss landscape of snowy peaks and quaint towns in search of adventure, culture, and unique experiences. My days are packed with bobsledding, kite-skiing, parasailing, horseback riding, snowshoeing, ski-yoga, skate-skiing, and mountain sledding, while evenings find me dining on warm fondue, local lamb, and “Cholera” pie. The efficient Swiss trains and travel system link my experiences and take me to Zurich, Chur, St Moritz, and Zermatt. All three Real Rail Adventures episodes are now playing nationwide – check your local PBS listings and Create Network for air times and don’t hesitate to reach out to me with your questions on travel in Switzerland. Watch the trailer HERE