Armed with his 19th-century Appleton's guidebook to the United States and Canada, Michael Portillo embarks on a 1,100-mile railroad journey from Boston, Massachusetts, across the border to Toronto in theCanadian province of Ontario. Along the way, he encounters revolutionaries and feminists, pilgrims and witches and rides some of the oldest and most breathtaking railroads in the world.
Michael Portillo's 19th-century Appleton's guidebook leads him to the Parker House Hotel, where in his best pinny, he whisks up a Boston cream pie.
Led by his Appleton's guidebook and tracing the footsteps of the Pilgrim Fathers, Michael Portillo heads for Plymouth, the home town of America. He learns how indigenous tribes of Wamponoag people taught the newly arrived settlers to live off the land, the inspiration for one of the biggest holidays in the American calendar.
Led by his 19th-century Appleton's guidebook, Michael Portillo's railway journey continues through New England. On the banks of the Providence River, he discovers a club that traces its roots and culinarytraditions back to the 1840s. Michael joins in with one of its legendary open-air 'clambakes'.
Armed with his Appleton's guide, Michael Portillo's rail voyage goes river deep and mountain high as he continues his journey through Connecticut and heads north through the scenic New England states. In New Haven, a crash course in rowing takes place on a stretch of water where college teams from Yale and Harvard have battled for victory since 1852.
Michael Portillo continues his American rail journey through New England as he heads for the Canadian border. First stop is Burlington, Vermont, a busy timber port at the time of his Appleton's guide. Michael ventures deep into the forest to learn how sustainable and technological innovations have transformed the state's billion dollar logging industry. Following the old trade route across Lake Champlain, he hears of a pivotal battle during the War of 1812 where a British defeat gave the United States a new confidence on the world stage. In Plattsburg, Michael learns of the surprising origins of a classic Christmas carol. Lead by his guidebook, he travels into the wilderness of the Adirondack Mountains. Here the rich and famous of Appleton's day established great camps to get back to nature, in the lap of luxury. He visits the largest of the camps, reached by boat and even a private funicular railway. In Lake Placid, Michael braves the steep curves and speeds of an Olympic bobsleigh run. Last stop is an American fort mistakenly built in Canada!
Following a special 1899 Canadian edition of his Appleton's guide, Michael Portillo has left the United States and crossed the border to embark on the next leg of his rail journey in Canada. In the vibrant metropolis of Montreal, he discovers how French and British colonial roots have influenced the city's construction, cuisine and culture. Undaunted by his guidebook's description of the treacherous Lachine Rapids, Michael gets a thorough soaking on a white-knuckle boat ride down the St. Lawrence River. At the city's prestigious McGill University, Michael learns of its role as a pioneering medical establishment in the 19th century. He unearths a mausoleum amidst the text books and volunteers as a guinea pig at the university's cutting-edge neurology department. In search of the city's black Canadian heritage, Michael is introduced to the dazzling piano playing of 20th-century jazz legend Oscar Peterson. His Montreal tour ends with a visit to Cirque du Soleil HQ for a very special behind-the-scenes tour of an icon of modern French-Canadian culture.
Steered by his Appleton's guidebook Michael Portillo's train journey continues in Canada's Quebec province. Venturing into the wooded hills of Vaudreuil, Michael explores a Canadian icon, maple syrup, and unearths its sweet secrets. Returning to the rails, he journeys west into Ontario and learns of Scotland's influence on Canadian culture. At Alexandria, a tartan army escorts Michael to the 70th annual Canadian Highland Games, where he dons his kilt and attempts to toss the caber! In the capital, Ottawa, Michael visits Canada's parliament and hears how the new nation slowly developed its autonomy after confederation in 1867. Michael visits Ottawa's historic Central Experimental Farm where pioneering discoveries at the time of his guidebook launched a wheat boom that helped Canadian agriculture to dominate the world.
Using his 1899 Appleton's guide, Michael Portillo's rail odyssey through eastern Canada continues along the Grand Trunk railway, following the route of the St Lawrence River. At Brockville, he leaves the tracks for a nautical pilgrimage through the beautiful Thousand Islands. In the port city of Kingston, Ontario, Michael visits Fort Henry and, dressed for the occasion, is entrusted to fire the naval guns that protected the nation's southern border during the 19th century. Travelling west to Port Hope, he learns of the antics of a celebrated 19th-century high-wire walker known as The Great Farini. And, in the spirit of showmanship, Michael tests his balance with the modern sport of slack lining. This leg of the journey ends in Oshawa at the opulent home of the McLaughlin family, who helped build a new economy for Canada when they switched from manufacturing carriages to motor cars.
Michael Portillo's railway journey across eastern Canada concludes in the nation's largest metropolis, Toronto. He begins his Toronto tour at Union Station. Now busier than the city's international airport, Michael is shown the ambitious engineering works underground to support the growing number of commuters.From the dig down, he boldly goes to the dizzying heights at the CN Tower for an extreme outdoor experience at the top of the structure. Nerves are calmed at the Royal York Hotel, one of a network of luxury hotels built by the railway known as the 'castles of the north'.Catching the street car, Michael finds out how Toronto made itself a magnet for money after it set up its own stock exchange, but not before he presses the button to open the day's trading.Ending his time in the city's High Park, he seeks out the origins of a celebrated Canadian song that helped to shape the maple leaf as the country's national symbol.
Led by his late 19th-century Appleton's guidebook, Michael Portillo sets off on a 1,000-mile American adventure to discover how the railroad conquered the wild landscapes of the West and transformed California into America's wealthiest region, one which has revolutionised the world. Beginning in the Silver State of Nevada, Michael takes to the skies over the dramatic Sierra Nevada mountain range. At Lake Tahoe, he hears of the first white explorer, dubbed 'The Pathfinder', who learnt the lay of the foreboding land and paved the way for the first settlers to arrive. Travelling on the historic Virginia and Truckee heritage line, Michael heads for the vast deposits of silver and gold ore that built Virginia City, once dubbed the richest place on earth. At Chollar Mine he explores the short-lived mining boom and meets a pistol packin' preacher when he swings by the Silver Queen saloon. Crossing the border into the Golden State of California, he ascends the 7,000ft granite cliffs to the Donner Pass where ambitious plans to plough a rail route through the rugged terrain were made a reality by Chinese labourers, at huge human cost. In the spirit of Western horsemanship, Michael ends this leg in Colfax and gets in the saddle for a spot of cowboy dressage.
Continuing his epic Californian rail journey, Michael Portillo begins this leg at the very spot that triggered the 1848 gold rush. He finds out how California's mineral treasures and population swell helped fast-track the region's statehood, with significant political consequences for the national slavery battle. Michael pans for gold in the clear waters of the American River, and delights in a titillating spectacle at California's first public theatre. Venturing underground, he discovers how the streets of Sacramento were raised following the Great Flood of 1862 and visits the newly constructed $900 million dam to improve the city's flood defences. It is a first for Michael in the kaleidoscopic sweet factory of an iconic American confectionary brand that can trace its roots back to the 19th century. And, taking a cue from his guidebook, he explores the fruits of the Napa Valley enjoying a gourmet lunch on board the Napa Valley wine train before joining the harvest of the state's distinctive Zinfandel grape.
Armed with his trusty Appleton's Guide, Michael Portillo's rail journey through California takes him to the commercial metropolis of San Francisco. Riding through the vibrant streets by cable car, Michael finds out how 19th-century engineering overcame the challenge of scaling the city's steep hills and gets behind the scenes with the 144-year-old engines driving the cables. In the Presidio neighbourhood, Michael discovers San Francisco's long tradition for fine printing and learns the historic hand-crafted techniques before his treasured guidebook is evaluated by the experts. Hitching a ride on a hippy 'love bus' to the heart of the gay district, Michael traces the roots of the city's LGBTQ scene back to the era of the gold rush and is invited to a fund-raising 'drag brunch'. He stops off at the marina to tuck into a local seafood speciality brought to the city by Italian immigrants. And, heading across the bay to Sausalito, he boards a schooner to hear the story of Matthew Turner, the most prolific ship builder of his time.
Michael Portillo resumes his exhilarating tour of San Francisco to find that diversity has been at the heart of the city since the days of the gold rush, though not always harmoniously so. Following his Appleton's guide, Michael heads to Chinatown to hear of the huge contribution Chinese immigrants made to the economy, working as miners and building the transcontinental railroad. He discovers an entrepreneurial community who overcame discrimination laid down by the law, and finds that fortune favours the brave with iconic Chinese treats created in America! Intrigued by a reference in his guidebook, Michael goes in search of lavish public baths to unpack a landmark incident in 1897 whereby an African-American sued one of the richest white men in the state. At one of the oldest private athletics clubs in America, Michael gets to grips with the sport of handball, first brought to San Francisco by Irish immigrants in the 1850s. And joining the police's Marine Unit, he heads out into the bay with a force who has been keeping the waters safe since the 1860s.
Michael Portillo's rail voyage continues through northern California, moving east in search of the state's greatest national treasures. To unearth the region's dangers deep underground, Michael visits the seismology department at UC Berkeley and hears the story of the catastrophic 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Experiencing the country's largest multidirectional shaking table in action, he learns how engineers today strive to prepare for the high risk of an earthquake. Alighting at Stockton, Michael delves into California's pioneering agricultural technology and buckles up on a caterpillar tractor the likes of which revolutionised farming and construction equipment around the world. And following the advice of his Appleton's, Michael immerses himself in the sublime beauty of Yosemite National Park, learning about the committed 19th-century conservationists who campaigned for federal protection. He gets up close to the magnificent fauna and flora, attempts a rock climb and comes across a 'Buffalo Soldier' patrolling the wilderness.
Michael Portillo's thousand-mile rail journey through California continues south toward Santa Clara in the heart of Silicon Valley and ends in the surf of Santa Cruz. In a high-tech bar, where robots wait on the customers, Michael traces the origins of modern-day search engines and social media to an institution founded by a railroad baron. At tech giant Intel, Michael glimpses the future on a test drive in an autonomous car. At San Jose, the biggest city in the valley, Michael visits Japantown to meet members of a far eastern community who settled here peacefully during the 19th century but faced hostility during the mid-20th. He is then beaten over the head and body by youngsters a third of his age as he attempts to learn the martial art of kendo. A ride aboard the Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad takes Michael through groves of mammoth trees - the magnificent California Redwoods. Emerging from the forest on a second vintage railroad, Michael hits the beach and like a true beach boy, he takes to the waves - on a surfboard.
Steered by his late-19th-century Appleton's guidebook, Michael Portillo continues his railroad travels through southern California aboard the Coast Starlight service. In the historic port of Monterey, Michael raises the Bear Flag of the one-time Republic of California and above it, the Stars and Stripes. He discovers the city's Spanish and Mexican heritage and traces how the former fishing port described as 'stinking and decrepit' in John Steinbeck's novel Cannery Row has become a beacon for tourists. And how, in place of fish-processing canneries, there now stands a gleaming, state-of-the art aquarium, where Michael is invited to feed the fish. Michael's next stop is Paso de Robles, where he tours the magnificent Hearst Castle, dream home of the newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, to hear the tale of its creation. Onward to San Luis Obispo and the hills of Morro Bay and Michael joins avocado farmer Jim Shanley, amid his 4,000 avocado trees to harvest the pears and then learn how to make guacamole. Michael's last stop on this leg is outside Santa Barbara at Rancho Camulos, a former cattle ranch owned by a prominent Hispanic family and the setting for a best-selling romantic novel of the 19th century.
Armed with his Appleton's guide to the United States, Michael Portillo arrives in Los Angeles to delight in the 'city of dreams', from its glorious Union Station to its golden beaches and palm-lined boulevards. Like many a Hollywood hopeful before him, Michael heads for the Warner Brothers studio, founded on Sunset Boulevard at the time of his Appleton's, with dreams of stardom ahead. His role as a fearless all-action hero is assured. For the view from the top he takes the Skyslide from the 70th floor of one of LA's tallest buildings before striding out on the Walk of Fame. At the pioneering 19th-century Union Ice company, Michael discovers how Californians have kept their cool. He sees how ice blocks of titanic proportions are made and brings Christmas to LA with a giant snowmaker. Outside the city, Michael heads for San Marino to visit The Huntington, a cultural and research centre with fine libraries, art galleries and more than a dozen botanical gardens. In the cactus garden, Michael discovers more about the founder, nephew of a railroad baron and himself a pioneer of street cars and trolleys. Michael explores the city's latest initiative to break the legendary rush hour gridlock on Los Angeles freeways - a rail link with seven new stations on the LA metro.
Michael Portillo strikes oil in the suburbs of Los Angeles, contemplates his navel in the orange groves of Riverside, makes a California Roll and paints a pretty picture in Laguna Beach. It is Mexican Independence Day and the locals are celebrating the country's hard-won independence from Spain in the early 19th century. There is dancing, singing and feasting in the streets and Michael is up for joining the party. He learns that one in two of the population of LA is Latino, mainly of Mexican descent, and hears after only a few decades, Mexico lost half its territory and California became part of the United States. Michael learns the secrets of backyard oil drilling in Los Angeles, home to the largest urban oil field in the United States. Nodding donkeys are everywhere - in residential neighbourhoods, parking lots and burger joints. Michael sports a zesty orange jacket to visit the Citrus Variety Collection and learns the difference between a pummelo and a papeda. Alongside oil, the citrus fruit industry, he discovers, is one of the bedrocks of the state's economy. At Laguna Beach, Michael learns how artists from the east coast travelled west on the Transcontinental Railroad to found a colony of 'plein air' painters attracted by the beautiful coastline and glorious light to paint outside.
Michael Portillo is nearing the end of his thousand-mile rail journey from Reno, Nevada, to San Diego in southern California. In this final leg, clad in khaki boiler suit and sporting dark glasses, he joins the US Navy Pacific Fleet, birthplace of the elite flying academy Top Gun. Aboard the Pacific Surfliner, he arrives first in the coastal town of La Jolla, where he takes to the water in a kayak to explore the extraordinary 75-million-year-old caves. In San Diego, he picks up the trail of the industrialist and property speculator John D Spreckels, who made the city boom in the 19th century and built a pavilion to house the largest outdoor pipe organ in the world. Michael is offered the chance to play it. Appleton's recommends a trip to a huge structure, completed in 1888, on which San Diegans have depended for water for 130 years - the Sweetwater Dam.