Winning tip: A bird’s eye view of Norway
One of my joys of travelling is listening to music on a train while watching a new country spool by outside the window. During lockdown I discovered how to replicate this experience while confined to the house: by watching drone footage of faraway places on YouTube. My favourite was Flying Over Norway, an hour-long feature flying above fjords, bays and fishing villages. The footage offers a bird’s-eye view of deep valleys in shadow, winding roads and bridges connecting rocky islands. I was close enough to see people walking along the beach yet could also see how the landscapes fit together.
Virtual Christmas in Brooklyn
I went on a tour of Dyker Heights with virtualtrips.io out of sheer boredom. The destination is an area of Brooklyn notorious for its absolutely ridiculous Christmas lights. I think Brits intrinsically enjoy simultaneously marvelling at and disapproving of American extravagance. Aaron and Patrick, our guides, were warm and funny and surprisingly I actually felt a little sense of community when I contemplated my fellow virtual travellers: each of us sat in our own bubbles around the world with a cup of tea or something stronger. It’s the only time I felt connected with anyone outside my household over the holiday period.
• virtualtrips/io, tipping guides encouraged
Eyeballing the king of the jungle
Explore.org pretty much had me addicted to its Africams section for about four months and I learned to identify the different sounds and best times to watch. It helped that I hit the jackpot the very first time I clicked: there in nightvision was a majestic lion with humongous mane staring at me (and just me, of course!) Shout out to live safaris on Wildearth.tv too. These are more controlled as you have a guide, but you get such unrivalled intimacy with the animals. And you can’t beat an African sunset.
Dance music and jazz, livestreamed
I can’t describe how immensely grateful I am for the creation of livestream. From working while jamming to California’s live Monterey Jazz Festival in the background to watching new premieres of Boiler Room’s global Streaming From Isolation series with friends on Zoom (taking us as far as the dance scenes of Mexico and India), it’s testament to how music can transport us anywhere in the world, no matter how far we are from one another.
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Birds and bands via webcam
I’ve fallen in love with webcams! I have watched enthralled as bluejays, red cardinals (pictured), sparrows and starlings feast at a feeder in Akron, Ohio. I also then learned that house sparrows and European starling populations have thrived in the US (they are thought to have had a negative effect on native bird species), having been released in the 19th century. I’ve watched snow fall in obscure Russian cities and bands play in bars in Florida. On New Year’s Eve I watched the celebrations in Times Square ... I can’t go anywhere but I watch the world and it’s fabulous!
North Atlantic in my living room
Exhausted after Covid and unable to concentrate enough to read, I came across skyline webcams – live webcams from around the world. I settled on the Lofoten islands, Norway, and particularly the fishing village of Henningsvær, where I marvelled at the changes in the weather, the light, the shortness of days, the fishing boats, the lifeboat, the ferry arriving and people embarking and disembarking going about their days, the glowing winter lights in the houses on the jetty. I’m hoping to see the aurora borealis from here. I’m now mostly recovered and working from home but have this on in the background and check in throughout the day.
Zooming around Hong Kong
Hong Kong Greeters’ live Zoom tour ($88) covered HK’s past and present, our guide leading us through Sheung Wan’s traditional dried seafood streets to the incense-heavy Man Mo Temple (pictured), where worshippers send up a quick prayer for fortune en route to the office. We relived our former commute on the world’s longest outdoor escalator before heading to Tai Kwun, a colonial-era police station-turned-arts hub, where we heard fascinating tales of its former life as a prison. Having relocated mid-pandemic from Hong Kong to Manchester, I’ve desperately missed my home of 12 years. This virtual tour was perfect for assuaging my homesickness.
Birding in Colombia without the mosquitoes
With more species than other country, and music based on birdsong, Colombia was a good destination for virtual birding. The Birders’ melodic journey through northern Colombia (on YouTube) is an immersive tour led by biologist Diego Calderón-Franco and filmed by Keith Ladzinski from National Geographic. I experienced the desert heat, the cloud forest chill and the jungle humidity. Fortunately, I did not feel the mosquito bites or get covered in monkey poo. Columbian culture and music enhanced my appreciation of stunning landscapes and fascinating birds. Some birds were identified; many more appear in shot. Download the provided species list and see how many you can spot. Debbie Rolls
Virtual Vincent, Amsterdam
My virtual visit to the Vincent Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam was brilliant: it allowed me to get much closer and linger longer at the paintings of the maestro than any real tour would have done, which was a real boost for my uni degree in art, given all the restrictions. The detail is amazing and the zoom-in button lets you get really close up to more than 200 drawings, including some famous ones. The opening self portraits really draw you in and the colours and lines of landscapes, nature and flowers are stunning in the virtual tour. You can also see handwritten letters, telling you of his life, love, torment and inspiration.
The Camino on YouTube
The Lindsey Hikes & Travels vlog on the French Camino de Santiago is a 52-video marathon full of natural and architectural highlights along the camino, by an ego-free solo American woman who gives her own take on this massive undertaking. It’s a vicarious treat that will not only show you the best sights, but will also bring you to tears as you get involved with Lindsey’s spiritual and emotional journey. It is amazing to share someone’s life-changing experience with them.