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Growing up overseas, I had the unique opportunity to travel around the world without going all the way from the United States. I vaguely remember the trips my parents took me on during my elementary school days. I still have the polished green marble egg we got from a street vendor in India and the beaded necklace made by the Maasai tribal people in Africa. A photo reminds me of when my younger sister and I got dressed up in kimonos for dinner at a traditional tea house in Tokyo. Going to all of these unique places and experiencing their different cultures gave me an appreciation of the world beyond America.
This year, I decided it was time to take my daughter to Europe. She is 15, so I thought she would be old enough to appreciate it. When the airfares went on sale in late January, I jumped at the chance to buy tickets for our once-in-a-lifetime summer vacation.
I didn’t realize at the time a pandemic was brewing, and within just a couple of months from our ticket purchase, many countries in Europe had closed their doors to tourists. Sigh. That vacation will have to wait … but with today’s technology, all the historical sights and cultural experiences don’t have to go by the wayside. Many can be found online! Follow me and let’s see some of the places that can be explored on the World Wide Web.
Since the United States was founded by the British, we will start our world tour in the United Kingdom. If you have never been to the UK, London is a great place to start. It’s where you’ll find London Bridge (which is not falling down), Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and the London Eye, a giant ferris wheel which overlooks the River Thames. London is also home to some of the best museums in the world.
The best way to begin your tour of London is to hop over to YouTube, which is where The Ultimate 360 VR Tour of London is located (https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=VPdzOmOtvSA). This is a unique video format that enables you to look up, down and around a full 360 degrees, so you really feel like you are there. Your tour guide will take you on a six-minute journey of some of the city’s highlights and will share some interesting facts about each.
One of the most famous places to visit is the Tower of London. A fully narrated virtual tour, complemented by photos and video segments, is located at https://www.youvisit.com/tour/meadk. You will be guided you from outside the tower walls, through the garden, and into the various parts of the tower to see the Crown Jewels as well as the ravens and the torture exhibition. You will also learn about the history of the Tower and its relevance today.
Australia isn’t just a country. It’s an entire continent! From the Great Barrier Reef in the north to the Great Ocean Road in the south, there is something for everyone in the Land Down Under. If you’re just wanting to feel like you’re there, Qantas has a number of 360 virtual reality videos that include a tour of Sydney Harbour (https://www.qantas.com/travelinsider/en/explore/australia/new-south-wales/sydney/video-tour-see-travel-sydney-harbour-bridge-opera-house.html), as well as other locations the airline flies to. These tours are not narrated, however, so you’re not going to learn about Australia’s unique plants and animals or its native aborigine culture. For that, you will want to check out Explore Daintree in 360 with Dan Churchill (who is not just a tour guide, but a celebrity chef) at https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ezmZakArjQ&feature=emb_rel_pause. In this 360-degree video, you will fly over the Great Barrier Reef, travel along the Daintree River where you’ll meet a huge crocodile, visit the rainforest high in the clouds, and even learn how to throw a boomerang!
No virtual visit to Australia would be complete without a trip to Uluru, otherwise known as Ayers Rock near Alice Springs, New Territory. A monolith that sits alone in a vast red desert, Uluru is considered sacred by Australia’s indigenous people. The best way to explore Uluru in virtual reality is to visit the Australian National Parks’ site at https://parksaustralia. gov.au/uluru/discover/ virtual-tour/. In addition to being able to take a virtual tour of each area of the park in and around Uluru, the menu bar will take you to links for interesting facts about it.
Of all the countries in Asia, Japan is billed as a country that uniquely connects the past to the future. At https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1AZSB-bCgKo you can tour Japan’s ancient history and modern marvels in stunning 360-degree virtual reality. Learn about Japan’s history and culture, walking through rice fields and the crowded streets of Tokyo. You’ll meet craftsmen and farmers, watch a samurai sword fight, and attend a sumo wrestling match.
There are 54 countries in the vast continent of Africa, so there are a lot of sights and sounds to explore here. While most people associate Africa with safaris, there is so much more to see and do.
A great place to start is in the northern African country of Morocco. YouTube has a fantastic virtual tour titled Amazing Morocco 360 Video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tr7HFZz76D8), which begins with a camel ride through the desert and culminates with a walking tour of the open-air market in Marrakesh.
If you do want to go on a virtual safari, there are a couple of ways to do it. One is to find a VR 360 video of a safari, which will let you see what one is like in the span of just a few minutes. One of the better virtual reality videos is titled African Safari 360 Video – Kruger National Park (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_teiyaYic-w). This video is set in South Africa and you’ll be able to drive through the national park and see African elephants, lions, a giraffe, and the critically endangered black rhino. Another way to experience a safari is to go on one via live-streaming, which will take you live to one that is actually taking place in Africa at the time you logon. The online magazine Departures has a page dedicated to live-streamed African safaris (https://www.departures.com/travel/safari-livestreams), with information on each and links to all of them.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Back in the Western Hemisphere is one of the great wonders of the ancient world, Machu Picchu. Built by the Incas thousands of years ago, high in the Andes mountain range, it was never discovered by the Spanish who conquered South America. Its first sighting was in 1911 by explorer Hiram Bingham. In a virtual tour titled Machu Picchu: the Lost City of the Inca 360 Video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXEIiqTfIAA), you will be guided by a native Peruvian who will take you from the city of Cuzco up the Inca Trail to the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. She will explain the connection of the ruins to the sun worship of the Incas and will introduce you to the artisans who make the colorful textiles the region is known for.
For a more in-depth look at the ruins themselves, visit Machu Picchu with the Vagabrothers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lM8UR-aQveQ&vl=en), who adds a touch of humor to their tour. These American world travelers will take you through each section to make sure you don’t miss a thing. If you prefer to look around on your own, search online for “Google Earth Machu Picchu” and you will find a link to the Google Earth site, where you can do a self-guided tour.
Ah, Paris, the city of romance. Head on over to YouTube again to One Day in Paris: 360º Virtual Tour with VoiceOver (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyWeSF9FAgA). In this narrated tour, you will have the opportunity to gaze up at the Arc de Triomphe from the Champs-Élysées and view the entire city of Paris from the Eiffel Tower. Because this was filmed in early 2018, you will also be able to walk inside the beautiful cathedral of Notre Dame, which was severely damaged by a devastating fire in 2019. Shopping lovers will be amazed by the Galeries Lafayette and history buffs will enjoy visiting the Palace of Versailles.
Art lovers wanting to go inside the Louvre can go to https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdiTy_YjVvg for a quick walk-through of the museum that includes the famous Mona Lisa painting. A one-hour walk-through video at https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=6vuFh6NNa70 (without narration), will enable you to see more works of art and a closer look at the Mona Lisa. The museum itself has several online tours at https://www.louvre. fr/en/visites-en-ligne that enables you to take self-guided walking tours in virtual reality. The website also has links to videos from museum curators discussing various works of art.
Google Earth has a lot of other places as well, so if you want to continue exploring various places in the world, that’s a great place to start.