NOTHING can make up for the lack of real travel; the fullness and immersiveness of being somewhere else. But, while we wait, we can make the most of the virtual travel experiences available to us. Not as a travel replacement but a respite. A modicum of adventure. They can also offer us calm. They are spaces of refuge that can help us in these challenging, frustrating and anxiety-ridden times. We can also enjoy views of the places we have been or may wish to go to in the future. They serve as a reminder that there is a world out there waiting for us…
Six of the best
Nature Relaxation films
This YouTube channel features a selection of static scenes from nature; the soothing flow of a forest stream, a paradise beach or a redwood forest filled with birdsong. There are also ‘fly overs’ of scenic places, such as Fijian or Spanish islands, accompanied by ambient music. A platform of pure calm escapism.
Real time journeys
For more escapism there are many real-time journeys to be found on YouTube. Perhaps take a 10 hour train ride to the Norwegian Arctic Circle or a 7 hour canal boat trip in London. It’s the closest we can get to the feeling of movement in the comfort of our own home.
Watching animal activity in the garden has become a pandemic pastime for many. Those of us without gardens, or who want to see something more exotic, can find a plethora of wildlife webcams from around the world. One of my favourites is bear watching in Transylvania.
There is certainly a calming effect while watching nature. Perhaps what adds to the experience is knowing that these creatures are oblivious to the human suffering. For them it’s business as usual. To watch them is to enter a world far removed from our own which is, unless you’re a Danish mink or a bat or pangolin from China, largely Covid-19 free.
There are many websites that offer a selection of livecams from around the world, Skyline is one of them. There are naturescapes, beachscapes and cityscapes. I’m keeping an eye on Rome’s Trevi Fountain, almost as empty as it was when Marcello waded in it with Sylvia in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. It’s somewhat disturbing to see it with so few people. But, seeing it at all is a comforting reminder that it still exists. I’m using it as a tool to measure the tourist-to-virus ratio: observing an increase in visitors will (hopefully) mean there is less virus in circulation. To see it crammed full of people, throwing coins over their shoulders or getting scooped out the water by the polizia locale, will be a time for joyous celebration.
Museum of the world
One of the things many of us like to do on a city break is to visit museums. Many museums have moved parts of their collection online. The British Museum in London is no exception. There is a brilliant feature on the website called ‘Museum of the World’, an infographic which allows you to travel through time to each continent on the planet, via the objects the museum exhibits. The timeline can be altered according to theme. The earliest object held under the ‘Power and Identity’ title is a Sumerian stone tablet containing the first examples of writing ever found: a beer ration counter for workers in Southern Iraq from around 3000BC. Human advancement fuelled by alcohol. Surely the first and last time?
I found another first on the main site where more objects can be explored. This was an 1802 print entitled, ‘The Cow Pock’ parodying the use of the first vaccine in the world. The word ‘vaccine’ comes from the Latin ‘vacca’, meaning cow. Edward Jenner discovered in 1796 that giving people a small amount of cowpox from an infected animal protected them against human smallpox. The print shows a doctor about to give the vaccine to a worried looking lady. Surrounding her are those who have already received the vaccine and whose body parts now have cows growing out of them. The alarmist print was published by ‘Ye Anti-vaccine society’. Conspiracy theories from the early 19th Century. Some things never change.
International Space Station
For a (literal) out of this world journey head up to the International Space Station. The live cam features the view of our planet. Along with this, they also transmit the conversation between the crew and Mission Control. What’s amazing is that, as the station orbits Earth every 90 minutes, it means there is a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes. Great to watch with the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey playing in the background. What’s even more amazing is to think that the International Space Station is the only place where humans exist and Covid-19 doesn’t. Bar New Zealand. In many respects, watching this cam is the ultimate form of contemplation, looking down on ourselves on a virus-ravaged planet that from up high looks so beautiful. So peaceful. When this is virus gone, or when it’s at least manageable, that beautiful looking planet we call home will be ours to travel around once more.