Safely traveling anywhere during the pandemic, beyond taking care of essential needs, is difficult. That’s especially true for those of us who have mobility and health related issues. Even now, with a vaccine, we will need to remain vigilant in following social distancing, mask wearing, and other precautions.
Earlier this year I discovered what are called virtual tours. These experiential videos first appeared when treadmill and stationary bike manufacturers added flat screen monitors for use in fitness facilities. Going on a virtual run or biking trip through the countryside was much more enjoyable than viewing oneself exercising in a gym mirror.
The virtual tour today is a way to venture beyond home during the pandemic. One can vicariously engage in the sights and sounds of distant cities, museums, cultures, nature, and much more, from the safety of the living room. The virtual experience can transport you to a hike on a mountain trail, a stroll through the streets of Amsterdam, or a browse of the works at the Van Gogh Museum.
These videos are shot by videographers who walk, bike, or drive from point to point recording the journey along the way using a 4K high definition camera and a separate quality microphone. These can result in a quality audio-visual experience. Most of the videos are unedited and last an hour or more in length.
I became an armchair traveler and virtual walker once the stay-at-home order was issued in March. I’ve enjoyed exploring a diversity of locations such as walking through a marketplace in La Paz, Bolivia, and visiting the beach in Positano, Italy. Locally, I’ve strolled along the Columbia River in Astoria and enjoyed walking in the rain during a Portland thunderstorm. I’ve even checked out the sidewalk sculpture pieces in Troutdale. On occasion I take a virtual bike ride through a scenic environment like the French Alps or drive down a crowded street as I did in Tehran, both fine alternatives to walking.
Slow walks allow me the opportunity to observe people and culture in places where I’ve never been or even heard about. I enjoy discovering what people have in common and what makes us unique given the diversity of cultures we embrace.
I like mingling in crowded marketplaces. Some places can be so packed that bumping into another person might seem frighteningly real. Such image-rich situations trigger my interest in photography and I, like any tourist, take photographs that are actually computer screen captures that I later edit and share on Facebook.
I try to photograph vignettes of human interactions. Often there is something curious happening that attracts my attention such as the two men and a dog in the photo above that I framed and “photographed.” There are wonderful images one can take of families, young lovers, older folk, and so much more.
I also enjoy listening to the soundscape of the places I visit as captured by high-quality stereo or binaural microphones. Binaural recordings, especially, provide a 360-degree auditory experience when wearing headphones. Each place and culture has a unique soundscape that is enhanced for the listener when recorded in 3-D sound.
Three recent virtual “art walks” have included Rome’s Coliseum, The Louvre, and Pisa, Italy, all which appeal to my interest in art and architecture. These locations are incredibly busy tourist destinations and when I took these walks I definitely became one with the crowd.
I recently spent an hour strolling through Rome’s Colosseum. This fascinating exploration of the ancient structure was enhanced by superimposed titles describing the significance of where I was walking. I probed the complex of rooms and holding pens underneath the coliseum floor where gladiators and animals were prepared for battle on the stage above. I stood on the arena floor itself and scanned the tiers above, where patrons and the Roman emperor once sat. I then climbed high above the arena where I had a spectacular view of the whole Colosseum.
I’ve always had the Louvre on my bucket list of travel destinations. I’m glad that I took this hour-long virtual walk because it would be too exhausting for me to deal with the crowds, noise, and long lines if I were to go today. I was able to see many art works such as the Venus di Milo and, of course, the Mona Lisa, which is behind glass and well-protected from the hundreds who crowd into the room where it is located.
My college art history textbooks always included photos of Pisa’s leaning tower and related structures, but I never had a sense of place. After beginning my walk outside the large, grassy Piazza del Miracoli, I found myself getting up close to the cathedral, baptistery, and the tower itself. I could see and appreciate the fine architectural details of each. I also discovered that visiting Pisa involves bumping elbows with hundreds of other tourists. I did get a good chuckle watching so many people taking photos of friends and family posing as if they were holding up the leaning tower.
Experience a Virtual Walk
Taking a virtual walk is the best way to understand this video genre so I’m including one below. Click on the link and find yourself strolling along the Colaba Causeway in Mumbai, India. Sense how intimate you can be on a walk as you listen to the marketplace soundscape and find yourself making your way through the crowd. Street vendors may call your attention to their wares and you may even feel the urge to respond. You may also encounter someone acknowledging your presence as you walk through the crowd.
It is best to experience this walk using the full-screen mode on your device and turn up the sound or use headphones. In fact all walks should be viewed on the largest screen available. I use a 24-inch computer monitor. A neighbor has a 60-inch Internet TV display in which one can feel fully immersed.
Without a published listing of walks, it is best to go directly to YouTube and search for a “4K Walking Tour.” There are many titles from which to choose and I would encourage you to explore a diversity of cultures and places to visit. Make your virtual walk one of personal discovery.
Gary Ferrington is a Senior Instructor Emeritus, Instructional Systems Technology, College of Education, University of Oregon. He is an advocate for new music and serves as project coordinator for Oregon ComposersWatch.