When I entered Berlin’s Bode Museum, a problem common to tourists hit me. I couldn’t understand the directions because they were in a foreign tongue. I stood in the entrance hall, marveling at its grand staircase and sculptures, but puzzling over the German descriptions. Given the context, though, some words were easy to guess: “Zoomen” for instance, is the English “zoom.” I was on a virtual tour of the Bode. Then I saw the British flag at the bottom of the screen, which shifted the entire experience to English. (If only translations during travels were that easy.)
While people around the world stay at home, virtual tours are the new answer to wanderlust. Tourist sites from the Louvre in Paris to the Great Wall of China understand that these web-based offerings not only entertain homebound people, but may also lead to actual visitors later on. The options are expansive. They range from live cameras to videos and self-guided explorations where the viewer decides what to see, as I did with the Bode Museum and, later, Glensheen Mansion, the 39-room historic estate in Duluth.
After studying at a mosaic made in Ravenna, Italy, in 545 A.D. — and getting closer than I might have if I’d actually stepped inside the Bode, thanks to the zoomen — I declined to go clubbing in Berlin (also available via my computer).
Instead, I went to Japan, and getting there took less than 10 seconds. A video tour of the country sent me from the busy streets of Tokyo to a bamboo forest, where I rode a rickshaw.
Ready to return to the United States, I quickly found a virtual tour of Yellowstone National Park. The map-based excursion allowed me to click on places of interest inside the park, then learn more about them with photos and pop-up screens with key information.
Even closer to home, I took refuge in the beautiful rooms and grounds at Glensheen Mansion. The house museum has opened its doors with a free Glensheen app (search “Glensheen” in the app store) and a 360-degree web-based tour (go to glensheen.org and click on the image that appears with “360˚ Glensheen”). The app includes audio descriptions of key pieces in the home, so I paired the app with the views on my computer screen. It felt almost like a real-life walking tour.
Finding virtual tours is as simple as typing in those words plus the name of a destination. They are interesting, informative and a temporary escape. The only thing they may lack is human interaction — so maybe I should go clubbing in Berlin after all.