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8 Virtual Tours You Can Take at Your Desk

Lots of folks are cutting back on vacations this summer, and some are staying home completely to save money. With the help of the internet, you can take a virtual tour of many tourist destinations, and also places you can only visit online. Some of these tours are interactive flash sites; others are not.

1. The Caves of Lascaux

The prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux, discovered in 1940, were closed to the public in 1963 due to deterioration caused by human intervention. But you can take a virtual tour! See the paintings with explanations of what they portray at the French Ministry of Culture and Communication site. Other virtual cave tours will take you to Ogof Ffynnon Ddu in Wales, Lechuguilla in Carlsbad, new Mexico, and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.

2. The White House

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Here's a site that can keep you busy for a long time! This virtual tour of the White House has current floor plans of each floor and section of the building as well as ground layouts -plus historical floor plans from various eras in its history. Click on the rooms to see photos of what's inside, and how the room looked in the past. Each page has more information, such as which president and First Lady slept in twin beds or separate rooms. I learned about the "bachelor suite" used by young men who courted Woodrow Wilson's daughters, and how Zachary Taylor's slaves had to climb a ladder to get to their attic rooms.

3. Graceland

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Elvis Presley's home in Memphis is now a shrine for fans from all over the world. The Graceland website offers panoramic views of the different areas and rooms at Graceland, but you're on your own for information about what you are seeing. Just pretend it's one of those self-guided tours.

4. Dinosaurs

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The National Museum of Natural History, a part of the Smithsonian Institution, offers an interactive dinosaur tour. Click on anything that looks interesting to zoom in on dinosaurs, fossils, and museum facts. Shown is a diorama of the Cretaceous period. The Smithsonian also offers virtual tours of the National Museum of American History, the National Zoological Park, the Smithsonian Marine Station, and the full Museum of Natural History.

5. Bill Gates' Home

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We can all dream of what kind of home we'd have if money was no object. We can also see what one man built with a virtually unlimited budget. This is one tour you can't do in real life! See Bill Gates' estate with the 6,300 square foot underground garage, the swimming pool with underwater music, and the library with bookcases that swing out to reveal secrets, just like in the movies.

6. Wieliczka Salt Mine

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The Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland is a World Heritage Site because it has been in continuous operation for at least 1,000 years. Shafts and tunnels stretch for 300 kilometers! The virtual mine tour is about history, geology, economics, and architecture. Shown is St. Kinga's Chapel, an underground church built into the salt mine in 1896.

7. Antarctica

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Travel to New Zealand, then on to McMurdo Station and finally the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Research Station. This Antarctic tour is heavy on information. It may seem light on pictures, but that's just the formatting. Each imaged can be clicked to enlarge. No fancy flash, but an edifying read about the coldest place on earth, with plenty of links to more information.

8. The Louvre

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The Louvre official site offers in-depth virtual exhibitions featuring the Ambassador's Staircase at the Palace of Versailles, the archaeological site of the Bawit monastery in Egypt, and the art of Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Different 3D virtual exhibitions will eventually replace these.

To complete the tour experience, walk two miles and empty all the money out of your pockets. Then you'll really feel as if you've been there!

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©noisytoy.net via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA-4.0
The People of Texel Island are Professional Beachcombers
©noisytoy.net via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA-4.0
©noisytoy.net via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA-4.0

If you’ve ever tossed a message in a bottle into the ocean from anywhere in Northern Europe, it’s likely it ended up on Texel Island. Located off the North Coast of the Netherlands, Texel is at the intersection of several major currents, and close to several shipping routes. For the last 400 years, Texel residents have survived, in part, by scavenging items that have been lost at sea.

According to documentarian Sam Walkerdine in a piece for The Mirror, the practice has faded as other economic opportunities have opened up, but many residents still scour the beaches for lost items. One professional beachcomber, Cor Ellen, claims to have found over 500 bottles with letters inside—and has even answered some of them.

Ellen is one of the subjects of Flotsam and Jetsam (2012), Walkerdine’s 13-minute documentary on the Texel Island beachcombers (you can watch it above). In the film, a handful of Texel Islanders show off their best finds, and share their stories and strange observations. Ellen, for example, brags about scavenging crates of food, fur coats, powdered milk (“I didn’t have to go to the milkman for one year”), and even umbrella handles from passing cargo ships. Another beachcomber reminisces about finding something more personal: the collected photos and memorabilia of an English couple who had broken up and tossed their memories into the sea.

One of the weirder observations comes from Piet Van Leerson, whose family has been beachcombing for at least five generations: he claims that only left shoes wash up on Texel’s shores. The right shoes, meanwhile, end up in England and Scotland. (The shapes cause them to go in different directions.)

Beachcombing is such a big part of life on Texel, they’ve even opened several museums to show off their weirdest, funniest, and most interesting finds.

If you do decide to try and get a bottle with a letter in it to Texel, the residents have a few suggestions for you: drop the bottle somewhere off the coast of England, weigh it down with pebbles so it doesn’t get caught by the wind, and of course, remember to include a return address.

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YouTube / British Movietone / AP
A Film Tour of London in 1981
YouTube / British Movietone / AP
YouTube / British Movietone / AP

Earlier this month, the Associated Press began releasing loads of archival video on YouTube. A large part of that collection comes from British Movietone, which has uploaded thousands of videos of all kinds, including many newsreels.

I have scrolled through countless pages of such videos—most without sound and/or extremely esoteric—and I finally discovered a 1981 gem, This is London. It's a sort of video time capsule for London as it was in the late 1970s and early 1980s, comprising plenty of stock footage of all the sights, royals, and ceremonies you can imagine.

If you've been to London, this is a great glimpse of what it once looked like. If you've never been, why not check out London circa 1981?

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