As I thought about it, I realized that there are several reasons why one would want to become an armchair traveler. Money, time and sometimes health can prevent us from going wherever we please. I selected videos on faraway places, closer places and one place I’ve been, to see how it compares.
Discoveries America: Hawaii is part of an extensive series of videos on every state in the U.S. and many other countries. It begins (as did all the videos I viewed) with a history of the islands and how they were formed including a fascinating explanation of lava flow. Also interesting were the aqua culture farms (one that raises seashorses!) and whale-watching expeditions. Interviews with guides, entrepreneurs and other natives give it a personal touch. Sports from golf to scuba diving to wind-surfing were also highlighted.
The Historic Hotels of America series showcases the facilities, history, cuisine and amenities of these famous hotels. I chose the Pontchartrain Hotel in the Garden District of New Orleans. The story of the hotel from its beginnings as a combination apartments/hotel to a luxury hotel frequented by famous guests is told through a narrator and the recollections of a long-time employee. I was particularly fascinated by the stories of the mural in its famed Caribbean Room restaurant and the Mary Martin Suite.
Rick Steves’ Ireland was the longest of the videos I watched mainly because it is a composite of four episodes of Steves’ public television show. Dividing Ireland into four areas, Steves hits the highlights of each, sometimes accompanied by his family. He is a personable and likable host who seeks out unusual spots and local advice. I went on a tour of Ireland years ago and he hit most of the same spots we did plus much, much more. From pub crawls to archeological sites to more recent hisory and everyday Irish life, Steves gives us a comprehensive view of this beautiful country. Particularly poignant was the section on Northern Ireland with its political struggles and how they have affected the land and the people.
For a very different flavor, try Nepal, a Globe Trekker program originally broadcast on the Travel Channel. Host Ian Wright looks like a cheeky ruffian who brings to the journey an irrepressible charm. Starting in Kathmandu, he takes us through the crowded city of temples complete with snake charmers, goddesses and monkeys, including interviews with shamans and other travelers. He then tries to find the correct bus out of town only to end up hitchhiking to his next destination, a quiet and beautiful national park. Then he takes us along the Everest highway on a partial trek to the famous mount. He ends in a remote village where he witnesses a marriage ceremony between one bride and five grooms, all brothers ranging in age from 6 to 15! I was totally absorbed by this look at a very foreign world.
The last video I viewed was unlike any of the others. Cape Cod and Magical Islands, produced by The Dolphin’s Eye is almost totally without narration. After an opening section on cranberry farming, it’s a purely sensual look at the landscapes of this beautiful area including the Cape Cod National Seashore. The area to be seen is highlighted on a map and after that, it’s mostly continuous footage of beaches, dunes, ocean and sunsets. It has a very soothing effect enhanced by original piano music written just for the video. Visual interest is piqued by different perspectives, some very close up of seaweed, driftwood and critters and sweeping shots of rolling, crashing waves. Sometimes the shots are through lighthouse windows or from an airplane. There are voiceovers of a shellfisher, a naturalist and other natives. There is also a very interesting segment on a school for troubled boys founded on one of the islands.