A normal July would see many Greek Australians heading to the islands and villages of their heritage.
Now, we just have photo albums to sift through, rekindling summer memories, feeling pangs of nostalgia.
Of course, virtual tours and activities offer some respite and, as the world is gripped by a worldwide pandemic, these experiences are becoming more advanced than ever. Gone are the days when a virtual ‘walk’ required heading to Google maps to traipse through old neighborhoods.
Lockdowns saw tour guides lose 99 per cent of their business, but many are now turning to more specialist or virtual tours to survive a second COVID summer. Heygo tours offer locations all around the world from safaris to city treks – and a number of Greek regions.
Tour guides walk through areas on their smart phones and interact with visitors via the chat feature. “Can you tell me about the Parthenon?” types one guest from Chicago, archaeologist Nota responds. There are tours offering the usual sightseeing fare from the changing of the guards at Syntagma Square to a trek to the Acropolis, fleamarkets, Byzantine tours… Santorini, Thessaloniki, Marathon and the like. On the other side of the world, there are even Melbourne tours to the Greek precinct at Oakleigh. There is no set cost, and visitors are free to tip tour guides as they see fit.
Another option are prerecorded high-grade tours.
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A friend who would normally travel once a year to an exotic location found that even with COVID-19 putting a stop to his travels, he could turn to the internet to feed his wonder lust and also take his mind away from the drudgeries of the lockdown and everything the pandemic represents. He advised that the way to get the most out of this “virtual” travel was to punch in “4K walking tours, Greece” on YouTube. This ensures that the footage that you view will be crisp, clear and of a high quality.
Once you are on the site you will have a range of “virtual walking tours” to different parts of Greece. You pick a location and then let the camera roam through the streets, pasts houses and cafes, harbours, beaches and the scenic landscapes. The only soundtrack is what the camera’s microphone picks up on the journey, the chatter of people, children playing, a busker playing at a town square, the swish of the sea on a beach, a child whining for ice cream, the wind blowing in the trees. The filmmakers will also rely on drone footage to provide an overview of the town or village they are walking in, a panorama of buildings and landscapes for the viewer to appreciate the journey they are being taken on.
The result is a quiet, immersive journey or sights and sounds that can play for anything from a quarter of an hour to much longer. Depending on your frame of mind this could be either soothing and interesting or plain boring.
George Frossinos plays the footage on his large screen in his Ballarat coffee shop Mr Darby.
“I enjoy it. It is good for having coffee and to look at what you were once able to do, travel to Greece,” he told Neos Kosmos.
He recommends a walking tour of Mykonos.
Tourister Tours offer a range of virtual walks, as does Living Walks. Some are walks will take you through the streets of Athens that can go for over an hour, another of a walk around the Acropolis in winter. My favourites is a 1.5 hour tour of Santorini on another takes in Chania and Western Crete. In fact, Crete seems well represented – another favourite is the tour of the scenic village of Paleochora “a hidden gem”.
Another version of the virtual tourism idea is expressed on the website Simply Crete in which the camera viewpoint is more static than the virtual walking tours described above but you get impressive 360-views by using your cursor to view the landscape to the sky to the ground. The views are bird’s eye to worm’s eye.
You can maximise the experience if you have a large, Ultra High Definition TV screen to view it all from, the better the experience and if the “tour guide” on the other end knows his “onions” so that the images that you receive will be well framed and the camera used will be the latest for the best immersive experience.
Culture and Museums
Take a virtual tour of the museum, provided by Google Arts & Culture, a platform featuring content from over 2,000 leading museums and archives worldwide. The virtual experience is offered through Google Street View starting from a page introducing the museum and guiding visitors through to of the museum’s galleries: the Archaic Acropolis Gallery, filled with sculptures and smaller artifacts dating from the 7th century BC to about 480 BC (the end of the Persian Wars), and the Parthenon Gallery, featuring the famous 5th century BC artworks from the Parthenon by antiquity’s most famous sculptor, Pheidias.
Catch one of the live-streamed performances at the Epidaurus theatre. Aristophanes’ timeless masterpiece “The Frogs” is featured at 9pm Greek time from 9-11 July and, if you enjoy the performances, you can catch a new one each weekend to sample the finest of Greek acting.
These experiences are not the same as actually being there, but they offer a ‘taste’ of Greece to tide us over, showing us what is going on from the comfort of our living rooms, keeping us connected, by “being there”, well, almost.