Virtual Travel: Introduction

Computer and software requirements

Until recently I assumed that everyone looking at my website, and this page, could be expected to have a computer and software as up to date as mine. Then I happened to visit a view like Arundel Castle on a Windows 7 PC and found that the 3D view was simply not offered, or was so limited that it was nothing like what I see on Windows 10 with Mozilla Firefox browser.

On Windows 10 with Mozilla Firefox browser, the view of that castle is like being in a hot air balloon’s basket floating some way above and to one side; but the view I got on the Windows 7 PC I tried was like looking straight down through a telephoto llens from a satellite, so 2D from along way up, not interesting.

This page assumes that visitors have a system that works like my system using an OS like Windows 10 or Linux Minto to Ubuntu, with Mozilla Firefox browser in (as I write) December 2017. It needs recent enough PC hardware including the CPU and enough memory, and so on. If you do not see views as I do and describe below, it may be the system you use.

Virtually (meaning on your computer) flying over or visiting interesting places

It is much easier, and cheaper, to travel virtually than really. I do it all the time. If a place is mentioned in the news or a TV documentary, and it catches my interest, I often take just a minute or two and go there virtually, for a quick look, via the wonderful web: for this, of course, I use Google maps satellite or street view.

Places we can visit

It is important to understand that the places worth looking at, and so available to be selected and linked in the samples on pages listed in the Index here, are limited by what is available in the visual images at Google maps.

For example, in Britain you can fly low over much of London and some other cities, but not anywhere else; and yet the street views are very complete. However, in Germany (for example), street views may be non-existent for legal (based on cultural) reasons.

Obviously, the success of Google maps shows that millions of people have discovered the fun of virtual travel. It is much quicker and cheaper than physical travel, and indeed safer! Possibly among the most famous virtual travellers (I myself know of no other) is a lady called Jacqui Kenny who made news as the Agoraphobic Traveller. For just one of many pages about her see this Daily Mail Online page.

The sample in the Index here offers just a selection of aerial views that let you virtually hover in the air above a place, and a very few street views from the possibly billions that now exist of many places round the world. But always remember that virtual aerial travel is not possible to many places: the satellite view is too high up and often the 3D version of it is just the 2D version with a slight edge on the buildings, not a real 3D photo by any means. For example (and this is written in October 2017), look at the aerial view of Arundel Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, or the Palace of Westminster in London. Then try to view Windsor Castle or Bodiam Castle in Sussex and get a view like that. They just do not exist. The same is true for:

... no credible close aerial view. I put those links here, but not in the index which offers just some places that do work.

No balloon view on most of Australia

To see why it is, in November 2017, still impossible to visit most of Australia by virtual hot air balloon, look at this street view of central Sydney looking South East from a spot on Circular Quay.

Now look at that area, viewed from the north, on satellite view.

If you don’t see why that is useless for this, compare it to the comparable view of central, dockside Auckland, N.Z.. The view of central Auckland with all its tall buildings really is almost like looking down from the basket under a hot air or helium balloon floating above the city; but the view of Sydney gives no hint of al its tall buildings. It is just the 2D view processed to look like a flat, matt-surfaced printed photo viewed for an oblique angle.

There are exceptions, like central Melbourne ... but if you float up higher and/or sail far enough away from those tower blocks in the centre, the imagery soon fails. Specifically, in late August 2018, the 3D extends at its furthest north from there to Glenlyon Road, Brunswick (just in a stretch east of Nicholson Street).

No view in parts of England

Similarly, street view simply does not exist for plenty of entire countries, and even for certain parts of otherwise well covered countries. For example, if you wanted to go and look at Arundells, the house of the late Sir Edward Heath near Salisbury Cathedral in Wiltshire, southern England, there is simply no usable close 3D satellite, and no street view either, on Google maps. The closest continuous street view (Nov 2017) is in Exeter Street a long way to the east of the cathedral. The only spot view apparently near the front of Arundells is in fact an interior. The next nearest view just shows an expanse of lawn and a statue and some trees when you look west towards Arundells. In short, there is nothing comparable to the views you can get of Arundel Castle or the Palace of Westminster (here from the south-west). That is just how things are with the (admittedly already absolutely vast) database of photography at Google maps.

The edge of aerial imagery

Here is one more, perhaps most graphic, way to see the difference between the aerial view called “satellite” in places with the necessary imagery on Google and places without it. Look at this patch of West London with on the right, in the eastern side of the (northwards) view, Bayswater, the area north of Kensington Gardens (which adjoins Hyde Park to its east), and on the left, in the western side of the view, Notting Hill. In the centre of this view is a dividing line between the full 3D imagery of Bayswater, and (except for the part nearest the viewpoint) the flat view of Notting Hill which is merely the 2D Google satellite imagery synthetically processed so as to seem to be viewed obliquely rather than looking vertically downward at it.

The boundary here is apparently Garway Road, running north-south on the eastern end of Leinster Square, which swings west into Prince’s Square, and Ilchester Gardens, which is a left turn off that bend whch constitutes a continuation (in a straight line) southward of Garway Road. That leads down to St Petersburgh Place. On the west side of this stretch are two churches, just north of, and one building south of, the intersection with Moscow Road (clearly somebody had a connection with Russia when this area was being built and named). On the north corner (Ilchester Gardens) stands the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Divine Wisdom (Hagia Sophia); on the south corner is now an office block, but next to it in St Petersburgh Place is St Matthew’s, Bayswater, an Anglican church with a spire. That spire is clearly visible in the view, and actually seems to stick up between our viewpoint and the flattened 2D-imagery-only area north of it. This effect is even more obvious in this view, where the massive Greek Orthodox Cathedral seems to have the same height as, perhaps, a caravan compared to the spire of St Matthew’s. In street views from Moscow Road or St Petersburgh Place it is a massive, high building with a huge dome; but that is not shown in the hot air balloon view.

This has been just one example of an area on the edge of a region with detailed hot air balloon view imagery available, showing in one window a part with imagery and next to it, just across one street, a part of the same city (London) without such imagery. It is all free for us to use, so we cannot complain; maybe the imagery will be gathered or supplied by people; but for now (November 2017, as I write this section) St Matthew’s marks the edge (geddit? evangelists ...) of the air balloon region. Incidentally the detail stretches west a street or so south of Moscow Road so the spire is on a concave corner in the boundary there. There is 3D imagery as far as the estern side of Ossington Street, though only to the south of Moscow Road; but west of Ossington Street it is limited to 2D on both sides of Moscow Road. If you look at the next block south of that, perhaps amusingly, the Embassy of the Russian Federation (in Kensington Palace Gardens) is in 3D imagery, but the Embassy of Slovakia right across that same street is in 2D only, as is the Embassy of the Czech Republic.
Click here to compare those two sides of KPG. (Vladimir Putin has long digital arms, perhaps ...)

The position of this edge is why, in November 2017, you cannot see the site of the tragedy of Grenfell Tower. It is just next to Kensington Leisure Centre; but that is quite along way (in city terms) — maybe 2 kilometres — from Kensington Gardens, and the hot air balloon view shows the tower as a flat area like a tarmac car park. You can see its shadow; evidently the 2D satellite view was on a day when the sun shone from the south — perhaps just before noon. But there is nothing of 3D imagery of the buildings, such as there is east of that line exemplified (at this latitude) by Garway Road, Ilchester Gardens, and St Petersburgh Place.

Key to the Index

In the following links to my randomly chosen few suggestions, the following indications are used:
Πmeans an aerial view and means a street level view. They open in a special browser window, all in the same one but not this one (unless you reloaded this page in the window which it opened).

Note that each one of these aerial or street level 360 degree views can take some time to load. They may appear quickly but with fuzzy details. Wait a minute for the photographic details to arrive!

Moving around in each virtual place

If you have never used Google maps, please note that these links are not to static photographs!

() In the street views, it is as though you were there on the street or (if I add any of them) in a room or a larger space in a building. In these views, you can look all around you, and up and down. Just pull at the image in the browser window with the mouse, holding the button down as you drag just as you do anything in your computer desktop. In views where the shot is on a path in Google maps, you can also move along a road or a path by clicking when an arrow on the ground appears pointing in a particular direction. In general, anywhere on a street you can move along the street. Like that, you can walk from John O’Groats to Land’s End virtually. Be careful walking on the motorways, though.

(Œ) In the aerial views, you can move the view to another adjacent place in the same direction by dragging with the mouse. However even more wonderfully you can zoom in or out using the wheel on the mouse; and you can turn round, and look up or down, by holding down the Ctrl key on your PC keyboard and dragging with the mouse. You may have to try it, to learn exactly how to do this.