As I write this, most, but not all, of Colorado has moved from Stay-at-Home to Safer-at-Home, which is good because it eases restrictions on personal movement outside the home and allows some places to open up again — but to physically go outside to do anything for fun is still very limited for most people. Under the public health order rules, signed by Governor Jared Polis, we can only recreate within 10 miles of where we live, and by now we’ve done that so much we’ve given each individual tree and rock a name.
Which is why I sneaked away to London for an hour. Sorta.
While wandering aimlessly around the internet, which feels like all I do anymore, I saw several blogs describing a “Magic of Film”-themed virtual walking tour of London. It sounded excessively hokey — not only would it be a handful of tourists piling into a Zoom meeting, but the tour guide couldn’t even walk the actual tour. At the time, the Londoner leading the tour also had to abide by social distancing restrictions, so it would consist of everyone watching a prerecorded video of the tour as the guide described what everyone was seeing on the screen.
Naturally, I signed up. The tour only cost $6.29 and I figured at the very least it would kill an hour. I fully expected to be able to report back how dumb it was and advise people not to waste their time or money.
Instead, it was one of the most fun hours I’ve had since the pandemic began. And I’m not 100% sure why.
Maybe it was the jet lag. The tours run twice a day, at noon and 5:30 p.m. ... and that’s 5:30 p.m. London time. That translates to about 5 a.m. or 10:30 a.m. Colorado-time. So I rolled out of bed, ate breakfast, and immediately “departed” on the latter tour.
The Zoom meeting seemed mostly to be filled with Britons, with a few Americans thrown in. The host, Helena, was a cheerful Englishwoman with the slightest hint of a German accent. We were all instructed to choose new names based on movie characters, though, so she could better keep track of the points we’d win during quizzes throughout the tour. The prize, if you won, was another free tour. Over half of the tourists chose names from Star Wars, which threw me off because I was worried the tour would be all about the Harry Potter series — something I’ve seen less than half of (don’t @ me, Potterheads).
The tour began at 84 Charing Cross Road and quickly made its way to Piccadilly Circus, where the guide described how it was used in “28 Days Later,” “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” and, surprisingly, “The Dark Knight.” Three movies I’ve actually seen! I even answered a few questions right and felt giddy for doing so. On a real tour, I’d be rolling my eyes at the idea of a quiz, but after months in quarantine, I guess I was craving trivia-based interaction.
The tour also hit locations such as Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, and the Globe Theatre, and touched on James Bond, Marvel, and Hitchcock films, among many others. The tour guide’s information and quizzes kept the energy flowing. The hour disappeared in no time at all, and I’m pretty sure I had a stupid grin on my face the whole time.
Why did I love what essentially amounted to an interactive YouTube video of someone walking around London? I don’t know. Maybe it was the way it emulated an activity none of us have engaged in a long time — it’s hard to be a tourist when you can’t leave your own town. Maybe it was the subject matter — I’ve barely talked to anyone about “Skyfall” since 2012. Maybe it was just the confirmation that there’s still a world out there beyond our own horizons and we can still interact with it, even if it’s in the most artificial way possible.
Whatever the case, I heartily recommend the tour to anyone who’s even a little bit of an Anglophile or a film buff. In the meantime, I’ll be booking myself on a virtual tour of sites in Wallachia, Romania, associated with Vlad Tepes, aka Dracula.