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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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-HonorÃ© 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!