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Aroung the World: Virtual Travel for Temporary Shut-ins

Jennifer Merin on

With COVID-19 on the move, this is a good time to stay at home and venture into virtual travel.  Travel shows are ample, but the best virtual adventures are via movies that feature wonderful destinations not only as background, but almost as featured characters in the stories.  With genres varied to suit all preferences, here are four of my favorites, guaranteed to give you a satisfying change of scenery, sense of adventure and impetus to get going again when the going gets good.

“ In Bruges” (2008) is a quirky comedy thriller about two British gangsters who’ve been sent to Belgium’s mediaeval city of Bruges to hideout after a badly botched hit job and await instructions from their ruthless boss.  Bruges is a beautiful city, with enchanting canals, fabulous museums, meaningful historic monuments and a plethora of buildings from the 12th century. The city is a delight for tourists.  One of the hitmen (Brendan Gleeson) finds the environment fascinating, but the other (Colin Farrell) finds it to be a boring backwater in comparison to lively London. There’s a lot of amusing banter about travel and the travelers the duo meet, including some very funny (and truthful) observations about stereotypical tourist types from America and other points of origin. As a thriller, the film’s plot is thoroughly engaging and the actors are superb, but Bruges and it’s glorious attractions are the one of the film’s most compelling features.  Enjoy the scenes and scenario. They’ll surely make you put Bruges on your list for future travel destinations. Available on Cinemax.

“Under the Tuscan Sun” (2003) is a romance that features Tuscany as a glorious destination that promises great scenery, engaging local culture, spectacular food and, as we see when we follow a recently divorced woman on her Tuscan adventure, the possibility of romance. Frances Mayes (Diane Lane) is a writer who reluctantly accepts a ticket from her best friend (Sandra Oh) to travel to Tuscany, with the suggestion that the Italian sojourn will boost her spirits and refresh creative flow. While exploring the countryside, the villages and local markets, Frances falls in love with Tuscany in all its sunny glory, and winds up buying an ancient fixer-upper of a house called Bramasole, which translates into "yearning for the sun." The renovation of the house is a metaphor for the renewal of Frances’ spirits. And, then there’s that aforementioned romance, but you’ll have to see the film for that! And for the film’s magnificently seductive locations. Available on Prime Video.

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (2011) is a comedy in which sterling British actors play retirees who travel to India to take up residence at the titular Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, advertised as a reasonably priced retirement home that will allow them to live in luxury while maximizing their pensions. They arrive to find the hotel in desperate need of renovation, but they’ve already paid for their rooms, and cancellation is not an option. It’s a situation that is, unfortunately, familiar to many travelers whose bookings are based on brochures that glamorize properties. That said, the  group – which includes Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith and Tom Wilkinson in the ensemble – are initially horrified by the situation, but they gradually find that there is much to appreciate in the hotel’s ambience and in Indian culture. So much so, in fact, that the film has a sequel:  “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (2014). Both films prove to be charming senior citizen travel adventures in India, and watching the Brits enjoy their discoveries will make you want to have your own. When you’re able to resume travel, India may well be your destination of choice.  Both films are available on Prime Video.  

“Wild” (2014) is high grade adventure based on the nonfiction memoir of Cheryl Strayed (played by Reese Witherspoon). The film follows the author’s adventures as she hikes some 1,100 miles of the Pacific Coast Trail, a brutally challenging trek that traverses the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges from the Mexican border in California, through Oregon and Washington to the US border with Canada. There’s compelling drama in Strayed’s determination to overcome the physical rigors and psychological stresses presented by the trail and her very personal mission of redemption from the guilt she carries with her from her troubled past. The world’s most skilled and best equipped trekkers are drawn to the Pacific Coast Trail for its extraordinary natural beauty, a continuum of mountain vistas ranging from expansive pristine fields filled with wild flowers to soaring snow clad peaks. The trek considered one of the world’s most challenging. Most tourists would never attempt the journey. But we can see and vicariously experience all of its scenic glory from the comfort of our couches as Wild takes us on Cheryl’s memorable journey. Available on CBS All Access. Available on Prime Video.


Copyright 2020 Jennifer Merin


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