Rættarvegur. It’s in the village of Hosvik, almost exactly in the middle of the Faroe Islands archipelago, located almost exactly halfway between the Atlantic trinity of the UK, Norway and Iceland. Why are we telling you this? Well, it’s because Rættarvegur is the View of the Day on MapCrunch, as of July 22.
A little cottage complex rests unperturbed in the middle of a vast pasture cradled by rocky, flattish mountains. When you see it for the first time, the landscape seems surreal, but then you scroll onward and circle around the house, hovering over a brook that is like a happy open wound that is splitting apart the land like in the continental drift. And you know you’ve struck gold.
It’s only after five months since a pandemic struck and confined us to our homes that we have the time and the inclination to stop and immerse ourselves into an experience like this.
Mapcrunch’s street-view scenes from around the world, first made part of cool website lists and then ridiculed in Reddit forums because they weren’t more recent or more frequently updated, must be brought back, like old agents gone rogue who are hunted down in times of calamity.
Ask the hordes on Instagram that are checking into the site not only for a swig of old scenic beauty, but to base their artwork on it. Artist Frances Sives from Lincolshire in England found painting a street-view somewhere in Italy therapeutic. France-based Louise Gouet drew a Norwegian wood of sorts in gouache and a colour sketch of a barren ladscape in Kyrgyzstan. Albert Kiefer’s energetic marker sketches of streets in Guatemala and storefronts in Japan and Vietnam are a rage in the community.
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Artist Sriparna ‘Geeky’ Ghosh, who has gallivanted around the world this way much before COVID-19 struck, confesses to having a ‘cottage envy’. Her street-view searches have landed her a whole pile of pictures of them all over the globe. “I have always been really curious about people’s homes, both inside and outside. So, by walking the streets this way, I’m able to admire houses,” says Ghosh.
This is neither about salvaging whatever we are left with right now (we know most of you think virtual travel is worse than not getting to travel)—nor about adapting to the proverbial new normal. Sites like Mapcrunch can be made the instrument of a new aesthetic hereon: that of knowledge seeking and seeing the world in terms of its smallest places. What does a small Bolivian town called Azusaqui look like? How would it feel like to wait for a bus a la Cary Grant—this time on a highway in Turkey’s Bitlis province? Is there a name for these traditional houses in this village at the Laos-Thailand border that I’m seeing right now?
Mapcrunch will help you shake things up a bit. It will let you take 360-degree e-walks to places in the world you would have never considered visiting. For instance, you can explore the former war zone of Vavuniya in Sri Lanka, free your limbs (virtually) in the bucolic environs of a suburb in Lesotho’s capital, Maseru, or feel your pace quickening as you go downhill past the colorful houses in a neighbourhood in Valparaiso, Chile. I’ve ended up consuming everything I found on the Internet about these places. You will, too.
It can also take to the interiors, the unseen, and under-appreciated corners of hot tourist destinations as well. For instance, as one searches for a random street view in Canada, the site throws up Yamaska in Quebec—it’s a wide road flanked by greenery on either side, and the feel you get is that of riding a cruiser through the verdant country landscape on a particularly pleasant morning. I googled Yamaska and found that it is full of eye-pleasing landscapes and is a goldmine for lovers of the great outdoors, cycling being a favourite activity here.
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Another search whisks me away to the sleepy, mountainous city of Trikala in Thessaly, Greece, and the mountains visible in the distance are called The Pindus.
There is a lot more waiting to be seen here, from the laidback, urban streets of Tokyo’s Edogawa city, the ample house-gardens of coastal Waikanae in Wellington, to the blind turns on a mountain road in Zamora Chinchipe, Ecuador, and a forest highway in Ukraine’s Volyn oblast. You can even try switching off the location through a mode called Stealth, and imagine having woken up in a distant land that you know nothing about.
The only thing Mapcrunch won’t do is tell you how to pronounce Rættarvegur. But that, we can assure you, even Google won’t. We tried.