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Looking Longingly Out Someone Else’s Window

todaySeptember 3, 2021 1

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This week, I’ve looked out of the window of a high-rise apartment in Tyumen, Russia, through a skylight in Trorod, Denmark, and out a balcony in Toulouse, France.

Not physically, unfortunately.

A few lockdowns ago, a friend introduced me to a website called WindowSwap, which plays you videos taken from other people’s windows. The content is crowdsourced, and anyone, from anywhere, can upload a video. I’ve been going on it a lot recently.

Before the pandemic, I traveled pretty regularly, a natural side effect of the fact that half my family lived in a different country. Like many Australians, I had long taken for granted our easy access to the rest of the world.

Now, my world has narrowed down largely to my home and the view outside my window: a driveway, a fence and the apartment block next door. It’s pretty boring, which I don’t usually mind. But this week, with the news of the latest extension of Melbourne’s lockdown and the prospect of continuing restrictions stretching into next month, the dullness has taken on a certain malevolence in my mind.

So I’ve been doing the thing closest to traveling that I can right now, which is looking out other people’s windows.

A skylight cracked slightly open in Wichtrach, Switzerland, revealing distant mountains. A tractor puttered by and disappeared into nearby green hills. The sound of helicopters faded in and out overhead.

A lush, rain-soaked backyard in Colorado. A creek burbles in the background, and the screen distorts as water runs down the camera.

Terra-cotta roofs of Prague soaking up the sun. The sound of traffic echoing from the streets below and a summer breeze rustling the trees.

A downpour in Bangkok, outside an apartment window flung open. A row of TV satellites point at the sky from the roof of a building in the distance.

A backyard-slash-greenhouse exploding with colorful blooms in Lancashire, England. Ed Sheeran warbles in the background.

In exchange, I’ve uploaded my own video of my driveway, fence and the apartment block next door. It doesn’t seem like a particularly fair exchange, but I’m not complaining.

Besides the scenery, you get tiny hints about the lives of the windows’ owners: a “Star Wars” poster on the wall; the reflection of a figure in the glass; a muffled conversation in another language; a woman’s voice humming. Never enough to form a full picture, but enough to feel a temporary connection.

The reason I like the website so much so much is that it replicates, to some extent, the quiet moments of travel — when you’re not marveling at tourist attractions or eating tasty food or (in my case) awkwardly catching up with relatives you haven’t seen in a couple of years, just existing in a foreign place where everything is different, from subway etiquette to how the streets look to the way the air smells.

It’s been a much-needed reminder for me that the world beyond Australia’s closed borders still exists, and is waiting for us to rejoin it. I’m very excited to do that when we reopen.

What little things have you been doing to survive lockdown? Write to us at

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