Posts Tagged ‘GPS’

Mapmaker, mapmaker, make me a map

August 9th, 2009 Comments off

Our GPS, as we’ve mentioned, had moments of great mischief during our jaunt through Europe. At several points, driving through both the Czech Republic and Poland, the highway icons on her display disappeared and we were, according to her, in the middle of huge fields with no roads in sight.

“Recalculating,” she said. “Take first dirt road on left.”  Fact was, we were traveling down a four-lane  highway at 75 mph.

In downtown Geneva, looking for a gas station, she sent us down a narrow road that ended at a farmer’s market.

Her most upsetting techno-glitch came when we were in Slovakia and had typed in the address for our campground in Trencin, a small town north of the capital city of Bratislava. The camping books didn’t say much about the place, except that it was on a small island in the middle of a river.  And we didn’t flinch when GPS sent us down increasingly less-maintained streets in a sketchy industrial neighborhood. It wasn’t passing the smell test, but we thought we would come upon a bridge that would take us onto the island with the campground.

Instead, we found ourselves inside what appeared to be an abandoned or little-used industrial yard in the midst of train tracks.  We conjured images of gypsies ready to pounce.  “This isn’t right,” Jeanne said. “Uh, let’s back out of here.”

We did and, as we approached the road, a man came running out toward us. Great. He’s going to stall us, distract us, as his cohorts in crime gather for their ambush. He smiled. Nice try, buster.

I told him we were lost. (Duh.) We didn’t understand his response but it was clear he did not speak English. And we knew something was up. He kept smiling.

Jeanne reached across me and handed him the book with the name of the campground. His eyes lit up. “Ah!” works in any language.  He started talking to us. I looked at him and shrugged. “I don’t understand,” I said. I pretended to look pitiful to gain sympathy.  Actually, I didn’t need to pretend at all.

He held up a finger as if to say “Wait,” and walked quickly back to what looked like a guard shed. He returned with a yellowed piece of paper, the kind that would have come out of a Big Chief tablet when I was in second grade back in 1958.

He drew me a map, and walked me through it.  He drew the road with several curves, bends and hard turns. He drew railroad tracks. (I went “ding-ding-ding-ding-ding” to imitate the sound of a crossing-guard gate. He looked at me, lost his smile, then found it again, and said “ding ding ding!”) Then he drew signal lights and a traffic circle and the name of a store, and an island in the middle of a river, and the name of the campground. Bingo!

I thanked him. Jeanne really thanked him and took his picture. We smiled and he smiled and we made it to the campground without a problem, four miles away. We camped alongside a river, below an old castle that was illuminated with colored lights.

GPS never apologized but she had sent us to a very nice map maker with a great smile.

A final map

August 6th, 2009 Comments off

Here’s about as good a map as we can come up with on where we traveled during our frolicking RV trip across Europe.

For better or worse, we are unable to recall the specific highways we traveled on because we followed GPS and, unlike the days when I traveled with my parents, I didn’t follow along on a map and hilight it in yellow or blue.  Ah, technology.

Excuse me, do you speak English? I’m lost

July 15th, 2009 Comments off

Somewhere en route to Krakow, Miss GPS sent us down a gloriously smooth road that took us directly into a barricade. We could go no further. When we turned around, she insisted we try again. From up in space, Miss GPS didn’t see what we saw. 

So we pulled into a small market for directions to Krakow.  I walked up to one of the clerks. “Hello, do you speak English? I am lost.”  She shook her head no. The woman she was helping started talking to me, though, and boy did she have a lot to say. It was Polish, and I did not understand a word.

When I expressed to her that I did not understand her, she slowed down but still spoke in Polish, using every muscle in her face to emote, like some Jim Carrey, thinking that would help me better understand her. She was furious, it seemed, at something.  When she paused, I used mime to show that I was driving down the street and bam! there was a barricade and I had to screech to a stop. She nodded yes and went into her Polish tirade again. I think she was sympathetic toward me and angry at the Polish Department of Highways.

About then, a man came forward and asked if he could help. He spoke broken English. I need to get to Krakow, I said. Could he help?   He backed away from me and spoke to the grocery clerk, and by now there were 8 people in line trying to buy groceries who were not being helped. And they were all yelping in Polish — either in anger at me for slowing their day or in giving my new friend their suggestions on how I should get to Krakow. Or at least how I should get out of their store.

The line grew longer. A second grocery line was opened and it filled, but even people in that line were motioning all sorts of ways at my friend, arms flailing about in different directions as if they were all giving him their best suggestions on how I could get to Krakow.  My helper looked flustered.

Finally, he said to me, “Just follow me.”  We walked into the parking lot, he got into his car, he waved for us to follow, and we did, and after about 4 miles, at a roundabout, he waved at the turnoff with the sign for Krakow. I tooted my horn and he waved and I waved and I bet we will never meet again. 

Digital reality

July 7th, 2009 Comments off

I grew up studying maps, and paid attention to every highway, every town, every crossing of railroad tracks or a river. On a vacation, the map was my best friend. I knew where I was.

Today I am driving a motor home with a global positioning satellite. There is no confusion. I tell it where I want to end up and the female voice (my preference) tells me when to turn in 100 meters and for how long to remain on that highway before turning again in 100 meters.

It lacks soul. It is at arm’s length from reality. I have no idea where I am as I cross from Belgium into Germany. I’m not even sure what direction I’m heading (but I assume east or south). I am crossing grand rivers but don’t know their names. On the tiny screen of a GPS it shows only as a blue ribbon the width of a pencil.

Earlier in the day, we had typed in an address of a campground in Heidelberg, Germany, where we planned to spend the night. En route, we stopped at Trier, Germany, where we saw Roman ruins dating back to the second century. It was amazing, to touch stones that were cut and positioned more than 1,800 years ago to funnel people into the town, or to keep enemies out. On this day, 50 yards from the main Roman gateway, a Japanese man was selling his wire sculptures to tourists who were more interested in his designs than in Roman soldier’s architectural accomplishments 1,800 years earlier.. His soft wire trumped tons of cut rock towering above the town center.

In Heidelberg, we drove alongside a river. The GPS did not identify the river, but it was beautiful, cutting through the hills of western Germany, hills covered by a thick blanket of oak and maple and birch trees. We were entering the Black Forest.

We found a campsite – we’re not sure if it was the campsite that GPS wanted us to find. Daughter saw a roadside sign pointing to this one, and we drove in to check it out. It would cost 28 euro, and offered wi-fi for 2 euro an hour, and we were within 100 feet of the river, and we had full electrical hookup so we could play with the satellite TV. Ah, camping.

Daughter cooked us a fine dinner, and we explored our RV on our first night on the road – all of its luxuries and  practicalities. We’re not sure we figured out how to heat the water, and the fridge isn’t as cold as we would have expected, but the TV worked great, and Daughter’s cordon bleau with salad was great, and the Scotch was good, and the wine too.

Jeanne laid down as I began typing this blog, and started to chuckle. She was reading a Mark Twain book about western Germany, and it mentioned the great river that cut through Heidelberg. Finally, the river that on the GPS showed only as a blue ribbon had a name. We were camping in the Neckar Gorge, which according to Twain, afforded a most stunning view.

I asked Jeanne how she knew this, because I didn’t see her pack any books. She said she was reading from her Sony e-reader. And I’m still trying to get my hands around the day: watching satellite TV in a campground that I found through a GPS, alongside a river whose name I discovered from a digitally uploaded novel being read on an electronic reader..

I’m sure I could have seen the river by calling up Google Earth on my miniature laptop computer with its wireless  connection. But, you know what? I actually walked down to look at it.

It was lovely.