Satnav Sagas

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Monday 16 June 2014

Satnav Sagas

Our new toy plus two of our 12 Hup Holland Hamsters!
Its not that we're anti technology or anything (we are writing a blog after all) but when we started planning our trip from our flat in the UK we had a romantic notion about meandering serenely through sunny countryside following our trusty paper maps. Perhaps its because we love hiking and were originally planning a hiking tour but we decided to leave the UK without one.

However, during our first week in Holland we had a change of heart and decided that if we were going to stay stress free and not get angry at each other while driving on the continental roads we couldn't do without one. I'm not certain what changed our minds. Perhaps it was the reality of seeing unfamiliar road signs while we were cycling around, noticing different road habits, having to drive on the other side and also uncertainty over where were we heading at all. With all these things to get used to, the thought of navigating unfamiliar territory without a satnav seemed unnecessarily stressful. We might not have known where we were going to head to but we didn't want to get lost on the way as well!

So we changed our mind and picked up an ex display Garmin Nuvi 52LM in Dutch Halfords (which is not the same as British Halfords it turns out) for a good price. We went for the one with Northern and Central Europe maps including all the countries we think we might visit, bought an SD card so all the updates could fit on it and though that was that. Job done. 

However, I have felt moved these first few days on the road to share my first impressions having clocked up about 900km so far and learned a few lessons. This is probably old news to most people but it's been new to me. 

Lesson 1 - The sanity check
We had our first trial run after leaving the Hague and heading for a little permitted sleeping spot in Bergen op Zoom about 1 hour away. We tapped in the GPS coordinates from our camping guide and off we went. First impressions were good.  The nightmare of getting past Rotterdam's spaghetti road network and zipper junctions probably would have been a lot more stressful without our little friend telling me which lane to be in. It was all looking so easy. 

However, when our cheerful little helper removed me from the motorway and tried to send our 8 foot wide rolling home down a 3 foot wide cycle path we were less pleased. Turns out GPS coordinates come in a range of formats and the default wasn't the same as our camping guide. Instead of a peaceful spot by a lake we were off to the closest piece of tarmac to an unsuspecting herd of cows . So, lesson learned, always check you are going to the right destination and check the route stays on real roads. 

This is especially important in our motorhome where little twisty lanes can be more than just inconvenient but actually impossible to pass, leaving you with backed up traffic and nowhere to go!

Lesson 2 - Don't ignore road closures and always carry a map
On day 3 we popped the destination into our little helper and did our sanity check. It seemed like we were going to the right place (Besancon in France from Brunssum in Holland) and on sensible roads. Looking good. However, we didn't account for the closure of the A3 near Luxembourg. A3 I hear you say, where does that go? We didn't know either. If only we'd had an updated paper road map in the van (ours was from 2000 and very small scale), but we'd decided to not to get more real maps after buying the Garmin. Instead we just hoped this road closure wouldn't affect us. Sadly it did.

Having had a lovely walk in Luxembourg that afternoon we got pretty stressed out by dipping in and out of Germany trying to work out how to get to France. I mean its a big place and should be hard to miss but all we seemed to do was find a lot of roads to Germany. Suddenly the previously unheard of A3 was the most important road in the world to us, and it was closed. After about 30 mins working out how to tell the Garmin the A3 was closed we did get a good route into France, but have now resolved that even with our new helper we are getting a new and larger scale paper maps.

Its probably also a good idea to practice route changes on the fly as they are 1000 times harder (and very stressful for both driver and passenger) to work out when you're 30 seconds from a weird junction and don't know if you should come off. 

Perhaps our romantic notion of countryside meandering will come true after all. 

Bergen Op Zoom - We got there in the end

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