As kids, our family holidays always involved driving. Escaping the Tasmanian winter, we would tow the pop-top camper van, and later the trailerable yacht to the warm climate of Queensland. Dad would nearly always drive, and mum would navigate. Navigating the cities was an experience I will never forget, and I’m sure has been repeated in millions of cars the world over.
On approach the kids would be instructed to “pipe down” to allow mum and dad to concentrate. Mum would organise the maps and plan the way, and would bark out the instructions to dad as we passed through the city. Confidence was a must: It would only take a moments hesitation, or a murmer of uncertainty for confidence to be lost in the navigation. From time to time we kids would be conscripted into street name duty. This would require us to spot (with your younger eyes) the street names of the cross streets we were passing to help mum confirm our location. We would accept this task with excitement, trying desperately to spot the name before the other and screaming it out as fast as possible, like grandmothers in a bingo hall.
Frequently we would successfully navigate our way through, and dad would relax with quiet relief, while mum would radiate a rather pleased-with-herself aura throughout the car. Occasionally things wouldn’t go so well. We would circle a roundabout while mum desperately tried to orientate, or we would threaten a one way street the wrong way with exclamations of “well the map doesn’t say it’s one way!”. As kids we knew without being told to keep our heads well down while the sparks flew in the front seats.
Since those days, things have changed, and the world of GPS navigation is here to stay. As part of the preparations for the trip, I decided GPS was a must. Thanks to China (is there anything that can’t be bought?) I fitted Magda with an aftermarket unit that came with all of Europe, Asia plus Australian maps. Pretty much most of the planet is in there. As we’ve passed through Europe, rarely has Magda’s firm and confident instructions been absent from the cabin. She finds accommodation, petrol, even landmarks for us. She allows us to look at the maps, point at where we would like to go, and tell her to take us there. Unlike my parents, who had to work together, she works as an intermediary between Andres and I: He tells Magda where to go, and Magda then gives me the instruction. When I take a wrong turn, it’s Magda’s fault, not Andres (and definitely not mine ok?).
Some would say that GPS is “cheating”. It’s not “real navigation”. That if we’re not sitting there sweating about whether we are on the right road, street, or even town, then we aren’t really the real deal. Let them go polish their sextants and navigate by the stars then! I love Magda’s GPS, and the drama and stress it saves. That said, GPS navigation does present some entertaining experiences of its own…and Magda’s GPS does seem to have a penchant for cunning short cuts which has seen us in some unexpected spots.
The first sign of a Magda short cut will come when she’ll suddenly instruct us to leave the major road we’ve been on for something resembling a cart track. I must admit, I quite like it when this happens, it’s like a mystery tour! In some parts of Europe we could trigger this behaviour by selecting the “shortest route” option, rather than “fastest”, but lately (particularly Turkey) we’ve noticed that she will do this any time. On mountain passes we’ve noticed that she particularly loves taking the highly vertical road that may shortcut the longer, lower gradient zig-zag up a mountain. We’ve learnt this trick and I swear her “Recalculating route” has an air of disappointment in it when we ignore her short cut suggestion.
On the Austrian/Italian border, rather than follow the Auto-Strada, she took us over the top of the Dolomites, in a thunderstorm, on a single lane road with switchbacks. All very exciting, and definitely more interesting than the highway. Watch out for the GoPro camera footage later.
In Croatia however, we wanted to drive around the waterfront while we waited for a ferry. In her enthusiasm for our adventure, she took us up a small dirt track. We had an SUV, with big tyres, so we followed. People walking on the track moved aside for us as we went through, curious looks on their faces. The track got narrower, but the view was great! Just what we wanted! Except for that step in the road (or should I say pedestrian walking track) ahead… Cue half a kilometre of reversing past all the hikers we just drove past, swearing at Magda the whole way.
In Turkey the GPS took us off the highway up a series of ever smaller farm lanes, arriving in a tiny village, cobbled stones for the surface, and trees in the centre of the road with tables arranged around, startled locals looking up as we arrived around a corner. Confronted with all the tables and trees in the centre I decided to keep it safe, and stayed to the right of them all. Only to find they’d parked all their tractors on that side, blocking it. It felt like the entire village stopped in their tracks and watched as we manoeuvred around a bicycle and out the other side.
The next day, without us realising, she decided that a ferry was the best route to Istanbul, and we found ourselves driving onto a ferry that we had no idea where it went (it went the right way by the way).
Funnily enough, I’m pretty sure if we were navigating ourselves, we would never have ended up in any of these places, or the many other spectacular hillsides and out of the way villages we’ve seen on our random short cut adventures. Which is a pretty good trade off I reckon.