After my first experience of Sat-Nav you’ll understand my trepidation when, shortly before our trip last year, Neil announced that the car we were leasing would have Sat-Nav and we won’t need to buy a map. (Does the man not know me at all?) My relationship with Essie (and for the life of me I can’t remember why I so named her) was challenging from the beginning. Sitting at Charles de Gaulle airport as Neil tried to programme her for the first time, the words if we had a map and we’d be there by now may have passed my lips. Like many things IT, she didn’t want us to be in control, asking us to select from a list of possible destinations rather than just type in where we wanted to be. The only village with the correct name was in a different department across the country, so we settled for a town nearby, only to find when we got there that we had no cellphone signal to call our friend for final directions. Fortunately I had a printout from Google maps as back up. It was an inauspicious start.
Despite that we were in France in a French car, her pronunciation of street and place names was terrible. We spent more time giggling than we did following her directions, which was possibly fortuitous as whoever had programmed her had obviously over-indulged in fine French fermented stuff. Multiple times she tried to lead us down what were clearly private driveways, blocked by gates and leading only to garages. Once I yelled Stop, slapping my hands on the dashboard a la driving test examiner, as we turned onto two dirt tyre tracks leading into a field. Another time the ‘road’ was barely a path, so narrow the wheels were almost off the sides, glares from a group of cyclists suggesting we probably shouldn’t be driving on it.
On our way to visit friends in the Midi-Pyrenees, I vaguely recognised the route until she directed us away from the main highway and onto small country lanes. We came to a sign, Route Barrée, and could go no further. She refused point-blank to find another route, trying to force us back repeatedly to the same place. We turned her off in disgust and managed to retrace our wheel-turns back to the highway, which eventually led directly to where we were going.
Essie wasn’t a fan of the German Autobahn, on one journey sending us up one side of it and then back down the other for a few kms. We wondered if this was in response to our recent travelling on a brand new section, clearly un-sat-navved, where she struggled to work out where we were; the red arrow that marked our position danced around on the screen like John Travolta at his best. A few days later we laughed when it travelled backwards in the middle of the Rhine as we crossed the river by ferry.
In Slovenia her pronunciation was no better, although we were really in no position to judge – how do you pronounce a word that has no vowels? On the way to Kranjska Gora I was scribbling in a notebook when I realised we’d entered a tunnel. A tunnel that led into Austria and a €12 fee at the other end. It also led to a left turn towards argument and a swerve around the pass of divorce as I suggested, possibly loudly, that Neil shouldn’t listen to that bloody woman. We twisted our way back to Slovenia via the narrow Würzen Pass in fog so dense it obscured the trunks of pines lining the road let alone their tops. It was the most hair-raising hour of our trip, leading Neil to conclude that he probably shouldn’t listen to either of the two women trying to direct him.
To be fair, one close shave wasn’t her fault. Leaving Celje we typed in our destination, Ptuj, and left her to guide us through the town. Chatting about the lovely castle we’d just visited and how much better it was than our Ljubljana experience, we were almost upon the tunnel before we noticed it. 2.3m – what’s the height of the car with bikes on? About that isn’t it?
‘We should be okay,’ said Neil, approaching cautiously.
We peered up but couldn’t see the bikes on the roof from inside the car.
‘Shit!’ he muttered. ‘Get out and check!’
I scrambled for my shoes, which I’d kicked off as we’d driven away, dropped the notebook I was holding and practically fell out of the car, waving apologetically at the driver behind. Neil inched forwards and I yelled; the handlebar of my bike was inches from the edge of the bridge. And a couple of inches higher. I looked in horror at the line of cars behind us on the single lane road, turned to see another line facing us at the other side of the traffic-light-controlled tunnel. My face burned as I approached the first car behind ours. To my relief the driver smiled. One by one other cars realised what was happening and slowly shifted backwards, not one angry look or tooting horn between them as I waved my arms madly in thanks.
Given that something similar had happened to us in France (thankfully with no one behind us – I suspect French drivers aren’t as tolerant of misguided tourists as Slovenians are) we should have been more careful. I considered buying a red flag that I could wave whilst walking alongside the car in case it happened again. Red flag or not, I’d still rather have a printed map on my knee. And Neil might prefer directions from just one woman.