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Posts Tagged ‘Driving’

Never Trust Google Maps

July 4, 2011 5 comments

It wasn’t the best time to discover Google is shy on its travel time estimates. One would think such a great company would be bang on, in everything it does, estimates included.

Believing that was my first mistake.

A few months ago, I’d taken a cursory glance at a map of Europe. ┬áThe distance between Tuscany and Provence did not look daunting. In fact, it was only a couple of inches.

Further scrutiny of possible routes looked even better. The roads that Google suggested hugged first the Italian coastline, and then the French. It held the promise of a beautiful, awe inspiring drive. I imagined us waving to the Europeans lounging on their yachts, bidding them either bon giorno or bonjour, whichever.

Google estimated it to be a six hour journey. A bit of a haul for the kids, but certainly doable, we would stop for a nice lunch en route, and would be eating foie gras and drinking a Luberon rose for dinner.

Emboldened by my research, we started off. We had water and bananas with us. The kids each had their iPods fully charged. We were ready.

The Italian countryside gave way to the Italian Alps, and the children started asking, how much longer it would be.

Not long now, only two hours to go, we replied.

We passed the Cinque Terra, and toyed with the idea of going for a hike. We’d hoped to have lunch in Portofino, so we pressed on.

The thing about driving on the auto route, we realized, was they never gave you distances. We finally started seeing signs for Genoa, and congratulated ourselves for being so speedy.

But the signs for Genoa continued for the next two hours.

It was around this time that the tunnels started.

Instead of gazing at the impossibly blue Mediterranean Sea, we looked into the mouths of one tunnel after another, many of which stretched for two kilometres at a time.

These tunnels were both a blessing and a curse. We couldn’t enjoy much of the landscape, but they kept our children busy for hours as they tried to hold their breath the entire length of the tunnel.

With iPod batteries long dead and no radio stations worth listening to, this was something.

How much longer, they asked. About two hours, we replied. You said that two hours ago, they pointed out.

The other thing we noticed was that Italy didn’t mention any other countries that you might be stumbling into momentarily. We saw no signs indicating France was imminent, until we were in France. We happened to glance a European Union blue sign saying France between tunnels. We had arrived.

Almost.

Surely, we were really only two hours from here. It was dinnertime, and in lieu of our foie gras we had sandwiches au poulet at a reststop.

Monaco gave way to Nice, and then countless other french towns we hadn’t heard of. The sun was setting in front of us, glaring into our tired eyes. We made the turn up north towards Aix en Provence.

How much longer, the kids asked. Surely less than two hours, we replied.

If you happen to be making the journey anytime soon, the drive between Tuscany and Provence is actually eleven hours, not the six that Google promises. I say this with the utmost confidence, and a whole lot of exasperation.

There are, however, two bright sides to this tale.

The first is that our children, incredulously, saw the humor in this situation, and remained good-natured throughout this marathon car ride.

The second is that when we finally reached our destination, we opened the fridge to find one glorious item: a bottle of a Luberon rose.

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Driving Etiquette

January 26, 2011 4 comments
A sign warning to yield to the crosswalk.

Image via Wikipedia

I’m sitting patiently with my signal light on, waiting for the long stream of cars in my rear view mirror to drift by before I inch out into the road. Although these cars are only going about 20 km/hour due to the stop light a half a block away, not one stops to let me in. After fifteen years in British Columbia, I’m used to this. Drivers in this part of the world generally don’t pause to let you in; being a couple car lengths ahead of the game is more important.

Unless, of course, they want your parking spot.

Pedestrian’s face a similar fate crossing our roads; on busier thoroughfares they age gracefully while waiting for motorists to acknowledge them. We live a short walk from my children’s school, but lying in between our house and the school is a crosswalk on a fairly busy road. I have no faith that Vancouver drivers will stop for my half-pints, despite the fact it is a school zone. I prefer to accompany them across the road myself.

It is not like this in all parts of the world. I know this because growing up in the Maritimes, if a pedestrian so much as pauses to consider crossing the street, traffic halts in both directions. It’s true, this happens regularly back east: drivers actually stop for pedestrians. I have been forced to cross many a-road simply out of guilt, perhaps having paused at an intersection dreamily assembling a torrid plot for my next novel. I return from my trance and cars are waiting expectantly, smiling, bidding me to change direction. So I cross, wanting to appease them for accommodating me. I have always aimed to please.

I’d like to compare driver’s handbooks from my former province and my current one, because drivers have drastically different driving manners. Letting people into traffic streams isn’t in either handbook, but it’s just a polite thing to do. When I learned to drive, stopping at crosswalks was certainly in the book, and you would have lost marks on your driver’s test had you breezed by a pedestrian at one of these clearly delineated places. In Vancouver crosswalk lines might as well be targets, they scream “speed up so that the pedestrian can’t cross the road!” If I have risked my limbs to cross in front of an approaching car, I am barely a step past the car in the crosswalk before they blast by me.

As much as I love Vancouver I miss those Maritime drivers, who give you a smile and a wave when they stop to let you in. Like any good suburban North American, I spend a fair amount of time in my car, and think the western world could be a kinder and gentler one if people would act that way when they’re driving. Never even mind road rage.