Our Sat Nav hated us

On the open road….with Satnav

We loaded up the Satnav with European maps in the naïve belief that it would be helpful.  I am being unkind here, as it did, on occasion, get us where we needed to be.  But you only remember the disasters, the times everything went unremarkably to plan fading into oblivion.

Let me backtrack slightly.  European speed limits seem to be classified information.  Maybe locals just know, but tourists?  We had no idea.    As a result we spent the year nervously speculating on our speed, trying to blend in with the traffic and avoid speed cameras.

Consequently, the soundtrack to our year was the incessant bonging of the Satnav, telling us we were exceeding the speed limit.  The speed limit was at times wildly variable, and poor Satnav would just recalibrate when the limit would change, sending her into another bonging frenzy.  This made speech virtually impossible inside the car, and after any period of silence, if you ventured to remark on something interesting, the bonging would commence, like a crazed librarian shushing giggling schoolkids.

Satnav has a free spirit, she would have been at home in the days of the explorers, exhibiting both bravado and a wild wanderlust.   She treated the direct highway with the disdain it deserved, plucking increasingly bizarre and circuitous routes from the cloud, all in an effort to show us new and exciting, albeit potholed and muddy, routes. We started to believe that our Satnav hated us.

Here are some of Satnav’s finest moments….

Puglia, Italy

The highway to from Tricase to Bari is an ugly, utilitarian piece of road, not a freeway, as there are intersecting streets, with small concrete islands on them, and heavily frequented by lorries.   We noticed that most of these islands had young women perched in the middle of them.  After we passed about 3-4 of this strange sight, Steve informed me that these were in fact, sex workers, sitting on milk crates in windy, cold, rubbish strewn traffic islands. I then took a little more notice (as I’m sure Steve had been giving them ample attention already), and periodically a caravan, or tin shed or, worse, a dodgy looking van, were positioned for the deed, after which the girl would walk back to her station. Geez, we all love a roadside stall, but this took the cake.

Roadside sex workers in Puglia

So, Satnav operational – we were navigating back off the main highway east towards Bari, when Satnav (we have another not so complimentary name for her at times like this) told us to take a U Turn, which would lead us to a ring road, to access Bari.   We took said U turn,  and she then instructed us to turn right.  The road into which she had lead us quickly deteriorated into an unmade, and largely (but not completely) disused route.   We proceeded with increasing trepidation.  The girl stationed at the corner briefly had her day look up, only to see a Ford Fiesta, with two people screaming obscenities at their satnav and wildly gesticulating at each other.  She realised about then, shrugged and it was back to the milk crate and her phone. 

Meanwhile, the disused road deteriorated to a series of pot holes with stone walls and abandoned orchards either side.  Men stood glaring at us within arm’s reach of the car.  Further down the road we came to understand we were in  Bari’s rustic version of Amsterdam’s Red Light District.    It was sex worker central, complete with shacks, vans and dodgy blokes.   We were now unable to turn around as the road had narrowed to the point of petering out, but it did not deter the two bloody massive trucks we met coming the other way.  Steve persevered, thinking – optimistically (and as it turned out – correctly), that the road would eventually come out in the real world.  And we emerged, unscathed if a little stressed and with a strange desire for a cigarette.   

Mostar, Bosnia

Satnav did some of her best work in Bosnia, starting with the descent into Mostar.  You may recall that the main drawcard in Mostar is the reconstructed Ottoman bridge spanning the River Neretva.  As is the case with many rivers, it is surrounded by steep valleys, upon which much of the town of Mostar is built.

Satnav directed us confidently to turn left to commence the descent.  The road she chose was essentially a footpath accessing some homes running into a T intersection, which connected to the road we needed.

A road or a driveway?  Narrow lane in Mostar
When your Satnav hates you

Satnav, being a machine, could not determine the Himalayan gradient, nor the width or lack of it.   Having entered the – I am searching for an appropriate word here – let’s go with “alley” which was clearly meant for bicycles or possibly, at a pinch, a wheelbarrow, we were already on such an alarming angle, that Steve determined we should continue.    We really didn’t have a choice as gravity had the car in its clutches at this point.  We progressed, in the manner of a large cruise ship, within inches of startled people doing the dishes at their kitchen windows,  until someone’s front steps prevented further progress.

Decisive action was called for.  Despite the fact that it did not in any way help the situation, I felt it pertinent to point out that I had advised against taking this road.  I have it on video.  I distinctly said “we can’t go down here”.  So there, just putting it on the record.  An attempt at reversing up the was met with a hard “no” from the hire car.   I was ejected from the vehicle at this point to lighten the load somewhat and our intrepid driver tried to get the car back up the hill.    The clutch was not in favour of this decision and emitted clouds of smoke and a curious odour, but reluctantly climbed the hill in reverse.    The summit and entrance to the track was eventually conquered, however I think we may have left a man (the clutch) behind.   A wave of apology to the residents who were, by now, all watching from their front doors, coughing, and we were on our way.   We imagined them sitting at the table in a few years, saying “do you remember that time those idiots tried to drive down here?”…

Bosnia into Dubrovnik

An early start from Mostar was planned, travelling back to Dubrovnik to return the hire car, which was still hanging in there clutch-wise.     We decided to take the southern route and would enter Croatia slightly south of Dubrovnik, and backtrack toward it. 

I can hear you thinking “why didn’t they set the Sat Nav to main roads only”  and the answer is, yes – good idea, and precisely what we had done.  Satnav ignored it as she obviously felt she knew better, and could take us via a more interesting route. 

Fun Fact – Croatia has a long coastline, but it is broken by a small area belonging to Bosnia. So, if driving, as we did two days ago, from Dubrovnik to Mostar, one must leave Croatia, enter Bosnia, leave Bosnia, enter Croatia and then leave Croatia and enter Bosnia once more. We had done this dance the day before yesterday and whilst our bog standard Australian passports are of little interest to anyone (and don’t think I am eternally thankful for that), we felt that we would rather have one border crossing and steered Satnav on a route that would take us slightly to the east of Dubrovnik and then descend into Croatia from Bosnia.

We drove through a spectacular mountain range, and alongside a wonderful valley, full of agriculture, which was beautiful. Cows and sheep and occasionally a dog meandered onto the road. Satnav slipped up for the first time sending us down a picturesque but unmade road directly through the orchards, which we called her on pretty much straight away.  We gave her a talking to and recalibrated to stay on a road with an “M” on it, but she, in a fit of pique sent us prematurely to a construction site, much to the amusement of the road crew.

Main road? Yeah sure….

By this stage we had been alone on the road for at least an hour, which was somewhat concerning, however we managed to catch an elderly man in a Fiat who enjoyed the perennially entertaining game of speeding up to prevent us overtaking, and then slowing down where overtaking was impossible. We finally met the border crossing, high in the mountains above Dubrovnik, left Bosnia for the last time – and to my regret, no stamp on the passport…entering Croatia once more and heading to our car hire drop off point amazingly on schedule.

speeding up and slowing down to prevent overtaking - the best fun ever?
Road Games relieve the boredom…

I am choosing to forgive and forget all the times Satnav directed us to leave a roundabout on a nonexistent exit,  directed us many miles out of our way to a derelict industrial area rather than our Airbnb in rural Hungary (this may have involved a degree of operator error), or took up all the charging power in the car, leaving the phones to fend for themselves.

Mobile phones were pressed into supplementary service, as the bridge of trust between our Satnav and us had burned to the ground.  We continue to work on our relationship. At times I swear I can detect a smug tone in Satnav’s dulcet tones.

Don’t be a stranger, I’d love you to like this, or better yet, follow me. No spam, no selling, just pretty great stories from a couple of ordinary travellers.

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Is it too late to have a gap year in your late 50s? To take back some time from our day to day working life to travel - unplanned, unescorted, unfettered? To take that leap? It was a defining year - liberating, challenging, humbling, scary. It was many things, but it wasn't a holiday.

4 thoughts on “Our Sat Nav hated us

  1. After our recent trip down into Spain, I think we may have Satnav’s sister, Madbatnav.
    Luckily, we’ve been down there so often we sort of know the way anyway but we like to play chicken with her and see how close she can come to causing a marital breakup.
    Hanging down that residential street in Bosnia might actually have succeeded or, more likely, if I’d been as cavalier as you and articulated my private thoughts about having known we shouldn’t have gone down there in the first place, divorce proceedings would almost certainly have been on the cards.
    The border between France and Spain is choc-a-block with lorries on Saturday nights due to the French not allowing lorries on their roads on Sundays. As you can imagine, the Spanish equivalent of milk crates (San Miguel crates?) are generally fully utilised. I wonder what they are looking at on their phones while they’re waiting. Candy Crush? Pokemon Go? The Kama Sutra?
    Anyway, I can enlighten you on the French speed limits which changed very recently. The national speed limit is now 80km unless there is a solid central reservation when you can still do 90km. If you are on a motorway you can do 110km and if you are on a péage, where you’ve paid to be on a motorway, you can do 130km. Hardly anybody takes any notice of these – especially those in the lower ranges – and if you do try to respect the 80km limit you will be given short shrift. This is why France has a bad record for road accidents although mostly caused, in my opinion, by bad driving, lunchtime wine and treating their indicators as if there is a tax levied on usage.
    Ah, the joys of motoring.

    1. Oh that IS funny. I hoped, wistfully, the girls might be reading War and Peace on their kindle app. While we were in France poor Satnav wore herself out recalibrating as we cruised through villages and out of them again and I can say we really had no idea of the speed limit at any time lol. So thank you, now I have an idea.

      I am reasonably sure we ruined the clutch in Bosnia… and I replayed the video last night to Steve, recording my objection and his disregard thereof.

      No lorries on Sunday, how downright civilized. I often think about our Sunday trading hours and the sad souls plodding around like zombies buying crap they don’t need. I think you guys have it right.

      1. Civilized is one word for it I suppose. The shops (here anyway) are closed on Sundays and Mondays too. Plus, they close for lunch between 12 and 2 on the dot every day – even the post office and banks – although not the bakeries of course. If you’re out shopping, you’re almost forced to stop and have a two hour lunch – not a bad thing I guess if you’ve got the time. The supermarkets are mostly open without a midday break now and, more recently, some started to open on Sunday mornings. The excitement!! The other day, in one supermarket, all the aisles with refrigerated goods were empty and closed. I asked the cashier what had happened and she said they were being cleaned. I asked why don’t they do it overnight or before the shop opens in the morning but you’d have thought I’d suggested she cooked and ate her own children by the look of horror on her face.
        When I go back to the U.K.now I can’t get used to everywhere being open every day and for most of the day and being able to eat out when you’re hungry rather than just between 12 and 2 and 7.30 and 9.30 which is the thing that really drives me potty. And with Spain just down the road where they eat lunch around 3 and dinner from 9 until the cock crows. Different strokes I s’pose but I’m with you on the Sunday shopping.
        I’m glad we’ve had this chat 🤣

  2. Such hilarious stories! But well at least it did take you off the beaten path 😀

    This reminds me a bit of the time a work colleague and I decided to take the scenic road back to Warsaw after a work trip that was just a few hours away from the city. We ended up getting home late at night after an entire day trying to navigate all those local roads, many without names.

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