Just as tourists in Australia love road signs about kangaroos, I loved this one - "remember"
On our recent European sojourn (European sojourn sounds so fab – actually we really only had time for France and a quick trip to Pompeii / Sorrento), we decided to drive ourselves around the French countryside. Paris is of course best done by metro, but if you want to see a lot of different things outside Paris, you will need to drive.
So, cleverly, we bought ourselves a Tom-Tom GPS system and loaded a map of France, with the text and the audible instructions were all in English. So far so good.
And generally it was pretty good. We managed to get ourselves from Gare de Lyon in Paris, where we picked up the car, to Mont Saint Michel on the west coast, down a little to Carnac and Brest, then across to Lascaux, up to Chenonceaux and back to Charles de Gaulle airport with a minimum of fuss.
This of course will be the blog about the “fuss”. not about the “non-fuss”.
The fuss was of course a combination of user-error and Tom-Tom error.
Some of the user errors:
1. assuming that the village of Lascaux would be near to the Caves of Lascaux. (No, it is not – it was very scenic though.)
2. Leaving the seeking of petrol stations until you had less than one eighth of a tank left. (Because we wanted some panic on the holiday – who knows who to call if you run out of petrol in France? Not me.)
3. Assuming that the Tom-Tom would also be helpful as a walking guide. (No, not really – because you aren’t moving fast enough it has difficulty deciding which direction you are going.)
Some traps for new (and possibly experienced) users of Tom-Toms.
1. While most of the roads are clearly as they are in the GPS, some of the inner city ones don’t identify one-way streets – or try to send you down them anyway. Combine this with a fairly rudimentary understanding of French road signs and you can see why tourist drivers are a menace, the world over.
2. We did on one occasion get sent down somebody’s very long country driveway which the Tom-Tom clearly identified as a through-road. There were also a couple of instances where driveways or carpark entrances off roundabouts counted as exits from the roundabout (take the fifth exit…) which was confusing.
3. There was one instance where the road we were being guided into seemed to be an off-ramp for a freeway. Luckily it was permanently blocked.
4. In the middle of the French countryside there are roundabouts at non-intersections. It looks like perhaps they might be intending to build a road through the fields, but at this stage there are just a couple of exits that go a couple of metres in each direction. Sometimes we were being told to take that road.
5. Finding a petrol station (see above for last-minute panic – user-error) was confounded by the Tom-Tom not differentiating between a truck petrol station (providing only truck fuels) and a petrol station that also sold petrol for cars. Likewise many of the petrol stations turned out to be agencies – which were closed.
6. Some of the attractions don’t appear to be listed how you would expect them to be. Parc Asterix (Asterix Parc, Asterix Park, Asterix) would not come up in the Tom-Tom under any spelling I could enter. Luckily we had a brochure which told us which town it was near, and once we were near the town I could enter “nearby attractions” – and hey presto, suddenly it was on the Tom-Tom!
7. Futuroscope was another that we couldn’t find until we were close by. Then the Tom-Tom kept guiding us into the staff entrance, which was quite some way from the public entrance.
8. We did get into a couple of loops, largely because of roadworks. The Tom-Tom gives you the option of saying that you have hit roadworks and then it finds you a way around them. Sometimes this resulted in a loop. You can resolve this by just driving off in another direction and then resettig the Tom-Tom destination again.
Having said all that, would I use the Tom-Tom again? Absolutely. Despite the small annoyances and frustrations, it was a great way to maintain some level of independence in our travels, and also get where we wanted to go without having to spend the journey with my head buried in a map-book. The Tom-Tom freed us up to drive and look around, knowing it would alert us in time to ensure we got where we wanted to go. It also helped us with avoiding toll-roads. By avoiding toll-roads we ended up driving on roads that looked like they were farm tracks – until you came across the tiny village in the midle of the fields. We saw some parts of the country-side that most tourist would not see, and some very picturesque and seemingly untouched villages.
And in fact I was so impressed, that the Tom-Tom is currently in France again with a work-colleague.