This is the third of four reports guidebook researcher/writer Cameron Hewitt sent me just this week from his travels in Switzerland and beyond:
One highlight of my time updating our Switzerland guidebook was making friends with the computer voice of my rental car’s GPS system.
When I picked up my car, the rental agent said, “Sorry, I don’t have the size of car you requested, so I have to give you something a little bigger.” It turned out to be a Skoda Superb (made by my favorite up-and-coming Czech automaker) and was literally at least double the size of the car I’d reserved. You could fit our Norwegian rental car in the backseat, and have room left for a Smart Car in the trunk. While it was nice to have essentially a luxury sedan for the trip, it was sometimes challenging to nudge my tank through narrow mountain roads and tight city parking garages.
The car came with a GPS system that spoke in a buttoned-down British voice. I developed a real love-hate relationship with the GPS guy, who occasionally saved me tons of time and stress, but more than once steered me very wrong. Like an over-earnest navigator desperate to make a good impression, Mr. GPS periodically suggested bizarre and impractical routings. On our first day together, he sent me up narrow mountain roads (in some cases, ones I wasn’t sure I was legally allowed to drive), where I dodged cows and looked longingly down at the big, fast highway in the valley just below. (I’m guessing my GPS wanted to treat me to the “scenic” route. Yeah, thanks.)
On another occasion, I drove halfway across the country (from Gruyeres to Appenzell) at rush hour, hitting big traffic jams around Bern and Zürich. In order to “help” me avoid traffic on the Bern outerbelt, my GPS directed me to an exit to take surface roads through the city. Little did I know that he planned to send me straight through the heart of downtown. He was as confused as I was… “Turn left in 100 meters. Turn left now. No! Wait! Please make a U-turn if possible.” As I found myself doing a three-point turn right in front of the Bern train station, trying to ignore the bewildered stares of rush-hour commuters, I decided that Mr. GPS was on thin ice.
My increasing wariness proved useful a few days later, when — on the way from St. Moritz to Lugano via Italy’s Lake Como — I realized Mr. GPS had just directed me right past the Lugano turnoff. Hitting the brakes and checking the map, I figured out he was aiming to send me on the freeway, then on a ferry across the lake. I stuck with the slower roads on the correct side of the lake, and got in an hour earlier. (It reminded me of a recent news item, in which a Swedish couple touring Italy mistyped “Capri” as “Carpi” — and wound up several hundred miles from their intended destination.) The lesson: GPS is only useful in conjunction with a good map and some common sense.
The GPS guy would talk right over any music I was listening to. This created some odd duets. One time, listening to Janis Joplin on the radio, I heard, “Come on, take another little piece of my heart, now, baby… Please make a U-turn if possible.”
Pondering why I’m so fixated on my GPS experiences, I realize it’s probably because Mr. GPS was my main company for a few days. Now that he’s pestering some other driver, I kind of miss him.