Friday, 13 June 2008

PostHeaderIcon The Joy of SEx

SEx = Sat-nav Experiences/Expeditions/anything else you can think of beginning Ex… (lame I know but got your attention didn’t it)

Tomtom (the sat-nav software not the little drums) is great, it makes navigating in a strange area dead simple, especially a foreign country where the signs aren't always immediately obvious. Probably too simple really as we become to rely on it just a little too much and follow Jane's relaxed soothing instructions without a second thought.

We've been in Portugal and decided one day to drag ourselves away from the chore that is sitting by the pool slowly getting intoxicated (in fact as I write this I am still in Portugal sat by the pool slowly getting intoxicated so if it all becomes nonsense please forgive me) and instead do a little bit of sight seeing in some local villages. Not knowing the area that well I put all the locations on our itinerary into tomtom before setting off.

Our first stop was a little church on the edge of town that is supposed to have the most amazing interior and so we decided to check it out as it was on the way to our main destination. (There doesn't appear to be a lot else to look at around here other than old churches and castles etc. - maybe I just need a different guide book.) As it was just down the road on the edge of town I didn't feel the need to get my tomtom out. It’s very easy to find, you drive the mile or so to the edge of town and there it is on your left, unmissible, just take the exit and ta-da. I took the exit and suddenly found myself heading back in the opposite direction on the town bypass and a few minutes later driving past the house where we’d set out from. We did a U-turn at the next junction, drove past the house again and got off at the exit where it all went wrong. Only to find that there didn't appear to be anyway of crossing the bypass to reach the church that was on the opposite side of the road. I was about to admit defeat and pulled off the main road so I could get my tomtom out when I instead decided to follow a small unsigned non-descript lane which did eventually meander its way down and under the bypass before coming back up near to the church. The sense of victory was all mine.

The interior of the church was indeed worth seeing I only wish I could have photographed it but there were signs everywhere warning you against using cameras (probably so they can sell you a postcard for 50 cents, which I did buy so I guess it works for them) having paid €2 to get in a think that’s a bit mean, but there you are. I couldn’t even secretly knock a couple of shots off as the ticket lady was very school mistress like and after taking our money pointed to some pews where I think she wanted us to sit (surely she knew weren’t in there to pray, heaven forbid) and then stood in the doorway watching our every move.

When we left I decided it was time for tomtom to do its magic and guide us to our next stop. I wasn’t going through the previous fiasco where the less than 2 mile journey ended up closer to 7 miles. We got 50 yards down the road and tomtom asked us to turn left but unfortunately it was a right turn only so we found ourselves back on the bypass again travelling in the wrong direction. Never mind, one thing that’s great about tomtom is that if you go the wrong way it’ll just correct your route and off you go. Half a mile down the road Janes soothing voice calls out “Right turn ahead… Right turn in 100 yards… Right turn.” Now had I been driving a Chieftain tank or even had we been on foot then the right turn would have been fine (except that it would have only taken us back to the left turn that we couldn’t take) but as we were travelling in a Renault Clio that I expected wouldn’t have been to happy about mounting the 2 foot high concrete barrier between us and some scrub land that led down to a small country lane off to the right I decided that Jane was full of shit and chose to ignore her. She clearly wasn’t happy by the sound of her constant instructions to do a U-turn (though the annoyance never shows in her voice, not like when Emma’s navigating! But that’s another story.) I knew roughly where we wanted to go, there was a motorway a mile or two north which we needed to be on to get back in the opposite direction. As fortune would have it there was a brand new dual-carriageway a little further along which I took to get us back on track, again much to Jane’s annoyance as she seemed to think we were ploughing across some open field or other.

Eventually we arrived at the village we were heading for and drove straight past the site we came to see. Now this wasn’t exactly tomtom’s fault as when setting the route I saw a POI (point of interest) on the map which I just assumed was ours but turned out not to be. Not wanting to think we’d missed out on something I was eager to see exactly what it was that tomtom want to show us so like sheep we followed Jane’s instructions to a T. We soon arrived in what was clearly the ‘old’ part of town built many centuries ago before the invention of the motor car and when she asked us to take a sharp left into what looked like nothing more than a cobbled pavement I was beginning to have my doubts about her sanity but when a scooter shot across our path and down the ‘road’ I assumed it must be navigable to motor vehicles and so did the tricky manoeuvre necessary and followed the scooter. I was feeing kind of relieved that we were only driving a Clio as anything wider would have meant returning the car to Karen and Peter in a state that most garages would usually describe as ‘written off’. After a few very frightening minutes of squeezing down the narrowest of lanes and around the tightest of corners I spotted a car park and decided it was time to cut our losses park up and do the rest of the journey on foot. Well we eventually found our way to tomtom’s POI on foot only to find it was shut for renovation.

By now we were gasping for a drink (but had to make do with Coke) so stopped in a café in the town square opposite yet another picturesque church (maybe that really is all there is to see in Portugal?) to refresh. Whilst there I dug out the guide book to show Emma what it as we really came to see only to read that they’d just shut for lunch and wouldn’t open again for another hour and a half. Bugger. We cut our losses and decided to head home to make the most of the remaining pool side intoxication time.

We told tomtom to ‘Navigate to Home’ and off we set. This time she did us proud, managed to avoid the narrow lanes/walkways and get us out of town and back onto the motorway. We were a couple of miles down the motorway when Jane said “Exit ahead”, hmmm I don’t think so I thought, when we came we got onto the motorway a few miles further down, but I followed her lead nevertheless. (as a side issue, ‘nevertheless’ is one of my favourite words – told you I was getting intoxicated didn’t I.) I was once again beginning to trust tomtom’s wisdom when the road suddenly became recognisable and I knew if we followed it we would eventually get to a left turning that would take us back down to the house. That’s when Jane surprised me again with a “Left turn in 100 yards”. By now you’d think I’d say “fuck off Jane I know the way from here thank you very much” but of course I didn’t and instead followed her commands like a perv in a gimp suit at an S&M dungeon.

The ‘road’ we followed carved its way through the countryside before we saw it was taking us back towards the motorway. Bloody hell I thought if tomtom has taken us off the motorway only to take us back on at the next junction (wouldn’t have been the first time) I was not going to be happy. Jane said “At the roundabout take the second exit straight on.” That’s when the paved road suddenly turned into a dirt track that dropped down underneath the motorway and the ‘roundabout’ that Jane talked about was nothing more than the scrubland surrounding the pylons holding up the motorway. As I wasn’t driving that Chieftain tank I went the wrong way around the roundabout only to be greeted with our ‘exit’ which turned out to be a dirt track up the side of a hill with about a 2:1 incline that I think even the Chieftain would have struggled with never mind our little Clio. Had I been driving a Landy with some V8 grunt, a long run up an a tail wind I may have considered giving it a go but I didn’t think the third-party only car insurance we had on the Clio wasn't enough to warrant an attempt. I turned around and went back another way. After we arrived home I examined the map and that dirt track was actually a very good short cut it’s just unfortunate that tomtom is unable to tell the difference between ‘dirt track’ and ‘main road’ at least in Portugal anyway, perhaps in Portugal there isn’t really a proper distinction?


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