GPS, Trains, and Automobiles

I’ve written before about how I’m not the biggest fan of GPS. I don’t have it in my car, nor do I much want it. When it comes to day-to-day driving, I’ll take a paper map and my sense of direction every time – which is saying something, considering I have the sense of direction of a dead homing pigeon.

I did, however, appreciate having it the one time Ron and I rented a car while vacationing in Europe. Or, at least, I did once we’d figured out the settings, and turned off the bit telling it to avoid toll roads. Prior to that, I was ready to pound the thing with a hammer.

Although while watching an old episode of Top Gear – with Clarkson, Hammond, and May, of course – I was reminded of one rather cool experience we had. It involved loading our car onto a train for a jaunt through the mountains, and had we known how to use the GPS properly, it never would have happened.

We were driving from Berchtesgaden, Germany, to Venice, something that Google Maps told me would take five-ish hours. Upon programming the GPS, however, it gave an estimated time of something like 12 hours, which I thought was odd. It was also a little concerning, as our hotel in Venice wasn’t staffed 24 hours a day, so we had a hard cutoff time for our arrival time, and 12 hours would be pushing it. But the GPS immediately recalculated downwards and, while the estimated travel time was still considerably longer than five hours, I assumed there was something like roadworks or an accident along the route that was causing a delay, and the time would decrease when it was cleared up.

This was a bad assumption to make.

The trip began as anticipated. With Berchtesgaden being located in the mountains, we knew there would be some windy roads at the start, and we were not disappointed.

Once we got underway, Ron was a wee mite disappointed that I’d volunteered to drive the first leg, as this is his kind of road.

Not gonna lie, I was having a blast driving through the mountains in our zippy car, Ron’s miniature heart attacks notwithstanding. I have a tendency to get perhaps a titch too far over when approaching another vehicle, to ensure I’m not crowding them and we have plenty of room to get by each other, and Ron was concerned I was going to knock the wing mirror off the passenger side, or some such. Which would be an expensive repair, considering we were driving a BMW 530D M Sport.

Seen here at the base of a windmill in Nürburg, combining two of my greatest, if contradictory, loves: fast cars and green energy.

Much fun as I was having, though, as the journey went on, there was a niggling concern at the back of my mind in regards to the time it was taking. We seemed to be driving into the heart of the mountains rather than out, and the time estimate on the GPS just kept going up.

And then this happened.

What the actual fuck?

The GPS directed us to this … structure, and then left us sitting there with no idea what was going on. There were a couple of vehicles ahead of us, and more joined the queue behind us as time went on, but we had no idea why we were here. There were no signs, there was no office, and this sight wasn’t the most reassuring thing:

“Rusted out” is never a good descriptor.

I finally got out and started to work my way along the line, looking for someone who could speak English. A lovely young man, who also spoke French if that was easier, explained that a train would be along soon to transport us and our vehicles on a shortcut, quite literally through the mountains.

Sure enough, a train soon pulled up, and it was my turn to have a miniature heart attack as I drove our car, which was fitted with sensors and kept screaming at me that I was getting perilously close to the barriers on either side, onto a rail car.


Following everyone else’s lead, we exited the car and headed for the train proper, where we took seats for a ride through the pitch black heart of the mountain. We were the only ones in our train car, and I spent the journey with my nose pressed against the window, hands shading my eyes on either side, absolutely obsessed with seeing something – anything – on the other side of the glass.

A few months after we got home from our trip, I saw this hilarious clip from The Graham Norton Show

… and I couldn’t help but think, maybe next time we could find a train where we get to sit in the car for the journey. How awesome would that be?

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, we did make it to the hotel in Venice in time.

Even had 15 minutes to spare.

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