France 2014 - Car and Navigation

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Picking up the car at Charles de Gaulle airport took a while (plan for that if you go: at least half an hour), but eventually I got on the road. I wasn't willing to fork over ~$70 to Garmin for maps of Europe, so instead I went the cheap *ahem* I mean open source method, installing the Open Street Map data for France on the machine. Unfortunately, it decided I needed to go through Brussels to get from Paris to Calais (a detour of more than 100 km). I ignored it, and once I switched from the A1 to the A26, it had a revelatory moment and came around to my way of thinking. It actually navigated fairly well through the streets of Calais - and I was pleased to find that it understands and describes roundabouts quite well.

On our first stop at a gas station I was braced for the shock, but North American drivers will feel our pain: 3/4s of a tank was 36.7 liters, and cost €55.80 ($85CA at the time). That's right: €1.53/liter ($2.29/liter - gas was $1.35/liter in Canada at the time).

The OpenStreetMap data led to some comedy (ie. Brussels on the way from Paris to Calais), but also some concern that we might not actually get to our destination. My friend loaded up a SatNav package on her phone - and now we had duelling instructions, one telling us to go straight through at the next roundabout, the other telling us to go left. This is equally as comedic, but with that and watching the signs ourselves, we managed reasonably well. One thing we discovered is that neither of them seems to have any concept of one-way roads. Garmin's own data tends to be better on that subject, but it did send me the wrong way down a one way street in Halifax so I don't trust any of them on that anymore.

One rather interesting problem for GPS and routing software that made itself apparent to us in Nantes was bollards. They change the routing in the downtown at different hours of the day. We tried to retrace a route we'd taken an hour earlier, only to find that it had been closed by an automatic bollard rising out of the street. How exactly is routing software supposed to handle that? Yes, the code could be written: but it's a huge class of exceptions, and a challenge to keep up with the city's probably changing opinions about when these obstructions should be in place.

On the outskirts of Nantes, my English-speaking GPS came up with its most spectacular mangling of the French language yet: it told us to cross "Pont des Trois Continents," which it pronounced "Pont Destroys Continents."

We put about 2300 km on the car, which claimed on the dash (and I believe it) to have maintained a steady and rather good 6.0 l/100km (man I hate that unit of measure: units should be UNITS, ie. "1", not "100" ... but I digress). "The car" was a small (four door) dark metallic gray Peugot 208 rented from Citer: no powerhouse, but our good friend for the entire trip. 
by giles