Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Let the Planning Begin

Whether planning a simple day trip or a longer vacation, I tend to rely heavily on two or three things:
  1. Google Maps, including the Street View feature
  2. Microsoft Streets & Trips software
  3. A paper map

Have I ever told you I am a map girl? I just like maps. Always have and suspect I always will.

I don't care for trip planning using the GPS. Yes, it can be handy for way-finding (as a guide during travel to make sure you don't miss important turns), it just doesn't meet my planning needs. I've actually never used a standalone GPS. It is Hubby's. I will admit to using GPS capabilities on my Smart phone in a pinch, though. 

Once we settled on Italy as a destination, the first thing I did was map out the passes and towns we might want to see. I used Google Maps for that. Our Streets & Trips software only covers the US.

Until VERY recently, like just now when I did a Google search to see if I was wrong, I thought MS didn't make maps of Europe.

Guess what? I was wrong. Gasp!

They have a product called Auto Route Europe (ARE). Click on that image to the left and you'll be taken to their Website where you can download a 60-day free trial.

Anyone ever use that? Thoughts? I like Streets & Trips just fine. So I am positive I'll download the ARE trial. I'll be sure to let you know what I think.

I actually have a cool paper map, which I was given during our Edelweiss tour a couple of years ago.

Since it is a map of the Alps, it already covers most of the ground we'll be covering. Milan is at its lower left corner, though, so I'd essentially be traveling blind for anything west or south of Milan. I'll have to decide if I want to get a Kompass auto map of Switzerland. If you looked at my Google map, you may have noticed about half of the markers are in Switzerland.

Anyway, I've been playing around with Google Maps a bit to come up with a rough itinerary. We only have five days to cover lots of stuff. My goal is to achieve that happy balance between just enough riding each day and plenty of time to see some sights.

I'm thinking our first two days may be in Switzerland. So that left the paper map out. Which means I've been relying heavily on Google Maps.

I have to save, I LOVE Street View. Love, love, love, love. It is the best planning tool. Think a road might be gravel? Check Street View. Even if it isn't a mapped road, chances are good it intersects with a mapped road. You can place the little Street View guy at the intersection and have a look at the road to get an idea as to condition. In the US anyway. I haven't gone to those extremes yet with this trip.

I have been having fun with Street View though. Every now and then, you come across some funny images.

The image above is a screen capture of Google Street View in Italy. It gives you a good example of how narrow the roads can be. And that's a relatively wide one! Really.

European cars are much smaller than US cars. That minivan-looking thing is probably about the size of a 1970s Toyota pick-up. And that car is probably just a tad bigger than a Smart Car.

Something else I love about Street View is that you have the ability to virtually travel down a road. Once in Street View, click your mouse on the road ahead (make sure you see a circle to advance and not a rectangle to zoom).

When I found this road, I decided to see how long it took the motorcyclists to pass the Google car. I painstakingly advanced screen by screen until I finally gave up. They never did pass. Which means they either were into following the map car. Or they were Americans who hadn't yet discovered the joys of passing in Europe!

Here's an image that made me chuckle.

It really did pop up randomly after I dropped the little orange guy onto the map. Look closely at that driveway mirror and you'll see the map car.

Since the Swiss are so concerned with privacy, there are few, if any, actual street views to be seen. Rather, you just see photographs of an area, when available.

Some are good. Some, not so much.

Check out that possessed cat!

It's been interesting.

Did you know there are people who intentionally try to make it into Google Street View shots? I think they are referred to as photo-bombers.

Here's one top ten list of photo-bombs. It's difficult to tell for sure which ones are staged and which were captured by pure chance.

Here's a funny one that I thought was well-staged.

And this link takes you to a site, Street with a View, that highlights a special project in Pittsburgh. Click on SCENE BREAKDOWN after you follow the link.

If I come across any other goods ones during my quest for the perfect motorcycle route through Switzerland and Northern Italy, I'll be sure to share them here.


Trace4J said...

Can I just say I have always appreciated you being a MAP girl.

ToadMama said...

Thanks, Trace! You have certainly seen me with and benefited from my use of maps more than a few times. :-)

Nice to know I am appreciated!

Troubadour said...

I always use Google maps street view just to familiarize myself with an area, intersection or building address. Then when I arrive I know what I'm looking for.
Looking forward to your adventure, what fun!

Trobairitz said...

I too like Google Maps with the street view. I find them particularly handy when picking hotels as it really gives you an idea of neighborhoods and close amenities.

I still prefer a paper map and we have the Benchmark map book for Oregon we pack with us when traveling on the bike. They are so much more accurate than the gps. The gps comes in handy when looking for restaurants or certain things while on the roads, (or not getting lost when walking in an unknown city) but not for general routes I find.

The photo bombs of the street view look like too much work. Funny what people do with their time.

ToadMama said...

Troubadour, I do that, too. It's really handy to know what to look for, especially when you are on small roads, like county roads, that are not always marked, or they are marked, but the sign is buried in the weeds.

Trob, for paper maps in the US, I swear by the DeLorme Gazzetteer books. Thought I have found them more accurate for smaller states like MD, VA, WV than for larger states. There's only so much detail you can squeeze in. Still, I try to keep one on hand. I also use street view for 'hood surveillance (as in, am I headed to the ghetto?) before I go to most places unknown. The more elaborate photo bombs are pretty crazy, eh?

SonjaM said...

Isn't planning by maps (and google street maps) half the fun? Please tell us more about the trip!

Andrew said...

I like route planning and tend to use Mapsource which came with my GPS. Great being able to get the routes sorted and then just download to the GPS.

I also like playing around in GoogleMaps so I can easily post maps of my rides.

Having trouble with both bits of software when it comes to some of my more adventurous rides - they tend to disagree about whether certain roads exist or not...

ToadMama said...

Yes, Sonja. I can sit and daydream with maps any day!

Andrew, we have that problem, too. Even when I am leading, Hubby likes to enter my routes into his GPS. Every now and then he'll say, "That's not a road." Or, "that's a gravel road." Because that's what the GPS software is telling him. Sometimes it's right, sometimes it's not. None of the software is perfect, but it sure helps!

I still remember a trip where Google and Streets led me down a road that required fording a 15 foot wide creek. I might've tried it on my GS, but back then I was still on an 800+ pound cruiser! I'll go back one day...