Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Navigating Bulgaria by GPS

The first time we drove to the Rila Monastery, I couldn't find how to list it as the destination in our rental car's GPS. In the end I listed an address in the nearby town of Blagoevgrad. When we reached the turnoff to Rila on the main highway, I turned off the GPS.

Returning to Rila this month with our children, I programmed the GPS to take us to the Rilski Manastir, realizing that the instrument recognized the Bulgarian name. We followed its instructions and wandered through the foothills, a colorful detour until we reached the village of Rila. Going home we made sure to stick to the main road.

When we drove to Veliko Turnavo, I programmed the GPS for the Veliko Turnavo Hotel, having found this on a map in my guidebook to Bulgaria. Little did I know that this hotel had closed down, because when we followed the GPS's directions, we ended up on a dead end side street. Luckily the end of the street was just meters away from the city's Tourist Information Office, where we were able to pick up a city map and better information on how to get to Tsarevets. But the GPS had not yet had the last word.

Getting back in the car, and reversing down the hilly dead end street, the GPS went crazy. "Turn left," it said, in its woman's voice. "Turn right. Turn left, turn right!" We broke out in laughter.

Later in the day, having successfully found our way to the village of Arbanasi and the Shipka Pass without electronic instructions, I programmed the GPS for our home in Sofia. We headed down the mountains and entered the village of Shipka.

Following the instructions of the GPS, we ended up making a complete circle, and our car was facing the mountains again. The GPS wanted us to return up the road towards the Shipka Pass. I turned around, and headed towards the main highway, trusting my instinct instead.

"Turn around," the GPS said. "Make a U-turn now. Make a U-turn as soon as you can," it begged us. We continued towards Sofia, and finally the GPS gave up, accepting the navigational skills of mere humans. From that point forward, it was basically quiet as we drove towards Sofia.

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