Monday, June 14, 2010

Favorite Travel Tools and Books

Home again! After three weeks on the road we were ready for our trip to come to an end.  It was a complex trip with multiple cities and genealogy research, but it all came off according to plan with the exception of frequent rainy weather.  One of the big reasons for its success was our reliance on a GPS unit both in driving and as pedestrians.  Each trip I make has some new technology to smooth the road.  On my last trip I purchased a net book and a Kindle.  The net book allowed me to post this blog, organize photos and communicate by Google video chat.  The Kindle allowed me to travel light with an extensive library.  On one of our last driving trips my husband swore that next time we were only driving if we had GPS.  That was after we passed our turnoff to Ronda, Spain and ended up in Malaga.

Before our departure I began to research GPS units.  My objective was something reasonably inexpensive with European maps included rather than requiring separate purchase.  That led me to the Garmen 275 which includes European maps and can be used for pedestrian, bike or car travel. 
With my usual belt and suspenders approach we also got a rental car with GPS.  We found it difficult to program and the only instructions were in Polish so we were grateful that we brought our own.

My husband started testing the GPS for bike travel before our departure.  As you can choose the type of vehicle that is shown on the screen we went through Poland on a virtual blue bike.  I am used to using GPS in my Prius so that is my reference point. That unit dings before a turn, while the Garmin does not.  It took awhile to focus in on turning when it got to 100 feet instead of listening for the ding and we missed a few turns before we adjusted.  The GPS also wants to make you circle rather than finding another route.

Overall it did a good job of telling us when to turn, but given the difficult Polish names it was easier to recognize our turn by watching for the street name on the screen.  Occasionally we'd lose the signal, but within a few miles it was back.  Over the course of our trip we learned how to program it with specific locations so we could easily retrieve them.  It can be set to tell you the time to a destination or the estimated time of arrival and was fairly accurate.  Driving in Poland takes longer, but it seemed to allow for that.  We especially liked a feature that told us the speed limit and the speed we were going.  The GPS can be set for miles or kilometers and we found it helpful to think in miles.

While the GPS worked well for driving it was less useful for pedestrian travel.  Part of the challenge was determining which direction to go at the start.  Slower movement made it harder to quickly gauge if we were going in the right direction.  The features and price of the Garmen 275 made it a very good investment for European travel. Now that we've returned my husband has purchased a bike mount for it and put it to use between European trips.

When I travel I always try to read topical literature  that relates to my destination.  I had read quite a bit of non-fiction prior to our trip, but shifted to novels during our travels.  One of the books which we both read was "The Zookeeper's Wife" by Diane Akerman.
 The book is based on the true story of the Warsaw zookeeper and his wife who worked with the Underground and hid 300 Jews within the zoo.  When we found their photos at the Jewish Historical Institute among the "Righteous" we felt as if we knew them.  The book gave an interesting historical perspective on the impact of the war on Warsaw, the scope of the Uprising and an appreciation for the many Poles who saved Jews in Warsaw.  We only wished we had time to visit the zoo while in Warsaw after having read the book.

One of the other books that I read is titled "Not Me" by Michael Lavigne,
a book with an interesting premise.  The main character, Michael Rosenheim, is a standup comic whose father was believed to be a survivor and worked actively to support the Jewish community.  As his father is dying, Michael finds his father's journals from which he learns that his father was an accountant for the Nazis who faked being a survivor. At first I thought an accountant seemed rather innocuous until I realized he was accounting for hair shorn from the murdered and watches and belongings confiscated before their death. His father had served at Madjanek which we visited early in our trip. The story is in large part about how the son comes to terms with his father and his history, but it is also about how his father journeys from Nazi ideology to truly becoming what was originally a masquerade.

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