My blog has been dark for several weeks because I took my family to the countryside of France. Every now and then I need to go completely unplugged, a wonderfully unusual experience.
Going cold turkey from the virtual world of email, Skype, and blogging to focusing exclusively on the tangible world chateaux and camembert threw me a bit at first. But by the second day my fingers had stopped twitching and into the second week I had totally relaxed to the idea of being offline. I didn't bring my notebook for fear of the temptation but I kind of fell off the wagon once when I ducked into an internet cafe in Colmar, near the German boarder. But I quickly figured out that French keyboards are different. Way different. The keys are in different places. Many appeared to be missing and some wouldn't work. I had to ask the cute student next to me how to make @. Then I had to ask how to make numbers. Then when I tried to ask how to make a period she got sick of the dorky American next to her and made it clear that I was on my own. To hell with it - to my total delight, I was offline again in a snap.
Yes, I left communications technology at home. But I realized from this trip how easy travel has gotten with technology to help. We booked the entire trip online. Airlines, car rental, fantastic castle hotels (moats and dungeons anyone?), even five-course dinner reservations.
However, the best travel technology by far is the GPS. I’m a map guy and was sort of looking forward to plotting routes. But I quickly realized that the country roads are winding, often one way through villages, and not usually well marked. Fortunately, I ordered a car with a Hertz NeverLost system. This thing is really cool. After like five minutes, the maps were tossed to the back seat. Plug in the address for, say, Moet & Chandon in Epernay (a cellar tour and tasting) and the thing tells you what to do. I know this sounds dumb because these machines have been around for a while, but I've never used one. Boy, now I know what I was missing! Our NeverLost was bi-lingual. We quickly named her Monique as she happily said useful things like "in one kilometer, take the third exit at the roundabout" (in a perfect British accent) then said the name of the road in French. Monique became our friend. We talked to her and cared for her as she led us with nearly flawless precision for two thousand kilomerters. We were actually sad to return Monique at the end of the trip.
How funny that while one technology was completely left at home, another became the most important aspect of our journey.