If you’re RVers in a strange land like us, one of the greatest of recent inventions is the GPS. Punch in the coordinates for where you want to go and let the soothing voice of the GPS lady guide you on your way.

Well, yes, but. . . .

For one thing, her voice can be awfully hard to listen to after a while, especially if she thinks you’ve ignored her instructions. “Make a U-turn,” she says, over and over, while you’re driving down a narrow city street with cars parked on both sides and a bus coming the other way.

That’s another thing--the reason you’re probably on a narrow city street in the first place is because this is Europe, after all, and because although the GPS lets you constrain the route in several ways--”no toll roads” or “fastest route,” for instance--it does not let you set a constraint like “no roads less than X feet wide because I’m driving an RV.”

But most important, one of the most common reasons you’re on a narrow city street is that you got shunted off the GPS lady’s route by a traffic detour because the city had begun tearing up the centuries-old street in order to get at the centuries-old sewer pipes beneath it.

Consider our experience with Rheims, a lovely city west of Paris with a magnificent cathedral and charming old city center, which we had decided to visit after leaving Verdun. Toosh--that’s the name we’ve given our GPS lady, for reasons I can’t remember now--Toosh was leading us toward the municipal camperstop, which was supposed to be within walking distance of the city center. But when we were within a quarter mile of our destination, at a point where Toosh wanted us to go straight, the public works department had set up a roadblock 


that left us with no alternative but to turn right down a very narrow street.

Toosh immediately communicated her displeasure to us, so we shut her off and tried a bit of dead reckoning. At one point we made a turn and were rewarded with this tantalizing sight ahead of us:


Beautiful as this was, it wasn’t getting us closer to our campsite, so we turned Toosh back on. We were happy to find that she had decided to stop telling us to make a U-turn and was content to lead us to our campsite from this new direction. But as punishment, she would be sure the streets were even more narrow than before.

The campsite was fine; it was at the city’s youth hostel, so it was even free, and so was the WiFi access; and it was close to the cathedral, which was indeed magnificent (it’s the one where French kings have been crowned, most notably Charles, with Joan of Arc at his side).

But make no mistake: the GPS is not an unmixed blessing.

2011 update: we've bought a Garmin Nuvi 465 with the Europe road maps--this version does have a 'truck' setting, allowing us to specify Rover's width, height, length, and weight. It has done a good job of keeping us on the better roads. However, it comes with only three choices for route: faster time, shorter distance, and off-road. Missing is the one we want most: comfortably wide lanes.