Sunday, 24 June 2012

Even more Maps R Us

[06 August update: upgraded phone contracts to smartphones and used Garmin's Navigon to great effect, especially finding hotels and hotspots in those twisty medieval cities...]

So how does all this web mapping stack up @ home? Meaning: would my wife & daughter actually use it? We have for home use two roaming laptops, one netbook in the kitchen and one tablet for travel, and a deskside in the office to access printer & storage, but no phone with internet contract.

I put this idea to the test when we planned a cross-Europe drive from my parents' in SW France to my cousins' in central Hungary via N Italy and Slovenia - it's a direct route I drove ad-hoc (finding motels where happened to be each evening) but off-season and my parents only wished to get home with one Michelin map of Europe - this case it's mid-summer however and my daughter wanted to 'see the sights': if Romeo & Juliet's balcony in Verona is kinda obvious,  the castle in a cave in Slovenia is not!

So we start with ye olde Nat Geo Atlas that still had the CIS countries... not good! Then they hit the internet to find more about Arles, Mantua and Ptuj, the three focal points of our crossing - schedule sorted, but how about drive times and hotel locations? Aha! Google maps gets them the broad schedule - things are looking up! - but no one believes the twenty hour drive time with only mileage breakdown, meaning, what is the assumed speed and are there bottle necks, etc.?

View Larger Map

But Michelin reinvented itself and put onVia Michelin most if not more details that paper maps had - hot spots, points of interest and, crucially, drive times - all in the name of estimating costs of travel given fuel, season, currency and speed assumptions: multi-modal maps for the rest of us mentioned here... that really caught their attention! Unfortunately I cannot embed the map, and it has tons of info, so best to see it directly here, but this shows their dashboard:

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Most importantly however, I scraped not only the drive distances but also the drive times and put them into a spreadsheet. I could therefore see Michelin assumed a 60mph average, which is indeed a little optimistic in summertime! Bur having all the details allowed me not only to recalculate with new speed shown above, but also to plan out the stopping points, and play with until I could fit all my daughter's hotspots in seven days! To be honest this was over their head, but they came up with similar time-lines with pen&paper: high-tech calculations with low-tech checks&balances was a good family compromise.

After that we were off to the races: we simply went to Lonely Planet on line, knowing exactly where we wanted to stop, and found hotels available for each night and booked it all on-line in a couple of hours... incl. family bickering over hostels vs. hotels, and puh-lease don't mention camping!

click image to enlarge
The key point is that the choices were laid out plain&simple by combining various web maps with routing info and a bit of tinkering.
As a bonus, I wanted to show them the relief in Slovenia using Google Earth, and presto! we even found buildings in Ljubliana... that really sold them! Here's the view northwest from the castle hill, some buildings with more details than others, but cool nonetheless:

click image to enlarge