Saturday, January 02, 2010

Virtual travel leads to actual trip

I'd like to get this blog going again - this year, Facebook took over my time & attention, and although I do love reading about friends new and old, somehow knowing WHO is reading my updates makes me less free to write what I want to. I think I write better with an anonymous (or in this blog's case, a nearly non-existent) audience. Of course I know this blog is public, too, but there is a disconnectedness to the real world that somehow makes me feel more free.

When I look back at 2009, one experience stands out as something that not only was new to me, but also employs relatively new technology and therefore worth noting as iconic for the times. It has to do with my preparation for the trip to Provence that we took last fall. I used Google Earth extensively for the trip planning. We had bought a guide book or two, and I read online about hotels and restaurants in the area, but Google Earth took the planning to a different level. I felt like a futuristic voyeur as I entered what I came to call "the bubble".

I started out looking at Nice, a city I had never been to before. I needed to choose a hotel, and couldn't really tell from the map which part of town would be attractive to us. Sometimes it's best to be near the train station, but some places, it's not - it can be seedy or inconvenient to the spots you want to see. So I opened Google Earth and took a look. What I discovered is that the street view in GE is quite extensive. As you zoom in close to a street, you start to see bubble-like orbs floating above the streets.

Click on a bubble, and you move in, like Glinda the Good Witch in the Wizard of Oz, passing through a fuzzy out of focus moment, until you are vitually standing in the center of that very street.

This particular view is of a street where a highly recommended hotel was located. As I rotated my vantage point and looked at the neighboring buildings, the traffic, the people loitering by the entrance, I could tell that this was not the hotel for us. For one thing, there were no nearby cafes. There was a large parking lot next door that was filled with mostly motorcycles - imagine the roar that might awake us in the morning!

I found that many of the hotels in the guide book were all in one neighborhood with little character. As I rode my vitual helicopter above Nice, I noticed an area of buildings which were much more dense, with streets that meandered circuitously, rather than fitting into a grid. Could this be the old city?

I zoomed closer and found that the street view bubbles were not available in this part of town! The street must be too tightly spaced to allow the Google photo vehicle access. However, in certain places, Google Earth has a red dot with 360 on it. These are 360 degree photographs, taken by aficionados and uploaded. Clicking on one of these in the old city sent me over the edge of excitement - I couldn't wait to get to this place and start exploring! I did a search right on this screen to find the hotels closest to this neighborhood. We ended up staying in one just a couple blocks outside Old Nice, which was perfect in every way.

 I spent so much time exploring virtual Nice that by the time we arrived, it felt familiar, like somewhere I had visited in my dreams.

1 comment: said...

I loved how you used Google Earth to get us so close to the Old Walled city within Nice. And that first day when you recognized the hilltop at the edge of the city by the coastline--it made me feel instantly at home. There are few things as wonderful as traveling with you, my internationally savvy wife!!
xx Barb