Navigation and GPS in Russia

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Dateline: 6 February 2014

I was asked today for some advice on GPS systems for travelling across Europe and Russia.

I can only give you my personal experience on GPS – I`m not a pro tester so here it goes…

I understand that Garmin works well for Europe and all Latin based languages.

The difficulty with any GPS system occurs when you cross borders – in Russia they use Cyrillic characters; in Ukraine they use Cyrillic but Ukrainian is different language to Russian. Additionally, or at least with system I use, it will not plan journeys over borders where the language changes from Latin format to Cyrillic. So I have to find out the names of the border crossings and key those as destinations, cross the border and key in the next destination on the next map. Weird.

Street signs are are in Cyrillic; in larger cities you might get English signage but don`t count on it. They`ve only been putting up road signs for about 5 years.. earlier than that people only had the vaguest idea of locations outside their own town.

If you can master the Cyrillic alphabet it will help you a lot. Cyrillic is phonetic; if you can recognise the characters you`ll be able to speak a destination quite easily. Also, you`ll recognise Cities and Towns on signs. 

I use a phone based GPS called Ndrive.

Its very good most of the time and allows you to switch between Latin to Cyrillic keyboards. Also, it works well on an Android or Windows phone as well as working with helmet Bluetooth.

Getting bluetooth for helmets on Garmin doubles the cost of the unit. However it`s easier to get a handlebar mount for a Garmin which means you can enter new instructions with your gloves on.

I just figured the extra $500 for a Garmin was quite a lot of gas ))). Gas in Europe is very expensive btw… but very cheap in Russia. Which is a good job because Russia is 8,000 miles east to west. 

In my early usage (2010) NDrive seemed to fail a lot, but I discovered it was because my cellphone wasn`t very powerful. Now I`m running a Galaxy S3 and its fine.

I think you can buy one map for Western Europe then Turkey, Ukraine and Russia etc. Not cheap, but good. There`s nothing for Mongolia or Kazakhstan but then there aren`t many proper roads anyway ))))

If you have an iPhone try iGo.

I used this a few years back (2008) and found it very good but the damned iPhone wouldn`t hook up properly with my Helmet bluetooth so I ditched it.

Final piece of my experience – you can buy good local country maps in gas stations in large towns. You can`t buy a map anywhere in the boonies of Eastern Europe.

The citizens will point you anywhere without really knowing where they are pointing.

In small cities, if you ask directions of a car driver or a biker they will usually drive you out to the city limits and set you on the road.

I printed a couple of maps of the whole journey from Bing (better than Google, especially for crossing borders) This helped to keep an overall perspective. I bought a country map for each of the ex-Soviet States once I was in country.. and most of all – I carried a cheap compass.


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