Fellow blogger Stuart Pinfold has drawn my attention to the eccentricities of Google Maps in giving driving directions between certain points in Southeast Europe. In his post on the topic he points out that Google Maps comes up with a slightly overcomplicated route between Dubrovnik and Mostar. Instead of the conventional 150-kilometre drive that less creative mapping software might recommend, Google suggests a more adventurous approach: a ferry to Italy, some driving, another ferry to Greece, and more driving through Greece, the entire length of Albania, Montenegro, and finally Bosnia. At 1541 kilometres it's a mere 10 times longer than the usual route - and so much more interesting. I've always encouraged travellers to venture away from the beaten path and explore less well-known parts of the Balkans, so it's nice to see Google doing the same. Not only that, but it adds a sense of history by persistently referring to Dubrovnik as Ragusa - admittedly not a name that appears very often on Croatian road signs.
I tried a few test routes of my own in Google Maps to see if this was just an aberration. Surely the straightforward coastal drive from Split to Dubrovnik wouldn't cause any problems? Sure enough, Google's answer does involve a drive along the Adriatic Coast - unfortunately it is on the other side of the Adriatic, between Bari and Pescara.
I guessed that the small strip of Bosnian territory between Split and Dubrovnik (the "Neum Corridor") might be causing a problem, so I tried an even simpler request: directions from Split to Zagreb, a route that lies entirely within Croatia. The result was even more surprising: "We could not calculate directions between split, croatia and zagreb, croatia."
So the problem runs deeper than the Neum corridor; there seems to be a more fundamental problem with Google's Croatia database. But maybe it's just Croatia that is flawed and everywhere else in the Balkans is OK? I asked for directions between two neighbouring capitals, Belgrade and Podgorica. At first everything looked fine: as I expected, the results show a blue line heading southwest from Belgrade and continuing along major roads to Podgorica. But wait a minute - what is that thick blue line southeast of Belgrade? Closer inspection of the driving directions reveals the problem: Google wants us to head southeast for 150km, turn around, and drive back to the outskirts of Belgrade on the same road before finally taking the correct road towards Montenegro.
At this point I gave up.
As far as I know ViaMichelin is more reliable in providing driving directions in the Balkans. Certainly it acquitted itself well on the examples above. However it's possible that similar horrors lurk within the databases of ViaMichelin and other non-Google mapping websites - if you know of any, let me know.