Friday, 28 November 2014

Website Update

Someone has been tinkering.

There's a new version of the booking procedure online - and I must say I rather like it! 

A nice interface, I thought. 

Only problem is, first time I tried it, it failed to find the Frequent Traveller Fares i.e. £0.  It tried to charge me full whack prices!  Boo!

Try upgrading your browser, said the man from Tech Support, when I emailed them.  I'm on Internet Explorer 11, what more do you want?

OK, clear out your cache.  Nope, not that either

I ring back - no answer.

I try the main number.  "Can I help?" says the bloke who answers.  I explain the problem.  He talks me through the booking procedure.  "Why do I need this,  I've done it a hundred times before?" I ask myself.  But he was right, and it worked. 

The problem was that I was bypassing the front end, and going straight to My Eurotunnel, by clicking on the link on my address book for Eurotunnel.  But I had the old address, and now there's a new address for the new version!  

So well done, bloke on the helpdesk, and please accept my apologies for doubting you

Monday, 27 October 2014

How to Acquire a Dog

We nearly acquired a dog on our last trip to France.  We were driving up the A16 motorway and came off at the service area Aire de L'Épitre for a quick pee.  There was a dog running along the motorway and into the service area ahead of us.  We parked up and got out and it ran straight up to us, and tried to get into the car, giving my son a severe dose of the habdabs (he doesn't like dogs).
It was a braque français , a pointer, and as we stood there we could hear the chasseurs' shotguns popping off in the fields behind the service area.  We had been spotting them all the way - there is a fashion for French hunters to wear bright orange gear these days, ever since some poor bloke shot and killed his son by mistake while they were out hunting in more traditional green camo.

So this dog must have jumped the fence onto the motorway, and just kept on running.  Luckily he was wearing a collar with a name and a phone number on it.  Judging that the dog's name was Hugo, but that the phone number was that of his owner, I rang up and told the lady who answered where her missing dog was. 

She turned up ten minutes later in a black car like mine, and she was petite and dark haired like my wife - which accounts for why Hugo the dog chose us!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Bloody Starbucks

So, it's 1030 at night and pretty much everything is closed - except for Starbucks.  I don't like Starbucks and its vile burnt coffee.  I decide to try the hot chocolate and my wife orders the English Breakfast tea. 

We pay, and go to the end of the counter to collect it.  I can sort of understand why they want me out of the way while they take money from the guy behind me in the queue, but I would much rather they gave me my order.  Other retailers - like Costa - can do it. 

Anyway, my hot chocolate came, and hey! It's really nice!  Silky, chocolatey, and generally delicious. 

We went back to the car and headed off, through passport control, under the height barrier, and into the lane to wait for the train.  My wife took a sip of her tea and pulled a face - no milk.

Bloody Starbucks!

Monday, 18 August 2014


Ever wondered what Flexiplus is?  As you approach the terminal, you see the signs - essentially it's a way of getting on the train whenever it suits you. 

The usual deal is that you book a crossing for (let's say) 1230.   But suppose you don't know what time you are going to be getting back (maybe you are driving up from the south of France in peak holiday season).  With a regular ticket, if you are early, you wait; if you are late, they try to put you on a train with spaces, but maybe you wait a long time. 

Pay for a Flexiplus ticket, though, and you get on the first train that suits you.  There's a dedicated check in, a private lounge and priority boarding.  You still have to go through the big delayer though - UK Border Control. 

The private lounge is nice - one late evening they must have decided to give us a free upgrade, and directed us through the Flexiplus channel.  The lounge had a very nice premium coffee machine - help yourself, no extra charge.  The loo was nice, and you didn't have to trek across the car park to get to it.  And a nice lady gave us a little picnic hamper. 

So how much?  It varies, depending on the usual supply and demand, but it's roughly an extra hundred quid.  Is that worth it? 

For me, it's rare that I would benefit.  Outbound I usually set off after work and get there pretty late on when all the queues have gone.  Homeward bound, coming from a village fairly close to the Channel, I usually arrive close to my scheduled departure time anyway, so it's no big deal.   

But maybe - if I was that guy trekking across France, not sure what time I was going to get to Calais, car full of screaming kids, then £100 to get on the first train and miss the bank holiday crowds, - yes, I would be tempted.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014


There we were, strolling along Calais' lovely  blue flag white sand beach on Monday lunchtime, and it was time to go home

But when we got to check in there was a hour delay because of reduced capacity.  (Meaning what?  Someone off sick I suppose).  So you have my phone number, why not tell me ?  I could have gone for a paddle, or for some Moules frites, or for a visit to Mme Fifi's charming nieces.  But no, you don't tell me and I have to kick my heels in the car park for an hour

Friday, 18 July 2014

So How Does It Work? Calais Terminal

Pretty much everyone thinks of it as Calais, but the terminal's actually in Coquelles, and the tunnel emerges in Sangatte.  (Yes, that Sangatte.  You occasionally see asylum seekers wandering around the roads, but the police tend to keep them in slum camps or behind barbed wire, except when someone decides to have a crackdown and they bulldoze the camps, so they have to set up a new slum somewhere else.)

When you come along the A16 motorway, you just follow the signs for Tunnel sous la Manche and (provided that you don't turn right into the freight section) you end up at check in.  This is pretty much identical to the UK Version. As in the UK you can buy a ticket if you haven't already done so, but most of the checkin kiosks are unmanned, as most people have already bought online.

The big difference comes next - French Customs almost always stops you and usually does a security check for explosives and firearms.  They dab at your door handles and steering wheel with a little sponge on a stick, then take it away to be checked.  I presume they are looking for the chemicals in explosives - and if they find any on your car, they may not be happy bunnies about letting you through.  So if you are a quarryman, better be able to prove it.  

Then through UK Border Control.  This is a dramatic contrast to the French Border Control as you leave the UK, who simply wave you through.  Here's where the long queues are.  Everyone is stopped, every passport is checked.  You have to drive through a big yellow Cyclamen machine - I think it detects radioactive materials by zapping you with muons...

Better allow a good half hour for the queue and the zapping and checking.  They open extra lanes at peak times such as Bank Holidays, but of course at those peak times there are extra cars so you are never going to speed through this bit.  The Borders Agency takes enough stick - they don't want to be pissed on by the Daily Mail.

The terminal itself is fairly similar to the UK side, except that the duty free section is considerably larger.  Makes sense - nobody is going to be taking booze from the UK to France, except if you want to give your neighbour an unusual bottle of malt whisky, perhaps.  If you haven't already filled up at the supermarket (there's a big Auchan in Sangatte, closed on Sunday though) you'll find a reasonable choice here.  There's a Quick (French hamburger joint) and a W H Smiths where you can pay outrageous prices for imported UK newspapers to read on the train.

And there's a (spit) newly opened Starbucks, which replaced the French café chain Brioche Dorée about a month ago.  I learned the other day that Starbucks espresso tastes burnt because that is the way folks in Seattle like it - I suppose there is no accounting for tastes.  Fortunately there are coffee machines as you queue to get on the trains, which also let you get rid of your small change... 

Monday, 7 July 2014

So How Does It Work? Folkestone Terminal

If you have time to kill before your crossing, you can wander round Folkestone if you want.  But that involves finding your way into town, and finding your way back again - easy enough with a Satnav, I suppose, but it's pretty rare that I could be bothered.

If you get there early and they aren't busy, you can usually take the next shuttle crossing, even if your booked crossing isn't for an hour.  The software offers you the option when you check in.  Scrap that for bank holidays, of course, and also if there's a breakdown.  Then it's chaos, and they get quite strict about you travelling on your booked crossing.  Fair enough, I suppose.

Which can mean you hanging about the terminal, generally kicking your heels. What is there to do?

There's a duty free shop, although as the duty on stuff in France is considerably less than in the UK, there seems little point to it.  There's a money change bureau.  WH Smith for all your books and magazines and sweets.  Ladies, Gents and Disabled loo. Starbucks.  A couple of fast food counters.  And that's about it.  Outside you can walk your dog in the special dog-walking area.

It isn't very exciting I'm afraid.  Normally you aren't going to be here long, and quite often I go straight on past the terminal and into the queue for the train, even straight on to the train if I'm lucky with the timing.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Making a phone call - under the sea!

Your mobile phone now works on the train!  I noticed a sign in the carriage when I crossed over on Friday - it wasn't there a fortnight ago.  So you can send texts phone calls, although I found I couldn't go online in the tunnel, so perhaps data is not available.

Problem is - who can I call while I'm under water?

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

So How Does it Work? On the Train

You drive onto the train and squeeze up close to the car in front.  Switch off the engine.  You now have a 35 minute crossing during which you have very little to do.  Each carriage holds four or five cars, and the same upstairs.  You could go and make friends with the other drivers, fall in love with the beautiful girl in the sports car, and have a barbecue with the people behind.  But it isn't going to happen. 

There's a loo - the world's tiniest - every three compartments.  So you can stretch your legs, do a bit of queueing, and take a leak.  You can wander up and down and look at the cars.  Er, that's about it.

It's a good idea to take a picnic - it helps to pass the time.  Take a book or a magazine as well.  There isn't even a coffee machine on board the train. 

But the great thing is that you are only on the train for 35 minutes.  It pulls into the station, you set your watch back an hour, and set off - straight onto the French motorway system.  They have already had the opportunity to see your passport on the other side, so there are no delays - just set off. 

Monday, 23 June 2014

Mind Your Speed!

This article appeared in the Sunday Times this week:

British Holidaymakers Warned as France Cracks Down on Speeders

Frankly, if you do 175kph on a 130kph stretch of motorway, you shouldn't be surprised if the cops stop you and fine you.

So how does it work?

For 99% of the population of the UK, you follow the motorway down towards the bottom right hand corner of the map.  For us it's M32 / M5 / M25 / M26 / M20.  Just short of Folkestone, there is an exit for the Channel Tunnel terminal.  Take it.  If you miss it, don't worry, just go on to the Folkestone exit a couple of miles further on and follow the signs to bring you back to the terminal. 

Follow the road for a couple of miles.  It slows you gently down to 40 mph and then you arrive at the check in gates.  This is pretty much computerised these days:
  • as you pull up to the screen, the system reads your numberplate, recognises you from your booking, and says hello.  
  • You confirm who you are by slotting in the credit card you used to book.  
  • If you are early or late it looks for an alternative crossing time for you, and you just touch the screen for the time you want.  
  • Then it prints out a paper hanger.  
  • Make sure you are ready for this because you will look a damn fool running across the car park if the wind catches it.  
  • The barrier opens.  
  • You drive through.  
The tricky bit is remembering which credit card you used.  On a Frequent Traveller deal, it might be a year since you made the original purchase.  Your card might even have expired!  If it does, don't cut it up, keep it in the car for going through the Eurotunnel check in.  The alternative is to type in a long booking reference, and probably have to talk to a human being who can't understand why you don't have your card with you. 

If you arrive close to crossing time, you can miss out the terminal altogether - so I will.  Straight to passports - UK border control first, then maybe a test for explosives and firearms, then French border control.  Follow the signs - high vehicles in one lane, regular vehicles in another, and Flexiplus fans in yet another.  If you are in a regular car, you get to play chicken by driving under a series of red and white gates suspended from poles across the road - maximum height is 1.85.  If you have a roofbox, or bicycles, or a Range Rover, you might prefer to take the high vehicles lane.

Then you line up in rows waiting for the train.  Lane 1 goes first, then Lane 2, then Lane 3 - simple, isn't it?  Beware of jumping lanes - if you do, and they spot you, they make you wait.

You follow the line of traffic, or the green arrows if it's a quiet night, until you get to the train.  The loadmaster beckons you forward and onto either the lower or upper deck (unless you went for the high vehicles lane).  There's nothing to choose between them, so it doesn't matter that you get no choice.  Pull right up to the vehicle in front (another loadmaster will beckon you forward).  Switch off, 1st gear or park, open the windows.  You're aboard!

Thursday, 19 June 2014


I promised to check up on petrol prices for you.  The price for regular unleaded in Bristol is around £1.30 a litre.  At Carrefour Calais (Sangatte, strictly speaking) it's €1.485, which translates to £1.20.  So not quite such a good deal as diesel, but definitely worth filling up on your way back to Blighty...

Monday, 16 June 2014


Coming back to Calais I always try to come off at the stop before the tunnel and fill up with diesel.  The service station underneath Cité Europe couldn't be handier, although it's a bit hard to find.  The road takes you past the Eurotunnel admin HQ on the left - look to the right and you should be able to see the queues for the train, or no queues if all is going smoothly.  The French like to keep you penned up in the terminal where you might possibly buy stuff until the last few minutes. 

Go round the roundabout, and a 100 metres on the right there is a curious double exit.  The first is for buses and delivery vans and closed off by a barrier to mere mortals. The second, which is a bit tricky to spot, takes you down to the basement level of the car park.  Follow this towards the exit and the service station is on the right.  You can pay at a kiosk in the week; on Sundays and out of hours the pumps all take credit cards. 

There's a good reason for filling up here, whichever way you are going.  It's a lot cheaper than the motorway service stations (but you knew that already).  And it's a lot cheaper than UK diesel, because the French taxman doesn't clobber the diesel driver as much as our beloved Chancellor of the exchequer.  A litre of French diesel is £1.05, compared to around the £1.35 mark in the UK. 

Petrol?  I would have to check - my last couple of cars have been diesel, partly because of the French pricing.  But I reckon that Unleaded is much the same price as Sans Plomb

Sunday, 15 June 2014


It was a smooth journey to Folkestone and the Channel Tunnel Terminal.  If there's a problem, it'll be on the M25,and there was no problem on Friday night.  We arrived, stretched our legs and went for a pee.  Sadly the café in the UK terminal has been taken over by Starbucks, and I had a cup of their vile burnt espresso.

There's another café - a nice one, independent, but it's usually closed by the time we arrive.  If you go through the UK and French border controls, (such as they are) and get into lane for the train boarding, there's a couple of shelters for coffee machines and Mars bar dispensers, plus a sort of caravan affair decked out to resemble a train.  You would think it's just a greasy spoon, but in fact it does a decent tea, nice espresso, and sausages, bacon, etc.  But it seems to close around 8pm, and we usually arrive at about 9 pm.   If it's open when you get there, be sure to go.  There aren't enough indie coffee shops, they deserve your support.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

What's the Deal?

I've been asked to explain the deal that Eurotunnel offer.  Basically they give you a discount for paying up front for 10 or more trips.  This was £390 until a couple of months ago - it has now gone up to £430 for 10 trips.  So £43 per crossing. 

The price of a crossing varies depending on supply and demand - well, who would have thought it?  If you cross to France on a wet Tuesday lunchtime in February, the regular price is around about £65.  If you want to travel over to spend the August bank holiday in France, reckon on paying double that.  I've seen the peak time fare rise to around the £200 mark as it gets closer to the date of travel. 

So if you are crossing to France five times a year, the Frequent Traveller fare is a good deal...

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Off to France

Getting twitchy - plus I'm running out of rosé... 

One of the nice things about being a frequent traveller on Eurotunnel is that I never have to pay UK prices for alcohol.  The tax on wine in the UK is something like £2.20 - in France it's something like 20p.  So while I rarely do a booze cruise - a trip just to stock up - I can afford to buy a case of 6 bottles for a price similar to 2, even 1 bottles in the UK. 

It helps if you like French wine - you rarely see the New World wines that have made such inroads into the UK market.  Apart from the wine warehouses in the Channel ports, the only place to find South African and Australian wine is in Aldi or Lidl. 

Monday, 9 June 2014

Don't scare me, Eurotunnel!

Eurotunnel gave me a scare yesterday.  Suddenly they wanted to charge me £43 in addition to the £43 I already pay to cross the channel as a frequent traveller.  It looks like a bug on the website.  By golly, I'm sure it's a bug on the website!  But it specifically says they are going to charge me two lots of £43, and the same coming back.  I hold off booking. 

Today I had another look - Lo and behold, the extra £43 has gone away!  Yay!  So I book for a reassuring £0.  We're off to France!