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!