I wanted to post about this after my trip to Brussels, because it was such a mind-blowing experience.
If you’re up on your geography, you’re well aware of the fact that England (plus Scotland) is an island. It’s really close to Europe, but they don’t touch…except by a remarkable tunnel under the English Channel.
The Euro Tunnel shuttles cars, semis (er, lorries) and passengers from Dover to Calais by train. Ferries do this, too, but they take longer (and are of course large boats, a better choice for the claustrophobe).
This is what befuddles me: We drove our car onto a train, then the train drove us under the OCEAN to France. Just WHAT? Really? HOW?!?!
I really, truly had no idea what to expect the first time we did this. (If you’ve crossed the Channel on a ferry, it’s not actually all that different. Except you drive onto a train instead of a boat. There is no on-board restaurant or casino. And it’s faster.) I had a childish fantasy that we’d see fish swimming by or mermaids sipping tea or champagne (closer to France).
Alas, it’s far less glamorous.
There are several lanes for you to enter the Euro Tunnel check-in, accessible via a dedicated exit from the highway. You can check in at an automated machine with your reservation number. You receive a review mirror hang tag with a letter on it that indicates your departure. Then you drive on to show your passports to border control. Then you follow signs or pointed fingers of the people in eye-scorching dayglo orange past the building with restaurants and bathrooms to an open lane, where you wait. Then about 25 minutes before departure you drive, following green arrows, to the “platform” that is open.
Then you drive onto a train. Voila!
You have to roll down your windows and pull up your parking break. Then you can get out of your car – just not between cars – and use the restroom. We found that we could stretch, snack and freshen up everyone just in time for disembarking, about 30 minutes later. You’re reminded to drive on the appropriate side (f*ing England), then you drive off the train and follow signs for where you want to go.
And that’s it. There aren’t even any artfully inspired signs welcoming you to a new country. Here’s a link to everything you need to have in your car with you for driving in France (f*ing France) if you’re making the trek.
Driving the French Autoroute is a pretty mundane experience, if you ignore the magnificent scenery. You’ll find plenty of tolls of the YGTBSM variety. Our first toll (of 21), just past Paris, came to 21.70 euros! At least the roads were really smooth? The rest stops are over-engineered and complicated, but are well marked with their offerings. I’m a fan of the cafeteria with the cheese plate, fresh bread and wine options (do you hear me, McDonald’s?).
Crossing the channel was the highlight of our first day on the road. Our apart-hotel in Gerzat was uninspired and took far longer to reach than we expected. But we didn’t have plans to take in anything particularly special until the next morning. Stay tuned for our adventure up a dormant volcano!