The Eurotunnel Shuttle looks like a subway/metro/underground/tube for automobiles.
My husband and I wanted to drive from the UK to Belgium, so we had a choice between a ferry or the Chunnel. After all, there aren’t any bridges connecting Great Britain with continental Europe. The Chunnel won out for both duration and dollars (okay, pounds): Folkestone, UK, to Calais, France, in just 35 minutes for £44 (car and passengers) each way. (Prices may change, so check the website.)
Having never taken the Chunnel (a.k.a. Eurotunnel in France; Channel Tunnel in the UK), my first trip was full of uncertainty. How does it work? How do you get on? Where do you sit? What is it like? I wanted to know this and a whole lot more before taking the trip, so I decided to write a post to show other curious individuals what it’s like.
First, we bought tickets online for the Eurotunnel Shuttle, which is the vehicle transport (as compared to the Eurostar, which is the passenger transport). Upon arrival at the entrance to the terminal area, we had to pass through something like a toll plaza. License plate ID provided my husband with a personalized welcome on the toll booth’s monitor. After verification using the credit card used to purchase our tickets, we received a hanger tag with a letter indicating our boarding time, which we were to hang from our rear view mirror. We were instructed to wait at the terminal until our boarding letter was announced.
We planned for extra travel time from home to the Chunnel so we could have a time cushion, just in case, or to grab some dinner otherwise. With free time before boarding, I made a quick stop in one of the most disgusting restrooms ever before we looked for a place to eat.
The terminal housed a small variety of shops and eateries, including a Burger King. Neither my husband nor I had eaten fast food since leaving the States, so we decided to give a UK Burger King burger a try. By the time we purchased our meals we had little time to eat, which was unfortunate because, instead of savoring the burger, I ended up scarfing down the biggest and best Whopper I’ve ever had. I’m not sure what they did differently, but it sure was good.
Can we avoid a “ferry” from the UK to France? After much calculation, the answer was, happily, “no.”
When our boarding letter was called, we made our way back to our car, then followed signs and arrows reading, “France.” We passed through border security (a toll booth) where we presented our passports, then continued to follow the arrows pointing the way to France until we were lined up at a ramp for boarding.
An attendant directed drivers to pull up near the car in front of them, then stop. A bilingual, scrolling sign instructed drivers to open windows and sunroofs, leave the car in gear, put on the parking brake, and turn off the engine.
People could get out of their cars for the journey and stand at the sides of the well-lit, air-conditioned train car, but most did not. One restriction was to not pass between cars. I expect crushed legs might be the concern, so probably good advice to follow.
I was excited to be taking the Chunnel, and was enjoying the passing scenery as we made our way from the terminal to the tunnel’s entrance. However, once we entered the tunnel, the tunnel became dark except for a few passing lights. This got me to thinking about where we were and what we were doing. Specifically, we were on a train travelling underneath an awful lot of water. My mind started going probably where it shouldn’t have. Thankfully, my husband asked me to help as we tried to figure out how to put deflecting stickers on our headlights so we wouldn’t blind oncoming traffic once we arrived in France. This was one requirement among many that exist for driving in various European countries.
Before I knew it, we had arrived. All the train cars’ dividing doors opened, then exiting began fairly quickly.
Exiting was very quick, with no need to pass through any toll plaza or enter any building. The exit ramp-to-road connects directly to local streets.
The return journey worked in much the same way. The passenger terminal restrooms in France weren’t great, but far superior as to cleanliness and functionality than those in the UK. We each grabbed a cup of coffee (from a not overly-friendly barista) on our way out of the passenger terminal.
On the way over from the UK to France, I had wondered how trucks made the journey. While waiting in line at the boarding ramp in Calais, I saw trucks in cage transports as opposed to our enclosed train cars.
As we left the train area I caught a glimpse of the Folkestone White Horse welcoming us back to British soil.
All in all, the journey to and from France was very smooth and easy. And now that I know how simple it all was, I won’t give a second thought to taking the Chunnel in the future.