We slept in ‘Transit mode’, an adult and the two boys in the roof, and the other adult on the made up bench seat, with the boot packed. This was to give us a quick start in the morning. However, things did not go to plan. At about 6pm we had light rain, and this deterred me from packing the tent awning, and in the morning it was still damp, so it was not until 10.30 that we departed. Still, we had nearly six hours before our 4.20pm crossing for the three hour drive to Calais.
We wanted to stop twice on the way, once for lunch and once for wine. We were forced into an early toilet stop, and then traffic around Antwerp delayed us by another half hour. 50 minutes down, and the need to check in Meg before checking in Amarillo at the Shuttle terminal meant we were under pressure for lunch.
We identified a suburb of Ghent called Flora as a good place just off the motorway for lunch, and Clare found a ‘child friendly’ restaurant for our last meal. I’d envisaged Clare tucking into a massive bowl of moules-frites, the boys a steak hashe and me a steak-frites. All quick, and all easy.
Instead the restaurant was rather posh, certainly child friendly with its own bouncy castle and ‘Little Tikes’ plastic slides and modular climbing equipment – but still rather posh. With no time to search alternatives we stayed. Clare and the boys shared two set menus, and I had my steak and chips – excellent fillet with about six hand cut soggy chips. The boys ate three each, while I was a pure carnivore.
On another occasion I could have really enjoyed the meal and the restaurant. But it just didn’t work for us. No wine, just water, but the Belgians don’t do tap water in their restaurants: we were charged 10 Euros for 750ml of sparkling and 250ml of still. Wine would have been cheaper!
We arrived at the tunnel terminal at 3.30, checked in Meg which was painless and efficient, then checked in ourselves.
I’d booked in the van as a ‘car over 1.85m’ with an unknown registration. When I plugged in the registration the website tried to overcharge me as a campervan, but our van does not fit Eurotunnel’s own definition of campervans (which includes a kitchen and fresh water tank). I wondered if I’d need to argue our case, but no, we sailed through as a car over 1.85m.
The queue for UK Border Control was slow, and all four of us were checked carefully, with Ben and Jack having to wave at the official through the open sliding window that Ben has now learned to open and close himself.
Then we were waved straight through the terminal and onto the platform ramp just as the 16:20 train pulled out. We were stuck on the platform ramp with one other vehicle, and were the second vehicle onto the 16:40 train. No time to buy wine…
The drive into South East London was painless, stopping once for a bottle of M&S wine for dad. An hour and a half from Folkestone and we were all tucking into mum’s roasted pork, red cabbage, too few potatoes, gravy and extra crunchy crackling. We were home.