Steve takes a 300,000+ mile Audi A6 to Europe. Will he make it? Read on to find out!
This topic is about my road trip to Belgium including the pre planning. Research is key when driving in Europe as rules and regulations change from country to country.
Things you'll need before you go:
1. European breakdown cover - I have found there are too types of cover available. 1. Covers you for recovery like your normal cover. This cost approx £37 for my 5 day trip. 2. Cover that will cover the cost of your repair bills. This cover cost £54 for my 5 day trip. The prices are from the AA of which I am a member. Just be mindful that with the break down cover they only cover you up to the cost of the vehicle. So if you have an old Audi like me you could be at risk of having to fork out extra.
2. Inform your insurance company - I had to pay £17 extra to cover my car for the trip. Again there are 2 options available and are charable regardless of what UK cover you have. 1. 3rd party cover. 2. Fully comprehensive.
3. European kit - for driving in France it is compulsory to have a breatherlizer, warning triangle, GB sticker, a high vid jacket for every occupant, headlight converter stickers.
4. Check French toll roads - 76% of the roads are tolled in France and for which you will need a transponder which you have to pay for from the toll road company managing the roads your travelling on. You also set up an account with them. However the main road to Belgium the a16 is not tolled.
5. Check to see if the EU country you are visiting has any Low Emissions Zones. France requires you to have a sticker when traveling in Paris for example. Belgium hasn't brought any emissions rules into effect yet but will do as of 2018.
6. Don't forget to pay for the Dartford crossing. The crossing consists of a suspension bridge heading towards Dover and a tunnel coming away from Dover. If you have never used the crossing before you can pay before or up to 24 hours after you have made the crossing.
Now onto the trip
Day 1: Leicester-Dover Calais-Brussels
The run from Leicester to Dover was straightforward with no hiccups or traffic delays. But we did leave in plenty of time to avoid most of the bank holiday traffic.
We arrived in plenty of time for our P&O ferry and it was a good job we did as it took over an hour to get through boarder control & check in. However I think this was down to Volume of bank holiday traffic. The port has a reasonable terminal with facilities consisting of a Burger King, WH Smith's, Costa and toilets. If you have forgotten any key European items you can get them in the Smiths Newsagents.
We boarded the ferry which was straightforward and made our way on to the passenger areas. We had decided to go with a premium ticket which proved well worth the extra money. We got free drinks and snacks (fruit, biscuits, crisps, tea, coffee, soft drinks etc) as well as a free glass of champagne on arrival. Papers are also free. The key benefit of premium however is the extra space (far less people) and plenty of seating including private outside space. I would strongly recommend the premium to anyone. It was superb and had a waiter service!
Disembarkation was again quick and road signs were easy to follow. We picked up the 16 for Brussels and set into a comfortable cruise. In France the speed limits can change quite often on the motorway so keep an eye out. Oh and obviously they are in kph!
We also stopped for fuel in France which thankfully is similar to the U.K. The difference being is that a pre payment system is used. For this you can either put your card in the machine at the start or ask the cashier how much fuel you would like.
We encountered heavy traffic near to Ghent and Bruges due to the lanes merging from 3 to 2. But after we got through, we had a clear run to Brussels.
Driving in Brussels is entertaining to say the least. Partly as there are hardly any road signs (this is not an exaggeration!). Brussels has its m25 equivalent which is a tunnel system that runs under the city and only pops to the surface for exits. We got lost at this point and came off to find somewhere to park to recalculate our route.
The traffic in Brussels is like London. There's a lot of it!! For example a 5 mile drive in Brussels took us 25 minutes. But there are the added risks of trams. Traffic lights only change from red to green and there are hardly any speed limit signs.
We finally reached our destination at 6:30pm Belgium time after travelling 12 hours. Total miles covered (including being lost) was 335 miles.
So until 2:30pm we were trapped at our accommodation due to a marathon taking place in Brussels. The marathon was the Belgium equivalent to the London marathon and as such thousands of people took part!
The morning wasn't wasted as we decided to have a BBQ for lunch as the weather is gorgeous here. It's reaching mid to high 30s (degrees) each day!
We finally left at 2:30 and decided to travel the 1:40 minutes to Yepre. Yepre saw a lot of the fighting during WW1 and was completely rebuilt to its 14th century design after the war.
This has allowed the town to keep a true Belgium feel with cobbled streets and Gothic architecture. As well as the traditional chocolate shops and bars. We also visited the Menin Gate, a war memorial built to show the names of the missing servicemen and women from WW1. We then also visited Ypres war cemetery which was a somber experience.
Ypres is a town well worth visiting and not far from the French border. Parking was straightforward and thankfully we did not need to pay.
Stay tuned for day 3. However, I must warn you as there won't be any driving involved as my siblings and I are going to Disney land Paris by Eurostar. We are big kids really. My sister and I are in our 20s and my brother is in his teens! There are still plenty of adult rides i.e. Rollercoasters there!
Oh and by the way, the A6 has just clocked over 322,000 miles!!
Today was more unusual as we spared the car and took the train to Disney Land Paris for the day. I appreciate this isn't everyone's cup of tea so stay tuned for day 4 as we're planning to go to Spa race circuit.
This meant a very early start as It took us 3 hours travelling on 3 trains and a taxi each way but was so worth it. Just like the UK the train system in France and Belgium is very busy and in parts of France they use double decker trains to cater for the volume of people. Despite the train network being busy all the trains were on time.
Disney Land Paris is a great theme park and isn't just geared towards children. Some of the rollercoasters and other rides would be unsuitable for little ones. But just like most theme parks the queues are long but luckily fast passes are available on the more popular rides. If you are limited for time in the park, then the rides I'd strongly recommend are:
hyperspace mountain rollercoaster, star tours (Star Wars), buzz lightyear lazer blast, phantom manor, big thunder mountain rollercoaster, pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana jones temple of peril rollercoaster.
Rock and roller rollercoaster, vehicle stunt show, the twilight zone tower of terror (massive drop tower), studio tram tour.
After we had finished the rides we got dinner at planet Hollywood before heading back on the train system home.
Today we visited Circuit De Spa Francorchamps, Belgiums F1 racing circuit which was an amazing experience. From Brussels it took us 1 hour 40 mins each way but that was partly due to roadworks. Due to the traffic issues we weren't able to drive into Germany as planned. However, we have decided that we will do a road trip of Germany on its own in the future.
Luckily the circuit was being used for a track day and as such there were various race cars, super cars and road cars on track. Including multiple Audis such as an a1, x2 TT, rs4, r8 and even an a8! And the best bit was that we got in for free. The track day also allowed us to park in the paddock and walk around the pit garages and along the pit wall. Spa also has fantastic viewing spots for spectators despite its size and the obstruction of the forest.
Just to add to the excitement the track day got red flagged as a Volkswagen golf mk2 had run into the back of a BMW 1 series coupe which spilled fluids and glass right near the pit entrance. On top of this we were able to drive around the outside of the track as there are roads running round the outside and inside of the circuit, these roads are also at varying gradients and are a mixture of tarmac, concrete and even dirt.
After leaving the circuit we visited the local museum in the town to view their collection of race cars and motorbikes. There are a mixed bag of vehicles from Ferrari f40 and Daytona right through to f1 cars. The museum cost 9.50 euros each but the cars were great. The museum also has 3 other floors but unfortunately we were pressed for time. There is limited parking at the museum but luckily we just parked on the street outside.
On arriving back to Brussels we caught a train into the centre to take in some of the local sites and grab a bite to eat for dinner. Now obviously Belgium chips and chocolate were on order, but not together mind you! After a bit of souvenir hunting we headed home so we can chill out for the drive home.
Day 5 - the journey home
So, all good things must come to an end and today we made our way back to the U.K. However before we left Brussels we helped my sister move into her new accommodation just 10 minutes down the road. The car was packed to the rafters but the move went smoothly.
We left Brussels at 12noon and headed for the euro shuttle (channel tunnel). We chose to come back via the tunnel for the experience and this inadvertently proved to be a great move. As we passed the junction for the Calais docks and ferry port the queue of cars were backed up on the skip road and in the slow lane of the A16 motorway!
This compared to the tunnel significantly as we piled off at junction 42 for the tunnel and arrived at the check in gates in 5 minutes. As you pull up the gate automatically recognises the vehicle so you just have to select which train time you want. As we had made good time we were able to catch the 15:20 instead of the 16:16!
Once you're through you will arrive at French boarder control and security and then UK boarder control. After clearing border control you follow the road round to what looks like a motorway services and at which point the wait begins. Luckily we had only 8 minutes to wait till we were called to board our train. The boards are similar to what you would find in an airport, accept they are outside in the car park. Once you get called for your train, you end up queuing in two lines similar to if you were waiting to board a ferry. At this point our train was delayed due to an oil spill but I wasn't overly bothered as we were on an earlier train.
Boarding the train is a straightforward affair and is similar to boarding a ferry. It is a tight squeeze to get into the carriage but it's nice and large once your inside. When on the train you have to leave your Windows down which is nice as the carriages are fully airconditioned. The journey is fairly smooth and only took half an hour to get through the tunnel. Oh and don't forget to put your clock back!
Once you've cleared the tunnel it's a straightforward exit and onto the motorway for your journey home. Unfortunately for us we were using the dartford crossing which has chocker!
Total miles covered: 1056.7 in 5 days
Car mileage: 322,573
And no issues presented during the trip!
Thanks for reading! Steve