*a person who enjoys himself or herself - Collins English Dictionary
"But I paid you a subscription for a non-Tesla ... it's on your app, Elon."
"Tough shit earthling ..."
"How're you getting to Southern France?" friends and acquaintances asked. "In our electric car," resulted invariably in sceptical eye shifts and the occasional shuffling of feet. Did this influence or inform our decision to embark on the required 1,100 kilometres from Faringdon, Oxfordshire to Saint-Romain, Charente?
Influence? No. Inform? Definitely, even if only to ensure we could prove the doubters wrong.
We are quite proud of our VW ID3. We are aware of detractors but have no doubt the environmental benefits outweigh the costs. Now to make it work.
A gazillion hours of YouTube videos later did little to eliminate our nervousness but it did forewarn us of potential pitfalls. A big challenge was the lack of a unified front from any of the multiplicity of energy vendors plying their wares. Zap-Map, Pod Point, Izivia, abetterrouteplanner (ABRP), Google Maps, Apple Car Play, VW's own maps, Chargemap, IONITY and Tesla to name but a few. Each one adding a bit of information here and there and sending us up the garden path there and here.
Perhaps unfairly, but Tesla got up my nose the most. Early on I had watched a video in which a Dutch fellow drove his VW ID from the Netherlands into France via Belgium and seemed to have got it sussed after a few initial hiccoughs. Basically, Tesla offers a monthly membership to non-Tesla owners to use its fast charging network. This had the added inducement of banks of Tesla chargers at both ends of the Eurotunnel. What could possibly go wrong (you may have heard this from me before)?
I paid my money and became a non-Tesla-driving Tesla member. Not being quite as gung-ho as you might imagine, Shan and I shuffled off to the one Tesla charging station within a million miles of our house for a practice run. It didn't work. In a rather cavalier way we brushed this aside trying to convince ourselves that Tesla hadn't upgraded the backwoods yet. Eurotunnel at Folkestone would be a different kettle of fish (Hopefully not literally!).
Standing disconsolate in the biting wind in the car park, a lovely Eurotunnel employee came to see how we were getting on. We told her the truth.
"Have you tried our free one," she asked. Things were looking up. We shifted our gaze to where the Eurotunnel charger was standing proud and vacant.
What you need to know about charging an EV
At this point in the narrative it is probably appropriate to give the briefest possible note of EV requirements, if only to make things a little clearer for EV novices:
Applying this knowledge to an actual journey
Bearing all that in mind, we'll return to our friendly PR lady. We transferred our car from Planet Elon to the shiny new free Eurotunnel charger. It all connected painlessly and we repaired to the terminal for a sarnie and ginger beer. We could check progress on our mobile phones while we got out of the chill wind. Disappointment was an understatement. I forget the exact output of that charger but it was less than we were accustomed to at home. At that rate we'd be at the terminal for the rest of the day (and maybe even beyond). We decided to chance our luck on the other side of the tunnel (after all the car would sit on the train for the journey sous la Manche).
Yeah well, we couldn't find the chargers at the other side, could we? We limped (the slower one goes the further the charge will take you) an agonising 100 km down the A16 to the Aire de la Baie de Somme just outside Abbeville. There lay a bank of Ionity chargers facing off from a similar bank of Tesla chargers on the the opposite side of the road. We were on our own. These things are entirely self-service and help is a phone call away (and who knows how far that is?). We went for the Ionity. After some cack-handling we eventually got ourselves hooked up successfully to a 50 KW charger ... so a bit less than an hour to charge our car fully. After walking aimlessly around the Aire for what seemed like an eternity we resolved to stop the process when the car was 90% full.
The Tesla <=> Ionity face-off at the Aire de la Baie de Somme. Note the white Elonmobile sneaking off in the far middle-ground.
We decided to pop across the road to check out the Tesla big boys opposite. You guessed it - we could not connect. And after that we discovered another EV challenge. The faster chargers are almost exclusively on Autoroutes. We were unaccustomed to Autoroutes having avoided them for decades in our petrol/diesel vehicles. We soon learned that returning to an Autoroute was pretty fraught if you happen to take the wrong exit from an aire on to the highway. Once you have chosen an entry point you can be committed for tens of kilometres. Fifty km later we were more or less back where we started. We contemplated topping up our charge but we were by that time exhausted by our vicissitudes and headed as directly as we could to Vascœuil, our little haven described in #1 of this blog.
There were two chinks of light in this charging malarkey. With a little more time on your hands you could use the 22 KW local charging network. Every small town in France seemed to have one. Perhaps 22 may have been a little optimistic but, if you could leave your vehicle hooked up overnight, a full charge was easily possible. Big LiDL stores were also to prove a bit of a godsend. They provided free charging for the first half-hour when shopping at one of their shops and more time if you were willing to pay the extra. They also popped up in more obscure locations along with the local 22 KW facilities. They did, however, demand a fairly intimate knowledge of technical French. We sort of overcame this setback by resorting to trial and error - although I did at one stage fear that our little car was going to be attached to the Vascœuil charger forever and will never completely understand how I eventually managed to disconnect it.
This particular LiDL was a bit of a godsend, found a little more by luck than design. It did take an hour(ish) but we left with a full tank (so to speak). I was also able to perform a critical analysis of the carpark gabions while dying for a pee. Some slightly superior (to aires) grub was also a bit of a compensation and bladder diversion - the advantage of aires being that they do have loos.
Charles de Gaulle (CDG, Paris)
But I have skipped an episode. We weren't going to get from Vascœuil to CDG and back to collect Kinks without a top up. This didn't seem to be a major obstacle that couldn't be overcome. There were apparently plenty of charge points highlighted on one of the manifold maps we were using and we imagined that, France being one of the foremost EV benefactors, this was not going to be a problem.
Well! You find all those chargers, OK! We ended up in what was probably the world's most hectic filling station, situated on the CDG ring road. Every car in France must have passed through there at least twice in the time we waited for the one and only charge point to perform its glacial business. It became a tug of war between meeting Kinks at Arrivals and having sufficient charge to get back to Vascœuil for a well-deserved glass of wine. We did make it, but only just. An early morning foray to the town charger (returning to the house with croissants and pains-au-raisins to consume while we waited for a trickle of electricity) did save our bacon for a relatively early departure in a Southerly direction for a 6PM braai with Ann and Craig.
Vascœuil to Saint-Romain (600 km)
According to "A Better Routeplanner (ABRP)", this journey would take us seven-and-a-half hours including 50 minutes of charging time. We left between 10:00 and 10:30 so a 6 PM ETA for Craig's braai should have been doable.
At some stage we knew this wasn't doing to happen. Shan took over the driving so that I could make intermittent updates to Chez Eriksen. Ours hosts seemed more relaxed about that than we did:
"Not a problem, I still have to dig up a bit of garden," replied Craig at 5PM when it became obvious we were at least an hour off beam.
"I still have to shower," said Craig a few hours later.
"Ann prefers to eat later," this must have been after 8PM and we were still at least an hour away.
Always sympathetic refrains from Craig as I phoned while Shan drove like a bat out of hell, trusting the interactive cruise control in the dead of night to recognise the maximum possible speed for every turn on the increasingly rural roads.
"I'm just making sure we maximise the recovered electricity," she tried to reassure us while I wished I'd donned brown underpants that morning.
Boy was it a relief when Craig appeared waving a torch in front of us in Saint-Romain as the clock was approaching 10PM (4 hours later than ABRP's prediction). Craig didn't break a sweat as he poured us fine Bordeaux and Ann remained as serene as she always seemed to be. The Eriksens were determined we were going to have our 4-hour supper, come what may.
OK so part of it had been our ineptitude but 50 mins of charging, ABRP? Give us a break.
Alright, I'm understandably unclear as to which evening this photo was taken (or even who took it) but the sentiment was the same. Four hours late for dinner and the welcome was undiminished, as was the quality of the local wine. Craig counts the Medoc as his local stamping ground, having completed the local Medoc Marathon for the second year in a row.