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There and Back Again - An EV's Tale (Part V - The Return)

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

The one Constant(a) is Cualanor

Having reached Constanta on the Black Sea, Mark was tuned into Nevo EV's Power Hour on Youtube and shared the news of our journey for the first time.

Couldn't have been more delighted with the reaction and positivity from Derek Reilly, aka "Mr. EV Ireland", who we subsequently discovered lives in the same estate as us, Cualanor in Dun Laoghaire. Ireland really is a country of "a single degree of separation" (as opposed to six).





"Granny" Charger

During our six weeks in Constanta, we got by with our so-called "granny charger", which you plug into your normal home socket and charges at 2KW per hour (12km per hour for our ID4). The term supposedly comes from the idea that it is the cable you use when you visit your Granny, as she won't have a fast-charger, rather than it being derogatory towards old folks. Ana's Granny still lives and works her own farm and is a formidable lady, reminiscent of Lady Olenna Tyrell from Game of Thrones, so we'll respectfully go with the term "home charger" in her presence. Below is a photo of her with Ana from 1989 - when Romania was still under Ceaucescu's rule.




Beyond Thunderdome

While at home, Ireland experienced a very wet July and August (Climate Change? Bueller? Anybody?) we enjoyed the Constant(a) sunshine, visiting Ana's relatives, and our girls had lots of time playing with their cousins - and were now counting in Romanian whenever playing hide-and-seek, a great result! Romanian, being the closest living language to Latin, will hopefully be a great basis for them to learn Italian, Spanish, French going forward. Among the highlights of our trip was a visit to Romania's answer to Cirque du Soleil, with a jaw-dropping finale involving the 'thunder dome' below and not one, not two, but three motorcyclists, illuminated, racing around each other at breakneck speed in the tiny steel dome, in the pitch dark! We were all holding our breath and counting down silently in Romanian till they got out safely to a standing ovation.


Penny(un)wise

Six weeks flew by and it was already time to begin our journey home.

We were allowing ourselves a week to travel from Constanta to Cherbourg, going with the flow (or not traffic-wise) and our own energy levels to ensure safe driving.

While our granny charger had served us well to-date, we needed to charge quickly to 100% before leaving Constanta, due to the charger dead-zone between Constanta and Bucharest. There aren't yet a lot of public charging options available around Constanta, we first tried the e-charge at the "Pennymarkt" supermarket, which was "Indisponibil".




EnelX One

We had more luck at an EnelX charger, though the parking bay was very small, as you see below, our car stuck out into the very narrow two-way road, despite being parked right up against the barrier.



Bucharest

With our full charge to get us to Bucharest, there it was about finding a functioning fast-charge without having to journey into the belly of the beast. In terms of car traffic, Bucharest is one of the busiest cities in Europe (and in the world), listed in 2018 as Europe's third most congested city (and 11th globally), though as we were arriving late evening, it would hopefully be calmer.


I'm (not) loving it!

We first tried Kaufland indicated in the map close to us (the blue dot), which we arrived shortly before 22h00 to find the chargers shut off at exactly 22h00. Next we tried a Socar charger, but it only worked for those with a card, no guest pay option available. Next, we tried McDonalds, where the charge-point was positioned such that you had to cut across the long late-night McDrive queue of hangry drivers, explaining that you weren't cutting in, just trying to charge your car. We didn't go into Burger King.


Enel X 2

The charger at Maccie D's worked, but was 22KW, so we did a minor top-up and searched out an EnelX fast-charger. On our third drive down the same street, feeling like Kurt Wagner, we eventually spotted it - there is a lot to be said for brightly illuminating charge-points at night, as well as having multiple charge-points together.



Sibiu and Arad

Due to our experience of the mountain road in day-time, we decided to continue to Sibiu at night when it would presumably be quieter. This turned out to be a mistake, as it was still busy as well as dark, turning out to be the most stressful drive of the journey (followed by absolutely torrential rain on the German Autobahn a few days later). We arrived in Sibiu in the early hours, fortunate that our hotel had designated parking (they love towing illegally parked cars away in Sibiu). Sibiu is a beautiful, historic old city and well-worth a visit. For those who don't want to drive, there are direct Ryanair flights from Dublin. The Sibiu leg had exhausted us, so we decided we'd do a short drive and overnight close to the Romanian border in Arad, in order to travel through Hungary into Austria in one day. Arad certainly makes an impression on you as you drive across its' illuminated bridge into the city.




Beyond Borders

We had received notification that would be a considerable wait at the border, but decided to use the Nadlac crossing into Hungary nonetheless. This resulted in a 4 hour wait at the border in mid-day heat, in traffic queues that went from three lanes, down to two, then back up to three, then four, with stressed motorists attempting to switch lanes back and forth, akin to solving a Rubik's cube, that famed invention of Hungarian origin. It wouldn't have taken Professor Rubik to provide a solution to the Hungarian border infrastructure planners, simply keep the number of lanes consistent.


The Dead Zone

There was a dearth of fast-chargers after the border until we reached the outskirts of Budapest, where we were re-assured to see the shining lights of the Ionity fast-chargers. Ionity have foreseen what EV drivers want - superfast-chargers, powered by renewable energy, available to facilitate long journeys, intuitive and easy-to-use. We were encouraged to see other EVs charging in Hungary, Ionity seems to attract loyalty.





Vienna and the SDG Hotel

We chose to overnight in Vienna and had booked the Hotel Stadthalle, better known in sustainability circles as the "SDG Hotel". The UN Sustainable Development Goals, launched in 2015, established 17 global goals, with a target of 2030, to achieve "the world we want". The UN SDGs have become ubiquitous on corporate sustainability reports and at Sustainabil-IT, we like to refer to them as the "rosetta stone of sustainability" as they provide the one global definition that everyone can understand.


Staying at the SDG Hotel was a great pleasure for us working in sustainability, as their alignment to the SDGs mean they are net zero, use zero plastics, have used upcycled materials creatively, generate their own clean power, have avoided energy-wasting mini-bars operating 24/7 and with it, avoid an estimated 21,000 KG of CO2 each year.

It's also an excellent long-term business model, as younger demographics in particular are so climate-aware, that they will actively seek out holiday destinations with good eco-credentials. An example of doing the right thing ecologically also being the right thing economically.


The Fellowship of the EVs (Part 2)

After a restful early afternoon in Vienna, we decide to make use of Sunday's "LKW Verbot" to travel through Germany. Our first stop after the near-invisible border was at another Ionity stop, and for the first time on the whole trip, there was a queue. As they are super-fast chargers, we didn't have to wait long, and again, we got chatting with the other drivers about their journeys.


Laurenz (left of picture) and his girlfriend were travelling back to Austria - and had visited Ireland earlier this year, we connected on LinkedIn and invited them to visit us in Dun Laoghaire on their next visit. Sebastian (middle of photo) was returning from Italy in his EV with his young family and has done a number of long-distance journeys across Europe.

Ingrid and Uwe below both drive EVs (Ingrid a Tesla), and she described Tesla very well as an "App with Wheels", a company who really get the concept of "mobility-as-a-service" through their charging infrastructure and the ease with which the Tesla network can be used. It has been interesting to see that Tesla have started opening up their network to some other car manufacturers, no doubt Elon Musk has his eyes on a greater prize beyond the charging revenue - and that is all the data that comes with it.

It was again such a great pleasure to experience the camaraderie of the EV community, something that I put down to the "pioneer" spirit that EV drivers still feel, long may it continue.


Eon Flux

At this stage of our journey, we were Ionity converts, actively looking for Ionity chargers as distinct from 'chargers'. Why? Reliable, fast, availability, clean electricity. On the German Autobahns, we did experience a section (see ID4 navigation screen below), where the Ionity stations would have needed 3 Michelin stars ("go out of your way to visit"), so we used an EON fast-charging station along the stretch of motorway taking us West towards France.


EON has been hit and miss for us on this trip, we've experienced chargers out of order:


But also this illuminating experience, a very welcome sight on a dark parking lot (and working):


It appears that the charging infrastructure providers are learning what is important, from what others are doing well but also from customer feedback. We see the newest Ionity chargepoints now have solar roofs (similar to FastNed), and EON above with bright illumination, similar to Ionity. Also, in different EU countries, recommended standards for charging infrastructure are being published, which should be the tide that lifts all boats. enBW below, advertise their green credentials too (Okostrom) which is great to see.



France

We drove late into the night through Germany to maximise the Sunday LKW Verbot and ended up travelling all the way into France, where we had booked a chalet at a camping site. The camping sites had certainly changed from the days Mark travelled with his parents to Brittany in the early 80s, with the chalets now having outdoor hot tubs with which to appreciate the double rainbows. At this camping site, they didn't have EV charge-points, but the owners very kindly loaned us the camping plug adapter with which we could plug our granny charger in and didn't charge us for the electricity.


Champagne Dehours


As just mentioned, Mark's family went on holidays over 40 years ago in Brittany, where they stayed on a camping site in Plouharnel, near the village of Carnac, famous for its' menhirs that inspired the Asterix and Obelix books. In Carnac, there was a street with a little champagne bar, where parents would go, while children would be happily dispatched with 10 Francs each to spend at the amusement arcade, Lunapark, just opposite. Having returned to Carnac last year to find both gone, Mark wanted to visit Champagne Dehours and bring a bottle or two back for his mother, for old times sake.

Meeting the owner Jerome Dehours, Mark mentioned about a champagne bar in Brittany and Jerome said immediately "Oui, a Carnac". It had been run by his father.

With a few bottles secured, it was on to the last overnight of our journey, Bayeux.


Bayeux

Bayeux is another beautiful old town, which we had chosen to stay for two reasons - its' proximity to Cherbourg, and it's world-famous tapestry. As Mark mentions in the video below, we weren't sure if our girls would have the patience for the museum. And so it turned out, that we stayed in Bayeux without seeing the main attraction!


Cherbourg

To start the last leg of the journey to Cherbourg, we charged up at Intermarché, after first being directed down a dead-end street by our navigation system. As we realised it was most likely the charge-points were at Intermarché we drove to there, fully 100metres from the map location. It would benefit everyone if EV drivers could easily give feedback to the navigation system about mis-placed co-ordinates, or better still, the navigation system self-corrects after you have connected to the charger - it has the data.



Fans of Band of Brothers will know from the picture below, that even if Cherbourg gets top billing, we all know who the real star is.


As for a modern-day hero, here's our choice - this man travelling across to Ireland on his bicycle. We think that cyclists should be given their own priority boarding, just as we had enjoyed on the trip over when we had booked with the EV Charger.


Final Thoughts?


Living in Ireland, we were quite nervous about travelling across Europe by EV, as our experience of charging infrastructure was limited to our experience in Ireland, which is pretty poor. By contrast, every country we travelled through on our route, there was always infrastructure, bar two navigable "dead zones" after Budapest going East, and between Bucharest and Constanta.


One Ring to Rule Them All

There are multiple competing charging infrastructure providers, all of whom have their own charge cards or tags that you can sign up to. As a customer, you would much rather have a single, universal tag that identifies you, your car and your subscription/payment method, that is accepted by all charging providers. They need to be working it out amongst themselves, or indeed be mandated by the EU to ensure universal interoperability with all other approved charging providers.

After 10 years, the EU has managed to standardise phone/tablet charging cables to the USB-C. Let's not wait 10 years to ensure that all charging infrastructure can be used by everyone - and that price information as well as charger speed, is visible within your navigation system/app based on the provider(s) you are registered with.


Let's keep building out this infrastructure and ensure that it is always powered by 100% renewable electricity. Let's anticipate the expanded adoption by having more charging points at each location, as well as removing the remaining dead zones. Let's be prepared with intelligent queueing systems. Let's have more family-friendly facilities at charging stops - playgrounds, cafés as well as rest facilities. Let's improve the sign-posting of EV chargers, especially on motorways (to let ICE drivers see the expansion of availability). Let's standardise on an EV Charging Icon across the EU that is instantly recognisable and easy to distinguish from an LPG/petrol pump icon. Let's adopt the best design practices across the industry, such as FastNed's solar roofs that provide shelter from the elements as well as clean energy; let's emulate Ionity's reliability, illumination and aesthetics - think Eva from Wall-E.


If you're on the fence about making your next car an EV, join the Fellowship! While you may not simply walk into Mordor, choosing an EV over an ICE vehicle is no longer as daunting a choice as it was, (as solving Wordle once seemed!)

Collectively, our choices make a difference - and help avoid the dystopian Earth that lovable Wall-E inhabits.







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