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Motorhome Travels

Walking the Torrent Neuf in Saviese, Switzerland

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Zagan the motorhome is still parked up in the mountains, only now he has moved over the other side of the Rhône valley to a large, free parking area just above Savièse (46.25694, 7.34445). The car park is parking area one for the Torrent Neuf walk, something we had never heard about, but thought we should explore while in the area.

Motorhome parking at Torrent Neuf

After a relaxing Sunday on the campsite, we bid farewell to Phil and Jules as their plans were taking them to Italy over the Grand St Bernard mountain pass. We now have a free diary until the 17th of July, when we hope to catch Stage 10 of the 2018  Tour de France, before heading north for a ferry home on the 23rd. Our initial reaction after the weekend’s race was to head straight back into France, land of the free and cheap aires, but Jay spotted this place on Park4Night and hidden in the reviews was a mention of stunning views and a 3 hour walk. So we programmed satnav and headed up here on Monday morning, just as the ACSI discount rate ended at the campsite we were on.

We paid extra special attention on our drive back down the valley from Randa to St Niklaus where the Zermatt marathon started from, and when we got there after feeling the descent I turned to Jay and asked him if he was planning on doing the full marathon next year. He said he is tempted, but there are lots of other amazing marathons out there for him to try – so watch this space, we may be back!

Our drive brought us back down into the Rhône valley. Along the valley floor a train line, motorway and B road compete with homes, businesses and fruit trees for every square inch of space. The south facing-valley side was even more crammed with grape vines – which we found strange as we saw very few on the other side of the pass in France.

Arriving at the car park there were a few other motorhomes already here admiring the view. We parked up and Jay went to inspect the motorhome service point (2 CHF) and the tourist information hut, which has free WiFi that stretches across most of the car park. Being a week day, the whole place is pretty quiet, and the Internet is superfast – so we’ve taken the opportunity to upload a couple more videos to our YouTube Channel, and update all the apps on our phones etc.

After a spot of lunch, we realised it was only going to get hotter – it peaks around 5pm – so we donned our walking boots and set off. The map at the information point says it’s a two and a half hour return walk, from the start. We were a 45 minute walk from the start. So, packed up with water and emergency jelly babies we set off to see what the walk was all about.

Torrent Neuf Walk SwitzerlandWalking to the start

The Torrent Neuf was a Bisse built around 1430 to bring water from the valley of Morge to the hills above Saviese, as the current channels that were built were insufficient. Along the first part of the walk up to the entrance the Bisse was constructed in its simplest form – a canal or channel dug out in loose earth which was then piled up at the side to hold the water in. Further along the walk the Bisse was cut into solid rock, a tunnel had been dug through a tight bend or more often wooden channels were hung onto the side of the rock face. As we walked along it never ceased to amaze me what lengths people had to go to get access to water all year round, something we take for granted.

Torrent Neuf SwitzerlandThe water channel now runs along a much improved walkway Torrent NeufWalkways and tunnels guide the water high along the rock face

Old photographs and information boards showed you how the Bisse looked years ago, when the locals used narrow planks to navigate their way along it in order to maintain it. I got the heebeegeebees just looking at them.

We had it much easier than the locals who built the Bisse

All along the route signs told you to look out for goats on the cliffs above you, as their movement would lead to rocks or stones being dislodged and sent down in your direction. Small stone fragments were falling off all the time, and Jay got hit by one, but luckily he had his trusty Birthday Skoda hat on, so it didn’t cause any damage.

Torrent NeufAlong with goat warning signs, there was one for bears, but further on a sign further on told us the last one in Switzerland was shot a few decades ago. Torrent NeufHang on, how did he get here?

The best, or worst depending on how you look at it, part of the walk were the suspension bridges. Looking like they aren’t really held on by much, and swinging as you cross, they enabled us to get right to the end of the path and the source of the water the villagers so desperately wanted – warning, lots of photos!

Torrent Neuf Water SourceIt looks like there was a lot of water coming down here over winter bringing trees and huge rocks with it The view out across to the Rhone valley were amazing

Charlie would have hated this, even when he was little and enjoyed a walk

As we started to head back from the source, the sky darkened. We picked up the pace, but didn’t manage to outrun it, soon we were being hit with huge splots of rain. The path is closed in wet and windy weather, and while it was just a few splots it looked like there was much more to come. As we headed back folks were still walking out along the path, so we figured they wouldn’t shut it with people on it and backed off a bit.

Jay watches the sky, while mannequins show what it would have been like before the bridges

Our return walk was significantly faster than the walk out, but we still had chance to stop and make a quick video for you as photos just don’t do the place justice.

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In all it took us around four hours of not very strenuous walking, but with some amazing views. The path is free to walk along, but we made sure we put a donation in the box on the way out to help with its upkeep. If you are ever in the area, I’d certainly recommend a trip up here.

Ju x

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Motorhome Travels

Our Laptop v the Lenovo Ideapad 330S

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Driving around Fes in Morocco Driving around Fes in Morocco

Strange things happen when you write a blog. We’ve been recognised and stopped in the street a few times and even asked for a selfie (once!), but the strangest thing is that folks get in touch offering us stuff. Usually they’re offering money in return for us posting their article on our blog, but we don’t do that as I suspect everyone would stop reading it.

The Lenovo ideapad 330s Laptop

A couple of weeks ago, among the email offers was one that had us intrigued. It was from Intel asking if we would review a laptop which has their new has Intel® Optane™ Memory inside. That meant nothing to me, but Intel were so sure we’d love the laptop they said we could keep it after we had reviewed it.

So we faced a dilemma. Would we be selling our souls if we reviewed the laptop? We already have adverts on the blog (these are suppliers we use, and as we’ve mentioned in the past) and we also have Google Adsense adverts which help fund the blog, but this seemed more direct. In the end we went back to Intel and said that we’d look at their laptop and compare it to our current laptop, which is less than a year old and works perfectly well. We’d then do a video review, but as you know, we tell it like it is on this blog, so if we didn’t like it, tough.

The (non-touch) screen opens flat, which is a bit odd, but maybe handy for showing folks around you what you’re working on?

The laptop arrived with few instructions in the box, so we did some googling to find out what is so special about it. It turns out it has the same amount of storage and RAM as our current laptop, so will hold the same number of videos and photos, but because it has both Optane™ Memory and Intel’s 8th Gen Core i5 processor it’s much faster at doing stuff (the full specification’s here on Argos). I’d say no more waiting for the egg timer, but I think they disappeared a while back, these days we stare at a bar or some spinning ball things telling us how long it will take.

We filmed ourselves running a few tests comparing how quick the two laptops were at starting up, saving a video file, opening a large word document (our new motorhome book which will be out soon!) and shutting down. I don’t think I have a new career as a technology correspondent, but I have to say I was surprised at the results (clue – it’s very fast).

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Of course, speed isn’t everything. The laptop feels light and thin but well made, the keyboard’s nice to use, and the USB ports and power jack are handily on the sides rather than the back. That said, there are only two of the ‘big’ USB ports (and a smaller USB-C one) so if you plug lots of stuff in, you’ll need a hub. There’s no network connector either, so you can only use it wirelessly, although that’s all we’ve ever done (outside of work offices) for years now. 

Side-mounted connectors on the ideapad 330sSide-mounted connectors on the ideapad 330s

The screen caught us out too. The quality’s great! We’d not noticed how washed out and imprecise our current laptop screen is, but we have now, argghhhh! The new one’s a pleasure to look at, and we enjoying watching us driving around Fes, and in the butter-coloured Erg Chebbi dunes like we were there.

Driving around Fes in MoroccoDriving around Fes in Morocco

In terms of motorhome travel, the laptop’s size will make it easy to store. It has a narrow bevel around the screen, making the best use of space for watching videos on dark nights. It has a rapid charge feature, which gives up to 2 hours of use from a 15 min plug-in, which will be handy for keeping load on leisure batteries down to a minimum (we use a 300W pure sine inverter). The laptop will easily handle the blogging, book writing and video editing work we do, much better than our existing one. The only negative point is perhaps the fact it doesn’t have a solid state drive, which would handle knocks and drops better the ‘normal’ hard drive it has, but that’s never been an issue for us in the past. It’ll make a solid travel laptop.

We’re never going to be able to do a full-on review, but we have to say we’re really impressed with how quick the laptop was compared with our usual computer. It costs about £530, which is £100 to £150 more than we’d usually spend. Would we buy one ourselves? Probably, but as we only buy a new laptop every five years or so, it’ll be a while before we find out!

Ju x

Disclaimer from Intel: “Intel does not control or audit third-party benchmark data or the web sites referenced in this document. You should visit the referenced web site and confirm whether referenced data are accurate.”

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Costs

Our 2018 Three Month Motorhome Tour – Summary and Costs

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Rather than our usual tour for several months, in 2018 we decided on a short, for us, trip of just three months. The main reason was our pampered pooch Charlie. His health was failing, so while we initially planned to take him to the beaches of Croatia (he loved a beach), the temperatures across Europe meant we changed our plans. We fitted the tour around Charlie so we only did short drives, finding places to stay where he could wander around freely outside and keep cool in the shade etc. This meant that we drove a lot less, and stayed in more campsites than we usually would.

Motorhome Tour of France 2018Our overnight stops

We set off on the 23rd of April and worked our way across France slowly, staying in places for a few days. Jay had a date with Zermatt in Switzerland at the beginning of July to run a half marathon up the foothills of the Matterhorn. So, as the temperature rose, we headed for the Alps to keep cool and so Jay could do some running at altitude. Sadly a couple of months into our tour Charlie deteriorated rapidly and we had to take him to a vets in France to have him put to sleep to end his suffering.

Just over a week later Jay kept his date with the mountains of Switzerland and did himself proud. After seven nights in Switzerland, we made our way back to France to watch a stage of the Tour de France. Finally we made a quick, for us, trip back up to catch the ferry at Dunkirk on the 23rd July. On the way back we nipped through Luxembourg for some cheap fuel and stopped one night in Belgium.

Motorhome Tour Overnight Costs

How much did the trip cost?

The total cost for three months in Zagan, our motorhome, was £3282.83, which breaks down to £36.08 per night. There is a full breakdown of the costs below.

These figures includes the cost of the ferry, a couple of one off costs – a new wheel bearing for Zagan and having Charlie put to sleep. They don’t include vehicle tax, MOT, vehicle insurance, breakdown cover, personal travel insurance or depreciation of the motorhome.

Zagan, our 2001 Hymer B544 with a 2.8JTD engine supped diesel 485 litres of diesel at 24MPG over 4010km (2490 miles). We also used 82 litres of LPG, but very little of that was on heating as it was hot most of the time.

Over 40% of the total cost for the trip was paying for food and drink, either from the supermarket or eating out. Diesel was our next biggest cost, followed by motorhome repairs – these were bumped up by the wheel bearing replacement.

I know lots of you like to see the numbers in detail to help with you own tour planning – so here they are. Hopefully they are pretty self explanatory, but feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions.

Motorhome Tour Cost Breakdown

Cheers Julie

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Between Trips

Fitting a Mini Heki Skylight to a Hymer Motorhome (or how not to!)

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Me looking nervous cutting through the motorhome roof Me looking nervous cutting through the motorhome roof

We’ve been hanging our noses over a new Mini Heki skylight for Zagan, our 2001 Hymer B544 motorhome, for months. The standard skylight in the kitchen area was the candidate to be replaced, as it had become opaque with age, and only lifts up a few centimetres by design. On our wanderings we’d seen these new style Heki skylights bright and wide open, and during the heat of summer had fancied the addition breeze wafting about our wagon’s cooking space.

The standard skylight on our Hymer B544. It works fine, but lets in little air and light.The standard skylight on our Hymer B544. It works fine, but lets in little air and light. The top of the skylight - close to the satellite dish as it happens...The top of the standard skylight – close to the satellite dish as it happens… The underside of the skylight with the flyscreen in place.The dark underside of the standard skylight (with the flyscreen in place).

So, when we met up with a mate doing a self-build panel van conversion, who happened to have a spare Heki Mini, we were propelled into action. A quick bit of research revealed there are four variants of this particular skylight (all fit an aperture 400mm by 400mm):

  1. With permanent (forced) ventilation, and roof thickness 25 to 32mm
  2. With permanent (forced) ventilation, and roof thickness 43 to 60mm
  3. Without permanent ventilation, and roof thickness 25 to 32mm
  4. Without permanent ventilation, and roof thickness 43 to 60mm – this is the one our mate had

The first two, with permanent ventilation, are for caravans. They let air in even when closed, so would whistle during driving which, in turn, would drive us mad. The latter two are for motorhomes. After quickly checking the van’s roof thickness (about 50mm) and the size of the current skylight (400mm by 400mm), we picked up the skylight for the bargain price of £75 (they’re usually about £100 with postage from Amazon).

The Seitz Heki Mini Skylight UnpackedThe Seitz Heki Mini Skylight Unpacked

At this point I should note we (I) cocked up, resulting in some ‘fun’ during fitting, as the skylight didn’t, erm, fit. Measuring the roof and the aperture size with the existing skylight in place was a bad, bad idea. I really should have done more research, as the roof thickness is actually 30mm, which meant I’d got the wrong variant of the Heki, whoops. What I couldn’t have known though, or at least probably wouldn’t have discovered unless I’d really looked, is that the standard skylight opening is actually 390mm by 390mm, with small semi-circular cuts made to accommodate the 400mm-wide fittings. So we had a skylight which was both too deep and too wide…

Lifting off the old skylight housingLifting off the old skylight housing The existing aperture before cleaning up all the existing mastic.The existing aperture before cleaning up all the existing mastic. And it's 39cm across, so the Heki doesn't fit.And it’s 39cm across, so the Heki doesn’t fit.

From a previous job fitting a solar panel to Dave, our old Hymer B544, I already knew about Sikaflex, one of the ‘standard’ makes of adhesives folks use to stick stuff to the roofs of motorhomes and caravans. Checking some self-build videos, I got a tube of Sikaflex 221, which glues the the skylight to the roof, creating an elastic seal to keep water out. I was also aware of the fact Sikaflex is horrible stuff to work with if you get it anywhere it shouldn’t be (and best not breathed in or got on skin), so was careful to wear gloves and not let it get on stuff (other than Ju’s shorts, which had to be binned).

Daftly choosing a timeslot starting about 2pm, the hottest part of a hot sunny day, I removed the underside of the old skylight, then got up on the roof and used flexible knives to cut under the adhesive for the existing skylight. After going around all sides a couple of times, the top part could be lifted away (shown above). Another 30 minutes with blades, cloths and fine sandpaper removed the rest of the sealant and keyed the surface ready for new adhesive. At this point we realised the hole was too small, shook fists at the sky, borrowed a jigsaw from a friend and a power supply from a friendly bloke at the storage yard and, gulping a bit, cut a 1cm piece of roof out from two sides, so the new skylight fit with a spare 1mm or so as per the instructions.

Me looking nervous cutting through the motorhome roofMe looking nervous cutting through the motorhome roof

By this point we’d also realised the roof was only actually 30mm thick. The instructions called for small plastic pillars on the lower section to be trimmed to the correct height (4mm in our case), and when we did this we found all the screws we had were too long. Another trip back home and we cut them all down to the correct size with an angle grinder, easy job but took another hour by the time we’d supped a brew! Back at the van, popping a thick bead of Sikaflex along the groove on the underside of the Heki, we made sure we had the lower part of the skylight facing forwards, and dropped it in place. Back underneath we screwed the lower part of the frame in place, placed screws at opposite corners to avoid pushing the sealant out too far on any one side.

Marking the plastic pillars ready for shortening with a hacksawMarking the plastic pillars ready for shortening with a hacksaw Applying the SikaflexApplying the Sikaflex The upper part of the skylight dropped into placeThe upper part of the skylight dropped into place, with the hinge at the front With the lower section screwed on, the skylight couldn't openWith the lower section screwed on, the skylight couldn’t open

Back on the roof the sealant looked good, just pushed out from the base of the skylight all the way around. At this point though, we realised it couldn’t actually open. Goddammiiitt!!! The lower part was made for a thicker roof, so was covering the grooves the handle needed to run through. A bit fed up, we retreated home for a few days to let the sealant go off. Back up there today, we (I) trimmed a couple of V-shapes from the lower section, refitted it and slotted the flyscreen/sun shield section in place using the little metal clips provided.

Two v-shaped sections removed a few days after installation lets the skylight open, huzzah!Two v-shaped sections removed a few days after installation lets the skylight open, huzzah!

One final issue: the satellite dish stops the skylight being fully opened. Resolution: put up with it. If we lift the dish a few cm the skylight opens fully, so not a huge issue, and we still have the other two opening settings available to us, one of which has a locking mechanism to stop the skylight flipping open in the wind. The Heki lets in a ton of light compared with the old one, and we’re pleased with the final fitting. Lesson re-learned, once again: measure properly, and do more research!

The final result - the Heki Mini in place and workingThe final result – the Heki Mini in place and working. Took MUCH longer than expected, but only because I cocked up! All in all, well worth the effort.

Cheers, Jay

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