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Motorhome Travels

Zermatt And Gornergrat By Train, Half Marathon Support Crew

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Zagan the motorhome has enjoyed three days of rest at Camping Attermenzen in Randa ((N46.08571, E7.78168), just a little way down the valley from Zermatt, Switzerland. We were there so Jay could run the Zermatt Half Marathon, which he did amazingly in. He’a already written a report about the race, but I thought I”d give you a few details from a non-running perspective, in case you want to visit and enjoy some amazing views.

camping attermanzen near ZermattDawn arrives much earlier on the mountains than down in the valley

With Jay’s race number he was given three day’s worth of travel for free on the railway lines that run the length of the valley, as well as the Gornergrat Bahn which runs from Zermatt up high to Gornergrat. Tickets for the trains around here aren’t not cheap. In July a return on the Gornergrat Bahn will set you back around 114CHF (£87), and that doesn’t include the train fare to get you to Zermatt. You need to get a train to Zermatt because it’s a traffic free resort; even coachloads of sightseers only get as far as Täsch station where they are dropped off to ride the rest of their trip on the little red shuttle trains. Luckily for me, the race organisers offered a supporter’s ticket on all the trains for 77CHF. That seemed expensive when I bought it, but now having looked up the prices seems like the bargain of the year!

No traffic in Zermatt, instead you need to ‘Kiss and Ride’!

The campsite we stayed on was between the villages of Randa and Täsch, both of which have train stations. The walk up to Täsch station is slightly longer at 2.3km (the runners cycled up as there are wide cycle paths alongside the roads) but Täsch also runs additional trains so they are more frequent than those from Randa, which go past around every half an hour. The campsite also offers a shuttle service to Täsch for 7CHF one way or 14CHF return. On the weekend we were there they were also running a shuttle to the marathon start in St Niklas down the valley, but we didn’t need that.

Catching the train to Zermatt with our friends Phil and Jules

Arriving in Täsch, bikes were locked in the bike racks next to the bus drop off and we headed into the station. The barriers won’t let you through if there isn’t a train due so beware or you may end up doing a silly dance trying to get the card reader to beep green for you. Also, another great idea, the train doors open on the other side of the train to let folks off before your doors open to let you on – genius if you ask me.

Arriving in Zermatt we’re bang in the middle of the town. Across the street is the station for the Gornergrat train, but first we had final loo stops (at the nice, clean, free loos under the station), then we navigated our way around some goats (we have no idea what is going on) before seeing the men off to their starting pens.

Jules and I watched the start of the race and cheered on Jay and Phil as they headed off through the streets on the start of their 13.1 mile uphill run. Once they had gone we walked down to the Gornergrat station, skipped the queue of people waiting to buy a ticket, swiped the same ticket we had used on the previous train and waited in an airport-style departure lounge. A large clock counted down when the next train was due, and as the room filled up we took up positions near the door to the platform. Posters inform you that the right hand side is the best for a view of the Matterhorn, and so we dived into two window seats on the right as soon as we were released, which of course was after all the passengers got off the train coming in.

So that’s where they got the idea from!

I would say that we sat back and enjoyed the views, but no, we stood up most of the way leaning out of the window to get a better view, even though the windows were spotlessly clean. The train trundled its way up and up, twisting around to give us views out of Zermatt and the valley below, then plunging us into darkness as we passed through tunnels carved into the rock. We passed the two stations that the marathon would run through, and knowing that we had about an hour until they reached the lowest one, we decided to plough on to the top.

The views on the way up were just stunning with lots of folks getting off at one station and walking down to the next

We knew we’d be cutting it fine on our runner support duties if we stayed at the top for a look around, so we ran out of the station grabbed a couple of photos and a selfie then ran back onto the train as it left for Zermatt.

Some of the view from Gornergrat – we needed a 360° camera!

Our tickets were great as they gave us unlimited travel, so we hopped off at Riffelalp station to grab a photo with the iconic Matterhorn as backdrop, before heading back up to Riffelberg for the finish. Between the two stations we watched the runners alongside the train track, many of them with their hands on their thighs willing their tired legs to make another step towards the finish.

Jay at Riffelalp

Jay and I headed back up to Gornergrat so he could see the views after he had finished running. Then we hit marathon rush hour getting back down the mountain. It took over an hour to reach Zermatt as they had so many trains on the line, and the trains themselves were so packed a few folks passed out with the heat. After a ‘pasta party’ bite to eat for the runner, and a quick nip around the supermarket for me, we caught the train back to Täsch and Jay gave me a croggie (also known as a ‘backie’) back to the campsite on his bike – well it was downhill.

Gornergrat station It was worth nipping back up so we could have a proper look around.

We made it back to the campsite just in time for the second half of the England v Sweden world cup match, during which much beer was consumed. The following morning we had a very late start and did very little apart from a walk down the valley to Randa.

Randa – looking back up the valley to Zermatt and you can just make out the train line going up the hill to Riffleberg

It was baking hot, so we sat in the shade of the local church to escape the heat and looked over the beautiful graves. Standing in straight rows each wooden cross has a stone roof and is carved with the person’s name. As well as a photo of them, there were also very well kept flower beds at the foot of each was a candle and a little metal box containing a brush. It all looked so pristine, and with the mountains all around it wasn’t a bad place to be put to rest. As we sat in the shade we chatted about Charlie, he is never far from our minds, tears are now mingled with laughter as we remember the wonderful times we had with him.

As we headed back to the campsite we took our last look at the chocolate box chalets, window boxes trimmed with geraniums, sitting alongside farm buildings made of wood that looks like it has seen several lifetimes.

Before we made it back to Zagan, we popped across the road from the campsite to have a look at the local golf course. Yes, space may be at a premium in the valleys around here, but they managed to fit in all sorts of sports activities – I thought my Dad might particularly like this one.

Tomorrow the ACSI discount rate ends at the campsite and the price shoots up. So we’ll be leaving this little piece of paradise, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be back one day.

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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