Billy the Bus's Blog

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Added mains hookup

The geeky electrics work continues. I've now bought a smart charger, and a mains hookup (not a snazzy one, just a mains reel with a 16A plug on the end). As well as powering my charger, I've also adapted my switches and things so that my mains socket and TV can switch between using the invertor and mains supply.

Here's the geeky wiring diagram!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Billy's snazzy new table

Folds up all small and stuff :)

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Billy in the snow

It's snowing in Clapham. Always a good time for a long-exposure photo.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Camper electrics

I've finally finished a job I've been wanting to do for ages. Basically, I've sorted the camper electrics. I know a) understand the behaviour of the leisure battery, b) have good meters in place, and c) have a well arranged 240v system.

While I was on the big trip, the leisure battery didn't perform very well. I posted about it here. I wasn't getting more than 30 minutes of juice really. So when I was at home for Christmas, me and Dad did some experiments trying to find out what was going wrong. They proved pretty inconclusive - apart from a slight voltage drop off between the two batteries (maybe 0.2v) it seemed to be getting plenty of juice while charging (14V), allbeit at a fairly gentle current (1.5A).

So we did some more reading and discussed it on the forums, and found out more about the chemistry and construction of deep cycle batteries. I think the mistake I made before the big drip was not conditioning the battery with a really good mains charge. I did charge it on the mains before mine and Dad's experiments, hence the low current. Since then, the battery has been running fine. So, feel a bit stupid about that.

One thing that came out of the experiments with Dad, is he made a really good ammeter. He made his own shunt, and measured the voltage drop and all that stuff and ... basically, he's a very clever chap and I now have a 20A meter on my panel, switchable to show charge or discharge.

And finally, I have put a couple of switches in place to help me manage the 240v invertor better. On the trip, I used the switch on the invertor to turn it on and off, which involved putting my hand deep into the bowels of the cupboard and finding it blind - it was a bit annoying. Also, I ran everything off this one 4-gang which meant even if I was just charging the laptop, the whole TV and everything had to be on. I've now put a separate switch in now for the TV stuff, so you can turn it on separately.

Finally, here's a wiring diagram I drew. Nerdingly brilliant.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Big Billy Trip 21 - Brugges, Belgium to home

Route - Brugges, Belgium to Home!
Distance - 283km (final total = 4,317km = 2682 miles)



And so that's it! I'm home. I visited some cash n carrys and the big Cite Europe shopping centre in Calais before I left, but basically hurried on home. Here's the map that shows my entire trip. 2600 miles in 3 weeks. It was brilliant!

Big Billy Trip 20 - Brugges

Big Billy Trip 20 - Brugges

Decided not to rent a bike in the end, because it was raining. Went into the city and went to the Fries museum, the chocolate museum, two pubs, a pancake house, and a bunch of shops. Nice day




Big Billy Trip 19 - Bockholtz, Luxembourg to Brugges, Belgium

Route – Bockholtz, Luxembourg to Brugges, Belgium via Brussells
Distance - 304km (4,034km total)

These last few stretches are all seeming to go very quickly. Probably a combination of flatter terrain and me being more used to driving long distances.

I awoke in a really misty foggy Luxembourg this morning, and had the mystery of working out which house on the farm was the home of the campsite owner; I had to pay her, and ask her how the showers worked. They were token showers, but the tokens she used were old Belgian 5F coins, so I had to get one from her little tin. She was very sweet, and didn't even realise I'd come back to stay at her place – she assumed I would've found somewhere else near the castle. I did think about it, but her place was in the direction I was travelling, and it was a sweet little place rather than one of these holiday park affairs.

IMG_2450.JPGThe sun burnt the fog away fairly quickly, and the road to Brussells was uneventful. I got there around lunchtime, and just wanted to park up somewhere for a couple of hours to get some food and have a mooch around (I'd heard it was fairly boring, as cities go). I found a multistorey, but misjudged the height limit. It said 1.9m, which I know is right on the boundary of Billy's height, but I chanced it anyway. Mistake. I've got some nice red scratches on the roof now, from the red and white striped pole thing they have hanging at the entrance to show the height limit. Ah well, at least it was that rather than a concrete ceiling. Hopefully it will rub out with some t-cut.

So in the end I found somewhere to park on the street, then found a chippy, then found a fancy old building or two, then found a waffle shop. All good. Back on the road for Brugges.

IMG_2453.JPGI've learnt you can get a feel for a city fairly soon upon arriving, and I decided even on the ring road that I really liked Brugges. Maybe it was the guzillion kids on bicycles that crossed in front of me when I was at a red light? It just feels really nice here. I got the bus into town from the campsite, and had a wander around, and then some Moules Frites for me dinner. On the bus back, I made friends with a couple who were visiting as part of their gap year – I gave them a copy of the Alan Rogers PDF to help them on their travels. The whole city and its people and its visitors just seem really laid back.

So I'm going to stay another day, and I'm going to rent a bike tomorrow, and cycle all over. Huzzah. One last night here, than it's off to Calais for the 14.20 on Saturday afternoon. I think I'll go via some hypermarkets on the way back, for some booze and sweets and things. Fun.

Big Billy Trip 18 - Esch to Bockholtz, via Luxembourg City

Route – Esch to Luxembourg City to Bockholtz
Distance - 72km (3730km total)

Today was a much better day than yesterday! I did lots of driving again, but instead of it being about covering distance, I drove around this really nice country just soaking it all up.

IMG_2408.JPGI had read nice things about the capital, so I headed there for lunch time. It is indeed a really nice place, very cosmopolitan feel, lots of people of different ages and different backgrounds all doing their own thing. I saw the ruins of the original castle (the reason Luxembourg became a place) and the caves underneath it, then had a sarnie.

IMG_2413.JPGI also liked Luxembourg City because the whole of it is one big WiFi hotspot. It's the future. So I sat on a bench as they cleared up the flower market, and uploaded a few photos and stuff.

Next I drove North, trying to find the fairytale Chateau I'd read about. My map is poor on detail, and the one in the Lonely Planet was no better, so I did quite a bit of driving around in circles to find it. But it was such lovely driving, I didn't mind at all. I also found a campsite to stay at, on the way to the castle, which is a bonus. The castle itself was nice enough, but mainly because of the nice views from the top of the pigeon-poo-encrusted tower.

IMG_2440.JPGMy new favourite road in the world is the Luxembourg N27. I only found it by accident, but it is so much fun. It's fairly flat for starters, which is good for Billy, but it sweeps around, following the flow of the lake in the bottom of this valley. At one point, you cross the river on a wooden bridge, take a sharp left, and then re-cross the river almost immediately back to the other side. If you were designing a fun race track, it would be a bit like this. If I lived round here, I'm sure I'd be doing time trials on it, like I used to on the A60 Lboro to Nottingham.

IMG_2432.JPGNot even 10pm yet, but I'm in bed. It's the easiest way to keep warm. I would definitely not do this trip any later in the year than this. The cold is just about manageable, but I can understand why 30 Sept is generally seen as the close of the camping season. Italy was hot and lovely, but you can't really avoid several days in the colder North to get there can you.

So two nights left after this – I think one near Brussells and one near Bruge. I may as well drive Bruge to Calais on Saturday morning – no point staying a night in the mingy North of France if I can avoid it. Night! x

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Big Billy Trip 17 - Stollhoffen, Germany to Esch, Luxembourg

Route – Stollhoffen, Germany to Esch, Luxembourg
Distance - 273km (3658km total)

Really very uneventful day. Got up. Drove to Baden Baden to see what that was all about (kinda posh, full of tarts with little dogs, I walked around some shops for a bit and found some free wifi). Then I drove to Luxembourg. I had a Burger King on the way (omm).

IMG_2400.JPGI decided not to plump or another night in Germany in the end. I think I'll visit Luxembourg City tomorrow daytime, and stay at another campsite in the north of this wee country tomorrow, before heading into Belgium.

IMG_2407.JPGNeed to make sure that I actually DO something on these last few days of this trip. It could very easily just be about getting home and killing time between now and my ferry on Saturday. That would be a sad way to end a good holiday.

Big Billy Trip 16 - Munstertal to nr. Stollhoffen, Baden, via Titisee

Route – Munstertal to nr. Stollhoffen, Baden, via Titisee
Distance - 176km (3385km total)

I'm having a problem with Germany. I find the language too funny. I can't stop seeing words and pronouncing them to myself in a cod-German voice, slightly high pitched and urgent, and making myself giggle. Maybe it's too much Allo Allo as a kid. Add to that unfortunate sexual double entendre (such as the place I visited today, called Titisee) and I find I'm just walking around laughing at my host country. Not good.

My other observation so far is that the 'working leisure' hair cut is alive and well in Germany, as is the rat tail. Rock on.

(Oh, and the word for exit is Ausfart. Tee hee. Ahem)

IMG_2358.JPGI drove around the Black Forest today, taking lots of photos and stuff. I had intended to drive to several little Black Forest villages, to really suck up the atmosphere, but the driving was so arduous (Billy doesn't really like hills) that I only went to Titisee, then headed for the motorway. It was 3pm by then, so it was the right thing to do.

IMG_2364.JPGIt's all fairly picture postcard, but also all has the feel of being quite tacky. I'm certain that's unfair, and that we've taken the heritage of this place and plastered it across so many things for the last 100 Christmases, that its our fault not theirs, but it does leave a lasting impression. In fact, a lot of Titisee did just make me feel Christmassy – maybe it was the wooden toys and things for sale, it as all very 'visiting German craft market'. All I bought was some shnitzel (tee hee) and some little bottles of booze to try. Might buy some of the Kirschwasser tomorrow, cause it tastes pretty good with coke.

OK geeky campervanny bit now, turn off if you're not interested. I'm having real problems with my leisure battery. I bought it anew before the trip, because the last one had karked it (or had it, I now wonder?). It is 75aH, so plenty big enough for an evening of DVD watching or accessory charging, I thought. I have a 300W power invertor, so I can plug in mains powered devices – I have a DVD player, a 14” screen, and a socket for charging this laptop and other things. The invertor has a cut-off alarm, to stop you flattening your battery, and it starts beeping when the battery reads 10.5V. At the moment, it is doing this after about 90 minutes usage, which is a bit shit. By my calculations, I'd have had to be drawing 50A for the battery to be flat in this time (which obviously I haven't been; there's a 25A fuse!). So I'm a bit confused.

My dad has suggested there's perhaps a voltage drop-off between the battery and the Invertor, causing it to read 10.5V before that's actually the case. I will do some investigating along these lines when I get home, but my voltmeter at the fusebox also reads 10.5V, and anyway I wouldn't expect to be losing so many volts from long wiring and poor connections. Even with the TV (5A) and DVD (2A) on, and the laptop charging (2A), I would expect the battery to last at least 8 hours. Maybe my idea of alive and the invertor's (10.5V = dead) are different?

The other thing that's weird is that after the invertor has beeped at me, I turn it off, and the voltmeter starts to slowly creep back up. Before long, it's at 12.5V again, but as soon as I turn the invertor back on it slowly falls back down to 10.5V over about three minutes. Is this normal?

One thing I think I will definitely invest it for 'next time' is a mains voltage hookup kit. Not to charge the battery necessarily, but just so I can run a cable into the van to run mains-powered devices. I could even have it plug into the cupboard that contains the invertor, and have a bypass switch so my devices get their power from the outside source instead.

IMG_2399.JPGOK, geeky campervan bit over now. Tomorrow I'm going to drive North and West, into the bit of Germany that borders Luxembourg. Think I'll spend one more night in Germany, before heading to Lux the day after. Night night!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Big Billy Trip 15 - Lungern, Switzerland to Munstertal, Germany

Route – Lungern, Switzerland to Munstertal, Germany
Distance - 248km (3,209km total)

Switzerland continue to live up to its reputation for loveliness this morning. I awoke from a bitterly cold night's sleep, and couldn't even bring myself get out of bed, so lay in and watched a couple of episodes of The Wire on my iPod. By ten, the sun was poking above the mountain, and I could hear Billy creaking as the cold body work started to warm up. I poked my head out of the sliding door, and watched steam rising off the side of the van, as the sun baked and defrosted the metal. Fun.

I took it appropriately easy this morning. I took advantage of the sunshine to dry off the rear bed cushion, which was still damp from the Italian rain, and cooked some toast and eggs whilst gradually packing the van up to leave. It was then I noticed the cable car running up the mountain; I'd seen in the night before, and assumed it was closed as a summer thing. So, this helped me decide what to do next.

IMG_2323£12 to climb 2500m into the sky? I think that's a bargain. The first part of the journey was by cable car to 1500m, and the last 1000m was by ski-style chair lift (in fact, it's clearly a skiing region, it's just not snowy at the moment). The vista was so unbelievably perfect, I just gawped in wonder. None of my photos will do it justice, I am certain – though, that didn't stop me taking loads. It was the reason I decided to drive through Switzerland, and made me so happy I could burst. Yay.

IMG_2349.JPGBut I had to come down and get a move on. I fancied staying in Switzerland another night – I'd withdrawn 300 SFr, not knowing what their currency was worth, so I've still got loads of it left and might as well spend it here. I drove to the capital Bern, and found their only campsite to be closed - Alan Rogers has naff all campsites listed for northern Switzerland, so I was on my own here. So, I decided to carry on to Germany, since it was only an hour away, and had lots of listed campsites.

I've just had a meal in the campsite restaurant, which was an amusing experience. I speak no German at all, and they seemed to find this most peculiar – like a campsite on the German/Swiss/French border in a major tourist region might not entice non-Germans to visit it. I picked through the menu, ordered the only thing I recognised (Rumpsteak mit pommes frites is pretty self explanatory; shame, I had steak last night, but ho hum) and then ate it whilst everyone around me watched – perhaps to see if English people eat differently to them, I don't know.

So I'm here at the gateway to the Black Forest, and tomorrow I'm gonna go see my some cookoo clocks and try to get some gateau. The campsite has a pool which I think I'll use in the morning, and try to make my way to Heidelberg or somewhere for tomorrow night. (I think I'm going to aim or Luxembourg and Belgium on the way home, just to notch up the country count!)

Big Billy Trip 14 - Lake Maggione, Italy to Lungern, Switerland

Route – Lake Maggione, Italy to Lungern, Switzerland
Distance - 214km (2,961km total)

IMG_2295 Tonight, dear reader, I am a man. I ever there was doubt cast about my manhood (heaven forfend) let that doubt now be cast asunder. I am a man because, having arrived at my campsite in Switzerland, I have this evening: gone on a hike, found firewood, chopped it up with an axe, made a fire on the beach, and cooked steak on it for my dinner. Whilst drinking whisky. Oh yes; I am a man.

I am also probably breaking a million Swiss laws or something, I've heard this country is a stickler for properness. Ah well; fuck em. I'm leaving for Germany tomorrow. They're much more understanding. (did I mention the whiskey?)

I was slightly put off whilst eating my steak by the miriad cow bells jangling behind me. I think the cows know. Cows always know, don't they?

Oh and when I saw I 'found' the firewood... I nicked it off someone's woodpile. Ahem.

IMG_2225Seriously, it's beautiful here. Think Heidi and Sound of Music, and that's what this lake whose shore I'm sat on is like. The brazzier is burning to the right of me, and the lake is lapping a few metres from my feet – not that I can tell, because it is pitch black out here. It's everything you wanted Switzerland to be.

IMG_2215I left Italy at about noon. It absolutely pissed it down in the night. This meant two things. One, all my laundry got drenched on the line; not to worry, they had a tumble dryer for 3 EURO. And two, Billy sprung a new leak. Took me ages to work this one out, at 2 in the morning. Basically, because of the way I was parked, the rain water was gathering in the rear gutters, and overflowing, and pouring into the top of the tailgate. On to my head. I tried the Bestival method of blocking the holes with dirty socks, but it was no good. So I went outside (in waterproof trousers and jacket, rarrrr) and stuffed the dirty socks in the tailgate out there instead. Much more effective.

So, I know I need new door rubbers on the tailgate. But I was also able to do some crafty DIY the next morning. I remember my mechanic telling me a while back that rear gutters are meant to have drainage holes, but mine had been bodged by some previous owner. So, I used the dremmel-type tool I brought with me (just call me Sam the Ever Ready) to drill a 4mm hole in the gutter on the back offside corner. Hopefully, if the gutter fills up again, it'll be able to drain itself better. Of course, it may now pour down the van into the tailgate or light cluster, but I'll deal with that another time.

I felt a bit nervous crossing the border, for some reason. A little man opened a barrier for me, and didn't even want to see my passport. I could have been a terrorist! Good job I'm not. I stopped to buy the 'vignette' (motorway tax disc for switzerland) and also to get some money out – apparently swiss francs are quite like US dollars, ie. there's roughly 2 to the pound. This led to my first discovery which is that, actually, stuff is quite cheap here. I was led to believe it was a fairly expensive country. But petrol is about 85p a litre, coca cola is about 75p a bottle, and camping is just £10 a night. So, hrumph to that. Switzerland is much cheaper than Italy, that's for sure.

Drove through some ore of those kick ass tunnels to get here too. And all included in my £20 motorway tax. And it'll last until the end of the year, if I want it to. Ace.

IMG_2296OK, so the fire is dying down, and I am getting a bit chilly, so I better go back to Billy. 'The trick to staying warm is not getting cold in the first place', Freya said last week. So, I better heed her advice. Tata for now! (ahem... manly grrrr)

Big Billy Trip 13 - Bologna to Lake Maggione

Route – Bologna to Maccagno, Lake Maggione (Italian/Swiss border)
Distance - 311 km (2,747 km total)

Just another big day of driving really, with only the motorway for company.

I'm now quite excited about the week ahead, driving through new countries and seeing new things. Slightly bricking it about not speaking the language, but everyone tells me that most people in Switzerland and Germany can speak a bit of English, and by the time I get to Belgium I'm hoping my French will get me by.

The A1 north of Bologne is the first four-lane motorway I've seen in Italy. They seem to get by with just two lanes most of the time, and the occasional three laner. The flamboyant Italian driving style comes into its own on the four-lane motorway. Its as if the pent-up frustration of the two-lane road is set free, and all of a sudden this nut job drivers are set free on a race track (especially the A1 Bologne-Milan, which is basically a straight line for 100km). It's quite nerve wracking, being the guy on the inside, when 3 lorries are trying to enter the motorway from only 30m long sliproads, whilst a zillion drivers on the outside won't let you pull out. Add to that the fact I'm sat on the wrong side of the car, and half of my off-side view is obscured by a cupboard, and it's quite scary!

Every motorway service station in Italy seems to be this brand called Autogrill. I'm growing quite bored of them. They are all exactly the same layout, and sell exactly the same products. I want a bit of variety in my breaks. Can someone open a Welcome Break or a Moto in Italy please?

IMG_2211 The campsite by the lake is lovely. It's called Azur Parkcamping Maccagno, and seems to be entirely staffed and patronised by Germans. I suppose it is practically on the Swiss border, so that would explain it, but even all the signs are in German! I've started saying 'danke' already. It's right alongside the lake, with thankfully a mere chainlink fence separating us from the water, as opposed to hedges or tall fences at other places.

I swam in the lake when I got here. I got a few funny looks, padding out there in my wetsuit, but I figured what the hell. It was ruddy cold, and I had fish for company. Then I did some laundry, some more washing line engineering, and cooked up some yummy bangers and mash with kinda ratatouille gravy. Ok i'm getting boring now. Night night! Switzerland tomorrow.....