Somehow, I managed to sleep until nearly eight A.M. today. Go me! The Pension Heinz Dostert proved itself to be wholly exceptional again this morning, with a lovely breakfast spread that included all of my favorite things: fresh rolls with good farm butter and honey from their own hives, my own canister of coffee, leberwurst, and even Mueller-Thurgau grape juice from their own grapevines. Heaven, I'm telling you. They even had yogurt, cheese, cold cuts, and pretty much everything else you could want for your proper German breakfast.
As I checked out, I had a nice chat with the owner, who helped me better understand the local weather patterns and how they might affect the hike. I'd only had the Apple weather app to go by, and that wasn't helping much. Turns out the weather is something like San Diego in the summer: overcast in the morning... and if you're lucky (this is where it's different from San Diego!), then things might clear up just a bit in the afternoon. Heck, it might even get to be (shocker!)... warm.
I started off today's walk by reversing into town, hoping to find the bakery I'd passed the previous night, which I did. They kindly made me a ham and cheese sandwich and cut me a ridiculously huge slab of fresh cheesecake, all for a whopping $4. (By comparison, going next door to the 7-11 at work and getting a prepackaged tuna sandwich costs nearly $5. This is definitely an inexpensive vacation by Southern Californian standards.) From there it was a short ways uphill to rejoin the Moselsteig at the official start of Section 3.
If there's anything I can say about the village of Nittel, it's that they sure have some beautiful gardens there. It's well past the end of summer, but they're still looking great; on second thought, I realized that this could well be simply because a lot of them are vacation rentals, so their landlords of course want them to look their very best during the high season. Judging by the crowds at the restaurants in town, it's a popular place to put your feet up for a few weeks in summer and do what feels best to you... go hiking, ride your bike, or just sit around with your friends and play cards while drinking your way through everything the region has to offer.
Starting up the hill, I passed the end of the Wine Information Trail I'd walked yesterday, and continued up the hill towards the limestone cliffs at the top. There were a few workers harvesting grapes further down the slopes; I don't know what all is ripening right now, but I suspect that it's 1) most of it and 2) that it's historically earlier than it was in the 20st century. I confess to having stolen one single grape earlier in the trip and it definitely tasted ripe to me, but what do I know?
At the top of the hill, the trail reverses direction and essentially continues at the top of the ridge line. For the first time, there was a charming note from the Moselsteig people that OMG WATCH OUT this is, like, a real trail now and NARROW and WATCH OUT and WEAR REAL BOOTZ PLZ. Cool. And sure enough, it was all of those things... and it was the only time I ran into someone coming the other direction because of course.
The locals have set up a geography trail as well, with plenty of signs explaining things like hey, that bend in the river down there is because it's a graben. Very cool. But eventually the geography trail was over, the ridge line was over, and the trail turned east into kind of a no man's land of sorts, wandering through just-tilled fields, fields of corn, and lots of empty space. The most notable bits were a lonely picnic table surrounded by orange tape - apparently it's PRIVATE PROPERTY and the owners were VERY CONCERNED that a weary hiker might sit down - and what looked like the world's loneliest police van driving really slowly along the metalled roads, presumably to drop off a package at Grandma's or something. It was all lovelier than I expected, and slowly the high clouds burned off and the sun started warming things up a bit.
After a longish section where the trail turned to go through cool forests - this time filled with beetles instead of banana slugs, go figure - I started finding myself hoping that the promised lookout point would make an appearance sooner rather than later as I was getting kinda hungry. Eventually, it did, and I took full advantage of its janky picnic table to air out my boots, dry out my socks, rest a bit, and enjoy that amazing village cheesecake. Yum.
Meanwhile, two weary Germans appear! And ask me where the trail is. I explain that if they want to stay on the Moselsteig, they'd better turn left - they hadn't seen the small sign nailed to the tree - and then they asked me how much longer I'd be. I assumed they were asking so that I could pass along a message to someone dawdling behind them, but nope, they wanted the picnic table. I made my apologies, tried to get them to stay while I packed up, but they out-Germaned me and made it clear that they would NOT banish me from my picnic table. I didn't see them again for the rest of the day, so either they wandered far off trail to rest (likely) or got completely lost (sadly, far likelier). Alas.
Meanwhile, vineyards suddenly appeared just a few minutes' walk after lunch. Yay! Turns out there was a small valley branching off of the Mosel that the trail headed down into... and towards the bottom, there was some random dudes splayed out horizontally across one of the big, fancy benches you see from time to time on the trail. His hair was straight out of a Heaven 17 video, his collar was popped, and I think he might even have been wearing a sweater across his shoulders. It was... bizarre. I mean, he was pretty much the most Eighties thing I've seen since the actual Eighties. Go figure.
At the bottom of the valley, the trail turned and went downstream for a very short ways; there, I saw more new trail markers, this time for some kind of tri-country trail that I hadn't seen before. France is farther away than where the Moselsteig starts, wo whoa, that doesn't sound like a super fun easy day trip. Once I started really digging the creek, the trail then decided that it really needed to abandon the lovely, easy creek trip and get its butt all the way up to the top of the ridge between this valley and the Mosel to the north. Thanks, trail. Not.
So yeah. Up a long set of switchbacks, fine. Thankfully I appear to be just fit enough to where that's not a problem at the moment. Towards the top, the Moselsteig folks pointed out a shorter detour with a bunch of orchids, but they're definitely not blooming, I think? So I skipped that and stayed on the trail all the way to the top, where there's a lovely Catholic chapel that's been there for centuries.
Inside, I bought a candle and had a read of the guest book. Sad: My Dad is dying of cancer, please help him, Mary, please please please please. Amusing: My dog died, he likes cake, please Jesus give him some cake? Odd: Some Belgians from Brugge talking about the Moselsteig in strictly secular terms. Hey, Belgians: this is not a trail book. This is a church. I Googled "awesome Catholic Mary prayers" and added a slight rewrite of one to the end of the book because it didn't look there was any English in there, so I figured we Anglophones needed to be represented in a non-lame way. As I finished, an older German fella came inside, said hi, and dropped a coin in the box. I headed back outside to lie down on the Big Fancy Bench for a while yet - the clouds were very sparse at this point and the view down towards Wassliesch and Konz was absolutely beautiful so I figured I needed to enjoy it.
Eventually, the German came outside, decided he needed to light a cigarillo out of the wind, so went back in the chapel, lit up, and then sat down on the other bench. A few minutes passed, I tried and failed to take his picture (dude seriously looked like pretty much every bear's fantasy of Hot German Dad Bear, I gotta say), and packed up and got ready to leave. He looked over, and wished me a good day in English. Sweet! I said thank you, wished him a good day in German, and aimed my hiking poles downhill.
I needed them, and I was super glad that I didn't have to walk up that hill. Eventually, the trail ended in a suburban cul-de-sac complete with an indistinct "store" that I guess was maybe a place selling middle-class women's plus-sized clothing? Also, owl tchotchkes. Huh. This part of the trail was every bit as lame as promised by my Rother guidebook: suburban streets, a walk next to a road for a bit, and then it wound up going through an extremely rapey woods filled with trash you probably shouldn't look to carefully at. Oh, and there was a gravel pit, too, which would be handy for either landscaping or raping. Yikes.
Finally, past a water treatment that seriously smelled like a Rei Kawakubo perfume that will be a runaway hit in 2019, the trail headed right along the Saar river, and then... uh... wait, where are the signs? I consulted the Rother app, and yup, it turns out someone had vandalized them. Nice job, Konz. I'm really loving your shithole of a town so far. I turned back, went the right way past all kinds of fun trash like burned out RVs and what must have been a demonstration booth from a scary clown convention, passed what I'm guessing was a squat complete with barking dogs and an outdoors kombucha press, and finally headed over the bridge into town.
My arrival was heralded by a Lithuanian truck driver giving me a friendly smile - shout out to that dude - and then it was only a block to my hotel, the Park Hotel Konz, which is one of those hotels whose best selling point appears to be "there are no other hotels in this town." I'd first booked it a year ago, and then circled back around every couple of weeks to see if I could something more interesting, and no. Well, at least the owner is seriously charming and friendly as hell. She checked me in, we joked around for a bit, and then she gave me the keys to my room, which was up two flights of stairs (cue more joking: what, I just spent all day walking and now I have to walk up stairs? YOU HORRIBLE PERSON, YOU).
The room, well, HALLO DIETER, ICH BIN'S, DIE 1990s!!! Wow. Sure looks like they'd retrofitted the hotel with all mod. cons. circa 1995 and left it that way because honestly, it's just fine and if there aren't any other hotels in town, why would you waste your money on doing it again? There's a torchiere in this room, ferchrissake, and more chrome than most stripper poles. It's kind of cracking me up, to be honest.
I had my shower, hung up everything to air out, and went downstairs at 6 for dinner, only to find a sign that said we're really sorry, but we're having problems hiring anyone, so we're now a Hotel Garni (which means no restaurant). Oops. The owner came out, smiled, and said yeah, I forgot to mention that, so here's your voucher for the Rathskeller around the corner (literally in the basement of the town hall, of course). Cool. I headed over there, sat down outside - it's still just warm enough to do that in shirtsleeves - and was surprised with three courses without ordering anything. Also cool. Canteloupe with ham of some kind, perfectly decent (although kind of a cheap version of the 1990s standard prosciutto + melon thing). Then a salad, German style, with oh so slightly wilted lettuce swimming in a slightly sweet dressing... but wait, is that mustard? Not at all bad, honestly. And then the main course: a pork steak with a gentle cream sauce and absolutely smothered with chanterelles. Also, spaetzle. In fact, this was basically what last night's dinner SHOULD have been like, and it was absolutely fine by me.
I ordered a beer, which cost me a whopping $3 including tax and tip, and that was it for the night... until I felt compelled to find the keyboard and write all of this down. So yay.
Today's wildlife sightings: a small light brown rabbit with a cottontail, lots of small black beetles, Dutch tourists with v. loud voices in a beer garden
Random note: In the USA, a hotel maid will often leave her name on a tip envelope. Here, there's a note telling me that Shkurta has aired out the room. Aired it out? I'm not even sure that the windows open in most US hotels. Rock on, Shkurta.