So here's a thing that happened. Just as I was finishing up my walk around Schweich, I stopped into the tourist information office just for grins. I noticed that they had free Wi-Fi, so I used that to update the apps on my iPhone while I looked at the comprehensive set of maps they had of local hiking trails, which was cool. They had a wide array of different, interesting, too-heavy-to-carry-with pamphlets and booklets covering all sorts of Moselana, but ultimately there wasn't really anything there that was obviously going to be helpful, so I took off, stopping just outside to have a look at their information vitrine outside of the office... and whoa. STAMP BOOK.
When I went to Japan with Adam, Chris, Craig, Dan, and Julian last year to hike the Kumano Kodo, I wanted to get one thing right that I got the first Tim: STAMP BOOK. All along the Kumano Kodo, which is a long distance Japanese hiking trail that was originally a religious pilgrimage, there are tiny boxes that resemble bird houses that contain rubber stamps and ink pads - part of the fun of hiking that trail is knowing to buy the stamp book ahead of time and see if you can find all of the stamp boxes. (I wasn't able to find ALL of the stamp boxes, but I did find every one along the main part of the trail, at least!)
Now, it strikes me that these sorts of things are obviously a) fun, and b) brilliant from a marketing perspective, because of course who wouldn't want to extend their time on the trail to collect the entire set? Well, the Moselsteig folks must have figured this out on their own, because I headed right back into the Schweich tourist information office and had a friendly chat with the fella manning the store. He said that they'd just received the stamp booklets (actually more of a stamp pamphlet, to be honest) just two weeks ago, and that he only had stamps for stages 5, 6, 7, and 8. He suggested that it should be easy to contact the back office in a suburb of Bernkastel and that they'd probably agree to stamp the first 4 stages for me, and then very graciously gave me the prize for completing in the trail (which I promised to mail back to him if I fail to complete the trek), one of the ubiquitous Moselsteig trail signs that they've nailed to thousands of trees along the trail. So: awesome. Of course, the first thing I did after getting back to my room was to write an email to the Moselsteig office asking if they could In fact stamp my booklet (and I also had to point out a typo in the booklet because English majors are assholes like that).
Of course, the next morning, they wrote back and were firm: Nope, can't help you there. Either you go back to Konz and get the stamps there or else forget it. (This was admittedly what was printed in the brochure as well, but I felt that there was maybe a chance they'd make an exception based on what the fella from the TIO had said.) Well, poo. Looks like I gotta go back to Konz.
Soooo, no surprise, after a small breakfast with a particularly fine soft boiled egg in Mehringen, I walked down the hill to the bus stop and began the trek back to Konz. Thankfully, I had bought a BahnCard 25 before leaving for the trip at a very low price (it's a trial subscription that I have to remember to cancel before I leave Germany), so I saved a few euro on the ticket to Konz. There was a 30 minute layover at Trier central station, so I had a walk around an enormous supermarket nearby and checked another thing off the nostalgic foods list: a bottle of Mueller milk, vanilla flavor. (The 2017 variant tastes the same as it ever did, but the package is lame now and it's only 400 mL, not a half liter, which is admittedly better from a nutritional perspective.)
The train ride to Konz was short and odd: it was a French train to Metz with zero information on its displays, on the published schedule, or on the departure board. If you didn't have an app to show you where exactly it was stopping, then tough luck, kiddo. But Konz was only eight minutes down the tracks, the tourist information office there was open, and the friendly fella there expressed surprise that I'd come back just for stamps, and then confessed that he didn't know where the stamps were... but yay, they were easily found and that was that.
In short, I now have eight stamps. Go me!
But now what? Well, the weather forecast said rain rain rain, but the skies looked maybe just okay enough to chance a short walk, so I walked through some very light rain in painfully bright sunlight, crossed the Mosel again in the same place where I was last Wednesday, and turned left after the bridge to head to the town of Hedgehog. Or, rather, Igel, and it's not actually named after a hedgehog, it's just that it's an ancient Roman town whose name sounds vaguely similar to Igel. The walk took me through the backlot, as it were, along the railroad tracks, through muddy fields, and past some kind of weird industrial debris that I'm guessing might have been a cement factory. I got to the Igeler Saeule bus stop and promptly couldn't figure out where the Igeler Sauele is, because I had no idea exactly HOW FRICKING HUGE the Igeler Sauele is.
Now, the Igel stelae is actually a Roman grave market... and it is. HUGE. Very, very impressive. It's the biggest of its kind north of the Alps, and it's in impressive condition given its age. (I think that this is actually a copy of the original which is in a museum elsewhere, but I'm not 100% sure.) In fact, this thing is so big that you can hike a little ways up a hill behind it to get a view of its backside (it has four), which I promptly did, stumbling for the first time on the trip at the stop of the stairs (note to self: don't wear glasses while hiking).
Glancing at the bus schedule, it looked like the next bus to Trier was in five minutes, so I had to make a decision: get on the bus, or walk to a tiny Roman thing half an hour away? Well... I went with lazy, headed back to the bus stop, and noticed a sign that said FEDERWEISSER just a few steps away. Given that that's another thing on my must-drink list for this trip, I couldn't say no... even though it was an actual winery selling it only by the bottle, which was sold without a cork but with a capsule covering the top of the bottle, which I only realized upon returning to the bus stop. So... another snap decision: try to carry around an open bottle of still-fermenting white wine all day long without spilling it on everything, or just be super classy and drink some at the bus stop, straight out of the bottle, and leave it on the sidewalk before boarding the bus? Dear reader, I am not only an ugly American, but I also have no class whatsoever. I swigged a bit Bukowski style, realized I've also probably outgrown the taste for that, set it on the sidewalk, got on the bus, and headed back to Trier.
On the way, I'm guessing we went through the neo-Nazi part of town because suddenly all of the election posters were AfD, the Trump equivalent of Germany. Grossest of all was one of a pregnant white woman's belly, labeled NEW GERMANS? WE'LL MAKE OUR OWN, THANKS! There was also (let's see) dripping blood because of ASYLUM SEEKER TERROR, plus the usual bullshit about how WE'RE CITIZENS, NOT PROFESSIONAL POLITICIANS! After all, why would hire a dentist to pull a tooth when you could just get A CITIZEN, NOT A DENTIST! Nein danke.
Back in Trier, the rain kicked in, finally, with a proper deluge for a bit. Luckily for me, it was also lunchtime, so it was time to figure out where the burrito shop was that I'd seen stickered on a Moselsteig post on Thursday. After all, why not see exactly how misguided an attempt at Mexican food in an ancient Roman city in the southwest of German could be, right? The answer: that was about as Mexican as Patrice Lumumba, but whatever, it was delicious enough on its own terms and it was a great place to sit for a while. The tortilla must have been from Old El Paso or something; everything else was totally incomprehensible. The lettuc wasn't iceberg, but something way too nice for burritos. The cheese, I don't know what that was about. The beans were tiny and wrong. I was asked if I wanted minty or smoky salsa... huh? Oh, and they had "milled meat" which I think was mixed ground beef and pork, but I wasn't going to go into details. Finally, it was served with some German Rotkohl and a lime wedge, because just give up now, you're nowhere near Mexico. And to top it all off, some Mate-Mate, which is a weird caffeinated Yerba mate drink thing from Berlin (I think) that the cashier was excited to tell me was really Mexican. (Hint: no. Not even close.)
But I'm being a bitch, and unfairly so. The food was fine, the people was friendly, it was probably a fun change for all of the customers from the usual doner/burger/schnitzel routine, so yay. I finished up and started walking around town slowly, thinking I might find something interesting to see before catching the late afternoon bus back to Mehring (they only run a few times a day, annoyingly, which meant I had loads of time to kill). But wait, don't backpackers do stuff like figure out where to camp out in public and blog? Why yes, they do. So I figured that the best place to steal Wi-Fi and sit for a long time without being kicked out would be a department store restaurant, because presumably their employees are not paid enough to really care how long someone's sitting there, right? Turns out it's true. Karlstadt's restaurant was closed, but Kaufhof's was open, so I watched the weather cycle from downpour to sunbreaks to high, passing clouds and back to semi-drenching rain for a good couple of hours while nursing a bottle of Apollinaris. Pretty decent entertainment value, I'd say.
Eventually, though, it was time to catch the bus back to Mehring. Given that the buses only run every 90 minutes or so (with some long stretches with no buses at all), I felt it'd make more sense to get back sooner rather than later, so I hastened my way back to the train station, only to regret not having earlier researched where exactly the bus would pick up passengers. I had to ask a smoking bus driver, who pulled a class "eh, that's another bus company" before begrudgingly suggesting that it'd probably be "over there on the other side of those buses" - which it was, yay, and it was a pretty quick bus ride back, enlivened by a large group of middle-aged friends drinking Riesling out of plastic cups on the bus as they were all headed to a village wine festival just a little bit up the road from Mehring.
Just before I got back to Mehring, Stefan messaged me and asked if we'd like to go out to dinner again - so of course I said yes, and this time we headed down to the Faehrturm, or Ferry Tower. Back in the day before bridges were common across the river, there were a lot of ferries, which I gather ran between matched towers on opposite sides of the river. Other than Trittenheimer, though, there are no more pairs of towers, but in Mehring, there was one of them, and a lovely small hotel and restaurant. Turns out Stefan had worked there, so the staff were all delighted to see him and there were many bisous and good natured teasing.
Dinner was just fine - a venison goulash with lots of red cabbage and potato dumplings - and I had two very fine Rieslings from the village to boot. Dessert was a delicious German style cake; i remarked that they really seem to dig whipped (not sweetened!) cream on things, which gives a lot of desserts an almost buttery flavor, which I personally enjoy quite a bit. And then to say goodbye and wish me a good hike on the Moselsteig, I was treated to a snifter of Williams-Birne schnapps - I guess that translates as poire Williams brandy? I'd never had that before, and ja, it was good. Thanks Stefan!
Off to bed back in my small, inexpensive, tidy, and comfortable room, and that was that.