I got up just a little bit too early this morning - scratch that, WAY too early. Say, four A.M. Not good. Couldn't get back to sleep, so I tried to second guess the weather, did the crossword puzzle, packed my backpack, and generally tried to wait out the four hours until breakfast. FOUR HOURS. Ugh. Hate it when that happens.

Eight A.M. rolled around and I decided it was maybe time for breakfast? I know we'd verbally agreed on eight thirty, but the guest information booklet said eight, so... nope, turns out I just did something moderately silly by showing up early. But it was fine, the sisters (I'm guessing) who ran the place were smiling and happy and joked that their mother had always said that when a guest shows up early for breakfast, it's because they're on vacation, so it was cool. I watched one sister assemble the guests' breakfasts while the other returned from the bakery with fresh rolls; as before, they put out a frankly awesome spread for such a keenly priced pension. Heck, they even rolled out some Mettwurst, which (yay) I then checked off my nostalgic food list.

As usual, I wasn't as hungry as I think I should have been, so I just ate one roll and not the entire personal bread basket, along with some yogurt and a LOT of coffee. I chatted a bit with an older Francophone Belgian, who'd ridden his motorcycle to Mehring, and who I gather used to come to this village to buy his wines when his wife was still alive. He was on his way to Garmisch-Partenkirchen today, which is pretty impressive - that's a heck of a ride, and the weather was not looking good. I kept checking the weather apps, and it seemed like if there was any chance of blue skies, it was probably going to be around noon, so i tried to time my arrival at the main lookout point for right around then.

I settled the bill and hit the trail. After crossing the river, it went up a steep bit to the edge of town behind some tennis courts, where there was a sign for a Roman villa in the town... which I had to go see, not just to stall for time before noon, but because heck, Roman villa? Sounds cool! It was, but even cooler were the first cats I'd seen on the trail for more than a second or two, including one hanging out in an apartment building entryway with one of the best cat DGAF looks I've seen in years.

The villa was not spectacular, but it was definitely interesting, having been excavated and reconstructed relatively recently. As luck would have it, this whole area seems to have been a hip place for wealthy Romans to build summer palaces (go figure) two thousand years ago, so there are definite remnants of those times all over the place. Sadly, there wasn't a Roman Starbucks, because a warm coffee would've helped with the chilly fog blanketing everything. Well, when all else fails, start walking uphill, right? That'll keep ya warm. Up and out of town past one of the most bitchen vacation homes I've ever seen, and then it was onto a narrow path choked with very wet plants - thankfully not a problem as my Oboz boots are great with wet stuff. Up and up and up and then suddenly ALL the way back down to the river, where a super cranky fisherman was bitching out the fish he wasn't catching. Heh. From there I passed pretty close to the first vacation complex I'd seen on this trip; I always loved these places, which are filled with all ranges of accommodation from hotel rooms to private cabins to very simple dongas to camping spots, plus a restaurant-bar-bakery-shop where you can restock party/food/whatever supplies as you hang out for weeks on end enjoying the local sights. I don't think I've really ever seen places like this back at home... alas.

Then, boom, one of those friendly little paragraphs from the Moselsteig folks laying down the law: watch out, next bit is steep as hell, don't even think about doing this without proper footwear and so on. Cool. If anything, the longer I do this trail, the more I kind of miss the really challenging terrain that you find in California, with endlessly steep uphill slogs. This was almost one of those, but it wasn't bad, and i didn't stop until the top, where I sat down on another luxury bench next to a giant cross, relaxing until middle-aged bearish mountain bikers happened by from the other direction. They sped back down the hill (not down the footpath, which would have been suicide on a bike), but on a dirt road that the Moselsteig promptly departed, but not without another sign suggesting that you might want to stay on the dirt road if you were afraid of heights at all.

I can see why they put up that sign. The next bit was steep as hell in places - one of which even had a steel cable fastened to the rocks to help you out. Plus, because it had been raining off and on, it was also muddy and very, very slippery in a few places. I took it easy, used my poles, almost slipped twice, used the cables, and all was well. Then, I was at a big junction with a lot of signs and two confused women without a map who were trying to hike the Extratour Mehringer Schweiz, which confused me because this wasn't where that trail was supposed to start. At all. We chatted for bit, I tried to help with directions, but it was only after I left them behind that i realized that I should have offered to get the trail map out of my pack. No idea how they got up there - maybe they took the bike road up from town? - but the way I sent them wasn't ideal unless they didn't really want to do the whole hike, so they probably just went back to town on the steep path that I'd come up, which is hardly the reason you'd want to do the Extratour... ah well.

From there it was a long, gentle climb further up the hill to the so-called Five Lakes viewpoint. It wasn't raining, which was good, but it also wasn't anywhere near blue skies. This is fine hiking weather, even if I did get a bit chilled from time to time, but not the most dramatic when it comes to viewpoints. Soon enough, I meandered further up the hill hearing the Autobahn in the distance, and came to the viewpoint - which turned out to be a huge wooden tower. Cool! I was amused to see a young Dutch kid having a toddler breakdown due to the fear involved in climbing something that tall, but it was a quick trip up the six stories to the top, and the view was pretty good considering how overcast it was.

I'm still a little confused as to how the slightly wider spots in the river are lakes exactly, but whatever. I only counted four, but apparently the forests have really grown since the tower was built, which is why you can no longer see one of the five. At any rate, a fine spot, probably amazing in clear weather, but just fine regardless, and from there it wasn't all that much farther to the next town, my destination.

Through the forest, past the occasional shrine (my favorite Jesus had this at its base: ALLES GEHT VORBEI, AUCH DU - Everything will end including you), and then eventually the trail descended into the seemingly endless vineyards that make up Leiwen, one of the bigger winegrowing towns on the Mosel. They kept going and going - and I admit that I tried a grape here and there and nothing seemed ripe (and a lot of grapes were showing all kinds of damage, mostly mildew/mold). Not so good. Finally, the turnoff into town, a quick mile or so to my hotel, the Alexanderhof, and in theory the day's walking was almost done.

Upon checking in, the owner gave me a bottle of their Rivaner (Mueller-Thurgau), so of course I had a glass or two while reading the map and seeing what there might be to see. Now, shortly before turning off for Leiwen, the day had turned into an absolutely gorgeous day, with lots of small, high clouds and some exceedingly pleasant, warm sunshine, so after reading about their heated outdoor swimming pool, I said HECK YEAH, through my togs in a bag, and started the mile-long walk up the hill to the pool... which turned out to be closed. Even though their website said it was open. Even though all the road signs said it was open. Sigh. And when I got there, it didn't even have a sign saying it was closed - it was just really obviously closed. So. Back down the mountain and into town, which was about as dead as I'be ever seen, even considering the usual Sunday deadness for German towns in general. Heck, even the fancy sparkling wine bar had hung out a sign saying "sorry, we're closing early today." Where was everybody? No idea. The town had one relatively expensive, uber-gourmet looking joint with a clever modern name and fancy typography, and a menu that was very early 21st century wackadoodle semi-exotic flavor combos... no idea why. Is there really a market for Hokkaido pumpkin soup with cumin foam and mango pappardelle or whatever in small German wine towns? I guess? And I'm guessing they were going to be busy, because a lot of staff were showing up to get ready for the evening's service.

It was by now almost 4 p.m. and I was pretty hungry for supper, but of course nothing at all was open save for one cafe with hilariously bad English signs (meant for the Dutch, I guess) warning people angrily about putting bicycle on terrace and not using stander!! All of the non-ridiculous restaurants were either standard bourgeois German cooking or the one Italian joint, so yawn. But there was a winery with an OPEN sign out from, and OPEN FROM FIVE P.M. sign inside, and a very simple menu of basic stuff that looked decent enough, so I hung out in their courtyard until ten before five, when I decided what the heck, and peered inside the restaurant proper where I saw a guy I assume was the winemaker, who seemed surprised to see a customer.

And then a ridiculously awkward conversation ensued. Here's the thing: I do speak German, and on a good day I can speak it fairly well as long as I'm discussing something relatively easy (like where do I find a supermarket?) and not something relatively difficult (like trying to explain what I do for a living). This was... a killer combination between me venturing into relatively dark territories, vocabulary wise, and asking questions that apparently no German would ever ask, so it was a tough one.

This guy had two wines on his wine list, from 2005 and 2003. I wanted to buy a bottle of one (because they weren't available by the glass), drink a glass there, and take the rest with. And of the two, I wanted to buy whichever one had less alcohol. Trying to get this across turned out to be nearly impossible; his wife eventually appeared and she finally grokked what I was getting at. I'm also pretty sure I wasn't speaking ungrammatically and that I was getting most of the words right; I really think it was just that they didn't ever get someone asking about alcohol content or trying to buy the bottle, drink just some, not all of it, and then take it with them. However, eventually it kinda worked out, he found a bottle that was cold (the 2005 one), brought it outside to the garden, opened it, and gave me some to taste. Being the polite person that I am, and being already conversationally exhausted, I did not pull the what-the-fuck face that I felt like pulling and lied through my God damned teeth that the wine was OK. It was emphatically not OK. It was like someone had accidentally put a label on a bottle of pure 2,4,6-TCA that said OLD RIESLING. Ugh gross gross gross.

But the food that I ordered was fine: some bread, meat, and cheese, nothing fancy. And then two folks showed up, a couple from Düsseldorf and Dortmund, and we had a pleasant chat. They were just starting out on a three day hiking tour tomorrow, and had never done anything like it before. They were wearing some very new, not cheap, apparently very good clothing well suited to the job, and we chatting about nerdy stuff like whether or not you really needed heavy boots with ankle padding, or what, and why you would want to go on long hikes in the first place. Fun! And then he finished his glass of Riesling and I offered some of mine, with a caveat that it wasn't right... and he, polite German that he was, accepted, and then I found myself in the linguistically tricky spot of explaining wine defects and TCA in particular, out of earshot of the poor winemaker, with only one trip to Wikipedia.de for backup, and somehow it worked, and then we moved on to the whole cork-screwcap-plastic cork topic, and weirdly I felt like they were actually slightly interested, not remotely geeky about wine, and yet suddenly they realized that yeah, some of the wines they'd had before were actually just faulty, not bad, and hey, this might be good info. They also seemed not to have ever heard of anyone wanting to drink old Riesling before, so I tried to put that idea out there as well - from talking with Stefan over the weekend, it sounds like the whole idea of aged Riesling is now so insanely out of fashion that winemakers aren't even bothering to make wines that will last ten years anymore. Sad!

And then I put the cork in the bottle, paid my bill, and started up the hill to the hotel, stopping to get some more cash from the ATM and to deposit that sad, tainted bottle in the trash. Such a shame, really, because I bet it would have been really good if it weren't for that fucking cork. I went to bed early, slept soundly until the wind and rain kicked in and started some Rolladen clattering in someone else's room, but managed to get back to sleep until nearly eight A.M. Bliss.