Thanks to the fine bed and quiet room at the Alexanderhof, I managed to more than catch up on sleep and woke up mighty refreshed. Breakfast awaited downstairs, and I happily had my morning soft boiled egg, coffee, fresh rolls, and cold cuts and cheese. Because I was in such a chipper mood, I even splurged and had some corn flakes as well. Luxury!
I checked out, settled my bill, and left my pack with the landlady for a bit so that I could head to the Edeka grocery store just a block away (perfect location!). I picked up a mango smoothie (Germany, you're all trendy now - it's so cute!), a pretzel, and the aptly named Wander-Vesper pack, which contained two landjaeger (thereby allowing me to mark that off of my food nostalgia list) and two other sausages best described as "porky" and "well, someone waved a ripe bell pepper near this one so we're gonna call it DEVIL SPICE WURST". No, Germany, that's not spicy, but again: cute! Oh, yeah, and a two-pack of Hanuta for another nostalgia check-off. Yum.
Headed back to the hotel, noticed a tiny caterpillar creeping across the front steps, then jammed the food and my wallet in my pack, tightened up the rain cover, and got down to it. It was about a mile back to the trail where I'd left it the previous afternoon, and there wasn't really much to do in terms of challenging hiking, which was just fine. It was just a lazy trail slowly upwards, stopping at another Virgin Mary chapel (this time with huge stone markers naming everyone who'd died in WWII, and where - some in the West, some at home, and a lot of them in the East).
Eventually, the trail got to the top of the mountain, roughly above where I'd walked up the afternoon before in that failed attempt to go swimming. Turns out there's a holiday camp up there, a big one, and there was a seemingly random collection of stuff including a giant wooden head with a mouth vomiting bees (yeah, there was a hive behind it). I loved the sign for the honey they were selling, but nope, not gonna carry another 500 grams of anything no matter how delicious at this point. From what I could tell, this was a little more refined than the Triolago holiday camp from the day before, with comfy looking 1960s bungalows scattered through the forest and apparently a good bakery, bar, restaurant, and grocery store back there somewhere.
Continuing up just a tiny bit more, and skirting the closed swimming pool on my left, I got rained on a bit, but it wasn't really all THAT much, so my rain gear kept me very well protected. Finally, up at the top of the hills, there was a fairly large hotel and restaurant complex; I had a look at the menu, didn't see anything compelling, so took advantage of a brief sunbreak to dry my rain jacket on some nondescript open-air sculpture, rest a bit, and eat some sausage. Yum.
Just as I finished packing up, the rain started back up again, softly. There were some fliers out for a missing cat (using what looked like a very sophisticated website, perhaps) - Charly, I hope they find you, but if not, enjoy the forests up there - and then some fairly open trails up a side valley with vineyards down the side, many of which looked abandoned. Nearing the top, there was a memorial for three employees of the local power company who'd died there in the 1920s - these hills don't look like easy places to build power lines - and then not a whole heck of a lot more until the trail crested at a point where you could look down to the left and see the Mosel again.
Suddenly, a party tractor-train thing showed up. Now that I've seen a few of them, I see how they work: you hire them for maybe $50 an hour and they pull maybe eight folks around through the local sights while you chill in the back with your friends and drink wine and eat snacks. It looks pretty chill, and the driver/farmer gave me the double thumbs up while the Partyleute in the back said "cheers" when I asked if they could take their picture. Good times.
Finally, way up at the top of the hill, and just past a seemingly random huge solar power installation, there was a moderately confusing junction with a bunch of different trails. Now, being a big fan of caves, I had been seeing signs for a slate cave for some time, and was hoping that I'd read the maps and the Rother guide correctly and that this was the best way to get to the slate cave from the Moselsteig. WIth none of the signage particularly helping, I guess my way down a steep, rocky slop and eventually into the exactly the right spot. Go me!
The cave was cool: not much more than two rooms, but I managed to see what I could without scraping myself on the sharp rocks or hitting my head on the entrance. I pulled up the Rother app, zoomed in on the map, and (again correctly) guessed that I could loop back around to the Moselsteig by following the trail to the right... and I saw my first new sign in a while; this one warned that it was a Felsensteig, or a cliff path, and that it was most definitely NOT for the faint of heart.
Cool. And yeah, that sign was not lying. At first, I couldn't even figure out where the trail was exactly - mostly because I wasn't looking straight up like I should have been. Sort-of cut into the rocks were some small footholds, but on the whole it wasn't easy reading the trail and it sure wasn't easy hiking it, but it really wasn't that precarious and it was a very welcome challenge compared to the mostly mellow walking I'd been doing. And yay, it spat me out right back at the top of the hill where I'd departed the Moselsteig, so I was able to continue on in my completist fashion without problems.
The rain had mostly let up for the last hour or so, and not too much further on the weather went all the way from "not raining" to "really fucking beautiful." Like, beautiful blue skies, some warm sun, no rain, and a calm, slow wind. Niiiiiice. And lo and behold, a luxury Barcaloungerbench, and dear reader, what could I do but stop, drop my pack, and take full advantage of the sun by taking of my boots, taking out the insoles and orthotics, and getting everything to dry over the next fifteen minutes while I lazed on the comfy bench and drank my Nuun pink lemonade. Aaaaaah.
At this point, I'm happy to report that I experienced something as close to an ineffable sense of pure joy as I ever do. The sun was out, the clouds were frolicking, I was feeling physically really good, and God damn it, it was a beautiful day. It's days like this that make grateful that I'm fortunate enough to have good health and the time and money to do things like hike this Moselsteig. Yay.
Thinking too much like a Californian, I figured the rain was done for the day, so I reassembled my footgear, put the pack back together, and decided to put away the rain cover and such and just walk in shirtsleeves for a while. Nope, bad idea. The trail started downhill towards the Martyrs Chapel, but long before I got there, it started raining again, which is super weird when it's there's so much blue in the sky, but hey. Different place, different weather. I stopped and quickly put all the rain gear bits into place: rain cover on the pack, rain skirt and rain jacket on me, Tilley waxed cotton hat up to, and that was fine, it wasn't raining THAT much so nothing got particularly wet. Sailing through the forests and back down to grapeland, I had a peek inside the chapel - hey, it's a chapel, this time with some weird text about turning the river red with Christ's blood, eww) - and then kept going into town, which was E-Z from this point.
I came across a wheelie bin in the street, so I moved it into the nearest driveway, which led to a surprised local asking me if I were Dutch. We chatted about the latest natural disasters in the USA for a bit, then I kept going, slightly getting the trail wrong by walking on the paved bits (not the Moselsteig) next to some grassy bits (the Moselsteig). This was followed by a bit of how do I get from this street up to the next street that involved wandering into people's yards (nope, didn't work) and then into a cemetery (yup, that worked) before approaching my destination, the Landgasthof Altes Weingut... also known as The Worst Hotel in Germany or Early 1960s Student Co-Op.
When booking this trip, I generally tried to follow a few basic principles: Stay as inexpensively as possible, stay in well reviewed places, and book through the local tourist office if possible. Here in Neumagen-Dhron, only the first option worked out. For reasons that aren't clear to me, everything online looked like ass, the local tourist information office didn't seem to have any way to book stuff directly online, and the one place that didn't look abjectly miserable wanted twice the amount I'd been paying so far.
I regret my decision in this one case. From the street, this joint just looked sad, with a desperate "complete dinner menu for $14" sign out front that made me think "ugh, here comes the wilted lettuce, greasy schnitzel, and tiramisu from the freezer." Worse yet, there wasn't a reception proper, just a bunch of weird signs about when and when not to bother the owners by ringing the bell (not before 15h00, not after 18h00). Given that it was between the anointed hours, I rang, and then an almost Peter Lorre creepy Fawlty Towers wannabe hotelier appeared from the front house, welcomed me, and then asked me to please do something about my boots because he didn't want his wife to have to clean everything again. OK, no problem. I got my keys and made a breakfast appointment for 08h30, and then I was free to enter the creepy stairwell, walk up a freezing cold tiled floor in my socks, and inch past dank doorways with occasional electric air freshener machines obviously installed to cover up the eldritch smells of the early 1960s.
Finally, all the way up two slippery flights of stairs, there was my room... the last room on the left. Attic-style with a sloping roof, a skylight-window, and an even colder tiled floor. Bliss. Throw in a tacky wrought-iron bed, a thankfully not yet mildewed shower cubicle, an overlong short curtain wrapped around the taps, various shitty fixtures probably bought from ALDI in the 1980s, a single tiny packet of shower gel, ancient, threadbare towels, and a pillowcase stuffed with what felt like a few spare Kleenex... oh, it was grim. Popcorn ceiling type WALLS ferchrissake. A psychedelic purple and orange duvet. Nonfunctional radiators in both rooms. I'd go on, but tl;dr. Short version: it fucking sucked.
So I got out of there as quickly as I could to see the town, Germany's oldest winegrowing village. Spoiler alert: it also kinda fucking sucked. There's a road that runs through the town that is plagued by drivers trying to get their speedometers to show triple digits before slamming on the brakes and not hit oncoming traffic or pedestrians. (Because it's an ancient town, the road isn't wide enough for more than one car + one pram.) I saw a seemingly abandoned winery with a basket of empty bottles out front, so I went to look at them, made a clinking noise, and then elderly German winepeople showed up and insisted I try their wines. I said no, thanks, I don't have any way to carry bottles, but they still insisted, so I did. The wine kind of sucked, but at least it was cheap, so I gave them two euros and left.
The overpriced hotel that didn't look terrible had a very fancy restaurant that seemed weirdly out of place in this burg, but $50 for a tasting menu seemed ehh not worth it, so I wandered on. I ran into the lovely folks from Duesseldorf and Dortmund, and they'd had a great day as well, so I took their advice and went to the winery where they were staying to check out the Strausswirtschaft there. Sadly, there was nothing inside, and every single person sitting outside was smoking, so that was a no go. When I asked if they had somewhere I could sit where people weren't allowed to smoke, they copped major attitude and said no, nothing for you here. To be honest, fuck you. If you're actually making good wine that you care about, you should probably care about people not smoking around it: one, they won't be able to taste it properly, and two, people that care about how wine tastes won't want to drink any around smokers.
The rest of the town was filled with random detritus like cool looking ancient wineries with sun-blasted empty bottles in neglected display windows. Various places with rooms for rent, none of which looked welcoming. I went in another winery to see about food, and they first thing they said was that they'd sold out of food except for the vegetarian pizza. Yeah, no. The Italian joint in town had sad looking pizzas with dejected diners hovering over crappy pasta that might have been exotic in 1970s Germany, but is strictly tired in the 2010s. The other restaurants looked either abandoned, closed, or strictly older German middle class, with the subtle distinctions between all three being hard to tell in some cases. Finally, remembering the conversation with the other hikers, I wound up at Captain Cook's at the yacht harbor, which at least seemed reasonably priced and super popular.
Guess what: it was good! I had chicken and pork steak covered with more chanterelles and cream sauce along with a crazy-good off-dry Riesling from the local vineyards, so I felt like I hit the jackpot in Germany's Oldest Wine Village-slash-Shithole. Go me. I happily tipped my server, got outta there, and then meandered past the rest of the village whatever's on the way back to Castle Dampenstein to go hide in my lumpy bed until the morning. More chapels, more aggressive drivers, and finally there I was. Once more up the slippery-cold Stairs of Doom and there I was, ready to go to bed until... oh shit. Neighbors.
Yeah. Party neighbors. Move the furniture all around the room for a while, invite your friends over from other rooms, drop wine bottles on the floor, giggle, talk, drink, repeat. At least they weren't smoking, but they did NOT shut the fuck up until midnight or so. I tried earplugs... not good enough. Earphones with Max Richter's SLEEP, better, but hard to sleep because the earphones are uncomfortable when I'm only side. Added melatonin, worked OK until for whatever reason some movement of the piece woke me back up. Finally gave up, fell asleep anyways once the party wound down. Then woke up again promptly at 4 when the alcoholic snoring got out of control from next door. Sigh.
When nights like that happen, at least there's a smartphone filled with dumb time wasting crap like Microsoft Solitaire and crossword puzzles. Even so, ugh. I packed my bag, waited until 8 am sharp, and went downstairs figuring I could get some breakfast and get the hell out of there. But no! First up was some back sass from the creepy hotelier, who seemed appalled that I would dare show up before the appointed time. C'mon, dude, it's a German breakfast, not a fucking omelette. Just put the coffee down there and the cold wurst and cheese plate over there. But no, apparently they were too cheap to have proper coffee, so some hoary old Tchibo or whatever machine groaned and gurgled in the back and spat out something not unlike Hershey's chocolate milk with all of the sugar, chocolate, and milk flavor scientifically removed, except warm. Add one soft-boiled egg that had been accidentally boiled hard enough for an Easter egg roll, shitty prepackaged butter, shitty prepackaged preserves, no honey, and two flaccid slices of low rent ham, and man, I was done. The first Americans on the trip mumbling that something that was either evangelical Amway or vague plans to ritually murder children for green stamps next to me really wasn't helping the mood either, but paying slightly more for this entire shitxperience than other, really good places had cost (in this case $45) was it. Throw in one last argument over me not wanting to take the receipt followed by some typical right-wing bullshit about how paying taxes is SUCH A CHORE OMG, and yeah. Done done done. Out the door, throw the receipt in the trash, and GTFO. Off to the sad, garbageteria slash low rent chain discount supermarket that didn't have any fresh bread, and I was outta there.
I'll continue with the walk from Neumagen-Dhron in the next post. Spoiler alert: I wind up at a fabulous guesthouse AND it costs less, so happy bear is happy now. :)