Overnight, the sock-smell of the room has slowly ebbed, and turning off the heaters and opening the window brings in the cold, crisp, fog, helping to wake us up. On the bright side: clean socks! Lots and lots of clean socks. Downstairs in the pizza restaurant (what does Quo Vadis mean again? I can never remember. And is there a Liechtensteinian restaurant called Quo Vaduz anywhere? That would rule) there's a breakfast buffet of sorts, but it all feels tossed-off, like you're in the middle of an overpriced tourist town and there's no reason to really bring your A game when all that would mean would be reduced profits. Not thinking of the eventual liver burps (yecch), I go with some Braunschweiger, an overboiled egg, some okay coffee, and some pretty good ham and cheese on some not quite so good rolls. It's all fine, it's hikers' fuel, if not the scrummiest thing I've ever eaten. I settle the bill with the owner's wife, who struggles with basic spoken German, alas, but she's friendly enough and we are good to go.
Mornings are still reliably cool and foggy, so I suit up with what works best for me: a Marmot T-shirt, polyester and close-fitted, as a base insulation layer that I can wear by itself if it gets warm (pfft, sorry, not gonna happen today, alas). An LL Bean wool hunter's shirt (sadly trashed due to an unfortunate washing machine incident from a long Tim ago), medium-tall, that is phenomenally warm even when it's raining. Kuhl shorts, because my iPhone fits in their side pocket just so, and because I don't like hiking in long pants. (I also have a crackpot theory that really cold air on my aching leg muscles serves as some kind of pain reducer.) Holeproof Explorer wool socks that I've had for nearly twenty years and which are still comfy, even if overlarge (I should have just got the regular size.) Oboz Bridger Bdry boots, size 14 to give me plenty of room in the toebox, plus prescription orthotics. Oh, and I cut out a bit of the insoles to give extra room around my little toes, which otherwise would turn blistery in a matter of hours, alas. Leki hiking poles, cork grips, shock absorbent, lightweight and collapsible down to tiny size for packing. Throw in random other stuff, like a water reservoir, a Swiss Army knife with a locking serrated blade in hopes of saucissons secs, and that's my gear. This morning, I'll wear my REI skullcap (I'm essentially bald and desperately need insulation) and REI lightweight gloves (great for use with hiking poles, but also warm enough at temperatures above freezing) as well. Although it's still foggy, it doesn't look like it's going to rain just yet, so off we go.
Across the street from the hotel is the cellar where the Black Cat incident ostensibly happened, which is amusing, but the handwritten FOR SALE sign also suggests that the winemaking business is still struggling here, which I get. It may have a famous brand, but it ain't famous for quality per se, and other than the tourist business, it's hard to see how you'd be successful at making quality wines here. It's a hard right at the tourist office, just across from a creepy AfD poster with a pregnant white woman on it, and then it's time to go uphill to the Collis Tower, which is indeed all kinds of uphill from town. Better yet, once we're properly out of town, we get one of those bonus Moselsteig signs warning that you'd better have good boots, not suffer from vertigo, and be totally OK with narrow, stony, slippery, dangerous trails. Sounds good to me.
Sure enough, it's a doozy, complete with fixed ropes just in case you can't get up the trail. It's fun, though, a welcome challenge compared to lengthy strolls through terraced vineyards, and the only real challenge comes when it starts to rain, raising the eternal question: speed up or stop and get out the rain gear? It doesn't look like it's too far to the top, so we speed up, make it to the tower, and get out the ol' rain gear. It might be raining, but the views back down to town are still OK - I'm always happy to see anything at all other than driving rain or dense fog - and then it's back on the trail past empty party-bottles at a small hut and back up hill for a while yet to get all the way to the top of the hill. No problem.
Sooner than expected, it stops raining, so I stow the ULA rain skirt and start some strategic zipper management in hopes of managing the warmth situation. The wool shirt is fine by itself, but when it's under my lightweight Marmot rain jacket, it's too warm unless the wind really picks up, but I think I've internalized the appropriate zipper positions for the ambient temperature. Now, there isn't too much to say about the trail from here except that it's at the top of the ridge line more or less, it's now headed downriver across from the previous day's walk, meaning that you can see where you were yesterday for at least half of the walk, and that there are some decent views here and there, especially looking back over to the "peninsula" from yesterday. There are also pretty good views of the new town up on top of the hill opposite to Zell, but it's still just foggy/overcast enough to not fully reveal what the heck the baby blue Kaaba is over there.
Finally, it drops down into another side valley past some kind of Sekt factory that isn't obviously still functional, I'm distracted by a place offering homemade honey (not open, and I am NOT going to carry that in my pack, thanks), and then the trail decides it needs to straight up the hill on the other side until it's near the top of the hillside vineyards. Ugh. But at least it's just a leisurely meander through the vineyards at the top for quite a while, nothing challenging. Bullay starts to make an appearance on the left, the trail shifts right and heads uphill and then eventually to a large, open grassy area that looks like prime grazing territory. Next, it's through a metal gate that's missing the gate itself and down a lovely, forested stretch that... appears to be missing trail blazes, so... wait, is this right? Nope. The Rother app helpfully lets me know that I've missed a turn and that I can rejoin the trail by turning right for fifty meters, but dang it, I intend to walk the whole dang trail, so it's 500m back to where I missed the sign (no wonder, it's overgrown, spray-painted on a tree, and way up out of the way up a small embankment), clamber up the hill, rejoin the trail proper, and briefly enjoy an overgrown lookout that must have been the reason for routing the trail up this detour in the first place. We run into a woman out for her morning walk a second time - she must have looped around another trail before heading back down to Bullay - and continue, spying on the spot where we turned around maybe fifteen minutes ago. More forests, all is generally lovely, and the trail just goes on and on.
Just before noon, there's a sign to Senheim (amusing because we'll be passing through there the day after tomorrow, and yet it's not that far just to walk there directly from here), and one saying that Neef, our destination, is only 3.2 km away. I know that one's a lie, though, because there is a bonus/punishment round awaiting us: the Moselsteig almost goes directly to Neef, but then it makes a 5km or so detour to go check out some other sights before finally making it down into town.
Anyhow, there's a pleasant clearing with a dry picnic table just ahead, so we stop for a bit to enjoy the last of the dark chocolate covered Brazil nuts my Mom got for us. Thanks, Mom! (I had considered asking the hotel if we could buy some rolls and cheese to eat for lunch as there didn't appear to be any regular bakeries left in Zell, but figured we might as well just eat candy for lunch instead.) After a tip of the hat to the shoddily sculpted Jesus next to the picnic table, it was onwards and upwards, the trail continuing to be generally pleasant with no insulting ascents. To my surprise - the guide books hadn't mentioned it - there was a sign at the next junction for Uncle Tom's Cabin for a winery-restaurant thing just 150m off the trail, so how could we resist? As luck would have it, it was lovely, with a comfy table sheltered against the ongoing light showers where we enjoyed Riesling, Elbling (Dan's first; he's not a fan), and a generous plate of cold smoked salmon with tasty bread. All of that for less than twenty bucks, too. As we left, I watched another couple steal a menu, so I put on my best bad American accent and asked them if it was OK to steal menus in Germany. Clearly having been called out on their bad behavior before, they said Of course! We're coming back tomorrow! Yeah, suuuure. Dan, sorry for making you uncomfortable with that exchange, but I am definitely curious about what happens when foreigners break the norms and do things like ask if it's OK to steal the menu.
As an aside, I'm still shocked at how many hikers steal grapes here. Rude!
150m back to the trail and boom, there's a flurry of cheesy printed//laminated anger-notices from some property owner who's furious that someone keeps stealing their plants. It looks like it's a Christmas tree farm, maybe? Poor sad tree-farmer. Grr! And then it's over to a beekeeping information panel or two, plus some hives (yum), and then the start of a long descent almost into Neef, past some very strange russet-red vines, and then nope, you don't get to continue down into town just over there, Moselsteig hiker, YOU get to turn right, stumble into a muddy, dark forest, pop out in the middle of nowhere, and then start a long, steep uphill slog around the back of the hills overlooking Neef until you finally make it up to a giant cross that looks like it's been attacked by Dan Flavin, bare fluorescent tubs attached to it, as well as some kind of weird Mosel webcam thing that's very 2005 and doesn't appear to actually work telling you to stand here and smile for the Internet!. The views, however, are pretty spectacular, even if it's still overcast, and there's some kind of huge infrastructure project complete with giant crane going on down there that's interesting. Then, up a bit more to a chapel surrounded by recent, expensive grave markers, and then up a bit more to an ancient Roman lookout that was repurposed as a Nazi defense position for the bridge across the river below. (Spoiler alert: they lost.) Having poked around and seen what we could up there, Dan, momentarily distracted by the giant cell tower and thoughts of what the best possible cell phone reception would be, decibel-wise, eventually realizes that he is also tired and a little hungry and could probably stand to walk down to our hotel below in the town of Neef.
It's an easy walk down, culminating in endless modern stairs through vineyards to the train station. Neef is looking more than a little empty; it's not obvious that there's anyone at all in the town, although one guesthouse out of several does appear to be fully booked. Soon, we're at our destination, the Landgasthaus Huebner, which looks very, very welcoming after this long day. Inside, one of the owners says hi, correctly assumes I'm Chris Pratt, and I explain that I'm really sorry but I've picked up a friend and we need a double room now, please. She laughs and says sure, but you should drop your packs and sit down because you might be thirsty, right? I order a Koelsch, Dan a Weissbier, and she goes off to sort out the room situation. The beer is delicious. Her husband pops out of the kitchen to say hello as well - we had emailed earlier in the year to reserve the room, which involved me figuring out how to transfer money in to a German bank account - and before you know it the beer is gone and we're upstairs in a two-room family room, with one duvet/pillow in each room. It's a little cold, so I consolidate the bedding in the main room, close off the second room, and turn on the heat. i need a shower, but this time there's no soap at all - argh, I've forgotten again about the standard German no-soap situation in inexpensive hotels - but whatever, HOT WATER yay and I at least wash the trail dirt off.
Dan showers, disappears downstairs to set up his laptop and sort out his pictures, and I take the opportunity to just rest for a bit Shortly after 6, I head downstairs to join him at our table, and we enjoy a truly excellent meal together. I have a beef steak (the first of the trip!) in a lovely red wine sauce with escargots; Dan has a schnitzel. There is excellent local wine, and Viola and Olaf, the owners, could not be lovelier hosts. The evening draws to an end, I discuss how to pay - we agree to pay in the morning - and she asks: split the bill, or pay together? I say together, please, and then she asks a question that I can't remember exactly which requires me to answer if Dan is my brother or what, and, well, I've had two glasses of wine, so I decide what the heck, no, he's my husband, not knowing if this is going to be a problem or what. As luck would have it, nope, not a problem, I express my relief and note that we've already consolidated everything into one room to save on heating costs (heh heh) and hey, is there a dessert menu? There is, sort of, but she also points out that they really aren't ever busy enough for a proper dessert menu, so they really don't do dessert - they'd considered having a few readymade desserts on hand, but that would have been at odds with their general goal of only cooking fresh food when ordered, so she decided against it. Ice cream didn't sound good, so we said goodnight and snuck upstairs to share the last Rx chocolate sea salt bar between us. It was good, just as the sleep that soon followed.