The night before, Viola had asked us how many and what kind of rolls we'd like with breakfast, which was thoughtful. At breakfast, just as promised, we were treated to a huge basket of six fresh white rolls as well as fine spread of the usual breakfasty things and probably the best coffee of the trip so far. We finished up, Viola helpfully refilled Dan's water bottles, I paid the bill, and we chatted a bit about the changes that the Moselsteig has brought to the area. I would not be surprised if the Moselsteig were most important to the smaller villages along the trail, particularly the ones that are start- or endpoints, and which are historically not major centers of Mosel tourism. Cochem, Traben-Trarbach, Zell, and the like all have no problems attracting literal boatloads (hello, Viking River Cruises) of touists, but Reil? Neef? Nittel? Not so much. The towns aren't as pretty-pretty, the wines not as well known, but at least now you're kind of required to sleep or at least stop in these towns if you're hiking the trail. And for a town like Neef, well, not to be mean, but from a purely aesthic standpoint, there's not much to it. There's a train line running through it, and it looks like it had probably been bombed flat in WWII. Alas.
Anyhow, back to the trail. It sounds like business has been looking up, and that they've been getting foreign visitors other than just the usual Dutch, which sounds great. I think there are a few annoyances when walking the trail - lack of water, toilets, places to get food - but nothing serious, so there's got to be no reason why they couldn't improve visitor numbers every year if they so chose.
It was a little tough leaving the Landhaus Huebner; Olaf and Viola were the rare sort of innkeeper that really made you feel at home, cared after, and welcome. The food was exceptional, the room basic and comfortable, and it was just dang pleasant there. But the trail beckoned, and today was the first day of the trip that I had planned to start speeding things up. I figured that I'd be fit at this point of the tour (true) and that I'd probably feel like I needed to wrap it up and move on to big city pleasures by now (somewhat true - I'm still really enjoying the slow pace of the countryside). However, the next stage was definitely the deal closer: it was less than 8 km long, which is just ridiculous. That's a two hour walk, longer if there's an uphill... not enough for a full day.
Overcast again, but not drizzly, not bad. Back up to the train station to rejoin the Moselsteig where we left off, then back down to the river and across to Bremm, a more prosperous looking town, probably due to more tourists (large RV parks). Behind Bremm is the Calmont, or Hot Mountain in Latin, which is the steepest vineyard in Europe. It probably also looks pretty awesome in direct sunlight, but I'be never seen it that way, only misty and gloomy, which definitely doesn't match the tourist brochures but still looks kind of pleasantly Mount Doom-ish. Without further ado, the trail starts slogging it up that hill, attacking it from the left side with a goal of just getting to the ridge line to cut across the top of that thing. The grade is acceptable, so before too much longer we're there, having passed some Grade B Stations of the Cross and a meh chapel before arriving at moody, empty grasslands sloping uphill towards the allegedly spectacular viewpoint. Surprisingly, there's a fella out for his morning walk up there, and then at the OMG Wow Viewpoint (from which you can only see fog this morning, alas), there'a a family hanging out, which is curious. I mean, it's only Wednesday and this is already more people than I've seen on the trail in days.
We continue along the trail, and one of those SDAs has obviously gone to town. SDAs are a special breed of annoyance: Stacking Disorder Assholes feel a need to stack things on other things, sometimes on dozens of things, in otherwise natural settings for reasons that are unknown to me. There is only one solution for SDAs: unstack all the things, preferably in a way that scatters the building materials so that future SDAs don't get any ideas. Finally, nearing the top of the mountain, there was a large reconstructed Roman temple - cool! - complete with a partially excavated Roman ruin that was totally covered in SDA debris. Not cool. It took quite a while to unstack all the things and return the ruins to their original state: looking like Roman ruins and not like inukshuks gone wild. SDAs can DIAF, please.
Had a perfunctory look at a well nearby and then on to the next stop, the four-lake viewpoint, a small wooden viewing platform with a view of... well, it's slightly less foggy now, so you can make out the ruined abbey on the other side of the river below. Cool! I scramble down the cliff a bit to get a better picture, and as I come up... holy shit, there is a group of about twenty seniors out for a group hike. Wow. That's by far the largest group I've seen on the entire Moselsteig, and they are just billowing out clouds of laundry detergent and cheap perfume. Ugh. Obviously, it's time to go and go quickly to get away from Stench Cloud 2017.
This is where the trail is supposed to get relatively dicey, and it sure as heck does. It's steep, with lots of loose rock and the occasional fixed rope to help you get down. But the real challenge is this: I don't know why, but there are dozens of people climbing up from I assume the Ediger-Eller train station at the bottom of the trail, and they are mostly grossly unprepared for this hike. They're wearing sneakers, don't have joint poles, don't have any water, and are often grossly out of shape, parking themselves across the trail to rest in spots where it's dangerous to pass because the trail just isn't that wide. It's a long, slow, descent, but at the same time the weather is improving, albeit faintly, which means you can start to get a sense of why people bother to hike that trail - if the weather is fine, it must look spectacular. Even more interesting to me, though, is the so-called Klettersteig that they've cut directly across the middle of the mountain; that looks like it would be a blast, but there's no time and I am not trying to hike that with my heavy backpack. A Klettersteig isn't a via ferrata, but something else: it's basically an attempt to recreate the sense of rock climbing for beginners without requiring the use of any special climbing equipment. If you were to do the Calmont Klettersteig, there would be metal stairs sticking out of the cliff face, ropes to hold on to, and such; I would absolutely love to come back and check that out someday.
Finally, after squeezing past one too many ill-prepared, out of shape tourists wheezing there way up the rock, we make it down to the train tracks and the final descent back down to the river. I'm relieved to have this stage behind me, but almost entirely because of other people. I've enjoyed the last few weeks in large part because the trail has been so empty - and this was like being back at home in San Diego on a popular trial like Mount Woodson, except in that San Diegans are usually better prepared for challenges like that.
Ediger-Eller are twin towns. Eller came first, and to be honest it felt like another half-abandoned, who-cares kind of town. I could have used a toilet, but nothing appeared to be open and i didn't see any public facilities, so that didn't happen. The most interesting thing I saw in town was actually a renovated house at the back of the village with a very dramatic office cantilevered out over the vineyards complete with a huge iMac - it would have made a great commercial for something or another But that was it. No shops, no bakery, nothing. These small towns confuse me: has all the retail died because there's presumably a hypermarket somewhere ten minutes away by car?
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll skip over most of the rest of the day's waking because it was quite simply unexceptional. Uphill to the vineyards. Walk through the vineyards. Come across a small canyon, so cut inland and uphill to walk around the brook and then back down. If the first ascent back up into the vineyards annoyed me, much of the rest of it just left me in a zoned-out must keep walking state. The best thing about the day at this point was the weather, which finally tilted into full-on sun, allowing me to strip down to a T-shirt for the first time in weeks and feel completely warm. We stopped at a bench overlooking the river for a good quarter-hour and enjoyed our lunch, which was... Clif bars. Dan had brought a lot of them, so now was a good time to deplete his stash. Below, more Dutch people in camper trailers bicycling to and fro. Tiny lizards darted in and out of the ancient slate walls. Bees bumbled. All perfectly lovely, and yet from a strict hiking perspective... underwhelming. Good trails challenge you, push you, take you to truly exceptional places. Today, though, just felt like an access trail to somewhere else, and that's fine.
So it's back to walking, it can't be that much further now, and man, am I glad that I combined the tourist-clogged previous stage with the current stage. Tonight's hotel was supposed to be super luxurious, so I started thinking about the fast wifi and the almost guaranteed in-room fridge to chill the wine I'd been dragging with me for days at this point. Finally, I could see the Senhals-Senheim bridge in sight up ahead, but nope, there would be some serious meandering going on before we got there, so I was exceptionally happy to see the Hotel Halfenstube appear on the left... complete with a CLOSED UNTIL 17:00 sign on it. Ugh. What?
Some guests appeared, and they were cranky and wouldn't let us in to check around for hotel staff. Thanks, guys. So I started trying to figure out how to call the place to see what the deal was - I did NOT want to wait two hours to check in. No phone number on the outside of the hotel? Annoying. Website has no clickable call us links? Lame. Website only has the phone number as graphic images, so you can't copy and paste it into your phone dialed? incredibly dumb. Finally, I find an old email from the hotel and there it is, a phone number... incorrectly formatted so you can't just copy and paste it and call, of course. C'mon, folks. Technology! If you know what you're doing you make it easy for customers to contact you so that they can give you money. That's how this game is supposed to be played.
Thankfully, their phone rings, and someone picks up after ten rings, and to my delight, she's actually inside the hotel and would be happy to come outside, let us in, and take us to our room. We've been upgraded to the Winemaker's Suite, which is all very modern. It's up on the top floor, no view of the river unlike our original room, hmm - and dang it, the thing that looks like a fridge isn't a fridge, it's an empty set of shelves, what? There's also an entire freakin' sauna but I'm not about to fire that thing up just now. There is a wifi network, but it doesn't actually work, and there's even a preprinted card with a bullshit excuse about how their geographical location means they just can't get good Internet. Yeah, right. This is not Dresden in GDR times. We are not fooled; you just suck.
Anyhow, at least there's a heated towel rack, so we do some laundry and get that drying quickly. It's still a couple of hours out until dinner, but that comes around quickly enough, and... it's weird. I think the core business model of this place must be to get long-term guests, which they do by discounting their fancy modern rooms and combining them with half-board options. The menu has a general feel of outdated modern cooking; the daily half-board menu starts with a curry coconut soup, so that is absolutely out. I did not come to Germany to eat fake Thai soups, thanks. (See also: Yosemite High Sierra Camps circa 2015.) The rest of the menu is a weird mishmash of random foods; I have the winemaker burger and Dan the vegetarian gnocchi. His gnocchi are swimming in a watery light green lake of something or other; my burger has got lettuce, caramelized onions, and what I assume is supposed to be BBQ sauce on top of it, making it a soggy, disgusting mess. I try to pick it apart to get at the good stuff, leaving the disintegrating bun alone, and sopping up the too-sweet, wine-red sauce with the fries. It's... well, it's mostly just gross. But the wine list is a little better, so I try a small glass of orange Mueller-Thurgau (okay, but it's really hard to be sure if it was actually skin-fermented or what as it's still pretty bland) and follow it up with a carafe (25 cl) of Merlot that was grown on the upper reaches of the Calmont, which is frankly delicious and which is a dead ringer for a Hedges Washington wine. Dessert is a nondescript tiny square of what appears to be flourless chocolate cake along with a tiny bit of too-sweet muscat dessert wine. All in all, the best thing about the meal was the server, who was delightful.
Back upstairs in the winemaker's suite, all we had to do was use the wireless iPad-like remote to close the curtain on the window above the bed (really an OTT use of technology) and call it a night, which we promptly did.