Thanks to the wonders of heated towel racks, our socks were dry by the time we were rudely woken up by the hotel elevator. As luck would have it, elevator quiet hours at the Hotel Lellmann end at 6 am - and that's apparently exactly when the weekly laundry delivery happens, so if you're anywhere near the elevator, you'll get an hour plus of horrible elevator noises while they swap out the dirty linens. Good times!
We wandered down to breakfast as early as possible to escape the noise, and found a large, empty restaurant with a smaller side room that contained both the breakfast buffet as well as the greatest hits of the 1980s on full blast. Uh, no thanks, so I stole a canister of coffee from the side room and parked it at our table in the thankfully much quieter main room. The breakfast spread was among the best of the trip, and when staff arrived to ask if we wanted anything else, I ordered Dan some scrambled eggs and a pot of tea for myself. Eventually, other hotel guests arrived and sat down at a table next to ours with no coffee, so I mischievously grabbed them a pot of coffee from the next room over, wondering how this blatant violation of German rules would play out. I think they were completely baffled by this as they just ordered another pot from the waitress. Ah well, I tried. My tea arrived, and then I embarked on another failed quest: to get an empty creamer pitcher so that I could fill it with milk from near the cereal next door. No dice: the weirder your request, the harder it is to fill, but eventually something clicked and I got my plain milk for my tea (no condensed milk, thank you). Not bad. Rolls were good, yogurt was excellent, and they had all kinds of fancy dispensers for tasty stuff like strawberry jam and Belgian Nutella-esque chocolate goop, so we chowed down as today was going to be another fairly long day: just one stage, but a relatively tough one.
Back upstairs to the room, throw everything in the packs, then back downstairs to pay for everything, this time with a credit card, no problem. Yay. And then outdoors and... whoa. No fog. Just sun. A bright, shiny day, much unexpected and cheered on this trip. We backtracked past the visible beehive to the point on the trail where we'd left, and within a minute or two we were crossing the Mosel for our final visit to the Hunsrück side. Almost immediately after crossing the river, we were back amongst the grapevines, and a small group were getting ready to bring in the harvest here, all of the pickers seemingly locals and over the age of 50. I'm guessing the wine biz is having a heck of a time recruiting the next generation to stay on in these small towns and work hard for relatively little reward. Ah well.
From there, the trail was relatively straightforward, making its way uphill slowly but surely towards Burg Thurant, another lovely castle. Through the grapevines, then around the back through the forest, with an unlovely view to a gravel pit, and before too much longer we were at the top of the hill and standing at the castle gates, next to a food service truck unloading replenishments for the castle cafeteria. Yum. The castle looked interesting - and not crowded - so we paid a few euros to go inside, leaving our packs at a table built into the castle wall with a view down to the town of Alken. Turns out, the euros were well worth it, with plenty of things to explore from an old wine cellar to the top of their tallest turret, home to a visibly annoyed hiker who was trying to get better signal on her mobile. Ha! And then back down to the entrance to buy some coffee and cake because honestly, I hadn't really had the chance yet on this trip to enjoy a slice of good cheesecake with a spectacular view, so I figured I had better grab it. Meanwhile, the woman running the cafeteria and entrance fee till was amusingly exasperated at the Dutch tourists who kept skipping the signs that they had to pay, yelling at them to please come back and buy a ticket... wow, that must happen a lot, am I right? I asked and she said oh my God, you have no idea...
After ten minutes enjoying coffee, cake, and that amazing view, another group of folks started wandering over towards the table looking like they could stand a round of the same, so we happily vacated the table and started out on the next section of the trail. From here, it was down, down, down all the way back down to the river, passing a rather aged man with a cane who had apparently not taken the "warning, difficult, steep, rocky trail" sign seriously and who was now obviously slightly terrified that he'd never make it to the top. I calmed him down for a bit, suggesting he should rest up around the corner and enjoy the view before the last push to the top, and mentioned that there was an easier trail back down along the road that might help. Visibly relieved, we carried on down the hill, ending up at a small church, picturesque as all hell, that contained an honest to God ossuary (I don't think I'd ever seen one before) as well as a beautiful garden. And then we were back in the town of Alken, and I needed to make a brief detour to the tourist office for more stamps.
The woman working the Sonnige Untermosel tourist office was friendly and cheery, so I quickly picked up my stamps and asked if there was maybe a place to buy sandwiches. Luckily, there was a supermarket just a few blocks away, so we headed there. Dan guarded my pack while I bought some stuff at the bakery (their last sandwich, plus some pastries) and the market (Apfelschorle, sparkling water, and I think some chocolate). At the register, a man in front of me offered to let me skip in front of him because I had so little, I happily accepted, and then I asked him if he were Dutch. Nope! Turns out, English... another first. He and a friend were stocking up for their campervans parked down the way. We chatted about the weather, I joked that it had been so bad on two days that I thought I was in England, and then he pointed at the door and said Right, you know where to go... ah, the English, I do love their wonderfully dry sense of humor. They finished checking out, we all headed outside, and the four of us enjoyed a proper English chat for the first time in weeks. I gave him a packet of chili-mango snacks from Monterrey, bade him farewell, and then we headed back to where we'd left the Moselsteig just past the tourist office.
Yes, this was going to be another moderately difficult day as there would be multiple climbs away from the river and then back down again. This turned out to be a bit more challenging than most because of the amazingly sunny weather. The climb up and out of town went through terraced vineyards, and this time the locals had added anti-mountain bike gates in hopes of keeping the damned bikers out of their vineyards. Good idea. Up and up we climbed in the hot autumn sun until we were at the very top again, this time just a few steps away from a rather large pilgrimage church that had been there for at least 750 years. Inside, there was an actual pilgrim actually praying, so I did my best to keep quiet and respectful... you know, the bare minimum of civility. And from there the trail was easy, wandering around the plateau for quite some time with terrific views of Castle Thurant before heading inland a bit, eventually to arrive at another, smaller chapel with the same pilgrim lighting a candle inside. Sweet. Out front, the signpost indicated a good viewpoint ahead, so I figured that that would be our lunch spot, and it was, complete with a so-called Sinnesbank, one of those humongous, luxury benches that fit two, so we ate our sandwich and pastry and wondered at the marvel that was someone sitting there without a shirt on, drying off in the sun; outside of a FKK beach, I don't think I've ever seen a German with his shirt off in public, so that was kinda weird. (For you prurient types, it was also nothing particularly interesting to look at... alas.)
On with the packs, back up to the trail, and then... wait... are those volcanoes? Yup, volcanoes. The weather was so clear that you could see all the way over to the volcanoes in the distance on the Eifel side of the river, which was stunning. I never thought I'd see such a thing in Germany, but there you go. Further up ahead, there was something even more surprising: I heard a yelp, and Dan jumped back as he had almost stepped on a dead mouse. Eep! And then just a bit further onwards, the trail turned right, we saw a view of Gondorf below, the nearer part of Kobern-Gondorf, and the bridge off in the distance, and part of me thought yay, I'm relieved, we must almost be there!
Well, no. Not quite. The trail slowly meandered down to the roadway next to the river, past some very active dairy farms; just before the roadway, there was a small chapel that I believe was originally built to show thanks for surviving the plague, and some very cheeky local had put up some fairly obscene graffitti that was, well, actually laugh out loud funny:
And then it seemed like all we had to do was cross the river. That wasn't so bad - getting on the bridge was fine - but then suddenly you had to cross a few lanes of random traffic to get back down the other side of the bridge. Even more worryingly, the trail was obviously going away from the main part of town, so my thinking that it was going to be an easy, straight shot to the town center was totally, utterly wrong. Instead, the trail decided that it would be way more interesting to keep going west, head up and out of town completely through a nondescript suburb, and then keep going up and up until nearly at the top of the plateau on the west/Eifel side. Not cool, trail. Not cool. It had been a long day, and I was looking forward to resting, but that was obviously not going to happen any time soon. Instead, we wandered towards the north, kinda sorta towards the town center, and eventually made it to a frankly pretty terrible Mary statue before scrambling all the way back down to a main road and the official end of the stage. At least it was only a few more blocks to our hotel from there, which was located in the historical city center, which turned out to be fairly lovely, pedestrianized, and generally awesome.
The hotel was dark and unstaffed, but there was a sign instructing guests to ring at a house across the street, so I did, explained who I was, and then the owner came out and greeted us, letting us in the front of the hotel, through the not-open-today restaurant, and then upstairs to our room, which was spacious, lovely, and even a patio of sorts (that as it turns out was built on top of the outdoor toilets for the restaurant below). Dang, good luck again. We made plans for an 8 a.m. breakfast and then set about relaxing before dinner, which again was spent rinsing out stinky undershirts and getting things ordered for tomorrow, our final day on the Moselsteig... wow, was it really almost over?
It being a Monday, there wasn't much open in the way of restaurants, but I found a hotel a block or so away that was open... well, a winery-hotel-restaurant compound, which proceeded to serve up some of the best food on the trip as well as a Riesling that was so good that we bought another to drink together in the room after dinner. We both had noodles with pork cutlets and fresh chanterelles - I wasn't tired of them yet, and these were especially good - and some better than average salad to go with it, and that was that for the evening. Back in the room, we savored that Riesling, blogged a bit, and then prepped everything for an on-time departure the following morning.