This is what Queen Elizabeth called 1994. I don’t know what she wanted to refer to, but if ever she had looked at my hiking events, that’s what she’d have called the winter season 2020-2021, after I had to call off all hiking events one after another due to the corona pandemic.
Now after nearly 8 months of self-discipline, we could finally organise a weekend trip. This time I made sure that I don’t make an ambitious plan, yet still attractive enough for everyone to want to join. After all, it is also true that I don’t know quite as many people as I used to for the same reason, and therefore it’s not that easy anymore to find people who are interested to join.
There’s also one thing that changed this time: We booked a holiday house for the first time, instead of a hostel. This is something maybe we should have anyway done last year, as the restrictions made it extremely difficult for us to do many things in hostels, such as going to a bar or even having simple breakfast. All these problems would be essentially solved if we stay in a holiday house, because in theory things should then happen only within the closed group within the house. Even though the idea itself is quite attractive, I saw it more as a challenge, as I have never booked a house myself, and there’s of course this additional task of organising food and drinks.
In addition to this, I also barely knew many of the participants this time. To be fair, I’m painfully aware of the fact that these weekend trips are not for everyone – while for most of the people, it leaves a great memory, I also remember people who joined us with high expectations and never turned up afterwards.
With all this in mind, I had an extremely mixed feeling during the preparation period. I wasn’t sure if what was coming up was a great experience or a total disaster.
I can’t exactly remember how I became aware of this property in the first place, but I was certainly looking for a handy, but promising location. In this regard, the Moselle is a perfect place. While it can still be considered as a local area of Düsseldorf, you can still have great experiences there. We have witnessed its splendour a few times, starting from the hike in Traben-Trarbach to the one at Koblenz. With the location already quite promising, I just needed a place for something like 10 people. The one I found looked good enough. Well, I have to admit at the same time I also didn’t really know what to look for either.
Just like every time, I created a WhatsApp group around 2 weeks in advance. And this group got somewhat out of control. In order to understand what happened, maybe I should briefly explain the background: The destination of our trip, Sankt Aldegund, is a village in the state of Rhineland Palatinate (RP), while we all live in North Rhine Westphalia (NRW). 8 out of 10 people can travel for free on local trains in NRW with their student tickets. In RP, the best option is to use the mini-group ticket, which costs 24€ for 5 people. And finally, there are also semi-high-speed trains (IC) between Düsseldorf and Koblenz (which is the confluence of the Rhine and the Moselle), but after Koblenz, there are only local trains that go along the Moselle up to Sankt Aldegund. Again, we were supposed to travel on Friday, which implied some people could travel earlier while others couldn’t.
I didn’t explain all this in the WhatsApp group. Instead, I simply thought we’d form 2 groups of 5 people, so that we’d be able to buy 2 mini-group tickets in RP and take local trains all the time, and the 2 of us who needed a ticket for NRW (which happened to be Zaman and me) would simply buy a ticket for NRW.
This plan fell apart quickly when Zaman proposed to buy a long-distance group ticket for minimum 6 people for something like 6pm in the evening, which he said was the best option because it cost only 8,90€ and the journey would take less time than if we take local trains. From my previous experiences, I knew immediately that it wouldn’t work out, essentially for the following reasons: 1, people tend to be able to travel earlier than 6 pm on Fridays; 2, 8,90€ was a more expensive option than the mini-group tickets for everyone but Zaman and me; 3, the journey was indeed somewhat shorter because it included an IC section between Düsseldorf and Koblenz, but the difference was not significant; 4, the price of long-distance group tickets changes very quickly, so that I knew that we wouldn’t make it before the price increase.
To be honest, I was rather surprised that he proposed it in the first place. But he is very often right about things I disagree with, especially when it comes to the behaviour of the people, so I simply decided to see what comes out.
The unfortunate thing is, as now IC (and partially also ICE, which are high speed trains) came into equation, people started to suggest a whole range of impossible things. In the end, nearly everyone travelled by local trains, as I had had in mind from the beginning, but the endless discussion quite visibly left scars, as other important topics were in the end hardly discussed. One of the important things we should have communicated clearly was who was arriving when. This piece of information was particularly important, since in contrast to the previous weekend trips, we had to organise food ourselves, and we didn’t know if there was a possibility to buy food nearby flexibly, meaning the first ones that arrived at the house had to organise all the stuff for the ones who were arriving later.
At the end, I took a train alone from Düsseldorf to Koblenz, then cycled along the Moselle up to Sankt Aldegund, without realising the total distance was as much as 70 km. It was already 3pm that I reached Sankt Aldegund, but still I was the first one to arrive.
Every now and then we get people who join us spontaneously on weekend trips, like this time Chris and Shrijal. They organised their accommodations themselves (for some reason they got different accommodations). Shrijal arrived more or less at the same time as I at Sankt Aldegund, and we almost immediately started preparing stuff for the house. The kitchen was fully equipped, actually more than fully equipped from my point of view. The problem was shopping. The whole reason that I took my bicycle with me was to be able to go to Bullay, which was around 7 km away from Sankt Aldegund, to go to a large supermarket and get stuff. Frankly, after having done 70 km on the bicycle and in sight of good local wine I didn’t have enough energy to get there anymore. Luckily, there was Chris coming by car, so I could ask him to buy stuff that I couldn’t find in the local grocery store (there were only two of them in Sankt Aldegund, one of which looked like it was permanently closed XD). Originally, we were planning to cook stuff on both Friday and Saturday, but as Miriam vetoed the idea and suggested to eat out on Saturday instead, I needed stuff for Friday evening and twice breakfast. As Sankt Aldegund was apparently a fairly touristic place with a lot of holiday houses, the store was equipped with stuff you’d need for breakfast. For dinner it turned out to be slightly complicated, but at least I could get pasta and some vegetables, which then allowed me to cook something simple at home. Chris, in the meantime, organised some pesto and müsli that I couldn’t find on the way.
As I got some time for not having to go to a supermarket, I could go to a nearby winery. I sometimes hesitate to visit a winery, because I find it difficult to leave without buying anything, which is sometimes not to avoid when the wines are really bad (or too expensive for the quality). This time, I was glad to see that they produced really good wine for a really good price (7€ a bottle). Actually it was so good that I decided to buy more than enough, thinking I’d simply take back home whatever remains.
I said I didn’t know what time people were arriving, but I really didn’t know that most of them were arriving as late as 9pm. In order to make sure that there’d be enough food, I prepared 4 packs of pasta – this was way too much. I have to admit that it’s extremely difficult to predict the right amount, but at least I should have bought more stuff that can be used more flexibly, e.g. bread, chips etc.
Just like every time on Friday, we all went to bed fairly early in the evening.
Day II (July 3, 2021)
There’s one thing we talked about a lot before coming to Sankt Aldegund – Total distance of the hike. For Sankt Aldegund being extremely small, I wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t go back home to early, so I made it extremely long, thinking we could simply make a lot of breaks on the way. Zaman on the other hand made a shorter trail, which was not significantly shorter, so there was hardly any option for anyone to take.
Just as we planned, we managed to start hiking at 9am. There was apparently some trouble with the bathroom (of which there were two), but otherwise things went smoothly.
Moselle is a famous river in this area for its wine production. And just like in many vineyard areas, the river makes a valley with steep slopes on both sides. Right after we left the house, we had to climb up this hill for quite some time, as you can see in the height profile above. Frankly this part made me wonder whether we can really survive the trail till the end.
But then, just like in many places along the Moselle, we had excellent views over the valley as soon as we were on top of the hill, thanks to the vineyards which allowed us to look down on a vast area.
There’s one error that I made in the planning: We were walking on the west side of the valley at the beginning, going over to the east side over the course of the day, meaning we were on the sunny side of the valley, so that what we were seeing on the other side was somewhat darker. I don’t think it was a deadly mistake, but it’s certainly something I should think of when we organise a hike like this one.
Despite the gloomy weather forecast of the past days, we got a beautiful blue sky. It was indeed hot, but the kind of hot we used to have in Germany before the heatwaves of the recent years. Going along the Moselle in this weather was certainly a delightful summery activity. Except for the fact that the water was too murky in the river to swim, which is unfortunately often the case in Germany, it was a perfect setting.
Maybe because the initial part of the hike was already relatively challenging, we kept having breaks over the course of the day. This probability allowed us to keep up our spirit. At the same time, we could come together during breaks.
There was one spot that Zaman actually added to my initial plan: A watch tower. It was anyway right next to the original trail and we would have probably been there anyway, but it was a great place to have a view over the surrounding area at once. This was also the spot where people apparently also visit by car. There were people climbing up the tower with a glass of wine in the hand.
By this moment, I guess everyone had already finished what they had brought for lunch. So when we arrived in Bullay, which was more or less the middle point, we looked for a café to have coffee or tea, maybe also ice cream.
It was a kind of weather where I’d have carried short pants. Out of fear for ticks, I decided to carry long trousers. So I didn’t get ticks during the day. Lea, on the other hand, got a tick on the leg, which she realised when we were in an ice cream parlour. Actually I had a kit to remove ticks on my bicycle, but I didn’t take it on the hike. Well, whether you have a kit or not, there are are a few ways to remove ticks. My favourite is to put a little bit of disinfectant on the tip of a knife and convince the tick to move away, because apparently they don’t like disinfectant. Here, it’s important to not put too much disinfectant, because it would kill the tick. And this is exactly what happened to Lea: The tick essentially was drowned in the disinfectant. We waited for Clara (who is a student in medicine) to remove the tick with tweezers that some locals brought to us.
Right after we left the ice cream parlour, the group split into two, one followed Zaman’s path, the other mine. Before the hike, I had almost expected I’d be the only one going for my path, but as it turned out nine of us were fit enough to follow my path. I’m amazed. Well, anyway, as I already stated above, it was not a huge difference.
Before we crossed the Moselle for the second time, we went to another viewing platform. It was a yet another place with a great view, but with the sun shining ceaselessly, I had the feeling of being grilled on the skin.
Some people then went directly back to the house after the platform. Most of us stayed in this small town of Neef, because there was an open winery there. I stayed in front of the winery because there was a nice area in a shadow, lying on the ground like a corpse. Frankly it was super nice to be lying on the ground in that moment. And the winery also saved us to a great extent, because there clearly was a water shortage at this point.
After we crossed the Moselle, some people walked along the Moselle, and I walked into the forest again for a short time with some people. I understand that some people didn’t want to go uphill anymore, but the path along the Moselle looked like the worst possibility to me, so I preferred to squeeze out the remaining energy (well to be honest I wasn’t that tired XD) and go into the nature again.
We were back at 7:30pm – such a perfect timing. We had enough time to take a shower and get prepared for dinner, but not too much to get bored. I stayed in the living room and finished the remaining pasta and salad from the previous day with some other people. Again, 2 kg of pasta was too much. I was glad when it was gone, but frankly this was something that I could have done better.
As planned in the first evening, we went to a local pizzeria (super cozy place run by Indians :D) I had only a glass of wine – I was still more than full in that moment.
We stayed in the living room until some time past midnight. Compared to some other weekend trips (esp. Neustadt) it was a rather quiet evening in the end. Well, while none of us were having trouble with today’s trail, I guess people were still exhausted after nearly 30 km. Maybe I should rather be glad that no one was quite as drunk as we were when we were in Ahrweiler instead :).
Day III (July 3, 2021)
It’s certainly one of the great features that we could have our own food in the house, but it was also one of the problems at the same time. I became painfully aware of this fact in the morning: The whole breakfast, and the cleaning that followed, were fully organised by Clara, Anrika and me. We had to finish by 10am in order to catch the bus some time after that. We managed it just in time. Well, actually I had to stay somewhat longer to finish the job, which was possible only because I was moving by bike.
So the program of the last day was organised by Zaman (just like always :D). Well actually he was planning another hike, but then I made him organise a canoeing trip, because I’ve seen so many times that people were too tired on the last day. I’m glad that he adapted the plan accordingly.
It started from Eller-Edigar, which is a small town only a few km away from St. Aldegund. For me, it was super nice to cycle along the Moselle, overtaking E-bikes along the way 😎. I must have been horrendous to go this way during the last part of the hike (which I was fortunately spared).
We were still 12 people and got 3 boats of 4p. I’m not particularly familiar with canoeing, but at least I knew that the last person on the canoe should concentrate on steering. And I was the last person on the canoe. So was Miriam on a different canoe, who was obviously also aware of this aspect. On the last canoe, apparently they didn’t – they ended up going in a circle a few times and crashed a shore once (amen).
As we were going down the stream, we had to do hardly anything along the way, only making sure that we don’t go towards larger boats. Still, compared to the Rhine, there was barely traffic on the Moselle. While the lanes were somewhat marked, we could simply keep floating. We started around 11am, and we kept going until 1pm to make a short stop at a random pier.
It was really not a kind of water quality you’d think it’s the right place to swim, nor the right temperature, but still I got into the water, together with Shrijal, whose splashing scared away a dog on the riverside, leaving the owner with us, well, fairly angry :D.
By this point, no one was paying attention to the weather forecast, which we should have. There was a storm approaching. Without quite realising what was ahead of us, we started canoeing again. This time only a few hundred meters, but we were hit super hard by heavy rain. Luckily, we found a refuge near the bus stop in Poltersdorf, which was quite a good distance away from the starting point.
We fetched our stuff at Eller and took the next train straightaway back to Düsseldorf. We arrived some time after 7pm.
So was our first trip after a long forced winter break, and also the first trip where we stayed in a holiday house. In all honesty, there’s no way for me to express how glad I am that things are slowly coming back to normal, above anything that I’m going to stay here below.
This being said, as always, there are things that went well, others didn’t. Let’s get started: Until the end of 2019, we used to have 20 people on the weekend trips. Now it’s reduced to 10, mainly because of corona. I wholeheartedly agree that 10 is better, but at the same time with the reduced number of people there’s the danger, that some people don’t understand each other well, but there’s no way to get around because the group is too small. For this reason, now I try to make sure that people know each other very well. This was this time not really the case (mainly because many of the people I knew before were not here anymore). While I was extremely fearful of the group falling apart during the trip, we ended up forming a perfect group. I don’t know whether to call it luck or our ability, but I should learn from this success and somehow make sure that this format is going to work in the future as well.
However, this was also the source of our initial failure for the planning of a proper trip from Düsseldorf. While the WhatsApp group was already exploding, I was also getting personal messages from everyone. And maybe I should also mention that not only the WhatsApp group was exploding, but also many of the people ended up travelling in an extremely inefficient way. It’s true that the ticket system of this area is complicated, but that’s something we cannot really change. But considering this, at least knowing who actually is what (e.g. student or not) and who’s coming from where might have helped them estimate who wants what. And I guess after knowing all this, it’s probably still important to know the people, in order to be comfortable with writing to each other. At least now after this trip, we could probably do a better planning in the same group, as we grew up as a group together. This being said, I should perhaps not overstate the fact that we will do only a “better” planning, because at the end of the day, the ticket system is complicated, and with the best option being often hidden, we will most likely keep blowing up WhatsApp groups in the future as well.
A few days before the trip, I had a long discussion with Zaman and Giampaolo on what to eat and what to buy accordingly. Again, we had difficulties figuring out who would want what. But the format we had was probably nearly perfect: pasta and salad in the first evening and eat out in the second. The only one thing is, as I stated already, we should get more stuff that can be flexibly consumed, such as chips or bread.
Another related problem was shopping: initially I wanted to cycle to a nearby city to get all the stuff. Fortunately I didn’t have to do it, because the local grocery store essentially had everything and Chris could buy and transport the rest. However, I can totally imagine that we go to an even smaller place than St. Aldegund and we don’t have a car or a bicycle in the future. One obvious solution is to ask everyone to bring some stuff. We could have taken this option this time as well, but in order to make the billing easier, I decided to do everything myself. Clara and Miriam afterwards pointed out there are apps (e.g. splitwise) that can take care of accounting. We should probably also look into this kind of possibilities as well.
As for the trail, despite initial criticisms, the distance turned out to be fairly okay. One of the main arguments against my trail in these discussions was the trail in Koblenz, which was already shorter in the planning than this time and we even made shorter. But in reality, there was a significant travelling time to go to the starting point in Koblenz, where we essentially had to walk down the hill (which was not negligible) and take a bus and a train. And from what I can see in the article, it was not the exhaustion, but it was more related to the fact that there wasn’t enough time and the final part was only going through the city, which was what we essentially shortened. This time in St. Aldegund, we could start hiking right from the beginning, and there was nothing in particular to shorten. In total, probably what counts is not the distance, but the time. I just have to make sure that the longer it gets, the more we will need breaks, but probably that’s something we can always arrange.
Doing something totally different from hiking was an idea that I’ve had for quite some time. Actually once I tried to organise a trip to a Freilichtmuseum when we were in Trier. At that time we simply didn’t have enough time to go there. Other than that, we always hiked on Sunday, and in many trips people gave up on the way (actually in all trips until 2019 some people always gave up). This time, Zaman organised it for us, and except for the weather things went really well. With 22€ per person it stayed very much accessible for anyone.
As for the bill, the total price was essentially 80€, of which there were: Food (13 €), Canoe (22 €) and accommodation (45 €). There were then also the train tickets that came additionally (4,80 € for the return). Actually, as I had the dinner twice with the money I paid for food, I paid probably around 100 € for the whole weekend. That’s really cheap for such a great experience.
I’m very not familiar with AirBnB or other services where you can rent a private house. According to Miriam, who has more experience, this place was essentially perfect. I still struggled with what we should check. I read the house description from the top to the end (which also allowed me to see that the bed linens were not included). And when I arrived in the house, I made a whole range of pictures to see what kind of equipment we had. Now I realised that there are webpages like this one with a proposal of checklist. Maybe I should go through this kind of list when I book a place next time.
Well, this being said, it was way more exhausting than a weekend trip in a youth hostel, mainly because the household stuff was much more demanding than I thought. On the first day, Shrijal, Miriam and I prepared the whole food and on the last day, there were Anrika, Clara and me cleaning up the whole place. It was reminiscent of the weekend trip to Effeldersee, where Robin helped me out essentially alone, which was also the decisive event that made me give up on camping weekends. Clara and Anrika are not regular participants, and now I wonder what it would have been like if they hadn’t joined. The problem is, while three of us were cleaning up the place, the others were simply sitting on the couch in the living room. Apparently cleaning is not something that happens spontaneously. This is something that I should probably think of, hopefully with Inna before we go on the weekend trip to Dinant in August.
Again, I can’t overstate the fact that it was a great experience, but the last point overshadowed the whole experience to a certain extent. I’m pretty sure that we can make a fully enjoyable trip like the ones we did last year also in holiday houses, or actually probably even better. I will think about it over the coming days and hopefully I’m gonna come up with a great idea.