Our efforts to learn German are sometimes humorous. We were in a restaurant recently when the waiter inquired if we wanted some "pumice freed us." We thought about this for quite a while before we understood he was talking about potatoes. It seems the Germans have incorporated the French words for french fries into their language with a German pronunciation for pommes frites!

We are becoming more adventurous with our travel. We didn't make train reservations for our Passau to Regensburg trip, and we improvised the actual travel. When we arrived at the Passau station shortly before noon, we found that the train to Munich would be leaving soon, and would stop at a midway point, Prattling, where we could change to a Regensburg train.

So we hopped on and found the train almost empty. There was plenty of room to leave the suitcases on seats, and stretch out ourselves. At Prattling we had just 7 minutes to change trains, but it was still easy. We used the little suitcase escalators, which go up or down, depending on which end you drop your suitcase onto. The train to Regensburg had only second-class coaches, so we simply took the closest seats and once again had the car almost to ourselves.

Our hotel is only about three blocks up Maximilian Strasse from the train station. It is an elegant building, dating from 1890 and recently remodeled. We have a large room on the top floor, with two dormer windows, a desk and phone and several lamps. Curiously, the floor covering is a kind of sisal matting which is very hard on bare feet, but otherwise it is a comfortable and spacious place for our stay here. After a short exploratory walk into the old city, we settled in for the night.

Today we took our first look at Old Regensburg. Celts and Romans settled here, but only the Romans left some architectural traces -- part of a tower, a moat, an arch or two, a bridge across the Danube. The city gained great prominence when the Danube was an important trade center (the huge stone Roman bridge supports are too narrow for most ships to pass through, which slowed things down). In the middle ages it was a thriving political, trade and religious center. In the sixteenth century after a plague the Jewish ghetto was destroyed. During the nineteenth century it was discovered by the Hapsburgs as a vacation spot. It survived World War II with little damage; more damage to the oldest buildings happened post-war, when there was money and energy for development and buildings gave way to parking lots and clothing stores. By the 1980s a new conservationist movement with an eye to tourism began working hard on restoration and documentation.

The result is a wonderful mix of winding streets and modish shops, a simple Lutheran church dating from 1560 and elaborate gothic and baroque churches in odd-shaped plazas, lots of outdoor cafes and beer gardens but also lots of bookstores and many, many shops selling clothing and toys for infants and children.

We enjoyed seeing several churches and trying to guess which of the buildings have been remodeled recently. One special characteristic of Regensburg architecture is a tall tower attached to its house, a 17th-century fashion. The towers, which have few windows, may have held a private chapel or extra rooms but were considered a sign of the wealth of the family. Now they are being rediscovered as chic housing areas with good views over the old city.

Old town Regensburg is bustling from early morning through evening, with students and shoppers and browsers. There is usually only the vaguest demarcation line between sidewalk and street; every now and then a brave vehicle maneuvers down an alley or through a plaza, scattering pedestrians.

We're enjoying this city, perhaps because we haven't run into as many tour groups (although there are some), but mainly because its age wears lightly on the residents, who go about their business sometimes smiling at the tourists gaping at statues.