24 November 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

During the week leading up to Thanksgiving, Kristin and I planned to cook Thanksgiving dinner for many of the other Americans here in Eichstätt. We aimed, perhaps dreamed is more appropriate, for the true experience, complete with turkey, cranberries, sweet potato casserole, and other dishes. However, our original plans fell through due to many reasons, among which was the birth of a child and the expected change of priorities such an event typically brings. One day before turkey day, Kristin and I, with the consensus of the other Americans, conceded and rescheduled our Thanksgiving feast for next Thursday.

Though well aware of our new belated Thanksgiving plans, the more Wednesday progressed the more I wished to mark the true Thanksgiving day in some way. I simply couldn't except the other alternative of doing nothing. After some brainstroming, I arrived at the idea of hosting a small dinner in my apartment. I invited Charlotte, Federica, and Valleria, but Charlotte had prior plans, so one could say that I ended up celebrating an Italian Thanksgiving in Germany.

As for food, the prepeartion of essentially all traditional Thanksgiving dishes was infeasible due to my lack of an oven. Instead, we ate a typical Southern meal.

Federica and Valleria arrived early to help me cook. In the first photo below I'm frying chicken with Valleria's help, and with Federica's in the second.

We finally set down to eat at around nine o'clock, but the the girls told me that was about a normal time for a dinner in Italy. Here's a view of the table before eatting.

Following the holiday tradition, all portion sizes were beyond too big. I was actually planning on finishing the leftovers over the next fewdays, but to my surprise Federica and Valleria finished off everything but the coleslaw, which itself was consumed down to a few remaining spoon fulls.

Check it out, starting from the top left is a serving and half of garlic mashed potatos. Right of that is some simple coleslaw, with a slice of cornbread as its other next door neighbor. Earlier in the week after some experimentation, I discovered much to my delight that one can cook cornbread in a skillet on the stove top. The last food item on the plate is a zucchini squash mix. Ok, so maybe zucchini isn't that Southern, but I couldn't find yellow squash in any of the grocery stores or the market. And there was of course the fried chicken, but it was not yet on my plate for the photo. However, it too was mighty fine.

It didn't take long for me to notice that they were using the fork and knife to eat the cornbread. I told them it was ok for them to use their hands, and they slowly accepted it. Although, Valleria would still use her fork and knife from time to time. They told me that they never eat with their hands in Italy.

Valleria and Federica agreed that this food was very different than Italian food. Considering the amount they ate though, I think it agreed with them fairly well. Federica even licked the mashed potato serving spoon clean.

Naturally, after dinner came dessert, and here I was able to use one traditional Thanksgiving ingriedent: cranberries.

I could only find one grocery store that sells cranberries, and I bought the last package. These cranberries were also from America, so even more fitting for the day. When I first took the berries out of my fridge Valleria's eyes opened wide with curiosity. She and Federica had never seen such things before.

Usually my mom makes a cranberry compote, but that requires an oven. I mixed the cranberries with walnuts, chopped apples, oats, and other ingrediants together. Then, not really sure what would happen, I tossed it all into a skillet as Valleria and Federica watched over my shoulder. I blew a silent sigh of relief as it slowly formed into a concoction with a consistency similar to that of a cobbler. Next I dolled out the servings into our bowls and instructed the girls to pack it down tightly. A little confused, they complied. Finally, I broke out the ice cream and scopped that out on to the top of the cranberry dessert.

The idea of mixing a warm dessert with ice cream was foreign to the girls. I have noticed the same thing with other Europeans. Kristin told me that when she served our apple pie to her dorm mates she also offered vanilla ice cream, but most of them were turned off by the idea of combining the two. As foreign as it may have been to them, Federica and Valleria took to the idea without much hesitation.

After we finished, the girls were gracious enough to stick around and help me wash dishes. I told them they didn't have to, but they said they were used to it. They said that few men in Italy will cook or clean, so they found it a little funny that I could do both.

Yesterday was my first Thanksgiving away from home, and could potentially become my only Thanksgiving outside of America. Nonetheless, I had an enjoyble time and felt fortuante for more current experience in Germany. One thing's for sure, it was my most unique Thanksgiving to date.

20 November 2006

America through European Eyes

In light of the recent elections I believe now might be an appropriate time to deliver a post on the interesting and sometimes politically heavy issue of America’s influence on Europe, and the resulting European image and opinions of America. This is of course a complex issue, and I by no means contend that this one post covers it to the fullest extent. Nonetheless, I feel that in one and half months I have heard enough opinions and made enough observations regarding this issue to present an intriguing overview. While many more categories and subcategories exist, one can divide Europe’s thoughts of the US and the US’s influence on Europe into five broad elements of the American culture: language, music, food, film and television, and politics.

The World’s Language

One of the largest surprises I had upon arriving in Germany was the amount of English one sees and hears in everyday life.

The simplicity of the English language probably plays part of a role in its widespread usage and knowledge. For example, unlike other languages I have encountered, English nouns have no genders attached to them. English speakers need not worry about adjective endings. One foreigner I spoke with also believes that because of the many English words with multiple meanings, one must not learn as large of a vocabulary as with other languages. In the end though, I believe that the relatively high amount of English one finds in Germany and around the world stems mainly from the influence of America’s economy and culture.

When it comes to everyday life here, English plays its own small role. Germans buy “CallYa” plans for their “Handys” (cell phones). When traveling across the country or to the city center they may ride the “InterCityExpress.” Perhaps if they want a snack for the train ride they’ll buy something from a café and ask for it “To-Go.”

The majority of the college students I have met know at least a limited amount of English. I know that many conversations would go smoother and quicker if I myself spoke in English, but seeing as how I am in Germany, and the other foreign students are here to learn German themselves, it does not seem appropriate nor respectful. Some of the Europeans I have spoken with have been learning English since grade school, and they speak English almost as well as native speakers. Of course I have also met those college students who speak no English, but my experience so far tells me they are a minority.

However, one finds fewer English speakers in the older generations. Coming from a time of pre-globalization these generations probably never received the pressure in school to learn English as the youth of today’s Europe.

Before arriving here I knew that many Europeans, perhaps most of Europe’s younger generations, can speak more than one language. I knew this ability was necessary due to the density of nations on the European continent, but I also believed that the Europeans chose to learn other languages out of respect for their neighbors. Indeed, some learn other languages for this latter reason as well; however, most students I have spoken with learn another language only out of necessity or usefulness. The multitude of languages in Europe frustrates these students.

When the topic of English comes up in conversations I often hear the same view directed towards me stated in a slightly different way. Basically it’s something to the effect of the following:

“You’re lucky, English is your native tongue. You speak the world’s language. You can go anywhere in the world and get by without any problem. We have no choice, we must learn English and other languages because we live in Europe.”

I have been told by many Europeans that they expect visiting Americans to only speak English; therefore, it pleasantly surprises them to meet an American who speaks a foreign language. They know that I as an American have no significant reason to learn another language, and they greatly appreciate the fact that I take the time to learn and speak one.

Later in these conversations about English, I usually state that I dislike the prevalence of the language around the globe. I pause and wait for the weird looks I receive every time without failure, then elaborate. I share with them my opinion that it damages the local culture when the people of that culture must learn English in order to succeed in the modern global economy. Language exists as an important attribute to any culture, and if the people replace their language, will they also replace their culture? Without their traditional culture would they lose their identity, and how would they distinguish themselves from others on the Earth? Then my audience understands and usually agrees that this scenario is a potential consequence. However, some know this not merely as a potential but a reality already occurring, as with Federica’s example.

Federica comes from Italy, more specifically a small town in the area of Milan. She explained to me that there are really multiple regional Italian dialects, each distinct in its own way. In the past children would learn the dialects from growing up in the region, but today more of the youth learn, along with the required two foreign languages in school, standard Italian and not their respective regional dialect. Federica is fortunate, because she has regular contact with her grandmother, and therefore the chance to learn the older dialect. However, the number of those from the older generations who still speak the dialects naturally decreases everyday, and so one hears the regional dialects less and less.

Imagine traveling to Wisconsin, Louisiana, or New Jersey and not hearing the unique accents and words of those states. The South simply wouldn’t be the South without hearing “ya’ll” in conversations.

Live from America

The level of American songs on the radio continues to surprise me. It is no exaggeration when I say that the radio stations here play songs in English more often than in German. One also hears French and Spanish music, but English unquestionably dominates the air waves. The other Europeans tell me it’s the same in their homelands, such as Italy, France, or Spain. They are always almost shocked to hear that American radio stations, excluding those specializing in foreign genres, play mostly American music and essentially only music in English.

Many of the students offer the reason that English is the best language for singing, due to its flow and rhyming ease. Therefore, simply more English music exists than say German or Italian.

Many of the Europeans I have spoken with love American music, and it is not uncommon for them to own CDs from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Green Day, or Madonna, to name some examples. They may not understand all the lyrics, but they know the refrains and tunes by heart. Even in bars and at parties American music is pumped over the speakers. All types of American music too, from the Sixties to today, and from pop to punk.

The Europeans with whom I have spoken offer few complaints about American music. In fact the only one to date comes from Vallaria, who hails from Italy. For some reason the music of Johnny Cash does not agree with her. Then again, this could be a simple timing issue. She told me this in the Theke, a few minutes after a full house showing of Walk the Line had ended.

Ronald and Colonel Sanders

Unfortunate as it is, most of the Europeans I have spoken with view fast food as American cuisine. Many of the same fast food chains as in America operate in Europe. The local McDonald’s is only a three minute walk away from my apartment. I have yet to see any in Germany, but apparently KFCs are very popular across the rest of Europe. Even Taco Bell exists across the pond. A Swedish girl told me that there is a chain of restaurants in her country by the name of Memphis. Supposedly it serves Southern food, but I tend to doubt this claim due to the fact that cheeseburgers are one the menu.

The opinions toward American food are usually positive, but not always so for the food companies. Let’s take the example of McDonald’s in Illania’s hometown of Brindisi, Italy. From my understanding Brindisi is a small Italian city along the coast of the Adriatic Sea. According to Illania, a number of years ago a McDonald’s opened up in town against the residents’ wishes. They looked at it as a symbol of America invading their home and wanted nothing to do with it. The residents boycotted the restaurant and it closed after a few months of business.

I have heard the same sentiment from others, that they have no desire for American fast food restaurants in their cities and towns. However, I’m not sure if I believe this, because if that were true why have I not heard the story of other failed fast food ventures like the McDonald’s in Brindisi? In my opinion, American fast food businesses remain alive and well in Europe.

I also see American foods in the grocery store, but not in any shocking amounts. There is a German food brand that produces American style items like bread, hot dog buns, and chocolate chip cookies. The name of this brand is Tennessee: American Style. In the freezer section I see bags of frozen wienerschnitzel lying next to bags of frozen buffalo wings.

The good news is that many of those with whom I have spoken acknowledge that more American cuisine must exist than fast food cheeseburgers and fried chicken, but they don’t always know what.


I’ve already talked about how the Europeans love American music, but it’s possible they might even enjoy our television shows and movies more.

As with music, many of the same popular television shows of America play in Europe as well. To run down a short list of series, Europe has among others Stargate SG-1, Sex and the City, Friends, Gilmore Girls, Family Guy, The Simpsons, CSI, and Twenty-Four. Most of these shows appear in the prime time hours on the local television stations dubbed in German. Unlike with the radio, I would say that German series and programs outnumber those from America.

Though the European countries may produce many of their own television series, it appears that many of the people prefer the American ones. Ellena’s favorite shows to watch while at home in Spain are Friends and Sex and the City; however, in Spain the latter goes by the name Sex and New York. It seems that The Simpsons is popular in many European countries, but especially in Germany. I can’t explain why, but a lot of Germans love this show. To give an example of how much, a family down the street from my apartment building has a painted wooden cut out of The Simpsons' characters propped up in their front yard.

The same pattern follows suit with movies. Many of the same movies playing in America will play during the same period in Germany. Others will debut in Germany a little later than in America. Often the movies are dubbed in German, or German subtitles appear at the bottom of the screen. I have heard from a German that all movies in Sweden are in English with Swedish subtitles. Sometimes the original title for the movie may change completely, other times it is translated into the local language, and still other times the original English title remains. Somewhat unfortunately, it seems that the American movies with serious themes do not cross the Atlantic as much as the comedies and action dramas.

Hollywood celebrities reach nearly the same level of fame here as in America. The German tabloids cover the same stories as their American counterparts, but also with some added coverage on European or German stars. Last Thursday’s edition of Eichstaett’s newspaper reported that George Clooney was voted Sexiest Man Alive for the year by People magazine.

As for one of Europe’s impressions of Americans, I have been asked more than once if we really spend so much of our time in front of TVs and in movie theaters. Usually an image of the giant television in my home comes to mind, then I answer that many Americans do fit this impression, but many others do not.

The Stain of Politics

The most common questions I receive here are, “What is your name?,” “Where are you from?,” and “What do you think about President Bush?” The first few times I was asked about my opinions on the President I took it light-heartedly and thought nothing on it. However, it has occurred with such frequency that I now view this question as an annoyance. It probably comes as no shocking news that many, if not most, Europeans disfavor the President and American politics.

The politics of America play an important role across Europe. Two weeks ago the local radio stations were giving updates every hour on the election in America. There was even a sound clip that was broadcasted every now and then that explained how the election process works in America and what were the potential outcomes and consequences of this specific election. The station DJ, as others I spoke with, did not hesitate to state his hopes that the election would bring positive change. The Europeans are angry over the Iraq War, displeased with America’s stance on global warming, and frustrated with the issue of oil, so essentially many of the same debates that take place in America.

It was very interesting for me to hear Illania’s point-of-view on the Iraq War, an especially personal issue for her. Apparently her brother is currently stationed in Iraq with the small Italian contingent. In her opinion this war should not concern Italy, and she believes that Italy’s leaders wish only to appease those of America by providing some military support. When asked what she would like to change, she answered that Italy and other European countries must act to please America, but should instead possess the ability to act freely. When I reminded her that Spain acted freely when it removed its troops from Iraq shortly after the Madrid bombings she responded, simply, that it wouldn’t be so easy for Italy.

As with everything, exceptions exist to this European anti-American sentiment, in this case it goes by the name of Alexi. Alexi, believe it or not, comes from France, but he wishes it weren’t so. Alexi “hates” his home country. He studies politics, and his dream is to some day work with a think tank in Washington D.C. He also happens to think highly of President Bush. Alexi is, as one might expect, a minority here and in France.

In the end, not all is bad for Americans visiting Europe. Stephan, a twenty-two year old German student, took the time to ensure me that Europeans do not dislike Americans, rather American politics and leaders. They recognize a clear distinction between the two. Meeting an American who can correctly name the capitals of European countries encourages him that not all Americans are so ignorant to things outside of the US, as he previously believed. I also wish to make it clear that I have never been made a target of anti-Americanism, nor any other from of persecution because of my American origins. Each debate or conversation about America has been friendly and on good terms. There are also those European friends of mine who have never asked me about American politics or the President; therefore, I believe not all Europeans concern themselves with it as much as others, or perhaps my friends simply don’t wish to bring further annoyance to me.

Some More of My Thoughts

For one thing, I believe it is easy for those not in power to criticize and complain. Of course Illania should feel like Italy needs the ability to act freely. I agree with her that the countries of Europe must consider how their actions will effect their relationship with America due to our position as the world’s superpower. However, how would Italy act differently were it in America’s position? Would it not take similar steps to ensure the prosperity of its citizens?

My observations here motivate me to say that perhaps Europe’s anti-American sentiments rise from America’s constant knock on the European front door. As I have discussed, Europeans eat our food, listen to our music, watch our actors and actresses, wear our clothes, and learn our language, all sometimes involuntarily. I believe I would also become annoyed if German restaurant chains popped up around Memphis, German music replaced American music on the radio, I watched television shows that were always set in Berlin or Munich, and German words replaced the English in advertisements. I believe I too would feel like my culture was under assault. However, this theory must be flawed, for all of these elements are, most of the time, matters of choice. If Europeans were truly against America why would they continue to support our food, music, media, and clothing companies? Why haven’t more elements of the American culture in Europe gone the way of the McDonald’s in Brindisi? Perhaps the distinction between American culture and American politics really is this strong. Europe still enjoys bitting into a McDonald’s cheeseburger every so often, but our politics leave a bad taste in their mouths.

I posed these questions to Florian, a German student. Specifically, why do so many Europeans claim to dislike America while they continue to prefer elements of its culture over their own? To paraphrase his answer, there is no cultural clash because Germans and other Europeans do not view American music, food, television, etc. as American, rather they view as part of their own culture. For example, they do not consciously set Red Hot Chilli Peppers or Friends apart as American. At the time this answer sufficed for me, I understood what Florian meant. However, now in retrospect I see a completely different meaning. If Florian’s statements are true, if the European youth really observe the elements of American culture as their own, then perhaps America’s culture has already permanently imprinted itself on Europe.

However, if this is the case, then perhaps it is not so bad as I would have thought. History shows that cultures have always been shaped by foreign influences, and that they adapt and evolve over time. America is quite possibly the perfect case in point. The present American culture is a mix of dozens of nationalities and cultures from all around the globe that became intertwined and blended together, everyone should remember from school the symbol of the melting pot. I only hope that in the faster paced world of the twenty-first century no culture completely loses itself in the whirl of American and other foreign influence.

15 November 2006

Regensburg and a Little More

This past Sunday was a busy one for me, as I spent the day in Regensburg, then returned in the evening to accept a dinner invitation from some Italian girls.

Regensburg lies about two hours by train east of Eichstaett, and is yet another beautiful city from the Middle Ages. The city gained some attention recently as the site where Pope Benedict delivered a speech which contained some remarks that offended many Muslims. Before being Pope, Ratzinger taught at the University of Regensburg from 1969 - 1979. Regensburg also lays claim to one of the best preserved old cities in Germany. Unlike many other large German cities which the Allies bombed during World War II, Regensburg survived the war nearly unharmed. Therefore, where as the old town centers of other large German cities have been significantly rebuilt in the years since the war, many of the original buildings from the Middle Ages still stand in Regensburg. In fact there are nearly 1,200 buildings on the city's historical record. The city center even earns the title of an UNESCO World Heritage Site. One can trace the beginnings of the city of Regensburg to 90 AD, when the Romans built an outpost in the area.

Joining me on this trip was Olga and her boyfriend visiting from Spain, Jose, Nawellia (Spain), and Mareike (German).

Once we arrived we had to orienate ourselves in the city and find our way to the town center. Luckily we had Mareike with us to save time when we needed to ask for directions. Eventually we found the East Gate of the old town wall, which naturally marks the entrance to the city center. Below are some characteristic pictures of the town. I think the cars seem out of place in the shadows of these centuries old structures.

We made our way to the riverfrount and the Danube. The travel book we had with us presented the Old Stonebridge and the Regensburg Cathedral as must see sights for one to see before death. Finding ourselves at the riverfront we naturally chose to see the bridge first.

From left to right we have here Olga, Jose, Nawellia, and Mareika standing along the Danube. Behind them is an old steamboat similar to the ones that plowed up and down the Danube in the latter half of the 1800s. Today this boat operates as a museum.

Farther down the river lies the Old Stone Bridge, its span complete with sixteen arches. Once at the bridge we figured the logical thing to do was to walk across. Then we reached the other side, did a little more exploring, and crossed back over. I have a hunch that the auther of our travel book was racing to meet a deadline when he wrote the section on Regensburg. I didn't really feel like I had completed any necessary life experiences. Nevertheless, the bridge offered a good vantage point from which to view the city.

One thing that interests me is the fact that in all of the riverside German cities I have visited one always finds seagulls. In an off the top of my head figure, Bavaria must lie around 500 miles from the ocean. Forget old bridges, give me a museum explaining why seagulls live this far from the coast.

As we found ourselves on the original side of the river again, and as I looked around for anyone wearing an "I Love Ornithology" t-shirt, lunch time came a calling. Near the bridge we found a small restaurant that advertised the claim, "The oldest sausage cafe in the world." However, when it comes to sausage, old age doesn't seem to me like a good bedfellow. I went with the traditional potato soup instead. Really I wanted soup so as to warm up from the cold weather. Here's a view of the restuarant's kitchen.

Here's a photo of Mareika as we wait for our food. She comes from north Germany, near Hannover, and therefore has a softer accent than the Bavarians.

After we lunch we trekked over to the cathedral. Below is a view of the building, which, with its pointed arches, flying buttresses, and gargoyles, screams Gothic architecture.

The Regensburg Cathedral is no exception to the apparent rule of prolonged construction times for such buildings. Construction began in 1275, nearly completed in 1634, and finally concluded in 1869 with the topping off of the towers.

The inside of the cathdral may rank as my favorite yet seen. The high vaulted celling gave the interior an airy feeling. As clouds passed in front of the sun's rays outside, colored beams of light from the many stained glass windows shone down on to the pews. Below is a view of the alter.

We had some tme left after the cathedral to wander around the city. Among other things, we joined a piece of what we presumed was public art. Only afterwards did we learn that the white structure we stood on was a memorial to a synagogue.

We also came across the remains of the original Roman city wall, built in 179 AD, which have been incorporated into a more modern building. Below, the old stones stand out from the white wall of the new building.

That wraps up my time in Regensburg, but not my day. As soon as we arrived back in Eichstaett I rushed to meet up with a few Italian girls, Federica, Vallaria, and Franchesca. They had invited me, as well as a girl from China, Schaun Xi (that spelling is a complete stab in the dark), to a pasta dinner. In this photo Schaun Xi poses with me as we eagerly await our dinner.

Here we see Franchesca working on the tomato sauce as Federica prepares some dishes.

The first course was bow tie pasta with the homemade tomato sauce, then came the salad. Apparently the salad almost always comes second in Italian meals. Likewise, it almost always includes some cold meat, in this case tuna fish. For desert I enjoyed cookies and yogurt as the Italians and Schaun Xi sipped coffee.

The European serving sizes still leave me hungry from time to time, this meal included. It could be worse though, I believe Bavarian plates usually carry a larger load of food than thse of the other regional cultures around Europe.

In the near future I hope to return the favor to the Italians by inviting them to a meal showcasing American food, and something other than cheeseburgers or hotdogs. If only I had the means and the know-how to make Memphis barbeque.

07 November 2006

My Week in Review

The main theme for last week was the sharing of culture, but a couple other adventures along the way added some spice to the mix.

Kristin came to me a while ago seeking help with cooking. Her dorm floor was having a multi-culture dinner last Monday night and each person was supposed to cook one item from their home country. Her duty was to prepare a dessert, and apparently her past experience with baking left her a little anxious to go it alone this time around. We decided on that All-American dessert of apple pie, and last Sunday I went to her dorm to bake.

Some dough and apple slices remained after the intial pie, so we decided to make a few extra single portion pies for ourselves, only we Southernized them bit. Instead of going the traditional route in a oven, we fried these minipies with a skillet and oil into a golden and gooey sweet treat. As the aroma filled the hallway curious and hungry foreigners came to see what was cooking. Of course, they had to wait until Monday night to get their share of the apple pie. (Those last two sentences may be the corniest that I have ever written, and I honestly didn't catch the cliches until after writting them.)

With Tuesday as Halloween I talked the Spanish girls into carving pumpkins, which was the first time for all of them. One could find a few jack-o'-lanterns in front of German houses, but for the most part the holiday is nonexistent here, as in the other European countries. I talked with many of the other foreigners about Halloween in their lands, and most said the same thing: that attempts to celebrate it have been tried in the past but failed. For the most part the Europeans I talked to about Halloween see it, understandably, as an American holiday and pure commercialism. Nevertheless, I searched high and low in Eichstaett for pumpkins and introduced these Spanish girls to All Hallows' Eve.

Now for some reason they refused to actually stick their bare hands into the pumpkins; only with makeshift plastic gloves could they proceed. Below from left to right is Olga, Ellena, and Angela.

All in all, I think they did pretty well for first-timers. Below is our pumpkin line-up with Nawellia, also from Spain, in the background. Take a wild guess as to which pumpkin was carved by the guy with past experience.

The action for Halloween night consisted of parties, which for Eichstätt basically means an extra special night in one of the local bars. We were able to stay up late because Wednesday was a state holiday in southern Germany, All Saint's Day.

I went with Charlotte and her friends to church Wednesday morning in honor of the aforementioned holy day, then I had breakfast with Charlotte's friends. I'm still not quite sure if I was actually invited or if I invited myself, but all worked out fine.

Then it was on to Saint Michael's dormitiory, where most of the other foreign students live. I found the Spanish girls and we decided to spend the day hiking to the top of the mountian seen below. Actually, the "mountain" is a bit deceiving because at its summit lie the remains of a rock quarry piled 50 feet or so high.

Our hike started out alright, but before we reached the trail it began to rain and sleet. Of course I was willing to continue, but all of the girls except Ellena decided to return to home. Her and I eventually made it to the top, but we started so late in the afternoon we were forced to return in the dark.

I attended the first session of my Spanish course Thursday. I have to say that after six years of studying German another foreign language comes to me as a bit of fresh air. I know I have only attended one class so far, but I think Spanish may actually be easier for me than German. Then again, in a couple of weeks I might return to this post to delete that last statement.

A group of Italian girls invited me to come shopping with them on Saturday in München. Below is a view of the historic city center and the typical pedestrian streets lined with stores of local and world known brands.

Here I found yet another seemingly universal constant, girls and shopping. Stereotyping, yes, but mostly true for this group of girls. Actually, Federica didn't buy anything, but perhaps coming from the land of Gucci and Armani played a role with the others and their shopping frenzy. For the first part of the day I followed them around and found refuge from time to time in the men's departments, when the store had one that is. By late afternoon though I had had enough and sought salvation.

I found it in the form of Schuster's, a six story outfitter in the heart of historic München. For those of you not in the know, an outfitter is a store which sells clothing and equipment for outdoor sports like rock climbing, skiing, hiking, kayaking, and so on. I have actually been to Schuster's before, when I was in München two years ago, but my visit was very rushed and I had forgotten exactly where it was in the city center area. I spent well over an hour in the store this time around before I had to leave to meet up with the girls, and I still feel like it was another rushed visit.

On the way back to the girls I couldn't resist buying roasted chestnuts from a street vendor. Before I had only known of the food from the Christmas classic, but now I can understand why a songwriter included this tasty snack in his song.

However, a few chestnuts weren't enough to satisfy my hunger, and the girls needed refueling after their day of shopping. We decided to eat dinner at the Hofbräuhaus. In the photo below one sees Elizabetta on the left, and Federica on the right.

Here we can see from the left Franchesca, me, and Vallaria. The spellings for these names are only guesses.

I noticed many other Americans in the restaurant, mostly from their loud and boisterous English. I think one could call the Hofbräuhaus a bit of tourist trap.

After dinner we rushed to catch our train and made it back to Eichstätt at around eleven o'clock.

This past Monday Ellena and I checked out the climbing gym in Eichstätt. Yes, there actually is a climbing gym in Eichstätt. I have to admit that I was a bit anxious putting the climbing rope and my life with it into the hands of Ellena because she comes off as a little clumsy from time to time; then again, I was the one who walked into a light pole. She did lower me a bit fast one time and I almost crashed into the ground, but there are no other incidents to report. Although, I did get revenge leting her hang in the air for a few minutes.

No big plans for this week; I'll simply wait to see what comes my way.

Note: Sorry for the delayed response, but all comments from the last post have been answered. I think Blogger has been having some problems recently because I did not receive email notices for each comment as I should have, so I was unaware of them all. Nevertheless, please do not be detered from posting comments as from now on I will simply check for them more often. Thanks to all who take the time to post a comment, let's keep them coming.