Drunk on the Sounds of the Spanish Night

I am on a night train headed for Barcelona. I dig the rhythm of the train. It is almost enough to lull me to sleep. There were no more couchettes so I rode in the coach section with all the young college students and backpackers like me who would have to sleep sitting slumped in a seat with the green hills of France rolling by the window.

Its morning when I get to Barcelona. Didn’t get much sleep on the train. Lots of people talking and the rhythm of the train is just enough, soothing enough to relax me and just loud enough to keep me awake. In Barcelona I check into a moderate one star Hotel. It is very clean and modern just very small. But I have my own bathroom and shower and that’s all I really care about. I immediately lie down on the bed, exhausted. I need sleep. There are Spanish construction workers outside my window so I put on my earphones to drown them out. The beat goes on

When I awake it is about five. I have a shower and get dressed and go out. The streets are busy, lined with shops, cafés, and restaurants, bars, hotels, and apartment buildings. I was starving since I had not had breakfast or lunch. I am almost ashamed to admit I ended up at Hard Rock Café but I had promised to buy friends shirts from there anyway so I figured I might as well.

Surprisingly enough it’s packed. I try and find a seat at the bar but no such luck. So I wander around awhile hoping someone will get up to leave. The one good thing about a place like this since its such a tourist attraction you hear so many different languages, not just Spanish, there is Italian, French, German, English, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and who knows what else. The new tower of Babel, the Hard Rock Café.

Eventually I grow tired waiting for a seat at the bar so I stop a pretty young Spanish waitress who speaks perfect English and ask if there are any seats in the restaurant? She smiles and I follow her. She brings me the first of two cold beers and then I order some obscure sandwich named after some long dead rock legend. Pre and post sandwich I wrote in my journal and when I wasn’t writing I was listening to the rock music and Billy Idol screaming something about it being a nice day for a white wedding. In between songs I listened to the people, trying to connect the dots.

After the Hard Rock I wandered across the street and into the sun. It was a square like park full of steps, and statues, artwork, people, and pigeons. What we were all doing here together I couldn’t rightly say. The only thing about the artwork and statues was that all the information about them was scribed in Spanish so I was out of luck and just stared. So I walked down another street past more cafés and store fronts and hip clothing outlets. I walked by a hippie couple who made artwork out of aluminum cans, they sat on the sidewalk with their long hair in their eyes selling their creative metal. I walked into a bar playing live music. A young Spanish guy with thick long raven hair sat on a bar stool playing flamenco music. It was cool. He was good. Though most of the customers seemed disinterested. I wandered upstairs as there was an internet café there and checked my mail. Then I wander back down and sit at the bar. I order a John Smith, a smooth Irish beer. The bartender is a beautiful long legged dirty blonde from Australia. I learn that the bar is owned by Australians. Seem to be a lot of English people hanging out here. Now I really begin to dig this Spanish guitar playing music. Its gotten louder or my hearing has tuned in. There seem to be only a few of us in the place who truly appreciate him, the guitarist. Toward the back of the bar are sofas and a big screen TV to watch soccer matches I presume. I order another beer and the hours seem to just roll on. I don’t really talk to anyone but the bartender every now and then. Its strange being here but also perfect and I can imagine if I lived here this is the kind of place I would come after work for a beer. Although I wish there were more Spanish people and less English like me.

The guitarist is then joined by an old Spanish guy in a fisherman’s hat and it seems the guitarist doesn’t really know him but the owner introduces them and seems to say give him a try. This old guy starts bellowing out the most amazing tunes and it’s perfect with the way this younger guy plays his guitar and they aren’t really songs with words I don’t think, more just dirges but you can feel the emotion in his voice! I kept thinking, this is why I came to Spain, moments like this!

After that on my way back to the Hotel I stop at a Starbucks which I haven’t seen or had since my journey began nearly five weeks ago. So I order a café mocha and sit at the bar stool facing the street and pretend to be an artist or just lover of all that is good and beautiful. Its ten O’clock at night and the street is full of people. Where is everyone going? I want to rush out the door and just walk with them, be among them, feed off their energy.

Then two girls came in wearing tight jeans covering their slim legs and little half tops leaving their little navels exposed and dark tans. They sat down next to me. After a few awkward moments where everyone just sipped there drinks the brunette sitting next to me spoke and said she was from Florida and the blonde was from southwestern Spain. They were both very nice. We sat there awhile and talked of our travels. They were leaving tomorrow, the brunette back to Florida, and the blonde home to southwestern Spain. I never did find out how they got to be friends. They finished their cappuccinos and were heading for the Hard Rock Café for dinner. I thought of joining them but then decided I had seen enough of the Hard Rock café. I stumbled back to my Hotel drunk on the sounds and happenings of the Barcelona street night. I still have so much to see, the beach, La Sagrada Familia, and this incredible park designed by the great architect Antonio Gaudi. Tonight as I sleep in my small room I can still hear the flamenco guitar playing in my head and the old mans passionate voice. I can still hear it now.

Vintage Golf

What goes best with wine? Ask Californians and they’re likely to say, “golf.”

Just about anywhere you travel here, you’ll find two things in common… golf and wine, as California’s sun-kissed climate has made “The Golden State” the ideal place to experience grapes and “birdies.” For every golf course in the state, there’s a commercial winery – about 800 of each – and all are worth tasting.

North of San Francisco lie the famous wine growing regions of Sonoma and Napa Counties. Rodney Strong, Jordan, Ferrari-Carano, Mondavi, Cakebread and Heitz are among the names of viticultural baronies found along Sonoma and Napa county roads. Their wineries, aging cellars and tasting rooms are impressive grand chateaus, aerie lookouts and surrealistic structures that that overlook a landscape scribed with rows of vineyards and lined with fairways.

Start your California golf and wine sojourn by visiting the California Welcome Center in Santa Rosa. The connection between California wine and golf is immediately evident near the Center at nearby Matanzas Creek Winery with its impressive displays of lavendar and the 36-hole Mountain Shadows Golf Course near Rohnert Park. One of the oldest wineries in California, Gundlach-Bundschu, is a 3-wood drive from Sonoma Golf Club, once declared “near perfect” by golf legend Bobby Jones. And for a true California twist, sip California sparkling wine at the Korbel Champagne Cellars, then tee off through towering redwood trees at Northwood, an executive course designed by Alistair Mackenzie of Augusta National fame.

Four major “wine courses,” are found in the Napa Valley. Chardonnay Golf Club, across from the newly completed Kirkland Ranch winery, has the highest rated 36 holes in the region. Vineyards actually encroach upon Chardonnay’s greens. Or is it the other way around? Further up the Valley in the Atlas Peak wine-growing district is Napa’s preeminent golf resort, Silverado, with 36 holes that host the Senior PGA Transamerica Tournament, each October. Chimney Rock, off the Silverado Trail, is the only Napa Valley golf course actually on the property of a winery. If golf, wine and fine dining are appealing, drive over to the new Yountville Golf Club, then dine in one of Yountville’s exceptional restaurants… (cont.)

Medical and Dental Considerations When Planning Your Vacation

If you are in any doubt about possible travel problems because of a pre-existing medical condition, then consult your family doctor. People with heart or chest problems, recurrent blood clots in the legs or lungs, recent strokes, uncontrolled blood pressure, epilepsy, psychiatric disorders or chronic sinus or ear problems may be at risk when flying.

Late pregnancy is a contra-indication to flying, diabetics taking medication will need special advice, and the disabled will have specific requirements that may need to be notified to air­line and airport authorities. People with chronic health prob­lems or women who are obviously pregnant should ask their doctor to complete a standard airline form certifying their fit­ness for flying. This form should be obtained from the airline concerned.

Adequate supplies of all routinely prescribed medications, including oral contraceptives, should also be obtained before departure. If you are taking a short trip within Europe, these will be provided as NHS prescriptions. Those planning longer stays abroad should determine the availability of their medication overseas or take adequate supplies, although you may need to pay for these on pri­vate prescription. It is also strongly recommended that you obtain a certificate from your doctor detailing the drugs pre­scribed, including the correct pharmacological name, as well as the trade name. This will be necessary to satisfy customs offi­cials and you may need to obtain certified translations into appropriate languages.

Some drugs readily obtainable in the UK are viewed with great suspicion elsewhere, codeine, for exam­ple, is considered a controlled drug in many countries, and tranquillisers such as diazepam can cause problems. Women going to Saudi Arabia should take adequate supplies of oral contraceptives and will need a certified Arabic translation of the certificate stating that the contraceptives have been prescribed for their personal use.

Those with recurring medical problems should also obtain a letter from their family doctor detailing their condition. The letter can then be shown to doctors abroad if emergency treat­ment becomes necessary. People with surgically implanted devices are also advised to carry a doctor’s certificate to show security officials. Artificial hip replacements often set off metal detection security alarms at airports.

People with cardiac pacemakers are unlikely to run into problems due to electrical interference from British or North American airport metal de­tectors, but should try to avoid going through them and arrange instead for a personal body check by security officials.

Individuals with specific chronic health problems such as epilepsy, diabetes or long term steroid treatment, should obtain a ‘Medic-alert’ bracelet or similar, which is more easily located in a medical emergency than a card carried in a pocket.

Some countries will not allow any known HIV-positive individual to enter the country despite advice from the World Health Organisation that such regulations are ineffec­tive as a means of controlling the spread of HIV infection. HIV-positive travellers should consult their medical specialist and local support groups about specific travel insurance problems and the advisability of travel.

Dental health is often taken for granted by British citizens who get a rude shock when faced with bills for dental work overseas. Those embarking on prolonged travel or work abroad, or planning to visit very cold areas, should have a full preventative dental check up before leaving. Spare spectacles, contact lenses and contact lens solutions should also be obtained before travelling. If you are planning a vigorous holiday or expedition, such as skiing, hill-walking, or trekking, it might be a good idea to begin an appropriate fitness regime before you leave.