Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Pamplona: Bull runs and sangria

Pamplona - 6th - 9th of July 2016

I did not think it was possible to suffer a culture shock when visiting a country you have visited in the past. I, however, was very wrong...

As we neared Pamplona Lewie, our host and tour guide, told us that he was in the centre of the old town with his friends where the celebrations for San Fermin were kicking off. He was unable to escape to meet us so we headed off in search of him. Before we left the UK Lewie had told us to buy white tops and trousers in preparation for San Fermin, because apparently everyone dressed like that. Me being the frugal, tight person I am, refused to spend money on white trousers I'd only wear once, thinking that it'd end up like the halloween party where everyone promises to dress up but no one actually does. Nope, everyone actually does dress up in San Fermin. I have never seen such wide spread commitment to a dress code. Literally an immeasurable amount of white tops and trousers.

The closer we got to old town, the higher the concentration of people, until in the centre, without exaggeration, we were the only people not dressed in white. It was like accidentally stumbling into the middle of a city-wide cult. Thousands of people were crammed into the tiny streets, and with sleep in our eyes and a dwindling phone battery, we had to find one single person in the heart of it.

Red and white everywhere!
Up until this point I have failed to mention the heat. Coming from the cool English summer and having spent a day and night in a nice airconned airport, we were fulled clothed in thick jumpers, tops and black leggings (well, Sarah). Stepping out into the midday, midsummer Spanish heat felt like we were being punched by th
e sun into the pavement (huge bags and all). To add to the chaos, the opening day of San Fermin also included a large amount of Sangria being thrown around. Fortunately we had missed the worst of the celebration so left unscathed, and un-red; I think if we had had been hit at this point in time, we would have sat down, refused to move, and had a little cry out of pure exhaustion.

Being a man of his word, once we'd neared the centre, Lewie managed to find us and after a very brief reunion, as well as one can reunited in the midst of a crowd, he directed us back through the old town, back past the coach station, to his apartment. What followed next was some pure unadulterated napping, something we both very much needed. Lewie graciously left us to it and rejoin his friends.

5 hours on and L returned to find us just about emerging, so feeling a little more human, being more appropriate dressed and free from our burdensome bags, we ventured back into town, (this was the 3rd time that day for L so cheers man). The crowds were still unfathomably big; from one side of the old town to the other there was never a break in people. Despite the constant need to dodge people, alcohol and alcohol filled people, we were able to get a pretty comprehensive tour of the area. Eventually we ran into some of L's colleagues with whom we sat and drank some Sangria. They were all really friendly, lovely people with a huge amount of energy which is something we sadly lacked at that point in time. We sat, talked, drank and relaxed and watched the people in white walk by.

Our exciting, extraordinary and entire exhausting first day of travelling ended with one of the best fireworks displays I've ever seen. All the roads surrounding the centre of citadel from which the firework were being released were closed and every bit of road, pavement and grass was occupied by silent onlookers as the incredible display just kept happening, we of course found ourselves a little gap, sat down and joined them. (Much to my delight it turned out that this display happened every night during the week of San Fermin.)

The next few day was fairly similar; meeting friends and friends, exploring and touring the absolutely beautiful narrow streets of the old town, eating excellent local food and of course drinking lots of Sangria and beer. This all happened, I am happy to say, following a very long and much needed lie in, pastries for breakfast and a picnic in the park; no better way to start the day. The evening of that day we headed to a friend's apartment for poker, more alcohol and pizza, followed once more with the fireworks. A perfect evening.

Of course San Fermin being famous for the running of the bulls, it meant that we had to see a bull run. Much to my surprise, like the fireworks, the bulls ran every morning during the week of the festival, I always figured it was just the once. Sadly for us the runs happen early morning so in order to get a decent place to sit an watch, it meant setting our alarms for 5am. Ouch.
Sarah hadn't really gotten to sleep the night before so she stayed in bed whilst Lewie and I got dressed and left once more of the old town. Finally finding somehow to stand along the track at 6:30 it was only a matter of waiting until 8am with 0 food and about as much sleep to see the run. Luckily some friendly people helped us to secure a place on the bull run fence, the best seat in the house and the only place guaranteed to give a half decent view. Whilst we waited uncomfortably perched atop a narrow wooden fence it was fun to watch all the people beginning to sober up from their night of drinking (and probably some amount of debauchery).
Lewie & Bob's early morning bull run faces
To see so many people running down such a tight, narrow strip of land at such speed makes for a very cool sight. Seeing people nearly getting skewered was pretty exciting too. Cruel and crazy yes, but exciting nevertheless. Later on that day it was confirmed that 5 or 6 people ended up injured but fortunately none that seriously. 6 minutes later it was all over. Worth it? Yes. Would I see it again? Probably not, I prefer my sleep.
After heading back and finding Sarah still asleep, it dawned on me that we had up until this point neglected to make any decisions for our future. At this time the next day, with Lewie due to leave in the morning for home, we would find ourselves homeless if we didn't make some sort of decision and quickly.

We felt we'd sufficiently experienced San Fermin, and we were too cheap to pay the inflated festival priced accommodation so we were happy to move on from Pamplona. But to where? After A LOT of searching, googling, debating we stumbled across the promise of a cheap AirBnB in the small town of Tarragona, on the Mediterranean coast, a very exciting prospect for me since I had never swam in the Med before. We started planning in the morning but it wasn't until 5pm that we finally had booked the damn things, much to Lewie's relief. What was left of that day involved more games, drinks and good food.

Our first few days of travel were a definite whirlwind. I'm not sure we really accomplished so much but it felt like we never stopped moving. With the heat, the food, the sounds, the smells and the sheer amount of people dressed in white I never would have guessed I would experience anything close to a culture shock in Spain, I can happily say I was proved wrong. Our first stop was incredible, especially with thanks to our awesome host and guide Mr Clough, and it set us up perfectly for the following few months in Spain.

Next stop, Tarragona.

Until then,


Click me for a video of the bull run!

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