Pamplona! Let’s run with the bulls! Er, maybe not. I’m all for experiencing local culture, but that’s one tradition I think I’ll sit out.
A few facts about the Running of the Bulls that I learned during our visit:
– The running of the bulls takes place each morning at 8am during the week of Fiesta de San Fermin in July. I always thought it was just a single day. What’s even more amazing is that all those nuts who join in are doing it first thing in the morning! I’m barely able to lift the toilet seat at 8am, let alone run alongside stampeding bulls who could potentially kill me.
– The actual running takes only 4-5 minutes. The bulls surge up the hill into Pamplona’s old city and wind their way through the narrow streets until they reach the historic bullring.
– Some sections of streets in the old city were re-surfaced a few years back with a special non-slip cobblestone. I can’t remember if this was to prevent the bulls from slipping, or the humans.
But enough bull-talk.
As we walked from our hotel toward the old city, we passed this.
That’s a 24-hour bread vending machine. You pop your money in, and a baguette comes out. Greatest idea ever. Who doesn’t get the occasional hankering for bread at 3am?
Up the hill into old city, and this is the view.
Some of the buildings need structural support, so they’ve erected these. Hmm. That doesn’t seem like a long-term solution.
Lunch, our first pintxo experience!
I asked Carlos the difference between tapas and pintxos, and he explained it as tapas referring more to small plates, and pintxos as individual-sized portions that have been skewered with a stick, or “pinched.”
Essentially when you go to a pintxo bar, the pinxtos are displayed on the counter, and you select whatever you’d like. It’s an ideal way to graze and sample the offerings at multiple stops.
The only downside is that you end up feeling like a kid in a candy store who wants to try everything!
A common pintxo sight — olives, anchovies and green beans, swimming in luxurious Spanish olive oil. It’s a combo that just works.
Wine and Coke come together in this drink called Kalimotxo. Unusual. Probably wouldn’t order it again, but not bad.
I settled in with a cod croqueta, grilled zucchini and bacon sandwich, and boquerones and peppers on bread.
You don’t see much meat in a cone in the States.
We walked off our lunch during the afternoon, taking in the sights.
Around mid-afternoon we stopped in at Café Bar Gaucho for a snack. Mine was a piquillo pepper stuffed with cod.
I began to understand the wonderful rhythm of Spain and pintxos: walk a bit, eat a bit, walk a bit, eat a bit. Drink wine. Repeat.
Exhausted from all the eating and walking, we plopped ourselves down in the late afternoon at Café Iruña, where Ernest Hemingway himself frequented back in the day. (Hemingway made Pamplona famous with The Sun Also Rises.)
A bottle of wine, people-watching and a view of Plaza del Castillo. One of us marveled, “I could think of worse ways to spend an afternoon.”
The pinxto bars really come alive at night, with people streaming in and crowding around the pinxtos. At Bar Gaucho the two employees behind the counter were a whirl of motion, taking orders, heating up pintxos, pouring wine, sorting out bills… I don’t know how they kept it together during the chaos, but somehow they did.
At one point it sounded like one particularly loud female customer was arguing with one of the ladies behind the counter, but in the end we decided it was more an animated conversation than an argument.
I lost track of pictures at this point, so you’ll have to take my word for it that our group had pintxos and wine flying all over the place. When we finally tracked down the bill (no one in Spain seems in any rush to have you actually pay), I did a double-take. That can’t be right, I thought. The bill seemed way too low considering how much we ate and drank. This would become a common theme throughout the trip.
The finishing touch was a cone of natas con billetes ice cream near the plaza.
Pamplona… if you’re going to visit for the bulls, stay for the food!