Monday, July 10, 2006

Brought to you by the letter "PEE"

They might as well rename Pamplona to Peetown during the San Fermin festival. Imagine packing thousands upon thousands of rowdy tourists into one city. Add plenty of booze, and no public toilets, guess what you're left with?

I blame Hemingway for turning what could've been a well kept travel secret into a public urinal the size of a small city. El encierros are actually held across many towns in Spain during the fiesta period. What makes Pamplona special, and why everyone goes there, is because it's the setting of a famous running of the bulls scene in Hemingway's novel, "The Sun Also Rises". Anyways, I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll break this blog into 2 parts, and try to make it as informative as possible for those considering going to the event. It's actually quite hard to find information on what to do, how to get there, etc.
San Fermin is on for 9 days every year. It runs from the 6th-14th of July. The actual running of the bulls event starts on the 7th July.

What to wear:
Red and white are the theme colours. Whilst not compulsory, it's more fun to dress in red and white and be one with the community. I got to use my top from Sensation White last weekend :P Red scarves from roadside stalls and shops will set you back about EU$5 to EU$10. Don't pay tourist prices. We got ours from a supermarket for EU$1.95, and Zara was selling red scarves for EU$2.95.

Getting there:
Getting to Pamplona is a lot harder than it looks. Most people take an Easyjet flight to Bilbao, then catch a bus or rent a car and drive to Pamplona. The driving takes about 4 hours. If you're looking at land travel from a major city, it's about a 4 hour train ride from Madrid, and a 6 hour train ride from Barcelona. B and I caught a flight from Madrid to Pamplona. The flight takes about an hour, but you have to fly Iberia, which is both expensive and never on time. Still beats catching a bus or train though. I guess it depends on your preferences. Catching a plane still means you have to wait around in transit a lot, but the getting to the destination itself is less painful.

I can't emphasise this enough - plan accomodation at least 6 MONTHS ahead if you're going to a Spanish fiesta. We were lucky to be able to score accomodation in Pamplona, even though we had started planning in May. There are not many hotels or hostels in Pamplona and
every place we had called up was booked out. A lot of people camped out in parks and by the road. We ended up at the Holiday Inn Express, and I can't describe how deliriously ecstatic I was about paying EU$200 for a room when I saw the condition people sleeping in the park were in. SO, always plan at least 6 months ahead for accomodation at a Spanish fiesta. After La Tomatina fell apart on me a couple of years ago, I thought 1 month advance planning would be enough - it's not. Re: Holiday Inn Express, it's a nice enough 3 star hotel, but it's a bit far from the town centre. Buses took half an hour to get there, and only came every hour. I do suggest renting a car if you're going to stay there.
Plan your itinerary well. B and I overnighted in Madrid on Friday, then took the 625am flight on Saturday to Pamplona. By the time we got into the town centre, it was 8am, and the partying had stopped. People were passed out in the park, and the town smelt like an open sewer. The good thing is, the city expects this and spends the entire morning cleaning out the mountains of trash and hosing down the streets. The bad thing is, the pee smell still lingers and nothing's open at 8am in the morning. It was hard for us to find breakfast at that time. We did stumble across a delicious bakery called Taberna in an alleyway though. Thank gawd, good coffee and warm pastries made me forget what it was like just outside the door. I'm serious, the city isn't a pleasant place to be on a Saturday morning. It's not just the smell, it's also the numerous lecherous drunkards that bother you. Young oriental girls will always attract stares and comments from drunk European boys.

If I had to do Pamplona again, I would:
- Arrive in the evening (less smell and trash);
- Buy a ticket to a bullfight from a scalper (tickets normally sell out the day before and scalpers apparently only charge EU$10-20 more);
- Watch the bullfight at 630pm;
- Party a bit;
- Go back to the hotel and get some sleep;
- Watch the running of the bulls at 8am;
- Leave Pamplona.

It's really not a town that's nice to spend too much time in. It's honestly the skankiest town I've been to in Europe.

Here endeth Part I. Tomorrow, more details on tickets, where to stand, what the bull run is about, and what else there is to do in Pamplona.


Anonymous said...

He Reenie, I guess you are in your pee and poe phase now. Poe (anus ice) in Holland, pee in Spain. What's up next?


reenie said...

Don't make fun of Poo & Pee, it's a big business! Check out this Swedish design. It's sold out!

scott said...

Amusing commentary on "The Running of the Bulls":


reenie said...

Yar, I've heard of the nekid gals before. The event's called Running of the Nudes, and is organised by PETA. There are video linx on the site Scotty ;)

Anonymous said...

Man, you call hardly see the tittis... :(