We’re in Pamplona today, a return visit for Chris who was here last 40 years ago during the running of the bulls, aka the San Fermin festival. Not that he saw anything, Pamplona then was stuffed to the gills with half a million people crowding the streets. He did get caught up in a Basque uprising though. Returning from dinner, an activist had been shot by the police. There were overturned cars and a shoot out in progress with bullets shells around the trusty VW Combi. Glad I was still safely in school for that one…
Made internationally famous by Hemingway, the running of the bulls attracts more than a million people each July. It’s not quite as barbaric as bullfighting, but still something I’d prefer to see end. Luckily we arrive well after it’s finished this year and Pamplona is once again back to its more gentle ways.
It’s a sprawling town in modern times, but as usual, it’s heart is to be found in the centre, in the old city. Founded in 75BC by the Roman general Pompey and set on a hill, some of its ancient defences still survive – the old city walls and citadels offer great views over the valley and the new city. The old city is surrounded by parks: it’s a very green spot. Within the old city, colourful tenement houses flank wide avenues and plazas, some of which were used for bullfighting in decades past.These days, tourism, restaurants and ancient churches dominate the centre and there’s a brisk trade in souvenirs for those perhaps brave enough to buy a t-shirt, but not quite brave enough to do the run. I don’t blame them. Every year there’s a long injury list and people are occasionally killed.
We wander around for a while, enjoying the architecture, find some excellent Portuguese tarts, then make our way to the cathedral Santa Maria de Real built between the 13th and 16th centuries and remodelled several times since.
Consequently, from a style point of view, it has a little of everything from gothic shrines, a neo classical facade and rococo decorations. The cathedral is most famous for its cloisters with their beautifully carved gateways, but they’re currently under restoration and only glimpses of the carvings are visible. Nevermind, there’s always a massive hike up the bell tower and the musuem to amuse us.
By the time we finish, siesta is in force – everything shuts down bar a few bars. There’s nothing to be done other than to join the locals in some down time before everything ramps up again for evening. It’s hot too, and this makes the descion an easy one.
Later, in the cool of the evening, we head in for pintxios, a much more competitive affair in Pamplona than elsewhere we’ve been. Here, restaurants compete in the Michelin ratings and many list their winning or ranked offerings proudly.
Street seating is hotly contested, but we eventually find a great spot and settle in to people and doggie watch. The pintxios are excellent as is the La Rioja wine on offer. I particularly liked this huge boy who was determined to get his fair share of what was on offer.
With a late thunderstorm threatening we eventually head home. In between climbing up and down the Pamplona hill four times and that bell tower, not to mention walking all day, I for one, am ready to put my feet up.