While the lush parks, impressive museums, and medieval churches of Pamplona (pop. 200,000) await exploration, it’s an annual, eight-minute event that draws visitors from around the world. Since the publication of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, hordes of travelers have come the week of July 6-14 to witness and experience San Fermines, the legendary Running of the Bulls.
TRANSPORTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION. RENFE trains (902 24 02 02) run from off Av. San Jorge to Barcelona (6-8hr. 3-4 per day 12:25pm-12:55am, ‚29) and Madrid (5hr. 7:15am and 6:10pm, ‚35). Buses go from C. Conde Oliveto, at C. Yanguas y Miranda, to: Barcelona (5Hhr.; 8:30am, 4:30pm, and lam; ‚20); Bilbao (2hr. 4-6 per day 7am-7pm, ‚11); Madrid (5hr.; 4-7 per day M-Th and Sa 8am-7:30pm, F and Su 8am-9:30pm; ‚22); San Sebastian (lhr. 7-12 per day 7am-llpm, ‚5.50); and Zaragoza (2-3hr. 6-8 per day 7:15am-8:30pm, ‚11). From PI. del Castillo, take C. San Nicolas, turn right on C. San Miguel, and walk through PI. San Francisco to get to the tourist office, C. Hilarion Eslava 1. (948 20 65 40; www.cfnavarra.es. Open during San Fermines daily 8am-8pm; July-Aug. M-Sa 9am-8pm, Su 10am-2pm; Sept.-June M-F 10am-2pm and 4-7pm, Sa 10am-2pm.) During San Fermines, store luggage at the Escuelas de San Francisco, the big stone building at the end of PI. San Francisco. (‚2 per day. Open 24hr.) Check email at Kuria.Net, C. Curia 15. (‚3 per hr. Open during San Fermines daily 9am-llpm; rest of year M-Sa 10am-10pm, Su l-10pm.) Postal Code: 31001.
ACCOMMODATIONS AND FOOD. And now, a lesson in supply and demand: Smart San Ferministas take the bull by the horns and book their rooms up to a year (or at least two months) in advance to avoid paying rates up to four times higher than those listed here. Beware of hawkers at the train and bus stations quality and prices vary tremendously. Check the newspaper Diario de Navarra for casas particulares. Many roomless folks are forced to fluff up their sweatshirts and sleep on the lawns of the Ciudadela or on PI. de los Fueros, PI. del Castillo, or the banks of the river. Be careful if you can’t store your backpack (storage fills fast), sleep on top of it. During the rest of the year, finding a room in Pamplona is no problem. Budget accommodations line C. San Nicolas and C. San Gregorio off PI. del Castillo. Hotel Europa , C. Espoz y Mina 11, off PI. del Castillo, offers bright, luxurious rooms away from the noise of C. San Nicolas. One good night’s sleep is worth the price. Reservations are recommended, especially for San Fermines. ( 948 22 18 00. Year-round singles ‚65; doubles ‚74. MCV.) To reach the impressive 18th-century mansion of Pension Santa Cecilia 0, C. Navarreria 17, follow C. Chapitela, take the first right onto C. Mercaderes, and make a sharp left. (948 22 22 30. San Fer-mines dorms ‚45. Otherwise singles ‚20; doubles ‚30; triples ‚35. MCV.) To get to Camping Ezcaba in Eusa, take city bus line 4-1 from PI. de las Mer-indades (4 per day, ‚0.70). (948 33 03 15. San Fermines ‚9 per person, per tent, or per car. Otherwise ‚3.50 per person, per tent or per car. AmExMCV.) Look for food near Pension Santa Cecilia, above Plaza San Francisco, and around Paseo Ronda. Check out Calies Navarreria and Paseo Sarasate for bocadiUo bars. Vendi Supermarket, at C. Hilarion Eslava and C. Mayor, has groceries. (Open M-F 9am-2pm and 5:30-7:30pm, Sa 9am-2pm.)
SIGHTS AND NIGHTLIFE. Pamplona ‘s rich architectural legacy is reason enough to visit during the 51 other weeks of the year. The restored 14th-century Gothic cathedral is at the end of C. Navarrerfa. (Open M-F 10am-l:30pm and 4-7pm, Sa 10am-l:30pm. Guided tours ‚4.) The walls of the pentagonal Cludadela once humbled Napoleon; today the Ciudadela hosts free exhibits and summer concerts. Follow Po. Sarasate to its end, and take a right on Navas de Tolosa; take the next left onto C. Chinchilla, and follow it to its end. (Open M 9:30am-9:30pm; Su and Tu-Sa 7:30am-9:30pm. closed for San Fermines. Both free.) Throughout the year, Plaza del Castillo is the heart of the social scene. Hemingway’s favorite haunt was the Cafe-Bar Inina, immortalized in The Sun Also Rises. (Menu ‚10. Open M-Th 8am-11pm, F 8am-2pm, Sa 9am-2am, Su 9am-11pm.) A young crowd boozes up at bars in the casco anti-guo, around Calles de Jarauta, San Nicolas, and San Gregorio before hitting the Travesia de Bayona, a plaza of bars and discotecas off Av. Bayona.
LOS SAN FERMINES (JULY 6-14). Visitors overcrowd the city as Pamplona delivers an eight-day frenzy of parades, bullfights, parties, dancing, fireworks, concerts, and wine. Pamplonese, clad in white with red sashes and bandanas, literally throw themselves into the merry-making, displaying obscene levels of both physical stamina and tolerance for alcohol. The Running of the Bulls, called the encierro, is the highlight of San Fermines; the first encierro takes place on July 7 at 8am and it’s repeated at 8am every day for the next seven days. Hundreds of bleary-eyed, hungover, hyper-adrenalized runners flee from large bulls as bystanders cheer from barricades, windows, balconies, and doorways. Both the bulls and the mob are dangerous; terrified runners react without concern for those around them. Hemingway had the right idea: Don’t run. Instead, arrive at the bullring around 6:45am to watch the encierro. Tickets for the Grada section of the ring are available before 7am (M-F ‚3.60, Sa-Su ‚4.20). You can watch for free, but the free section is overcrowded, making it hard to see and breathe. To participate in the bullring excitement, line up by the PI. de Toros well before 7:30am and run in before the bulls are in
Although Pamplona is usually very safe, crime skyrockets during San Fermines. Beware of assaults and muggings, do not walk alone at night, and take care in the casco antiguo.
Cheers and cries of ole floated through the window of my pension room in Pamplona’s casco antiguo. At 6am any other day, this might have been a frustrating wake-up call, but today I was already up. I checked my watch: July 7th. Two hours until the running of the bulls.
I stepped outside, clad in the requisite San Fermines garb-all white except the red faja encircling my waist and the red pahuelo around my neck. Thousands of spectators were already planted on, under, and between wooden fences lining the path to the plaza del toros. I ducked under one of the gates and headed towards the holding pen. Fences to jump over, or, if need be, roll under, were nearby. Failing that. I told myself, the capotico de San Fermin (cape) would shield me; apparently, it’s responsible for a few miraculous escapes each year. I had no idea how much I would need such protection.
Eight o’clock neared. Police passed; last-minute doubters scaled the sides of storefronts, clambering for the safety of a balcony; the mass slowly drifted away from the holding pen, a bit closer to the finish line. I began to stampede-proof myself, slipping the loose end of my faja into a pocket and scuffing my tennis shoes to prevent slipping on the champagne and urine slicked cobblestone. Murmurs of anticipation resonated in the chilly morning air.
Seconds before the signal, a wave of 50 men rushed toward me, clawing past my startled frame and diving between the wooden fences. Two blasts shot through the air. I turned and ran.
About halfway through the seven-minute ordeal, I heard the trampling gait of a bull not far behind. Desparate to escape, I tore past the frightened mob in front of me, drilling through the clog of bodies any way I could. I’ll admit it-l kicked, I grabbed, I spit, I punched. And so did anyone else who valued his health.
My mad scrambling was to no avail. The torn easily advanced alongside me. It jerked its body around and bucked back its head into my left hip, lifting me off the ground. Airborne, I felt something brush.against my leg but was so busy readying for the fall that I didn’t notice the horn shredding my left pant leg. As my knee hit the ground, I did my best sprinter-start away. The bull’s hooves had slipped out from under him, tossing him sidelong to the ground. It wasn’t until the next day, when I saw AP photographs of myself contending with the bull in the newspapers, that I realized how much danger I’d been in.
My head ached, my lungs hurt, and the vinegary aftertaste of last night’s Kalimoxto burned my throat, but I had never felt better. I spotted another exhausted runner and gave him a victorious smile.
Manana, he wheezed. Otra vez (one more time), eh? sight. Be very careful; follow the tourist office’s guidelines for running. To watch a bullfight, wait in the line that forms at the bullring around 8pm. As one fight ends, the next day’s tickets (‚15-70) go on sale. Once the running ends, insanity spills into the streets and gathers steam until nightfall, when it explodes with singing in bars, dancing in alleyways, spontaneous parades, and a no-holds-barred party in PL del Castillo, Europe’s biggest open-air dance floor.
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