So another holiday coming up, in fact all holidays planned for the rest of the year are more or less confirmed. Next stop will be Italy with a quick visit to Switzerland. It is summer here in Europe so I’ve decided to enjoy the sun while it still lasts, however with only 3 days to dispose, I’ve opted for a short city break rather than a beach holiday. Out of all the places I was choosing from (Lisbon, Milan, Nice, Madrid, Nice and more) Milan stood out to be more desirable in terms of flight, budgets and other aspects. I was looking at places to go in Milan and although Duomo, other cathedrals and shopping are the highlights, a huge review to visit lake Como caught my attention. So I booked a day excursion to Lake Como which included a visit to ‘Lugano’ Switzerland, why not. Interestingly just like London, Milan has 2 main airports ‘Malpanesa’ and ‘Linata’ I didn’t know the pros and cons of each but I guess I’ll find out as ill be flying in to Malpanesa then flying back with from Linata. All in all the trip should be straight forward it’ll be more of city tours rather my usual adrenaline activities.
The San Fermin Festival, is a world famous event situated in Pamplona Spain. It is a cultural festival primarily for religious purposes however it has since been overtaken by other practices, most notable the ‘Encierro’ or the running of the bulls. Although the running of the bulls has been the front face of the ‘San Fermin’ it is by no means the only interesting aspect. The festival lasts for 7 days starting on the 7th of July all through to the 14th of July yearly and lasts 24 hours non-stop.
Single day Events:
6th July Chupinazo
6th July Riau-Riau
7th July Saint Fermin Procession
Different single day Struendo
14th July Pobre de mi
08:00 Bull Running ‘Encierro’
11:00 Giants and Big Heads Parade
16:00 Traditional Sports
18:30 Bull Fights
My Experience with the Festival.
I made the decision to go to Pamplona for the ‘San Fermin Festival’ as little detour on my France-Spain trip, and it all started as a little joke to run the bulls, little did I know the joke would be a reality and it would be one of the best trips I’ve done yet. I initially thought this Festival will be more for the younger generation and mostly locals as it was within an unknown region of Spain, I was totally wrong and it was as diverse as any Festival can be. People from all corners of the world were there, large and small groups, seniors and even toddlers, families, solo travellers and groups of friends. I also thought the festival will just be a drinking fest, and whilst that was largely true, it wasn’t the only aspect of the event. Like I said earlier the San Fermin attracted all sorts of people, the younger generation and the party goers would usually be out late night within the many bars and pubs, families would still be up but around the park to watch the fireworks at 23:00. The elderly would usually be dining or at one of the many make shift stages, however I have also seen many elderly partying the night away. In the morning when the partygoers fall asleep, many of the bull runners and spectators wake up early, this includes lots of foreigners and locals of all different ages however children are usually still asleep, but I did see some. Midday everybody seems to be up and out, divided within many of the stages, whether in the park, the old town or the square everybody seems to be out. Children enjoy the giant and big head parade which was fantastic culturally and also fun for the children as the they get hit by the big heads with sponges. The city also have different shows, whilst I have seen heavy metal music, salsa, pop, and culture, the diversity this festival attracts is huge.
First impressions of Pamplona the city itself was that the locals were not friendly at all, getting lost in Pamplona is not a good idea as nobody will be willing to help at all, maybe they are just fed up of tourists, they are actually the worst unhelpful people at a place I have visited. However once you get into the festival itself everything changes and everybody is around to have a good time. You may come across some aggressive people but as long as you mind yourself everything will be ok, as the saying goes in various cities “if you want trouble, you’ll find trouble”. There are many drunk people throughout the day some drunker than others, but they are just there to enjoy. Safety is also high at the festival and there are plenty of medical staff and police present.
The Encierro ‘Bull Run’
I both watched and ran the ‘Encierro’ in 2 different days, even after all the warnings I got. However I always opted to stay as safe as possible and doing extensive homework before doing my run.
The night before I planned to run, I slept early, waking up at an early 05:30am that morning getting ready and heading out just after 06:00am. Arriving at the Pamplona City council at about 07:00am, there were already many people whether spectators or runners. Before the start there was plenty of marching bands that entertain the crowds, there is also many prayers. At this point the barriers are already up with police and ambulances ready and on standby. Before the run all runners gather for a small prayer to the San Fermin across the course. There is no special entrance for runners and anybody can really jump or crawl under the many barriers across the route. 5 minutes till the run there were still many tourist runners still choosing a good starting point, however I could also still see many children and families still on the route of the bull run, which was a bit worrying. The good thing though was that the runners was diverse, there was old and young, men and even many women. Minutes before the run I was very nervous, many things was going through my mind.
The run starts with a single firework being set off, at this point runners start jogging, I decided to stay on the left side staying clear of the huge crowds. There was definatly no way for me to turn my head back and see if the bulls were near, you only rely on the shouting and the bells placed on the bulls neck. It was the movement of other runners, the louder shouting and the bells which made me just climb the nearest barrier (wooden fence) and onto what I thought was safe enough. There were plenty of us runners at the top of the barrier at this point with local police and ambulance personnel holding us up and advising to climb over and even stay put (although in Spanish). At top of the barriers I looked over and saw a group of bulls charging through the street, It was all too quick to count or even have a good look at the bulls. After that all I could see was everyone coming going down with spectators even going through the barriers against the police’s advice. I started to take my phone out for quick snaps until I heard more shouting, I step aside still inside the running route and seconds after I see 3 more bulls charging down the street. Close one!
The next day, I managed to watch another run just before leaving for Zaragoza, purpose was to just enjoy the run as a spectator. Just like running there are still huge excitement. Even though you wake up early find a good spot about 2 hours before just to see the run pass you in just 10 seconds.
All in all it was a good experience, Police and Ambulance had every corner covered. Drunk people were prevented from running and cameras were not allowed whilst running, the police are ever vigilant at that and could confiscate. Take note although the event is well cared for, it was very dangerous and I probably wouldn’t do It again. Many do get hurt and about 15 people have been killed doing it. The bulls are one dangerous aspect but many get hurt by fellow runners.
The Big Head and Giant Parade
Something that I knew about but took me by surprise whilst I was walking around the street. I never really planned to go and see it but it seems like I was just at the correct place and at the correct time. The Giants (made from wood) are 150 years old by a local painter, tower about 4 metres high and represent pairs of Kings and queens from the 4 different continents Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas. The giants are also escorted by instrument players and also Bigheads and people in horsemen in costumes which chases children and hits them with foam truncheon. This parade goes around the old city making various stops along the way, I guess to rest the dancers carrying the giants. This part of the event gets a good reception for families and children.
It is always a good way to end a day with some fireworks. The San Fermin Festival fireworks happen 23:00 every night during the event, it has some great aspects but nothing to compete with other pyrotechnics. It is a large display and you can watch the fireworks from many different places in the city, but most notable area to watch the fireworks is at the park.
Renfre is a Spanish railway company based in Madrid which operates both passengers and freight services. It is a fairly new company only being founded in 2005 by the government of Spain, it is stately owned and the only company of its type within the country.
If you are planning to travel regionally within Spain or even across to a neighbouring country Renfre would most probably serve those routes and serve them cheaper than any air carrier.
I took this train a lot in my “France-Spain travels 2017” for many different destinations. Firstly my Marseille to Barcelona train was an SNCF-Renfre cooperation, then it was Renfre train for all my Barcelona to Pamplona, Pamplona to Zaragoza and Zaragoza to Barcelona trips.
Booking for these trains is simple, just like anywhere in the world just go to either their webpage or a third party websites such as trainline.eu and others alike. Renfre has plenty of destinations and plenty of journeys within the day to choose from, so timing your trip isn’t too difficult. Once you have chosen your journey you will also be able to choose your preferred seat, there are forward facing, rearward facing, window and aisle seats to choose from with no extra charge. Tickets are instantly available, you can print them after check out or even print them out in the many ticket machines available at the stations.
At the stations all procedures were the same, and weren’t much different than if you were to go on your local train. As long as you have your ticket come at the correct time (advised 2 minutes before departure) to get on your train, as simple as that. However there is a small ticket inspection, before being allowed onto the platform which is usually open only 5-10 minutes before departure. There is no point arriving one hour or half an hour early as boarding only happens a short while before departure time. No special checks are performed and no extra documents needed, even on my Marseille to Barcelona train there was no additional checks and no immigration control needed.
All of the trains I took were similar, the arrangements, seating’s and services whether out of the country or regional journeys. There were plenty of leg room and space to move around, huge tables (larger than aircraft tables) are also available in front of every seat here your laptop can fit with many more room available for drinks ect. Every seat also have sockets for laptops or phones which is a big plus in my opinion, there is just many amenities on the seats which add to the comfort of passengers. Away from the seats there is a café/bar where you can buy food and drinks, on my Marseille to Barcelona journey the café was huge in a modern carriage however in the regional journeys it looks as if it was just vending machines. All food was very expensive with coke costing 2.80 euros and sandwiches costing 5 euros. Huge luggage storage space near the doors were available and there is a place for smaller bags above your seats. There was also many toilets available some carriages have one and others may have two. Toilets were relatively clean, and didn’t smell as bad as I thought it would. The carriages itself were more or less new, it was well illuminated and had large windows to enjoy the nice landscapes. Renfre was good in punctuality and only got delays once in while but not too much to affect any plans maybe 10 minute happen but not frequently.
Overall I enjoyed my journeys with Renfre, the ease of bookings, the comfort of their trains and the punctuality were of high standards. The scenic views of France and Spain were huge plus marks and something you are unable to see on an airline. Renfre trains are longer than taking flights, however much cheaper. Trains are also more frequent than flights so planning journeys are easier, journeys also go direct to the centre of cities whereas airports are outskirts where you would need to travel in to reach central.
Ok so I’m going away for 1 week to 2 different countries, 5 Cities while I’m out there, about 8 long distance train rides and 4 different hotels, a few activities such as scuba diving and cycling however inevitably my main purpose for this trip, the world famous ‘SAN FERMIN FESTIVAL’.
Yep so it definitely looks like a jam packed 7 days, so I’m not classing as a holiday to relax and recharge. I usually go on short holidays to a single country and a single city at a time, however this time I’ve opted for something more.
I start my journey on Sunday 9th of January 2017, taking a flight from LHR (London Heathrow) to MRS (Marseille) where I will be based for 4 days. Within that 4 days I will be doing a cyclingtour around Calanques, Scuba Diving and a visit to Montpellier.
Then using the trains make my way to Spain, Pamplona via Barcelona for the San Fermin festival. Now I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen in Pamplona, but I do ‘plan’ to run the bulls, depending on how I feel after watching it the day before and local advice of course. So whatever happens it’ll be interesting.
After Pamplona I head to Zaragoza where I will stay for 2 days, I plan to visit Huesca and their Canyons (as I love Canyoning) but it all depends on my mood as I may be too tired or out of money at this point. I’ll try use Zaragoza as a bit of a charging point and relax before I head home. On my last day I leave Zaragoza in the morning and head to Barcelona for a little bit of shopping then head to the airport and fly home in the evening.
So standby and keep tuned to my blog page (sunandthreestars.blog) for the updates of this trip.