Type : City Break Best Date : ? Expense:Cheap Things to do : VisitMuseums, Cathedral Points of Interest: Plaza del pillar square, Nuestra Señora del Pilar Basilica, Aljaferia Palace, Zaragoza market, Goya Museum, Caesar Agustas Museum.
The city of Zaragoza is the capital of ‘Aragon’ a region on the north east of Spain. Zaragoza is a growing city with a population of over 600,000 people, the city is well known for being a place for pilgrimage.
Zaragoza for me was a quick visit, and I don’t think you can stay longer than 2 nights without roaming the city over and over again, resulting in boredom. One thing is clear and that it is a place for many museum exhibition, whether cultural, historic, religious and arts.
The cover attraction of Zaragoza is the ‘Nuestra Señora del Pilar Basilica’ which towers high in the main square of Zaragoza the ‘Plaza del Pillar Square’. The Basilica which is a Roman Catholic church, dedicated to the virgin Mary under her title lady Pillar which Pope John Paul praised as the mother of the Hispanic people. Situated at the centre of Zaragoza, the basilica is visited by many tourists for its beauty, overlooking the Ebro river there are many angles for a terrific photograph. However the Lady Pillar basilica is a operating church and going inside strict rules are applied, firstly you wont be able to enter if you have a vest or unappropriate clothing and at many areas of the church, picture or video taking is not allowed.
Surrounding the basilica there are many other different monuments, museums and churches for visitors. Many museums are free however some such as the ‘Goya Museum’ have an entrance fee. Surrounding ‘Plaza del Pilar Square’ there is an arcade full of shops, many retails shops and some antique and older boutiques. A great aspect of Zaragoza are the free walking tours the Zaragoza has to promote the city you could see many different groups and with all different languages.
Overall Zaragoza is a well thought out medium city, which visibly wants its tourist industry to grow. For me Zaragoza was amazing, but could have done with more people (tourists) around to liven up the city as it was very empty, however the hotel did tell me that it was the wrong time (July) for tourists. Nonetheless I can see the city has its strong aim to promote tourism in their city and I can see the future is very bright for them.
Type : Provincial
Best Date : July
Expense : Cheap normally, Expensive when San Fermin Festival is on
Things to do : Cultural, Watch Bull fight, San Fermin Festival Points of Interest: Pamplona Cathedral, San Nicolas, Plaza del Castillo, Museum of Navarre, Palacio de Navarre, Pamplona Park ect
Pamplona or Iruna is the largest and most prolific city of the Spanish province of Navarre. Most noted for being the host of the ‘San Fermin’ festival (famous for the Encierro, bull run) which is said to be the most exciting cultural event with huge turnouts each year. Apart from the San Fermin there is plenty of other reasons people visit the city, having a huge religious and historic up bringing, many pilgrims visit the city all year round.
Once you arrive in Pamplona ( I arrived through Pamplona/ Iruna train station) you can feel the difference, the age and strong preserved culture of this city. Pamplona is small and it is possible to walk around the city and getaway without using public transport, as I didn’t need one at all. However I do want to stress one thing and that is the approachability of many locals is very bad, helping is not something they are familiar with and it seems they are just fed up of tourists, that’s my experience anyway but I do not believe all Pamplona residents are like that. Apart from its people Pamplona as a city is superb and although difficult to find your way around, all points of interest is very close to each other.
Pamplona’s old town is a spectacle in itself, the bricked floor and concrete layout is something special and people who visit always love it. One thing that is definitely popular in the city is balconies, and it seems that every household has one. The city can be best described as a gothic medieval town with roman influence.
If you like visiting religious buildings, Pamplona has plenty of them. Firstly the city is heavily catholic as of most of Spain and its patron saint is ‘Saint Fermin’ who the main festival here is named after. Pamplona Cathedral, San Nicolas, Church of San Saturnino, Iglesia de San Lorenzo and many other churches cover the city and has many history towards them. The city is a huge haven for many pilgrimage hence the large turnout throughout the year.
Other touristic places to visit in Pamplona are those heavily linked to the Bull fighting, the ‘running of the bulls monument’ is situated just outside of the old town and in the more modern high street. This monument is a sight to see and there are plenty of tourists who flock this monument to take pictures. ‘Plaza de Toros de Pamplona’ which is the bull ring, is not too visually pleasing from the outside but is a spectacle to see on the inside, the ring which is still active, welcomes many visitors each year.
Beautiful parks are also available throughout Pamplona one of which the river Argo runs through making excellent scenery with the surrounding nature.
Overall Pamplona is a pleasure to visit, the town and buildings are just one of a kind and every step is a photo opportunity. The only huge downer is many (but not all) of its people as they can be aggressive, arrogant and very unhelpful towards tourists. However although my experiences with people haven’t been positive, not all were bad and there are some that are friendly. When the San Fermin festival is on the city can get very expensive and crowded, and at any other time of the year is a bit more laid back. Pamplona is for everyone with families of all ages visit here. If you love a little walkathon through a city full of history then Pamplona is for you.
“Why San Fermin has grown to be the Festival it is today? Why its still growing and even with the negative media why it is a festival for the whole family?”
About the Festival.
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 goes on for 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.
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.