29.08.2014 - 31.08.2014 30 °C
After leaving Madrid, I anticipated a lengthy hangover, however; this was not to be of the self-inflicted variety (little did I know that the self inflicted variety would come at the end...). The previous two weeks had been spent in three amazing cities Barcelona, Valencia and most of all Madrid. The next place on the itinerary we were repeatedly told was merely included on the Busabout itinerary due to the San Fermin festival, more commonly known as the running of the bulls. Always looking for positives, we thought it may be a nice chance to experience a small Spanish community and staying with a local couple ensured that we would achieve that.
Pamplona was the first Basque Country stop which we would encounter before moving onto San Sebastián and Biarritz. The Basque, like Barcelona and the Catalonians, speak their own language and share a belief that they should be independent of Spain and France respectively. The only problem is that their claims for independence are somewhat redundant considering that 3 out of 7 Basque provinces (all located in France) speak French and don't utilise the Basque flag. Furthermore, of the Spanish majority, only 30-40% speak Basque. I really can't blame them to be honest, after seeing the language there's far too many k's and x's for my liking.
After getting off the bus earlier than anticipated, it was decided that a beer (or cerveza) would be a good way to start the day. Armed with an artillery of three Basque words to help ease the transition, we cautiously approached a waiter and said Kaixo (pronounced ky-cho and meaning hello). The man smiled and said "Español? Italiano? Francais? English?" Excited that the first person we spoke to knew English, we smiled, nodded and said "English". Our hopes were instantly shattered as he blatantly shook his head and said "No." Awkward silence and feverish pointing was henceforth our Basque-English alternative.
We went to our Airbnb located central to the city of Pamplona and pressed the 3rd floor buzzer. Once again substituting Kaixo for the Spanish 'hola', we were greeted with more awkwardness when it was confirmed that pretty much no one here spoke Basque. Our hosts were born in other countries (Poland and the UK) and despite one of them living in Pamplona his whole life, he never learnt any Basque. The decision was made to bin the language and use the basic Spanish which we had gained in the previous weeks.
Now, language aside, Pamplona is a genuinely beautiful city. Centrally located is a large square, adorned with cafes, restaurants and hoards of locals sitting around drinking and playing with kids. Signs everywhere point you toward the route used during the San Fermin festival toward the huge bullring on the outskirts of the city. Pamplona is also famous because of Ernest Hemingway. A favourite spot of the famous author, streets, cafes and souvenirs are dedicated to him in great abundance.
Pintxos. If there's one reason you decide to visit Basque Country and/or Pamplona, it's Pintxos. Spanish style tapas had become a way of life for us in Madrid but pintxos took it to a new level. Picture more elaborate tapas, on bread and served hot. On our final night in Pamplona, our hosts decided they needed dinner at 11pm and despite having already eaten a full dinner at a normal time, we agreed to join them on a Pintxos crawl. Rookie error. The Spanish like to eat late and they like to eat a variety of things (hence the notion of tapas/pintxos). They also like to drink. We joined John and Claudia for a drink and pintxos at the first bar only to stay for 10mins. We then learnt that the rest of the night would consist of three steps - 1) move along to the next bar, 2) order a drink and pintxos, 3) repeat. It was no wonder that within two hours we were outrageously drunk, doing tequila shots in a gay bar. You really wouldn't have known it was a gay bar though - only every single wall was plastered with naked men boasting large packages. Nevertheless, we finished off our time in Pamplona with a bang and glad that we went against the advice of others to stay a while in this beautiful little city.