The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona Spain was the first thing we put on the calendar when our vacation planning started. All other planning centered around that weekend. After visiting Paris, Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid, Logrono, and Bilbao, this weekend finally arrived for the Running of the Bulls.
This festival dates back to the 13th century and was made famous by Ernest Hemingway’s book “The Sun Also Rises“. As Hemingway chronicled, the festival is awash in wine and sangria, and runners partake copiously during long nights of partying.
When you arrive here, the first thing you notice is everyone is dressed in the traditional red and white attire, which can be purchased at almost every street corner.
It is definitely a festive atmosphere, with people drinking and having fun, and street performers everywhere. Music blasts and people of all ages join in.
On our second day in Pamplona, we awoke at 5 a.m. to head down to the Running of the Bulls. As we made our way towards the apartment at around 6 a.m., there were lots of drunk people staggering around and were just about to call it a night. We rented an apartment balcony on the street where the running begins, along with about 12 other Americans. We had a great view of the action.
At 8 a.m. sharp, the cannons fired and the bulls came blazing around the corner. People spread like wildfire, some people ducking into side gates, others climbing up the first wall they could find. Some of the more brave ran in front or behind the bulls. From our vantage point, it was over in about 10 seconds but the entire run lasts about 3 minutes. There were medics and ambulances parked outside every turn and they carted 3 people off to the hospital today.
We capped off our day with a traditional bull fight. Bull fights are no longer legal in Barcelona, Valencia and a lot of other Spanish cities, but you can still see them in Madrid and Pamplona. I enjoyed the pageantry of the Matadors but I was not big fan of seeing the bull get killed at the end — I can understand why they outlawed it in many cities.
Prior to arriving in Pamplona, we made several stops along the way once we left Barcelona. Our first stop was Valencia. This is a beach town that is about a 2.5 hour train ride south from Barcelona. I really liked Valencia, it has a more hip feel and a cool beach vibe. We headed down to the beach, drank sangria and I took a swim in the Mediterranean. It was hot — about 88 degrees but the Mediterranean Sea was cool. I could have spent more time here, it was a great place to visit.
One of the fun excursions we took was a 3 hour bicycle tour through Valencia. It allowed us to get a little exercise while seeing the sights.
We only had a couple of days in Madrid, but we took a tour to see the major sights like the Royal Palace. At this point, we did not want to see another Tapas Bar, so got our American food fix when we stumbled on a TGIF!
The highlight of Madrid for us was a Flamenco dancing show, we scheduled this for Ryan’s birthday and we all really enjoyed it. The dance is very passionate and awe inspiring. By the time we got back to the hotel, Ryan was performing Flamenco for us.
The guy in the picture above had a very distinct Spanish look, I could see most of the women swooning over him. His hair was really long and after a few minutes of dancing, it came out of the ponytail. Everytime he would spin, his sweat would spray the people in the front seats of the audience.
Logrono and the La Rioja Wine Area
As we slowly made our way towards Pamplona, we planned a stop in Logrono and the La Rioja wine area. Although Logrono was a nice stop along the way, there were not many sights to see.
Laguardia is a medieval town just minutes from Logrono where several wineries now occupy rooms of an old castle built in the 10th century. The castle is now occupied by about 1,500 residents, mostly merchants of the many food and wine stores located inside of the castle. The castle is surrounded by a beautifully landscaped walking path lined with trees and flowers.
The view from the castle is incredible — you can see all of the vineyards that are used to produce the incredible Spanish wine.
We scheduled 2 wine tours there and were not disappointed. When the castle was built in the 10th century, they built escape tunnels underneath to allow people to escape in the event of a siege. Later, these tunnels were turned into wineries because the caves offer the perfect condition for storing and aging wine (about 13 – 15 degrees celsius). The first winery we visited was a small winery that produces only about 40,000 bottles a year. Our guide allowed us to the sample the wine directly from the cement tanks, not something you get to do every day.
The second winery was bigger (considered a mid-sized winery in Spain). It was in a section of the castle that housed some of the royal family members in the early days. They spent 4 years remodeling the winery after it had fell into disrepair. During this time, their excavation work uncovered huge cells that were used in the past for storing of wine.
Our final stop before Pamplona was in Bilbao Spain.
We had heard a lot about the Guggenheim Museum located there and it was not disappointing. The first floor was the most impressive, it had a really large room with about 9 really large TV screens (floor to ceiling) and an incredible sound system. They had recorded a 60 minute song where each screen showed a different singer (singing and playing instruments) for the same melody — but each person was in a different room of the mansion. It was incredibly arranged and mesmerizing to watch and as you stood in front of a specific screen, you would hear more of the singing and instrumentation that was provided by the specific person in that room. It was a really cool thing to experience.
Other areas of the first floor had other video inspired art as well as some large steel art that served as mazes. The look of that art was different from the ground floor than when looking down upon it from the 2nd floor. It was very nicely done.
The second floor showcased more traditional art (drawings and paintings). The third floor was totally devoted to Yoko Ono. It included video of her performances and lots of art inspired by her. The coolest thing on this floor was a transparent cube that you could walk through to the center of the cube. It was like being in a carnival attraction — kind of like a house of mirrors but it was all plexiglass. You walked through it like a maze and it was hard to distinguish an opening from a real wall so people would run into the wall thinking it was an opening (myself included).
This wrapped up our time in Spain. Next we are heading to Italy to experience Milan, Lake Como, Cinque Terre, Florence, Rome, Capri and Pompeii.