"Even my two finger bull horn impression pointing up on each side of my head whilst snorting did nothing"
The journey from Abella De La Cona to Pamplona is again very picturesque and has maybe top trumped all the others so far. We headed out of Cataluña to Basque country, again we were treated to a lot more greenery. The weather up here seems to be a lot wetter than the rest of Spain, much to the benefit of all the local vegetation. Sarah was at the wheel this time enjoying the twisted roads. We climbed Coll de Montllobar which is 1800m high and this certainly gave a new meaning to a "birds eye view" as we were joined all the way up by massive vultures and kites. It felt like they were circling the Toyota waiting for it to fail. As we dropped down the coll on the other side we could see snow capped peaks and a beautiful bright blue lake ahead of us, we were literally gobsmacked. Both of us agreeing to an urge to be somewhere cold with snow!
As we approached the lake its full beauty was revealed, crystal clear water as blue and inviting as an ice pop on a hot summers day. The houses had changed looking more like chalets, their striking red roofs reflected in the water. This little place was called Olvena. We did not stop here but would definitely recommend it. As we drove on the road banked with the ice pop river for miles we could not help but keep stopping for photos. At one point I saw a lone kayaker taking on the rapids in the bright hot sunshine, it looked liked they had chosen the best place to be. It must be said for the majority of this drive the heat in the car was pretty intolerable no air con and today was really the first day we felt it. Coincidentally Sarah sat with her trouser round her ankles and I had my top off, luckily there were not any traffic lights where other drivers could see. It made me smile every time I looked in Sarah's direction.
Pamplona is the capital of the Navarra region of Spain. Famous for its food, rich history and of course San Fermin (the bull run).Thanks to Hemmingway this little town is famous all over the world and the city has various salutes to him throughout the old town. His first novel The Sun Also Rises, was inspired by this place and it is very easy to see why.
We had arrived purposefully a few days before San Fermin started as both me and Sarah were unsure how we felt about it. It's important to realise that these festivals steeped in tradition and history make places interesting and different from our own homes. As travellers we are drawn towards things that are different to what we are used to.
The history of the bull run is really interesting, in the old times they would run the bulls through the town on the way to the bull ring. It was at this time a few of the towns folk started taking to the streets to run infront of the bulls. This was declared illegal and dangerous, however this did not deter the towns people. Year upon year more people joined the run breaking the law until it was so set into tradition it became legal and what some would consider the main event. As you walk through the tight streets of Pamplona you really start to think how crazy these bull runners really are.
On our second day we rode into Pamplona on a beautiful cycle track by the river not a car in site for the whole 10km. As we entered the old town it was our turn to be the bulls speeding around the tight streets, shooing the tourists out of our way. We had so much fun. Although people don't really move for a bicycle quite the same as I imagine they do for a bull running at full tilt. Infact they just stand there and tut and roll their eyes at a bike. Even my two finger bull horn impression pointing up on each side of my head whilst snorting did nothing. Having the bikes in town was great, it certainly saves the legs as you do a lot of walking and after a few cervezas/vino tinto's it just gets funnier.
We had actually watched an old Rick Stein cookery program to get some tips on where to test some of Pamplona's amazing food. Pintxos are what it's all about in the Basque country, a local tradition that has now spread to bars all across Spain. We headed list in hand to a small place called Gauchos to test them out. Pintxos bars are set out with lots of small aperitif type plates mostly served on a cocktail stick and with bread. You take what you want and show the waiter the sticks at the end, he knows what you had by the length of the stick. They are amazing but once you start it's hard to stop, they really are the perfect balance between beer/wine and nibbles. We had a coffee in the famous Cafe Iruña. It still has the original decor and has been visited by many stars from the past like Orson Wells, the Kennedys and Sinatra. Most of all though this is where Hemmingway came to drink and watch people maybe for inspiration, who knows. That evening we went on the hunt for the local specialty dish Estufado de toro(oxtail). When it was dished up in front of us we were not disappointed, my only experience of oxtail is of the Heinz soup variety! This was another level. Served on the bone in a hearty portion, it had been slow cooked and the meat just fell off the bone revealing it's still pink inside. It was served in its own rich thick gravy and to be honest it made us both think of home. It reminded us of a British winter dish.
Pamplona is a great place to visit and for me is much better than other more famous cities like Barcelona. You should definitely put it on your list of places to go, if you enjoy history, food and spending time in a beautiful place.
The only real downside for us was the campsite, it was a big Eurostyle campsite with a pool, restaurant etc which is great for some people but for us it's just means paying a lot more for a small bit of grass to plonk our tent on. We felt €28 per night, for a piece of grass with no electricity was a rip off. If you're working then maybe you would not think it's expensive, but we are not so we did. Considering we had just stayed in Abella De La Conca in a beautifully restored Spanish house for €4 less, it was hard to swallow. They also charged for wifi? I mean come on. There is however lots of other alternative accommodation in Pamplona, we were just trying to do it the cheapest way.
Anyways next up is San Sebastián the near by town famous for its beaches, surfing and gastronomy.