This is part of two journeys to Spain that we made in 2015. The first was a stay in beautiful Barcelona and the second was our trip to Pamplona for the annual Bull Run in that city.
The stay in Barcelona was the first stop on our current journey. We left the United States in December of 2014 and have been on a continuous photo shoot visiting a total of 18 countries in that 2 year period. Our stay in Barcelona was really just a stop to get our feet on the ground outside of the United States and we spent most of our time there in Barcelonetta. This is the original fishing village that eventually fostered the city of Barcelona. It is still a sleepy part of town on a small peninsula jutting into the Mediterranean. There is little nightlife, very little traffic and some of the best Paella in all of Spain. This is something that if you have not yet sampled then you simply have to try it. The rice and seafood dish is a signature of this part of Spain.
The beach, while somewhat small, is very nice in summer and there is a huge yacht basin. We had a few small Mardi Gras parades while we were there which was the most in the way of crowds that we saw. For a quiet area to stay in while visiting the sights of Barcelona like the Gaudi Sagrada Familia, the Magic Fountain (a remnant of the 1929 worlds fair), the old gothic quarter, and of course the La Boqueria.
The second part of our trip to Barcelona was a day trip to the Monserrat Monastery outside of the city in the Catalonia countryside. It is the site of a Benedictine abbey which is the home of the Black Madonna. The name simply put is Jagged Mountain. It is a striking pink color and can be seen for miles away looking almost like the saws rugged edge. The monastery was founded sometime in the 9th century after a startling miracle was witnessed by children in a cave on the mountainside. You can read more here in our article on Monserrat. You will find information on transportation to and from the Black Madonna and the miracle that led to the monastery’s founding. Be sure and catch the cable car up the mountainside, it is a memorable experience and the views are great.
The second part of our journey in Spain took us to the Basque Region of Pamplona. Pamplona is located in the province of Navarre and is easily accessible by train from Madrid. It was made famous more from the writings of Ernest Hemingway and was one of his favorite places to visit.
There is far more to see and do on your trip to Pamplona which should start from the Old City which was founded in the 1200’s and unified in 1400’s. The city has grown around it but the older areas are carefully preserved and that will be the site of the Bull Run. Other parts of Pamplona you may want to visit are the Museo de Navarra, which is devoted to the artistic heritage of the region, or the Museo Diocesano of religious art.
You will want to visit the beach and city of San Sebastian which is linked by daily bus service and has the shuttle to and from Pamplona during the festival if you cannot find accommodations of your liking in Pamplona.
The cathedral dates to the 13th century and is a beautiful Gothic Era Cathedral. It has a beautiful cloister and the Neoclassical exterior is unique. There are two other Gothic cathedrals in the city. Both Saint Sernin and Saint Nicholas are worth a visit if you are in the Old City and find yourself with time on your hands.
San Fermin and The Bull Run
Encierro is the Spanish word for Corral or Enclosure. This name was given to the annual Bull Run which takes place in Pamplona as well as other cities throughout Spain. The Run in Pamplona, though, is by far the most famous and draws the largest crowds. The run originated from the transport of the bulls from the farms to the bull rings in Spain. These are bulls bred across Spain as the best of the best for the bull fights. They would bring the bulls into the city and the young men would jump in and out of the group to show their bravery and of course to impress the senoritas. Read More About the Bull Run: Running With The Bulls Part 1 and Part 2
As time has gone by the bulls selected for the fights during San Fermin are kept in a corral on the outskirts of the Old Town. In the morning they are brought daily through the streets in and men young and old alike would run in front of them on their way up the hill to the bull ring. Wooden fences are built along the route and block off the streets.
On the 7th of July, the opening ceremony will take place in the Old Town Square where the mayor will declare the Festival of San Fermin open. Fireworks and a huge party will ensue with many traditions observed and one new that was created by some of the New Zealand visitors. I mention it in particular since some of our photos will show the Jumping from the Muscle Bar. Muscle Bar is a statue where three streets end in a small traffic circle. The young men climb the statue and dive into the crowd hoping to be caught before landing on the pavement below. This accounts for far more injuries and deaths than all of the previous festivals combined.
Each of the next 7 mornings the people will gather, the runners in their white suits will appear and a rocket will be fired around 8 AM. The Bulls will be released to run up the hill to the arena and the runners will show their bravery by taunting the bulls and leading them up the hill to their eventual deaths later that day in the bull ring. While this appears dangerous, and it is, there has only been a total of 15 deaths since the beginning in 1910.
We will be returning to San Fermin this year in July for me to run with the bulls as well as to La Tomatina or the Festival of Tomatoes in Buño near Valencia in Eastern Spain.