The Badger Herald will feature a regular travel column straight from the hostels and hotels of the Southern Mediterranean. This week, a detour into the raging streets of Pamplona, Spain for the annual running of the bulls.
The annual festival of San Fermin in Pomplona, Spain, otherwise known as the running of the bulls, is an internationally televised event. What isn’t televised is everything that goes on before and after the run. While there are generally no hotel accommodations available for the night of the run, it is generally expected that you stay up all night long and watch the bull run in the morning before riding the bus out of the city. Remaining awake throughout the night should not prove to be much of a challenge, as the entire city of Pamplona transforms itself into a giant block party for the event.
In the morning, thousands of people dressed in white and wearing red sashes around their waists and necks crowd the city streets. Nearly every bar is filled to capacity and people pour out onto the streets drinking and singing at the beginning of the run.
During the festival, there is a huge carnival in the center of the city full of shoddy rides that would never pass U.S. safety standards. The rides are, however, incredibly fun. For example, a Viking ship ride involves being locked in a cage without any harness. The ride swings back and forth, hundreds of feet in the air, as riders are tossed around inside the cage. Carnival games generally involve shooting objects with guns while prizes usually consist of bottles of liquor or huge slabs of meat. Near the early hours of the morning, order begins to break down. When public bathrooms become unavailable, people resort to the street.
The bull run itself occurs every morning at 8 a.m. for a full week. Originating as a means of transporting the bulls from their pens on one side of the city to the arena on the other, it has grown into a very important and very dangerous event. Eight bulls are tormented into a seething rage and then released into the streets. Runners try desperately to weave around the animals and avoid their horns as they pass and most are unsuccessful. Afterwards, the streets reek of blood. Red Cross workers are now employed to tend to the countless injuries suffered by the runners.
The bulls will not survive the day either. Immediately after the run, the bulls each meet their fate at the hands of bullfighters in a beautiful arena.
Venturing further, one comes across the city of Barcelona — a thriving metropolis located right on the ocean. There are many inexpensive hostels in the city that provide an amazing opportunity to meet young people from all over the world. The underground metro can take you almost anywhere in the city in minutes, including the city’s beautiful beaches.
At the heart of the city is a street called la Rambla. Bordering either side are shops selling everything imaginable — from swords to sex. Outdoor pet shops sell animals ranging from pythons to roosters. Countless restaurants and cafés offer fresh pastry and seafood. Paella — a rice dish with vegetables, seafood or meat — is a local specialty made available everywhere. Street performers play music on rolling pianos, guitars and flutes. Some dress up in costumes and create small dance troupes on the street while others perform magic or create artwork. All compete desperately for your spare change, forming a sort of surreal circus.
Nightclubs and bars vary in theme and are scattered throughout the city. They generally don’t get busy until 3:00 a.m. at which point they are all loud, crowded and expensive. The easiest way to maneuver the scene is to buy a book called “B-Guided,” available at area bookstores and newsstands. This beautifully designed book comes out in Barcelona each season and contains a list of all the local clubs and their descriptions. Also included are cultural events, restaurants, a metro schedule and a very useful map of the city.
While Spain is an extremely beautiful and culturally rich place to visit, don’t count on sleeping much if you’re going.