Paella, Pampona & Panoramic views of ´Dead Mans Corner´

13 07 2011

Well after we  left Greece as mentioned we flew into Madrid. We only spent a day there but Madrid seemed like a really lovely city- clean, well-kept with lots of trees and parks plus nice people. We caught the train to our hotel and then headed out to book our train tickets to Pamplona. The Spanish train system is brilliant but it probably wouldn’t hurt the powers that be to streamline their booking system –  not that we are professionals on the subject and we really shouldnt have left it to the last-minute! We sat for 3 hours in a crowded office with about 100 other people waiting for our number to be called (I managed to sleep sitting up:Deanna). When it was finally our turn we were told that there was only one train ticket left to Pamplona the next day and we would have to go the following day, the 6th which was the day of the actual opening ceremony- we would arrive around 2pm completely missing the celebrations. We booked the tickets as we didn’t think we had much choice at that stage but we were both devastated- we had also booked accommodation in Pamplona (non refundable at a hefty festival rate) so we would have done our dough on that plus have to pay for another night in Madrid. Anyway, things were getting desperate and we were even considering hiring a car for two days but then we decided to check the busses and walked to the main Madrid Station- thankfully at 7pm that night we managed to secure close to the last 2 bus tickets for the next day- Phew!!! Thank God we also managed to get a refund on the unnecessary train tickets as well. Lesson learnt: If you are heading to a major international festival make sure you book your means of getting there in advance!

Feeling a bit frazzled but a lot relieved we headed out to sample Madrid´s famous tapas and paella. We found a little place around the corner from our hotel and ordered our first Sangria for the trip (well I:Deanna did, Chris had a Cerveza pronounced Thervetha, like a Mexican with a lisp ;-)) and then ordered a seafood Paella to share. When it came out we couldn´t believe our eyes, it was huge and was served in the pan that it was cooked in. It looked exactly like what you see in pictures or movies strewn with prawns, muscles and cockle shells and a beautiful yellow colour. We were a bit dubious to start with as it was quite pricey but we loved it, it really filled us both up and it was great being able to taste something so traditional.

The next day we headed for Pamplona on the bus along with a whole heap of other people. Spirits were high and there were heaps of Aussies around. We left around 10:30am and got there around 3pm and made sure that we promptly booked our return tickets for 3 days later. While we were doing this we met a young Aussie bloke with a similar looking backpack who was also there for the celebrations. We got chatting and he asked us where we were camping- we quietly responded saying that we were staying in a hotel feeling a bit guilty, it almost felt UnAustralian not to be “roughing it” along with the thousands of other revellers in tent city! We headed to our hotel and that evening headed into the old town to check out the place for the opening ceremony the next day. On the way home our taxi driver told us that he had run 25 or 30 times before but thankfully never been hurt, he said that he had fallen down before though but not been trampled. The next day (6th of July) we caught a bus to the old town in the morning. Leaving the hotel we felt a bit rare wearing our pristine white clothes and red scarves and thought we might be the only ones and end up standing out like sore thumbs- our fears were short-lived because as soon as we hopped on the bus absolutely EVERYONE was wearing white and red- from new borns in prams to geriatrics on Zimmer frames- it was brilliant to see and we were bloody glad we had gone to the effort! The two tourists on the bus that hadn’t bothered wearing the national colours looked pretty average and were copping accusing stares left right and centre. When we got off we went straight to the little deli that had been converted into a bar and bought 2 litres of Sangria and then pushed our way into the main square to wait for the opening ceremony. This was wicked- it was shoulder to shoulder with the crowd consisting of around 50% Spanish people, 30% Aussies and the rest from all over the world. As soon as we got settled in a corner the Sangria throwing started- people had filled up their goats bladders (yes, goats bladders, used to transport Sangria and for drinking straight out of- we admit, we succumbed and bought 2 later that day) and were spraying everyone with it. Interestingly enough the people who entered into this most whole heartedly were the Aussies whose white clothes were now pink- our convict heritage really came to the fore and you could pick us out – we were the ones with our hair plastered to our face in a sticky mat with pink clothes and a slight wobble. Huge bouncy balls were being bounced over the crowd and someone kept letting off fire works-it was absolute madness! At one stage the crowd surged and we thought we were going to be crushed. Every five minutes the Spanish chant of “Ole Ole Ole Ole” became universal and was heard above everything else. People that were lucky enough to have a balcony had lined their door frame or windows with plastic curtains to stop any spare Sangria coming in, they held their own by regularly throwing buckets of water on the people below- met with cheers! People were crowd surfing, climbing up gutters to sit on shop awnings, being carried around on people’s backs- CRAZY! At 12pm three loud flares were let off from the balcony of the town hall by the mayor and streamers and confetti exploded from the sky declaring the event officially open. It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience and we were so glad to be right in the middle of it.

 The next day, the first day of the actual running, we got up early so that we could get into town and find the balcony that we had booked to watch the running due to start at 8am. We were told to be there at 6:45am and it was great being in town that early. Most people hadn’t yet gone to bed and there were plenty passed out in parks and huddling together for warmth (we were lovin´that hotel!). The place looked like a bomb had hit it but interestingly was completely clean again but 8am thanks to an army of people wielding high pressure water guns and street sweepers. We headed through the main square to our spot on Estefeta Street about 20 metres past Deadman´s Corner. Our balcony was two floors up and we shared it with about 8 other people, we booked it through Pamplona Housing a company that reinvests profits in establishing third-world communities with access to freshwater and housing, well worth the money we paid- check out the site on the links page. We got up there around 7am and had an hour just to watch the supposed runners (some of whom could barely stand up) below planning their strategy for avoiding a wayward bull horn to the butt. Again, on this occasion you could spot the Aussies, they were looking a bit worse for wear at this stage some sporting Sydney Swans guernseys etc (well yes, technically that is red and white).  We genuinely feared for the life of one bloke who was wearing a Danger Mouse outfit- we think he was a Pom – who couldn´t manage to focus both eyes yet. About 15 minutes before the run the bull herders cleared out the people and sorted them into gated sections to get ready for the run. The atmosphere was palpable and everyone was looking really nervous, some people were kneeling down praying that they would be protected during the run, others were looking downright scared. And then we heard the flares and it was on…within a couple of minutes people were surging around Deadman´s Corner (a 90 degree corner on the run trail that usually results in bulls running straight into the wall along with people) and runners were bouncing on the spot to try to get an idea of where the bulls were. They got to us very quickly and everyone was screaming as soon as they came into sight, it was amazing to watch the runners scrambling to get out of their way, it was just so exciting. The first 5 or 6 bulls were past us and up the street in a matter of seconds and there was a hum of excitement as to whether or not there were more coming and indeed… they did. About five more came after this in groups of 1 or 2 but it was just as exciting. We didn´t see anyone get trampled but a word to anyone that is planning to run- do NOT touch the bulls!!! We and at least one other runner were not aware that this was illegal (fines incurred) but also very heavily frowned upon by all involved. Those bull herders that we mentioned were actually carrying 2 metre long, solid wooden sticks of about 1-2 inch in diameter. One bloke thought he was being very smart and whacked one lone unsuspecting bull on the rump and gave his mates the thumbs up and when the next one came along he decided to ski behind it by holding onto its tail and whacking it.. A bull herder did not like the cut of his gib and came straight up to him and splattered his nose across his face with the end of the stick. Blood was pouring out everywhere and the bloke was making a big song and dance about it looking for someone to complain to until he copped one, two then three swift blows to the head by other participants who also did not agree with his antics and wanted to reinforce the message of the bull herder. We think he got the message. (It was one of the most violent things I have ever seen: Deanna) It was really shocking but I guess that is the law of the jungle. Afterwards when the run was over it was really funny to see people looking at the blood on the footpath and cringing as though imagining the goring that took place their earlier, some people were even taking pictures. We didn’t have the heart to tell them that it was actually a wayward runner who learnt a very painful lesson! Chris got the whole thing on video and we will try to upload it here- forgive the shaky camera work, its hard to follow the action when it’s happening so quickly!

 

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After the run finished the adrenalin was still running high and you could tell people were amped for ages afterwards. It was such an exciting event and we really recommend it. We decided against going to the bull-fight that happens each night (I didn´t think I could handle it:Deanna) but we feel that we did the Festival justice.  We left the following day (8th of July) for the seaside destination of Marbella in the South of Spain which is where we are now. We head off from here on Friday for Thailand (Patong Beach, Phuket) which we are both really looking forward to! Chris is hanging to watch a game of AFL at Aussie Bar! We can’t believe that we have been here for nearly 3 months but in a lot of ways it hasn´t flown past which is good. We feel like we have done the “Med” justice by having a decent look around but on the other hand we are looking forward to the comfort and familiarity of home too, not to mention seeing friends and family including our new little nephew Harley Douglas- Andy and Roy´s little boy who we are just dying to see! Anyway, signing off for the time being……………

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One response

20 07 2011
Chris

Just loving your stories Deanna! Chris B.

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