Pamplona is a magical city, at the same time, modern, medieval and historical, storied by history, church and literature. We arrived early Sunday morning, when Pamplona was quiet. By 11:00 a.m., the city was noisy and hopping.
This is a religious and cultural city that was even busier and more crowded by Sunday evening, with not only pilgrims and tourists, but locals of this sprawling metropolitan area, who park on the outside and walk into night spots, restaurants, bars and sidewalk cafes. Families gather, smoke, drink, eat, visit, stroll and casually watch their kids run around while they enjoy the vibrant nightlife, late into the evening. This was the first time we encountered Siesta Hours. All over Northern Spain in towns and cities on the Camino, shops usually close at 14:00 or 15:00 and reopen at about 17:00 until 21:00.
After an initial “lost in translation” visit to the first albergue we had phoned for a reservation, we were referred around the corner to Albergue Cathedral, near the Cathedral and hoped Pamplona would be a little less crazy on Monday. This was my way of re-entering civilization after a few days on the Camino. The city felt frenetic, but still friendly. After a day, I loved Pamplona.
We saw artistic and political graffiti, on the streets of the city, including messages that Pamplona is still in Basque Country, where activists are working to separate, “You are not in Spain, Not in France.” Sociopolitical graffiti and signs are common on the Camino, especially in tunnels and on bridges. And beautiful street art is also a feature of the towns and cities.
We walked all over Pamplona, without our backpacks, searching for Hemingway’s writing and playing haunts. We strolled through the Plaza Castillo, location of Hemingway’s hotel, where he was inspired to write and sit in the cafes, looking out at the action in the plaza and the vibrance of city life. Hemingway visited Pamplona numberous times and gave the characters he met life in his book, “The Sun Also Rises.” We followed signs on The Street of the Running of the Bulls, Encierro, directing us to the bullpen that releases the Bulls to race against loco muchachos through the streets of Pamplona, during the famous San Fermin Festival. Stores on Encierro and other streets sell memorabilia. Fiesta de San Fermin is held every year in July. The accommodations are expensive, and pilgrims who usually pay $8 to $12, will find these reasonable albergues closed during the festival, with hotels offering rooms at inflated prices, usually hundreds of dollars for a night.
We visited the Monument to Hemingway, a huge block of granite that stands in front of the bullring on Paseo de Hemingway. I left my water bottle on the bench near his monument, on the outskirts of Old Town, too far for me to return. I wasn’t sad, because filled with water, It was too heavy, and I found an almost weightless collapsible water bottle in the pilgrim and outdoor shop, another mini-REI.
Before leaving we shopped at the Super Mercado for a picnic near the bridge and snacks for the next day. This Mercado housed several floors of markets for produce, bakery, meat, and stores with a variety of foods and non-food items. Lots of light and beautiful, fresh produce and dairy products.
I would be happy to stay longer and explore more of Pamplona, but after two days, it’s time to move on.