Holá, San Sebastián y Pamplona.

Wednesday 26 June 2019

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Yesterday, the short drive from Biarritz to San Sebastián hid a big transition from France to Spain. I’d avoided the toll road as I usually do. Not because I’m tight-fisted, although I am, but because motorway is motorway and you see less of the country. It was a bit stop start along the coast road, but seeing the towns become more Spanish with their dappled terracotta roofs built expectations.

A insignificant sign mentioned in passing I was now in Spain, then all signs as road markings changed, leading me to focus on all the information coming from the road and Satnav. Pitching up on the outskirts of San Sebastián, by the basketball stadium, I cycled into the town.

A couple of sandy bays

sit either side of the mount and old town.

It’s a resort town but, unlike Biarritz, the sea front consists of apartments and a variety of shops, not tourist hell. It’s a lovely town, and the sea breeze kept it pleasant.

I made an early start for Pamplona, about 80km inland, but was not prepared for Spain to slap me round the face as it did. Cloud was low and the day flat and grey, then I hit the mountains. After climbing for about fifteen minutes I drove through the low cloud to the sunlit uplands.

It took me back to driving around Norway; long climbs followed by long descents with vertiginous drops revealing gorgeous valleys and views of distance mountain ranges. It was such a change; I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Norway is different and more extreme, but I was still grinning and muttering “Wow” every few minutes.

I felt my enthusiasm for this travelling malarkey come surging back after being somewhat deflated by Bordeaux.

Pamplona is famous for its bull run,

marking the festival of San Fermín that runs from July 6 to July 14 each year and attracts a million people, most to watch the daily bull run, many to participate.

Each day, six bulls are freed from a pen at the bottom of this hill,

while, half way up, runners ask St. Fermin for protection

before being chased along the route,

past the town hall, to the bull ring.

There are bull fights every night.

The whole festival became famous after accounts by Ernest Hemingway,

who visited the festival several times and included it in his novels.

It’s a cruel activity but I don’t imagine it will end anytime soon, even though 15 people have been killed.

Fortunately, Pamplona has more to offer.

Perched on a hill it overlooks beautiful countryside.

It is a fortress,

solid walls surrounding narrow shady streets,

and numerous wooded parks, all very welcome in the heat.

It’s a good job the heatwave doesn’t hit until tomorrow!

I’m in a park, using the town’s WiFi to write this and hoping for some cool air, but there’s not a breath of breeze.

A few other points of interest from today.

“Jesus, there’s a cow on my roof!”

The periodic table as seats outside a conference centre,

and this effective statue to victims of terrorism.

Pamplona is a complex, varied and stimulating town that changes character at every turn. With the stunning drive to get here, it’s been a terrific day.

(Second posting, Pamplona WiFi not up to the job. Sorry.)

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