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Exploring Pamplona and San Sebastian

posted by

Corey Watts

on August 30, 2013

After Gerona, I toook a train ride to Pamplona. I was in Gerona, unsure of where to go next, and thinking about The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway. In the book, the protagonist travels from Paris down to Pamplona for the San Fermin festival (the running of the bulls). I loved the book, so I thought, “Why not visit Pamplona?” The San Fermin festival was in July so I knew I wouldn’t be seeing any bull fights, but I thought it would be interesting to see the city regardless.

Pamplona is a gorgeous city with lots of culture and history. It was a stronghold fortress during the Spanish Revolution, and the enormous walls and turrets are a sight to behold. Old town, in the city center, was also incredible. Small, old cobblestone streets lined with small shops and old apartment buildings gave this section of the city quite a bit of character. I walked past the bullfighting arena every day, but was unable to see a bullfight. Perhaps I will come back in the future for San Fermin; I think I’d like to. I was told by many people it is a completely different city during the festival – packed with foreigners, apparently. I made a number of new friends in Pamplona: an American teaching English in Spain, an Italian and a Spaniard who both recently moved to Pamplona, an elderly and retired Japanese chef, several Spanish women on holiday, and an Italian man who ran a pizza shop in old town. We would walk around the city late at night, get drinks, smoke, and talk. It was wonderful.

After Pamplona, I took a bus ride to San Sebastian. A number of the friends I had met on this trip told me how wonderful San Sebastian was, so I decided to visit it. The bus ride between Pamplona and San Sebastian was one of the most gorgeous drives I had ever been on. We drove through the hills of Basque country on a small, winding road. It is regularly overcast and misty throughout that area, so our bus was encapsulated with green, mountainous foilage. The hills and valleys as far as the eye could see were a beautiful deep green. I was listening to Switchfoot and Jimmy Eat World during the drive, and the music paired well with the sights.

San Sebastian is a seaside town where many Europeans go for their vacations. It has two main beaches, one of which is great for surfing. There is also a large island with a small cafe in the mouth of the harbor. One afternoon, some friends and I swam to the island for some exercise. We got coffees and beers and drank them as we sat in the sun and talked.

I particularly enjoyed the food in San Sebastian. The Basque have their own version of the Spanish tapas; they call them pintxos (pronounced “peenchos”). Pintxos are like tapas on steroids. Pintxos are larger and more filling, with delicious meat, bread, and cheese, and vegetables. Pintxos on average cost between one and three euros each, so you could sometimes fill up on three pintxos and a glass of Basque wine (“txakoli” pronounced “chacoli”) for 6 euros. It was delicious food, better than the more typical Spanish food I had in Barcelona, Pamplona, and Gerona.

There is also a large hill overlooking the whole city, with an enormous status of Jesus Christ at the top. Several times, we hiked up there to watch the sunset. I got a pretty nice panoramic shot, which I’ve added below. I was pleasantly surprised to see how easy my camera makes panoramas…I’ll have to take more. You can even see the island we swam to in the middle of the harbor.

San Sebastian Panorama

I’m on a train to Bordeaux, France right now. I’m trying to work my way down to Switzerland. I think I’m going to have to get to Paris, then take a high-speed train south to Bern. We will see how it works out.