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8/23/16

Travel Diaries | San Fermin Festival in Pamplona

After a little research online, it is said that the San Fermin festival goes as far back as 1591 - when the festival was moved to the month of July, because the people of Pamplona wanted nicer weather for the event. It used to last only 2 days but now goes from the 6-14th of July every year in Pamplona. So perhaps my blog post about the festival will be a slightly more modern take on this traditional celebration. I attended on Saturday the 9th during the festival -  when Pamplona was at it's busiest and hottest. I went along with the BeMadrid travel agency which was 35 € round trip on bus and I had the most amazing, unique experience!


Now, I won't go too much into the history of the festival or why it came about because Google has all the answers to that. However, i've bought 'The sun also rises' by Ernest Hemingway which is all about San Fermin and the bullfighting, to inform myself a little better on the festival - so I would recommend that book too if you're intrigued.

In short, it is one big huge, all day long party. In fact, it's one of the biggest fiestas in the world, that you should attend at least once in your lifetime. There was a sense of togetherness even though you didn't know anyone - everyone is dressed in the same red and white uniform - most people sporting a red scarf around their neck with the Pamplona emblem on it. There's a chance you will end up with Sangria all over your clothes or you will at least come across people with their white-turned-pink clothes. 


I'm not sure what time some people had begun drinking from, but there is no correct time -  you can literally start whenever you want and take a siesta on a street/park/bench whenever you feel like it. Then, wake up, and start all over again. 

Pamplona was filled with many things to do during the day and night. There were market stalls selling souvenirs, San Fermin t-shirts, food and so on. Once you ventured into the narrow streets of the town, there were bars wide open to the outdoors with people partying inside like it was 3am, marching bands, clubs in open air tents - plenty to get involved in and keep you occupied. Long tables of families and friends dining 'al fresco' outside their houses was quite the norm too.


This festival isn't for the faint hearted - it's extremely packed and noisy with drunk people everywhere but it was honestly one of the most fun things I got to witness and experience. 

We were in Pamplona from 2pm but hadn't booked any hotel/hostel (recommended to book waaay in advance, or bring a tent). So me and my friend slept in a park, which a lot of people did, and as dangerous as that sounds, it really wasn't but I wouldn't recommend it. I slept about 1 hour and woke up due to the cold and people still partying at 7am. It's a relatively safe festival but just keep your wits about you as you would on any night out.


The lovely people over at the BeMadrid agency had a whole map and plan set out for us, telling us when and where things were going on in the town throughout the day and night. Later in the evening, there was a carnival, firework display and concerts/outdoor clubs right through till morning. So, though  staying up 24 hours is hard, it's only one day in your life and there is plenty to do to keep you up and partying till the early hours.



The bull run begins at 8am and is recommended you go and find a good spot to view it from about 6am, which yes does mean waiting 2 hours, hungover and tired, to see people running away from bulls, which lasts about 2 seconds max. 

However, the atmosphere is crazy and unlike anything else i've ever seen. Though I do not condone what happens to the bulls in the bullfights, I was curious to experience this weird and wonderful tradition that brings all nationalities and people of all ages together in one city. I really enjoyed it and the experience will stay with me forever. 

The next day the streets were the dirtiest i've ever seen and the smelliest i've ever...smelt. I felt like I hadn't showered for a week and felt like I hadn't slept for that long either. Though I wouldn't change it and I would do it all over again!

I found a really interesting article about the San Fermin which you can check out by clicking here. It probably does a better job of explaining the festival than I did.

8/22/16

A Travel Guide | Madrid

I was working (it didn't really feel like work) for two months of my summer in the lovely capital of Spain that is - Madrid. As always, I document my travels, in fact I pretty much document my whole life and of course I want to share the highlights of the trip here on my blog. In this and the next few travel diary posts from Spain - i'll share some photos, my must see and do things and an overall review of the cities I visited during my stay...

Retiro Park

Madrid's very own Central Park is the buzzing and thriving centre of the city. The perfect place to escape the intense summer heat is by coming here and cooling down in the shade under some trees or renting out a rowing boat. Though I only visited once during my two months (I was busy doing other things), I think I saw it at it's busiest. If you love people watching, you could while away many hours here taking in the different sights.



All in the one Sunday I went to Retiro park I saw line dancers, tai chai/yoga/dancing classes, an outdoor orchestra, a Bolivian festival, children's theatre puppet shows, buskers playing Spanish guitar, bands, outdoor chess and more. This really is where it's all happening, a park filled with life and movement. The park is also home to the stunning Palacio Cristal (glass house) and other amazing pieces of architecture. 

San Miguel market

Calling all foodies! This was by far a favourite of mine in Madrid, because of, well, FOOD, duh. Whether it's lunch, dinner, snacks, dessert or tapas you're after - they have it all and more than your dreams could imagine here. I enjoyed wandering around the market and browsing all of the delicious, colourful food, sampling tapas (fyi: inexpensive), sipping on some traditional sangria and so much more. Heaven.


Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza & Reina sofia museums

If you're an art buff, or just love wandering around galleries - Madrid is stacked with culture. There are plenty of museums to visit in the city but the three I visited, and are recommended on most travel sites are the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofia museum. 

At the Reina Sofia
A great way to spend a hot day in Madrid is inside a cool gallery gazing at art - in the Prado they are currently running a Bosco exhibition - heads up: the queues are often long so get there early. I visited the TB museum in my last few days as it had been recommended to me by many - the museum has a mixture of both old and new art ft. paintings by Dali & Picasso and also two private exhibitions by Caravaggio and Caillebotte which I both enjoyed. Of all I enjoyed the Reina Sofia the most - I spent 3+ hours soaking up every single painting and sculpture there was to see. If you enjoy the more experimental, modern art then you will love RS museum too. They had an exhibition ft. the works of Wilfredo Lam who was such a fascinating man to learn about.

At the Reina Sofia
Botanical gardens

The botanical gardens in Madrid is like a massive green paradise of nature and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Nestled right behind the Prado museum and beside a busy road and you can't even hear a thing but birds, sprinklers and people chattering - it's the perfect place to have some chill out time, maybe read or draw. I didn't do that. I just took photos for Instagram.


The Golden Mile

I'm a shopaholic and preeeetty obsessed with fashion, whether or not I can afford it. So it was a real treat for me to walk along the golden mile, the street famous for it's designer shops, and browse the likes of Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci and more. The window displays alone are works of art and seeing designer pieces in the flesh gives me goosebumps, it's like the clothes of Vogue have jumped off the pages and into real life. There's also the more affordable stores like Zara and Massimo Dutti, so you can grab yourself a souvenir from one of Madrid's most luxurious streets.

Plaza Mayor


One of the most common meeting points and most well known parts of Madrid is the Plaza Mayor - an open square in the middle of the crowded city lined with terrace cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops that is buzzing from day till night. I sat here one day for a café con leche (basically a coffee with milk but sounds way fancier in Spanish) and within an hour saw a Suzuki car ad being filmed, a waiter that got pooped on by a bird, a man serenading the tourists with Spanish guitar and tourists flocking for photos. Similarly to the Retiro, it's a place of life and constant movement and so is the perfect place to stop and watch the world go by.

Gran Vía



If you're crazy enough to venture onto this street amongst 1000's of others in the 35+c heat, well, then you're as stupid as I was. However, if you're spending the majority of your time in air conditioned shops then it ain't so bad. All your usual high street favourites are along the Gran Vía - Mango, Zara, Pull & Bear, Bershka and all their pals too - oh and the biggest, most extravagant Primark i've ever seen in my life. As well as shops, there are plenty of places to stop and refuel as well as a few theatres which reminded me a bit of broadway, though I have never been there... anyway, you won't be bored here for sure.

Temple of Debod at sunset


A cliché thing to do in Madrid is see the Temple of Debod at sunset - and though cliché, very worth the hype. From here you will see some of the most amazing views of Madrid and the beautiful architecture of the Debod while the sun sets and reflects off the water surrounding it. Stu-nning.

So, those are my top things to do in Madrid but here are other things i'd recommend to do/visit:

- Party at the biggest pride in the world at Madrid Orgullo (in the summer)
- Try the best churros at San Gines chocolateria
- Try and not break your neck gazing at the amazing ceilings in the Almudena cathedral
- Sample Madrid's finest pastries and sweet treats at La Mallorquina
- Grab some bargains at the El Rastro market in La Latina
- Get a 1€ glass of wine at Copas Rotas (or several)
- Visit the rooftop bar of The Hat hostel
- See a flamenco show
- Marvel at the dramatic interiors of the Palacio Real
- Go to the 9th floor of El corte ingles near Gran Vía and visit the gourmet experience (all the cuisines you can imagine and a rooftop bar with panoramic views weeow)

Some pointers:

- If you're a student, bring your id card as this will get you discounts in the museums and other tourist attractions
- Watch out for pick pockets (as you would in any big city)
- Use the metro or city tour bus to get around - there are also night buses
- Get to know the less tourist-y areas where you can buy the same food/things but cheaper

There you have it, my little travel guide to the wonderful city of Madrid! Stay tuned for a post on Pamplona and other places I visited in Spain!
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