Looking At Pamplona A Second Time.

Back in the early 2000s, I took a trip over to Pamplona and ran with the bulls. (I don’t really remember the year without looking it up. Some of it was a bit of a blur.) The San Fermin Festival was a fantastic experience. However, I was drinking for most of it or running away from crazy bovines. I admit that I didn’t spend much time exploring the city.

So when I decided to take a shot at the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage this year, I couldn’t seem to find a better place to start it than Pamplona. The city is old and has a spot directly on the French Way. This starting point would give me a chance to see a city I was once at, but managed to miss out on.

1. Getting There.

Getting to the old city, buried deep in the Basque countryside of Northern Spain, is surprisingly easy. Spain has a well-established public transport system. Airlines, trains, and the bus system all service Pamplona. I caught a flight out of Madrid, for a short hop over to the city.

The city’s regional airport is small, but well maintained, and services several low cost carriers. It’s a two or three room building, with minimal amenities. It’s serviced on the arrivals side by some taxis and the local city bus.

2. Getting Around Town.

There is a central bus service that runs around Pamplona. It has several routes and you can purchase your ride ticket from the driver. After that, you can really walk the main city quite easily. The city is well signed and marked. The old city center isn’t excessively large, and is easy to navigate.

Pamplona city center, May of 2019. The rain in Spain doesn’t slow down the numerous people out walking around the city.

Most all of the must-see historic sights are located in the city’s old town center. Pamplona’s center is a collection of narrow streets connecting squares and plazas.

3. Places To Stay.

Pamplona is replete with good hotel choices. Since it has a university, they are almost a prerequisite. There is everything from hostels to the big chain hotels. I prefer the mom and pop places myself.

All of the major internet hotel sites cover the city. I found a great locally-run hotel with bar, in the middle of the old city center, on Booking.com with no problems.

As far as getting to your new hotel goes, I would say this. If your hotel is outside the city proper, a taxi is going to be a good option. If you’re in the city, the bus system will get you close enough to walk it. Pamplona is a well-established location for starting the Camino pilgrimage. As such, they are used to having big influxes of travelers showing up with baggage, and needing a way to their hotel. The bus is cheap and easy enough to navigate.

4. Things To See And Do.

Exterior of the cloister for the Pamplona Cathedral. Circa May, 2019. The picture was taken from the walkway which runs around the cathedral and city ramparts.

The city Cathedral, and the section of ramparts the secure its backside, are must-see items. There is also a lovely park below the rampart walls that is quite enjoyable, even on a rainy day.

There are numerous museums and old structures in the city that are worth your time. Most all guidebooks cover the must-see items. Even the Camino de Santiago guidebook that I used while there called out the A-list stops.

There are many small squares scattered around the old town center. All of them have some iteration of the outside cafe. They are excellent people watching areas. The squares. are also great places to stop and take a break. The city of Pamplona is built on a slight incline. You will burn some calories walking around all day.

To be honest, I spent a lot of my time walking around the warren of tightly woven street. Drinking in cafes, looking at stuff in shops, and generally absorbing the vibe.

5. Thoughts.

Small city square, located just to the west of the Pamplona Cathedral. A little wet from the rain, but very picturesque. Circa May, 2019.

I highly enjoyed my second run at the city. It has all of the charms you expect from a European city, and a sleepy Attitude that harkens back to its older days as a fortress town. I think you will enjoy a day or two wandering its streets and drinking a beer or a nice glass of the local wine. If you’re up in the Basque corner of Spain, do yourself a favor a check it out.

Now, get out there. Go see someplace new!

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A Review Of Travel Costs From A Trip Across Europe.

Now that I’ve had a little time to decompress from the last European trip, it’s probably time to get back to the blogosphere and continue talking about the wandering around. I’m going to do this first part by a quick discussion of cost. The actual cost vs what I thought it was going to cost when I left America. It can be summed up as “Yes, I spent too much. But, I had a good time!”

The Upfront Cost.

I spent a bunch of money getting ready to take the trip. Most all of the expense proved out to be the usual.

The upfront cost included my intercontinental plane ticket from Austin to London. I chose London simply because it was the cheapest ticket I could find at the time. I purchased two Eurail Passes; both multi-day, multi-country passes. There were two passes needed based upon my initial travel plans. I bought a ticket for the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix, as I planned on attending the race. I also bought a festival ticket for Ultra Europe that was eventually tossed in the trash, as I changed travel plans along the way, but that happens.

The logistics of getting around and where to stay were all figured out on-the-fly. I work best that way. Airfare, train tickets, festival ticket, and race ticket combined cost me $2100.00. It went something like Airfare (Delta) $605.00 for roundtrip ticket, rail passes at $1,175.00, $130.00 for the festival ticket, and $190.00 (with shipping) for the race ticket. I like to remove the upfront costs from the travelling money. It allows me to reduce my daily math (am I running out of money math). Let’s look at that now.

The Travel Money.

The amount of travel money available basically came the remains of the budgeted money minus the upfront costs. I started my travel plan with $19,000.00, which was supposed to last for four months of travel. factoring out the $2,100.00 already spent, the budget planned worked out somewhat like the following.

beginning: $19,000.00

Upfront Costs: $2,100.00

40 Days walking the Camino de Santiago (40×50.00/day): $2,000.00

89 Days backpacking around Europe (89×150.00/day): $13,350.00

Buffer: $1,550.00

Obviously, this was a best-case scenario, based upon my math skills and extremely optimistic sense of humor. Now, let’s continue.

The Achilles Heel.

My optimistic plan was based upon my desire to see and do numerous things while in Europe. It was also based upon the idea that I was going to do what I said I was going to do. (If you’re an active reader of this blog then you already know my plan goes out he window. LOL!!)

The first weak link in my plan is in the planning. I planned to walk the Camino Pilgrimage at the beginning due to weather conditions and its low cost per day. I understood in doing this that, if I did not use all of the Camino days actually on the Camino, this would shorten my overall travel time. It would also mean that the cost per day would go up before I planned on it doing so.

The second weak link was in the travel path and lodging. The path laid out beyond the Camino was based upon getting to where I wanted to go with the lowest possible cost of travel. And, once there, Finding the cheapest lodging available wherever I happened to be. This plan involved extensive use of the rail passes, and limited low-cost air carriers for plane tickets. Lodging was going to be in the form of Air BNB, low budget hotels and some nights on the train. This, if used properly, would allow me to budget my money.

Truth vs Fiction.

I had a well thought-out plan, and a fist full of money. I was ready to be off on a grand adventure. Well, that was what I thought. What I really had was a adequately assembled bad idea, and enough money to get out of the country. Okay, it wasn’t as bad as all that. Let’s just say that things went off-plan.

It took about nine days for things to come apart. It took two days to travel from Austin, to London, to Madrid, to Pamplona, to start the Camino de Santiago. It took seven days of walking the Camino for me to decide that it wasn’t for me. 9 days into 60 days, and the plan had gone astray. (I don’t call this blog the I-Stray-Blog for no reason at all!) Going into the backpacking section of the trip automatically adjusted the path of the remaining section of the trip. It also shortened the total time dramatically.

The next thing that went wide was lodging. Instead of heavily utilizing Air BNB and lowest-cost budget hotels, I booked in at the lowest ‘decent’ hotel on booking.com. This slight change in decision making did a good job of increasing cost. Also, due to the change in travel path brought on by the change in schedule, more legs went from train travel to airline travel. This added unplanned airfare costs to the overall budget. (Yes, I already possessed the rail tickets.)

So, what happened? Well, I used the Austrian Grand Prix as my new end date, and dumped everything that came along afterward. Why? Mainly, I really wanted to go to the race. This changed the end date from 4 September to about 5 July.

The effect? Sixty days on the Camino and 89 days backpacking turned into 9 days on the Camino and 57 days of backpacking. One small change and a few loose money spending decisions changed the plan greatly. The real summer trip around Europe looked something like this:

Beginning: $19,000.00

Upfront Costs: $2,100.00

9 Days on the Camino (9x$50.00/day): $450.00

57 Days of backpacking (57x$231.57/day): $13,200.00

Leftover money: $1,900.00

Thoughts About The Plan.

Now, if you noticed that real per-day number and wondered WTH? So did I.

Did I have a great time? Absolutely! Did I see what I wanted to see? At all of the places I managed to go to, Yes! Was it all worth it? Hell Yes! But, did I waste a bunch of money? Well, that depends on how you define waste. The money spent does line up directly with the amount of fantastic times I had travelling, so I say that it was all money well-spent.

This math experiment did force me to consider how I travel in the future. Knowing that I spent more money per-day than I thought I would is important information. Next time, I’ll plan more money upfront. more money upfront will give more of a buffer when things go sideways. It will also allow me to stay. Because, well, I’m probably going to stray.

Following this, I’m going to get back to travel. We will talk about the trip, the stops, and the times had along the way.

Now, go. Get out there. Have great adventures!