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 Story about O’Neill’s Pub, King’s Cross, London.

All week long I’ve been walking around with little smile on my face thanks to last week’s post about drinking beer with the locals of the world. In the search for pictures to go with that post, I came across a picture of O’Neill’s, King’s Cross, London. I love that place!

Now, right now, you’re thinking that this is going to be a blog post about drinking beer, and people and an original place that I somehow embraced in a foreign country? No. Well, not exactly. All of those are true, to a point. Whenever I’m in London, I attempt to make a trip across town to O’Neill’s. I also admit that I have a beer (or two) while I’m there. To be honest, I don’t usually talk much while there. And, to be honest, it’s kinda like most of the corner joints in the city. So, why bother? Well, let me tell you a story.

A photo of O’Neill’s Pub in King’s cross, London. Taken as I wandered back to my hotel from the reception for the London Book Festival, January 2015.

Back in the day, summer of 2004, I was scouting around the internet and looking for things to do that might be considered cool, when I stumbled across a backpacking company out of London that put together trips for the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. (www.backpacker.co.uk Honestly, I don’t know if their still in business or not, but they were an outstanding group to travel with.) A quick shuffle around their website and an international phone later, and I was in, headed for London so I could go do crazy things in Pamplona.

Back in the day, there wasn’t a plethora of website and internet outlets for finding cheap hotels. Today I tend toward booking.com. They work well and give me what I’m looking for. (I’m too old to hostel, and too poor to Five-Star it like everyone you see on the travel shows.) In 2004, I used my handy-dandy Lonely Planet Guide. I used the London City guide, specifically. I still have it. It came with good maps and lots of extra what-not. It was also the best place, most important at the time, to find reasonable hotel options. The guide broke the hotels of the city down by high priced, medium priced, and cheap. (The newest copy of a Lonely Planet Guide that I bought lately didn’t even have a hotel listing section. Another concession to the world of the internet, I guess.) The guide actually only gave you contact information. You had to contact them individually to see if they had rooms, and if the prices quoted were correct. It was a more interesting time to travel.

But, I’m sliding off-topic. After looking around, I ended up finding a nice little hotel up in the King’s Cross section of London, for the week before the bus for the bull runs left. It was my first time to London and I want to see one of the four World-Class cities in Europe. (Incase you’re curious, the four cities are London, Paris, Rome, and Istanbul. That’s not my opinion, it other people’s. Though after seeing three of the four, I think their right.) Like everyone else going to London for the first time, I was shocked by how expensive a city it can be. Take your Visa card, you’re gonna need it. So, in an effort to be as sensible as possible, I ended up in Kings Cross. This area was ( and I believe still is) know internationally as the backpacker’s go-to spot. It was the section hosting most of the hostels and cheap hotels.

I love Kings Cross. It’s what you expect to find, after you’re done looking for museums and galleries. I wandered all over, ending most of my scouting trips at a pub around the corner and down the street from my hotel. Yup, it was O’Neill’s.

At the time of this journey, I was just solidly formulating the characters and landscape for my first novel. I knew it was going to be about vampires, and I knew the vampire the story centered around was going to be female and slightly tomboy-ish. (Who doesn’t like a female protagonist???) As I sat at the outside tables of O’Neill’s drinking my pints of whatever looked pleasing that day, I watched London pass me by and listened to its rhythms. It was there, at O’Neill’s that I decided Sara Anne Grey would be an English girl, and hail from London. It was an excellent choice, as it gave her a further depth of spirit imbued upon her by the city.

I took a lot of notes and pictures sitting outside that pub, drinking and watching the city go by. A picture of the new London Library sitting across the street from old ST Pancras Train Station stayed with my writing materials and kept reminding me that the city, like my character, was both old and new. (I’m pretty sure that the photo is now in a file folder with other stuff from the writing of those books.)

Flash forward to 2015. I had been to London a couple time since 2004, and always enjoyed being back in the city. In January of 2015, I went to London to accept the Grand Prize at the 2014 London Book Festival, for the third Sara Grey novel, Progression. The novel that actually had all the O’Neill’s pub scenes in it. As I walked out the London Library, where that gala was hosted, I walked over and took the above picture of O’Neill’s. The place where it all started.

I didn’t cross the street and go in. It seemed wrong somehow, like it would break the crazy spell I was caught up in. I did, however, go over the next day and have a couple, still being quite full of myself.

This story is told to illustrate the context of the statement forwarding the last post. Travel is about making experiences that you take away with you when you leave. It’s the collection of memories that allow you to have the depth of knowledge necessary to accurately interpret the world around you. Or, that’s my opinion on the matter.

A. I hope you enjoyed me shamelessly wandering down memory lane.

B. I hope that it also gave you some push to want to get out and make your own memories.

C. if you’re in London, head up to Kings Cross and have a pint at O’Neill’s.

I plan on being back in London, in May. I’m just passing through on my way to the continent. (It was the cheapest point to fly to from Texas.) I don’t know if I’m going to have time to get up to King’s Cross, but if I do, I’m headed to O’Neill’s for a pint.

Now, get out there and make your own memories.

Boxes Of Photographs.

This is a follow up post, of sorts. A little while back I wrote a post about travel photos and wrapped philosophic about what happens to them when you return from vacation. This is an adjacent take to that post. A bit more, present day.
Since returning from the middle east, I have found that I need to reestablish the general level of comfort that I am used to. When traveling from an extended period, one of your primary money drains, at least at an adult age, will be what to do with your residence. This was the topic of an early blog post. Some people find it a good idea to keep their homes and rent them, some sell them and plan to find another later. People living in apartments really need to address how to handle their possession, but still have the issue of unburdening themselves from leases.
Having struck a bargain with a friend for rental of his house, I have handled the where-to-live issue. This prompted a languid trudge over to my storage unit (where all my possessions live) to retrieve the most essential items. I needed a bed and a few pans for cooking. I confess that my cooking is minimal, mostly coming from frozen pizzas and microwave burritos, but you never know when you’re going to want some soup or something, plus I can’t exist without a coffee pot. I pulled out my grandmother’s dinning room table, so I could utilize it as a writing table. It’s the right size. And, almost as an afterthought, a grabbed a large plastic tote labeled pictures. It might be nice to have a picture or two on the walls.
I have numerous totes marked either pictures or photo albums, so I wasn’t sure what was in it, when I grabbed it. I simply assumed that there would be something cool. It turned out to be a good thought. The one I grabbed was almost completely travel photos. There was one of me at the pyramids in Giza, and another from Machu Picchu. I found the catacombs of Paris, the Cysteine Chapel, and Stonehenge. Street scenes from Lisbon, and Dublin, as well as the gardens of the Louvre. There was even me running with the bulls in Pamplona.
I scattered the pictures over walls, wherever a nail was left behind, and filled a couple of empty shelves with frames. As I walk around now, I find that the pictures have two profound effects. The first one is that they make me happy. Sometimes, I sit and just look at the ones from Pamplona and remember the crazy 24-hour street party that is the Festival. Other times, when I am having a bit of writer’s block, I look over at the picture of the Eiffel Tower. It was taken from the park in mid-summer, and really is Paris. Second, and much more real, they make me want to travel. I have places to see, and parts of the map that I haven’t been to. These pictures remind me not to rest too long. Life isn’t lived at a writing table, not even a nice one like grandmas. Life is lived out in the world. It’s a good thing that there is already something in the works for next summer, or the pictures would give me the itch to do something foolish. They can be powerful motivation.
The pictures also have one final power. They remind me of the people that I’ve met along the way. Random people that cross your path and give you something to keep. I spend half of my trip through Egypt partying with this group of Australians. I have completely lost touch with them over the years, but the memory of joking and drinking the night away as we waited for the sun rise over the Nile is permanently locked in my memory. (The pictures of the sunrise did not capture the majesty of the event.)
I guess the question wrapped up in all of this, if there is one, is what do you do with your travel pictures? Do you print them out and display them? Are they topics of conversation when people come to visit? Do they motivate you to travel more? Do they remind you of how good things are on the rainy slow days? I find my travel pictures do all of those things. I would suggest that you print out a few and scatter them about. So many people live in computers any more, that I think we all forget that we also live on the planet. And the planet has a lot of awesome history, and cool people in it. That’s just my two cents.
As a side note, my pictures aren’t super fancy or anything. I’m not a professional photographer, and I don’t do a lot of Kodak processing. I print most of my pictures off my printer, using photo paper. It works, and they look like photos. To me, that’s what counts. It’s the image, not the quality of the image. But, that’s just me. You do you.

Now, you get out there and take some pictures. Go make some memories.