An Evening at the Bullfights.

The bullfights in Madrid happen throughout the warmer months. Festival season (from around May) sees bullfights every day, where the remainder of the summer they are weekly events.

The Bullfights in Spain are very much a cultural event. Attendance ranges from young couples and family, to the older sections of the population. It can be date night, and escape, or a place for a gathering of old friends.

An evening at the Bullring is a formal affair. The locals dress for the occasion. If you rush back to your hotel and drag the best clothes out of your backpack, as I did, you will find yourself underdressed. Fear not, the local may look at you funny, but they accept you nevertheless.

The Venue.

The Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, known locally as Las Ventas, is located in the northeastern section of Madrid’s city center. Inaugurated in June, 1931, it is the heart of bullfighting in Madrid. A large, open air venue, it has a capacity of almost 24,000 people.

Consuming all of Plaza 1, it’s a purpose built facility. The venue is serviced by both the local bus routes and the metro system. A metro stop at the plaza provides direct access to the Bullring.

The Bullring has a free flowing feel and numerous access points. There is no real need to arrive in advance to get to your seat. People show up continuously, throughout the experience. The venue empties just as effortlessly.

The exterior of the Las Ventas Bullring in Madrid. Brownell. Madrid, May 2019
The exterior of the Las Ventas Bullring, leaving in the evening, after the bullfights. Madrid, circa May, 2019

Getting Your Tickets

There are several different online sites that provide tickets to the various bullfights. The venue also has an online sales portal available.

If you’re in Madrid, I recommend going straight to the box office at the venue. There are different ticket prices and options, and the people at the box office can give you current information. The tickets for the evening I was there ranged from $20.00 to the mid $200.00s. My ticket ended up costing $42.00.

Spanish is the language of the staff, so if you don’t speak Spanish it gets a little more complicated. Don’t let that trouble you though. Getting tickets ends up being the same as getting dinner or anything else. You smile and go slowly, it’ll work itself out.

The Program

My evening’s program consisted of three matadors. Each matador fight three bulls, resulting in nine actual bullfights.

Much like baseball in the US, or Formula 1 in Europe, the bullfights do come with a program. It gives general information and statistics about each matador, and the statistics of each bull. The program is written in Spanish, but can also just be a nice event souvenir.

A General Idea Of What’s Coming

while the initial crowds are taking their seats, the grounds crew set down the caulk lines in the ring floor and finishes general sand grooming.

The evening’s affairs then start with a entrance procession. All of the matadors, horsemen, and extra all come out and are greeted by the crowd in a parade of individuals.

After the entrance procession is complete, everyone takes their places and readies themselves. The first matador Of the evening will stride to the center of the Bullring and present himself to the crowd. The matador’s charismatic showmanship and bravado is greeted by applause from the crowd. When applause are complete, the first bull of the evening is released into the Bullring and the bullfights begin.

With three main matadors and three rounds of bulls to be fought, the bullfights go into the dark of the evening hours. Starting (pretty promptly) at 7pm, my evening at the bullfights concluded about 9:30pm.

Start of the Madrid bullfights. Brownell. May, 2019
The procession of Matadors and auxiliary players at the beginning of the bullfights. Madrid, circa May, 2019

What To Expect

Blood. Blood in the sand is what you should expect. Lots of blood.

After the bull gets run around the ring by the assistant matadors to get its adrenaline up, the bull is then engaged by two armored horsemen who spear the bull with hardwood long-handled spears. Once speared by the horsemen, a series of small spears from the matador are used to really get the bull’s blood flowing. After a sufficient amount of time, the lead matador skewers the bull with a sword sunk hilt-deep into the bull’s neck.

It should be noted that if the matador misses sinking the sword on the first try or produces a shot to the bull causing excessive pain to the animal, it is met by the crowds with rejecting howls and shouts. The crowds aren’t there to see the bull suffer needlessly due to an unprofessional matador.

Sword in place, the bull is allowed to thrash about until the blood loss topples him. Once he is deemed to be no longer able to attack, another man approaches the bull and give it a coup de grace by cutting the animal’s throat.

Once dispatched, a team of horses comes out and drags the dead bull out of the Bullring. A grounds crew comes in next and rakes the sand to cover the blood and make the ring ready for the next fight. Sometimes, the blood cleanup can take time. There can be a lot of blood.

Madrid bullfights. Brownell. May, 2019
The culminating point of the bullfight. The matador and bull square off for a final showdown. Madrid, circa May, 2019

Thoughts

I’ll start this by saying that I don’t have a gentle heart. Wether it’s human, animal, or oak tree, if it needs killing then kill it. However, if it doesn’t, then you should probably just let it be. (You’ll usually just make it mad.)

I understand the draw of the bullfights. It’s the draw of any pugilistic sport. The application of man against an oppositional force. That being said, if you aren’t accustom to the impact of such events, you’ll find it off-putting. I’m comfortable with combative sports, as most westerners are, and still found it to be excessive. After about the 4th bullfight, I was outrightly rooting for the bull.

The structure of the event overwhelmingly tilts the odds in favor of the matador. The bull stands little chance in being the victor. The best it can hope for is to kill the matador before it’s dispatched.

It’s a natural leap for how a society can slowly transition from the spectacle of the bullfights to the wonder of the colosseum. Even the events of the Roman Colosseum started with animal fights. I’m not equalizing the two. I’m just saying that I can see how you could go from one to the next.

The Bullring is a centerpiece of life in Madrid. It is something that, I think, should be experienced to appreciate all that is Madrid. You are going to have difficulty finding a similar experience in today’s society. I say, go do it. But don’t go into it with preconceived ideas. That will do it, and the people of Madrid, an injustice.

Leave your western notions behind, go have an experience like no other. The most important thing about traveling is to be granted the opportunity to form your own opinions based upon actual experiences, not what someone else told you to believe.

Now, go. Go have new experiences. Expand your boundaries.

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The Joys Of Madrid.

Madrid, the capital of Spain, has been one of those places I have wanted to visit for a long time. I’m not sure why it’s hasn’t happened before now. The few times I’ve been to Spain in the past it has always been problematic to add another stop. So when I decided to travel across Europe this summer (2019), it was one of the first places I marked down.

Madrid is a big, vibrant, chaotic city, fully equal to any big-ticket city in Europe. Where the Spanish countryside is sleepy, the capital is awash with people and spectacles. The highlights of the city are many, so you need to decide what you want to do before you head out. Having some sketchy idea of what you want to do will definitely help your planning. It is very easy to stop at a corner bar for a beer and to think about where you want to go next, and spend several hours watching the city crowds come and go. It happened to me in the plazas.

Getting to Madrid.

Getting to Madrid is easy. The international airport hosts all major airlines and is a primary connection point for the country of Spain, and many stops in Europe. It also has a well-connected central rail station that welcomes travels from all over the Iberian peninsula to the city each day.

The rail system around Madrid gets. Crowded with long-haul passengers, so reservations for most trips are a must. Don’t wait to get them the day of your journey, as you probably won’t be able to. This happened to me leaving out. I had grown complacent with the easy rail travel of the Spanish countryside and waited to do my reservation. Needless to say, I didn’t get one. Lesson learned. It didn’t happen on the remainder of the trip. I came into Madrid on rail, and went out on an airplane.

Getting Around the City.

in any European city worth its salt, the word here is Metro.

Catching the metro at the Madrid train station. Circa May, 2019

The metro is the fastest, most reasonably priced way to get around the city. The network is extensive and the trains run on time.

The city also has the usual bus service and taxi industry. They too are prevalent about the city. I tend toward the metro, so I didn’t use these other modes.

Some Highlights From Madrid.

The Palace

The Royal Palace in Madrid, as viewed from the cathedral. Circa May, 2019.
Interior furnishing at the Royal Palace Of Madrid. Circa May, 2019.

The Royal Alcazar Of Madrid was founded in the 9th century. In 1660, it was turned into The Royal Palace.

The Royal Palace is a spectacular structure worthy of the title. It lacks formal grounds, but has an excellent reviewing yard at its main entrance. A remnant Of The Alcazar days, no doubt. The interior is still richly appointed.

The Palace draws large crowds. Look for it’s opening time, the day you choose to visit, and be there early. The line forms before opening. There is also a speed line for those that already have tickets (read bus tours), so they slow your entry as well. Just save the headache and plan accordingly.

The Prado Gallery

From the collection at the Prado Museum. Circa May, 2019

Where there is more than one major gallery in Madrid, the Prado Museum is the one you’re looking for. It is the main Spanish art museum in the country, and houses an outstanding collection. The collection includes, among other things, a real Mona Lisa. (No. They won’t let you take pictures of it.)

Again, the Prado draws large crowds. Plan ahead, be there when the doors open or before.

The bullfights

The Las Ventas Bullring in Madrid, Spain. Circa May, 2019

Many will say that the Las Ventas Bull Ring, in Madrid, is the center of the sport in the country. That statement is hard to argue. I’m not going to say much about it, as the next post will cover it in more detail.

The crypts

The interior of the crypt at the La Almundena Cathedral. Circa May, 2019

Once you realize you’re not getting into the Palace, you turn and take in the massive church behind you. You think, “that must be open, right?” And, it is. And, it’s a good choice.

La Almudena Cathedral is a great and imposing structure. It has a design that masters interior space. The cathedral doesn’t give you a medieval vibe, because it isn’t. The building construction was only started in 1897. This late start gives the cathedral a decidedly modern feel.

Along with the cathedral, the complex also houses a nice museum, and a spectacular crypt under the structure. You enter the crypt from a street-level entrance on the far side of the complex. The crypt is active, and still in-use as a burial place. It is an amazing site to visit. The sculpture of some of the burial placements is simply amazing.

The crypt does get a lot of traffic. Make sure you act appropriately, and be respectful of your surroundings.

The Plaza Mayor

The author having a beer and watching the crowds at Plaza Mayor, in Madrid, Spain. Circa May, 2019

The Plaza Mayor is one of Madrid’s main squares. It is also an excellent place to people watch.

Located in the central city area, the plaza is a huge open area within a warren of twisty streets. The central area is open brickwork, with tightly packed cafes and restaurants ringing three sides. Starting in the later part of the afternoon (say 5pm-ish) stroll in and find a seat where you can see the action. The plaza hosts everything from rock concerts, to outdoor art festivals, to people just gathering to converse. There is always something to see.

The plaza, like any other tourist draw area, can be criticized for being too pricey. It’s true, prices do increase as soon as your feet break the plaza’s threshold. But, the people watching makes up for the price gouging.

Take Time Out For Street Music.

A group of street musicians in Madrid, Spain. Circa May, 2019

I can honestly say that I’ve never really been too big a fan of buskers. I don’t dislike them in any fashion, I just don’t really pay much attention to them. I drop coins to the people jamming in the metro, but the people out on the streets seem to get lost in it all, most of the time.

That being said, Madrid is an excellent place to catch a street performance! The city has lots of little nooks and corner areas that seem to be quiet enough for the musicians to do their thing. There is everything from the standard college-aged kid with a secondhand guitar to five and six piece groups doing classical pieces. The range of music available on the street is fabulous. You should make an effort to seek some of it out while you’re there.

A Shout Out to Our Feathered Friends.

A pigeon enjoying the crowds at Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain. Circa May, 2019

Madrid was the first urban center I came to where there was enough of a population to attract the ever city-savvy pigeon. The fellow pictured here joined me for dinner one night in Plaza Mayor. Something about pigeons always makes me contented. Not sure why?

Thoughts.

world class art, world class architecture, easy access, a deep history, easy to get around, plenty of hotel options, and every kind of food are available in Madrid. Why would you not go? Why did I wait so long to go? You should go. I want to go back! It’s just a great city.

Now, get out there. Go explore a great city!

A Couple Days in Burgos, Spain.

The municipality of Burgos is located in the northeastern section of Spain. Burgos is the capital of the Burgos area, within the autonomous area of Castille, and It holds about 180,000 people.

The town is beautifully situated and has a charm equal with other medieval towns in Europe. In summer, when I was visiting, the weather was wonderful.

Getting There.

The city is located in the northern Basque Country of Spain. As near as I can figure, there are three good ways to get there. The first, and probably the most utilized, would be cars. Get yourself a rental and be on down the highway.

The second would be public transport. The city is serviced by both trains and buses that criss-cross the region. Depending upon time of day and starting destination, you’ll probably need a reservation for your train ride. Spanish rail has multiple runs a day that pass through the city. (I came and left on the train.)

Sitting in the Train Station, waiting on a connection to Madrid. Burgos, Spain, circa May 2019

The bus station is located centrally, on the south side of the river. I don’t know much about the bus schedules, but after talking with several people who came in to town that way it appears that there are also multiple bus times as well. You can check with the region bus transit website for more info.

Your third option, also quite popular, is waking. Burgos is another one of those towns with a prominent spot on the Camino Francis pilgrimage route. As such, it sees a large percentage of travelers enter and exit on foot each year.

The Burgos International Airport opened in 2008. I confess I don’t know much about this option either, but information should be available on the city’s webpage.

Getting Around Town.

The city is really two different cities. Like most all ancient tourist places, there’s is a historic old city and a new urban city. Burgo’s new section wraps itself around the eastern and southern sides predominantly. The old city is very walkable, and quite congested. If you coming to/from the train station on the north east side, a taxi would probably be best.

There was no marked bus system that I noticed, but there was a lot of bus traffic, so there very well may be one. This is also a big enough population where Uber or Lyft would do quite well. As I don’t use either, I don’t have any information to pass on.

Things To Do And See.

Here things become a contrast between the old and the new. The old is very old, and the new is very new.

The southern ramparts of the Burgos Castle. Or fortress, depending on how you look at it. Burgos, Spain, circa May 2019.

The Castillo de Burgos, on the north side of the river, is the medieval town fortress. Though today it’s a ruin, with ongoing archeological excavations still taking place, it’s well worth making the steep uphill climb to the top of the fortress mount overlooking the majority of the town. It offers great views, especially of the cathedral.

The Burgos Cathedral taken from the courtyard proceeding up to the fortress. Burgos, Spain, circa May 2019

The Burgos Cathedral is also on the north side of the Arlanzon River. It cannot be understated that the Burgos Cathedral is the spiritual and tourist center of the medieval city section. Legitimately, it should be called a cathedral complex. The area contains the cathedral, something like 5 other major churches, a couple museums, and a monetary. There isn’t a spot where you can take a photo of the whole cathedral area, even from the towers of the Castillo.

Started in 1221, the cathedral took several hundred years to build. The interior of the cathedral is overwhelming in its grandeur. I had seen a lot of ornate churches before getting to Burgos. I was glad I took the time to visit the cathedral. It is quite extraordinary.

The casket of El CID. Or, so the sign says. On display at the cathedral in Burgos, Spain. Circa May, 2019

It is also utterly overrun with tourists. The heavy load of tourists puts a strain on the otherwise nice church people. Plan ahead and get there early. This will help with the crowds of people somewhat.

A human skull. One of the many exhibits at the Museum of Human Evolution, in Burgos. Circa May, 2019

Where the old is very old, and World Heritage level, the new also has its draw. The Museum Of Human Evolution is a fully engaging and well curated modern museum. Along with all of the standard exhibits one would expect for a museum based on the growth of the human condition, it also covers several of the areas own archeological excavations.

Located on the south side of the Arlanzon River, it sits in a modern building built specifically for housing the museum. It gets lots of traffic, so expect lots of other people.

Thoughts.

with world-class attractions, good hotels, good restaurants, and a very cool vibe, Burgos is worth your time. It gets a lot of tourists, so you need to be prepared for that. Especially, if you’re coming off the tranquility of the Camino.

I’m glad I stopped. You will be too. Now … get out there. Go find cool new places and stuff!

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!

A second short story about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.

My current part of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage ends in Burgos, Spain. I’ve had many grand human encounters along the way. I recommend attempting the trek just for this reason. Talking to people from every conceivable part of the world, and listening to their stories, reaffirms your faith in the human condition. And after all, isn’t that what it’s really all about.

I confess, I’m stopping at this current point due to an extreme apathy. I just don’t know why I’m really doing it or what I thought I was going to get out of it. Even in this short run, I’m absolutely sure that I got more than I thought I would. There’s a truth in walking that you find along the way.

(A half-dozen other pilgrims waiting on a train out of Burgos. Doing a section of the Camino is quite fashionable.)

Now, In all practicality, I made a bunch of miss-steps. I hadn’t planned on the trails being what they were. When the guide books showed nice smooth gravel paths they were being overly kind. There are large section (especially downhill) where the trails is a loose scree of sharp gravel rock more akin to a outback mountain trail. The section of old Román road is particularly daunting! The percentage of paved path is optimistically high, and mainly applies to through-town section. The trail is legit.

I came equipped with a pair of Columbia walking shoes/trekking shoes. These were not the right choice. With the sharp gravel, you want something with a sturdy sole on it. Otherwise, the rocks start to push through, which they did. Also, I literally started to walk the stitching out of them. Tip …. don’t short your footwear!

My next major miss-step was weight. My pack was much too heavy for an extended excursion like the Camino. You definitely want your weight at the absolute minimum. I need to cut my weight by a good 5 pounds or more. That being said, I saw many people suffering along with packs obviously heavier than mine. I wish them Buen Camino!

On this baggage front, there are numerous companies that will transport your bags from town to town. And many pilgrims utilize this service. This seems (to me) missing the point of the Camino. If you want a leisurely walk through the country, there are other numerous options in both Europe and America. That’s just my opinion.

So, I sit at the train station. Sore feet on both sides. Right foot tore up from wearing my Tevas instead of my shoes. Left foot tore up from a blister in the middle of the ball of my foot (which I walked on for several days). My shoulder bones are sore from the pack (not the muscle, the bones), and I am running on low ambition.

Safe to say, I have learned a great deal about what not to do. These lessons were hard won, and won’t be dismissed any time soon.

I don’t think the Camino is done with me yet? I had trouble not putting my pack on and walking this morning. Still, I plan on waiting out any further attempt until I have better feet to carry me.

Lesson. Know when to concede. There is no shame in stopping. There is shame in injuring yourself being stupid. As I have said before; if James had of found a horse, he would have rode it!

Peace. Out.

A couple days into the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage.

Since I came up with the idea of becoming a pilgrim, and maybe finding out something new about myself in the process, the idea of the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage has changed and shifted in my mind. A simple walk across Spain, to potentially learn/experience something new. A chance to . . . Encounter faith. A way to experience new people and points of view. Exercise.

Where I have found every one of those things over the previous days, I have also learned some things about the Camino itself. Trust me when I say, the undertaking isn’t what you think it is.

(The parapet wall behind the cathedral in Pamplona. Tye architecture of the city is still amazing.)

If all you’ve seen about the undertaking has come from YouTube, I can say that’s those portrayals are all pretty accurate. They’re all a little tainted by personal opinion, as is mine, but their accurate enough.

I think the thing that’s most shocking about the whole affair is the lack of actual pilgrims. There are a lot of people walking along a path that is surprisingly well marked and vendor-laden, but I don’t think any of them are out looking for much more than a stamp in a booklet and a bed for the night.

(A realistic picture of the modern pilgrimage.)

To be fair, I’m one of those people. I’m not overflowing with spirituality. I assume this is because I understand too much about people and their motivations. Still, an actual pilgrim, now and again, that would add so much more to the experience.

The initial days under foot have all been ones of decision. The decision: to continue this craziness or stop and go to the beach? Everyday I quit. I’m going no farther. This was a bad idea. And everyday I end up having a conversation with someone I never expected to have which continues my persistence. I still want to quit. Right now. As I type this. But, I’ll get up in the morning and continue on toward Logroño, My pack on my sore shoulders.

(The alter area of Santa Maria, in Los Arcos. A reason, in-and-Of-itself, to walk the path.)

I may have another conversation there that will continue to push me on. I hope I do. That would be great! We’ll all just have to wait and see.

(Your pilgrim’s credential. Your access card to cheap rooms and cheap meals.)

On another note, some logistics. I flew into Pamplona from London, in Iberia. Got the one-way ticket off Expedia for a reasonable price. I stayed at the Hotel Castillo de Javier. Booked it on booking.com. It was centrally located in town, and quite accommodating, though a bit loud.

Since I stated my Camino in Pamplona, I picked up my pilgrim’s credential at the Bishop’s office next to the cathedral. It was either one or two euro. I honestly don’t remember.

More to follow, if my feet hold up.

(I don’t know what the flower is, but their everywhere along the way.)

Buen Camino!

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.