Following up on my last Travel Tuesday post on my encierro (running with the bulls) experience, I am doing today’s Travel Tuesday post on my San Fermin experience in general. For details and helpful information on the encierro, please see that other post.
San Fermín (or Sanfermines) runs from July 6th – 14th every year in Pamplona, Navarre, Spain. It is most famous for the encierro, or the running of the bulls. There is much history and tradition involved, so I will leave that explanation to the experts here at the official San Fermin web-site.
Our smiles here sum it up: San Fermin was an AWESOME time.
Impromptu parades with brass bands are constantly going around the streets of the old town. We just loved this!
There was plenty of goofing off 🙂
Depending on what city you are coming from, there are different ways of getting to San Fermin. The most efficient seems to be train, but note that trains to/from Pamplona during San Fermin do book up quickly. In my next blog post, I will give more information on booking trains through the Renfe site (which is no picnic).
The most expensive part of not just San Fermin, but our entire trip to Spain were the accommodations in Pamplona. During San Fermin, there are up to 100,000 visitors in the city and only a few thousand rooms. Many residents leave town during the fiesta and rent their rooms (more info can be found on the boards on the official SanFermin web-site). People reserve their hotel rooms up to a year in advance. The local hotels prices sky rocket. People literally sleep and camp in the local parks to save money. The latter was not an option for us because of all our luggage, and since I heard that traffic and parking are pretty inconvenient in Pamplona during San Fermin, we opted to go the hotel route, and stay close to tha action. We booked several months early and were lucky to get a room. If you want to stay close by and have a decent room, try and book as early as you can (up to a year in advance).
Husa Avenida, which I booked through my favorite travel search spider Kayak.com. I generally also rely pretty heavily on TripAdvisor.com, but I didn’t have much of a choice this time because of lack of rooms and needing a halfway-decent priced hotel in the city center. Luckily, the accommodations were great. The staff was friendly, the room clean, the bed comfortable, the breakfast delicious, and the location PERFECT. A very quick and easy walk to anything you need during the fiesta, and just minutes away from the encierro route and Plaze de Toros. Not to mention our room had a really cool wrap around balcony that overlooked Avenida Zaragoza. One thing to remember is that San Fermin is a nonstop, 24/7 party, so throughout the entire night there is music, shouting, and fireworks all around you if you are staying in the city center. But hey, if you have a problem with that, then why’d you come to San Fermin in the first place?
Me pretending to sleep on a bench… behind me you can see others actually sleeping on the grass. There weer people sleeping and napping in grassy areas each day and night. Note my wine stained shirt… party foul!
As I mentioned in my last blog post, there is a “uniform” of San Fermin. You dress in head to toe white, with a red sash (faja) around your waist, and red scarf (pañuelo) around your neck. Believe me, everyone wears this (even the cab driver that got us from the train station). If you do not, you will stick out like a sore thumb. You will not be able to find the right types of scarf and sash prior to the fiesta, so just plan on purchasing them there. Street vendors offer them, as well as 5 and dime stores around Pamplona. I got my set for only 4 Euro total when there. Do not worry about your white clothes getting dirty, because everyone gets dirty. Some REALLY dirty from wine stains from the spray from the crowd during a bull fight. I hear that most people wear their same whites the entire time, and just throw them in the trash at the end of the fiesta (like we did).
My shirt by the end of the fiesta. And this is far from the worst I’d seen during my time there.
As mentioned above, there is a lot of singing and dancing going on in the streets all day and night. This was so much fun. There was one song in particular that when a brass band started playing it, people went wild and all sang together, wherever they were. I wish I learned it prior to going, so I will make sure to know it next time. It is called “La Escalera” or “The Stair.” Here are the lyrics (from SanFermin.com):
“Uno de Enero, dos de Febrero, tres de Marzo, cuatro de Abril, cinco de Mayo, seis de Junio, siete de Julio San Fermin. A Pamplona hemos de ir, con una media, con una media, a Pamplona hemos de ir con una media y un calcetín”
“First of January, second of February, third of March, fourth of April, fifth of May, six of June, seven of July San Fermin. To Pamplona we will go, with tights, with tights. To Pamplona we will go, with a tight and a sock”
The drink of San Fermin is Kalimotxo (Basque) or Calimocho (Spanish). It is about 50/50 red wine and Coca Cola. I know, it sounds nasty, but it is actually not that bad. The cheapest way to do this is to DIY. You will see many groups of people going around with gallon jugs of this mixture during the fiesta.
We did not have the opportunity to attend a bull fight during our visit, but did get a little bit of advice from people we met. Tickets sell out well in advance, so if you wait until the fiesta to get your tickets, you will have to get them from a scalper (they hang out near the arena throughout the day). However, I have heard that if you kind of shop around with the scalpers, you can get a decent price. Face value is also on the ticket, so get them to show you so you can use that to negotiate. Another good reason to see the ticket is to see if it is in the sunny section (“Sol”) or not. Sunny section should be cheaper, so you can use that to negotiate as well (especially since it is freakin’ hot in Pamplona during July). It is also more of a party from what I understand. I have heard that people pass around food and wine, and spray wine up on everyone during parts of the event.
Pamplona is very hot during July, so just be ready for that.
Pamplona is also in the Basque Country. And when I say “country,” I mean it. Many residents of this region have been here, along with their families for generations. Some don’t even consider themselves Spaniards (reminds me of how some Texans consider themselves to be their own country :). Many people speak only Basque, so it may be helpful to know a few key words and phrases out of respect. Visit The Philly Pena site for a quick Basque lesson.
Los Liiiinks (aka More Helpful Links):
SanFermin.com – The official site of the fiesta with program information, and even a calculator for the risk of danger for doing the encierro on a given day.
TripAdvisor’s Pamplona Forum – Great place to read up on lots of advice on visiting Pamplona, how to get there, and of course San Fermin. Also, there are a few destination experts that post regularly should you have a question and need to start a thread of your own.
The Philly Pena – Great advice on the encierro, Sam Fermin, local food recommendations, and the Basque Country from an experienced San Fermin-goer. I especially like his “Day Trips” section that shares advice on day trips away from the fiesta when you just need a break from the party or the heat.
Viva San Fermin! I will be back again someday, that is for sure.