Hallelujah(Mormon Tabernacle Choir and many others) An Uplifting day in Pamplona,Spain

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March 27th 2016
Published: March 29th 2016
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For once the weather forecasters might have got it wrong.

For nearly three weeks the forecast on Accuweather has been pretty well right but his morning when overcast skies were expected we have bright sunshine and a clear blue sky. Just the thing for some sightseeing around the city of Pamplona known for the ‘Running of the Bulls ‘festival in July each year.

We should have listened to Chris’ suggestion of taking an extension lead with us but we were cramped for space when we packed.

The extension lead would have come in handy to plug the toaster into and enable it to be located next to an open window to be far enough away from the smoke detector when we made our breakfast toast. We don’t want another ‘Cumbernaud’ incident!

We made one slice each and then decided to have the other two pieces of bread as they were with spread on them. They still tasted OK as the French bread has a sweeter taste than the bread we have in NZ and that seemed to compensate for it not being toasted.

Goodness knows how the reception man ‘Jose’ would react if the smoke detectors went off! We just don’t have enough Spanish to cope with that.

Easter Sunday and everything looked well and truly closed in this city of 200,000 people or was it that Spanish people just don’t rise until midday on a weekend.

Whatever was the answer there was so little traffic around that driving to where we found a free car park through the city was a breeze.

The city is very compact and the areas we drove through the buildings for housing were all apartments, not tall, just 6 or 7 levels giving the skyline a nice uniform height.

As we did in Bordeaux we decided to follow the river to hunt our the tourist office to get ourselves a walking tour guide of the older part of the city and take in the sights.

It was now 11.30am and there was virtually no one around and it seemed almost all the local population were still in bed.

Our path following the Arga river took us to the Porto Nuevo (New Gate) which is a bit of a misnomer in a way because this gate to the walled city was constructed in 1571.It was a generous size entry and either the builders knew it would need to accommodate vehicles in both directions eventually from the 20th century or it has been somehow widened without taking away its original appearance.

We had a general idea where the tourism office was from Mr Google and all we needed to do was see a directional sign giving us an idea which way to go.

The bells of the Church of San Lorenzo which contains the Chapel of San Fermin, the patron saint of Pamplona, were ringing out so we went inside to find a mass underway. The congregation and priest leading them sang beautifully which was enhanced by the acoustics and it was a pleasure to sit and listen for a while.

Coming out of the church the bells were still ringing and we suddenly realised that we hadn’t been able to hear the bells inside the church which had made the singing so clear to our ears.

Ahead of us now was a sign directing us to the tourism office and we headed off down Calle Mayor taking us to essentially the centre of the old city.

As we progressed down the lengthy calle the number of people out and about increased so perhaps the city was awaking now that the afternoon had arrived.

Part way along the calle we stopped at a stately house in the mid 18th century baroque style. Plaques gave a description of the history of the occupants and lead us to examine the facade more closely as there was supposed to be the mark of a cannon shell that hit the house in the late 19th century. We could not see it! Always a good story though we suppose.

We reached the tourist office and got a map to take us around the sights in this compact old city.

Right next door to the tourist office is the building from where they fire a gun to start the week of bull running and other activities in July.

Like some other historic buildings we passed on our stroll this one only had the facade from an addition in the 18th century.We guess however it is better to keep something of the original to keep the history visible if the internal parts have to be modernised.

Down the hill towards the city wall and we were at the starting point for the running of the bulls, a mad race through the narrow streets to the bullring, in which locals and tourists try to outrun a number of bulls let loose on the street.

It is a tradition that goes back to the 14th century when the bulls were being transported to market and to hurry them up, men used certain tactics to incite the bulls. What started out as a way of moving their animals more quickly to market has become a world renowned activity during every morning for 8 days at 8am in early July.

It is not a tradition that either of us favours or would want to see actually happen but some traditions in countries other than our own are their affair and one day we hope the tradition just becomes a memory.

Following the city wall in a clockwise direction we came across preparations for an independence march which all looked very orderly, thank goodness.

The northern part of Spain is keen on breaking away from the government in Madrid and for many years there was violence to try and achieve this.Again, thankfully today the path towards getting that independence is a more peaceful journey.

Next was the highlight of the day as we came across the Cathedral of Santa Maria and we joined many other tourists taking a look inside even though a mass was still underway.

The cathedral has a very grand interior and it was interesting to note the differences in the way the side chapels were more adorned in bold, gold colours rather than the rather dour shades in the French churches we had been into.

Our timing was superb because after 10 minutes or so on entering the formally dressed choir sang the Hallelujah Chorus with great gusto accompanied by a magnificent sounding organ.

As the choir came to the end of the song both of us had the same feeling that we should clap loudly after hearing this marvellous performance but was that the appropriate thing to do in a cathedral such as this and at a time of a mass?

Our thoughts were quickly confirmed when everyone in the audience clapped in appreciation.

A truly remarkable moment on the BBA V3 so far!

Lifted by the singing we carried on our way and again came upon the streets was the bull run takes place although now we were at the end, the bullring.

I had a desire just to take a peek inside although Gretchen wasn’t going to have a bar of that.

As with other places we have been that hold places in history, such as Lords Cricket Ground, the tunnel where Princess Diana died, the site where the Twin Towers once stood, to name just a few, I was curious to see what it actually looked like. But the gates were shut. And anyway there now a need to find a toilet (as one has to every so often)

We hadn’t passed anything with WC on the wall except for a portaloo and an open three person toilet at the place where the demonstration was being organised and that was too far to go back.

We had seen McD’s advertising on bus stops as we came up to the old city from walking near the river. McD’s always have clean toilets and a bite of lunch was also due.

As I was thinking about all this we walked to a street packed full of locals standing outside in the warm sunshine enjoying glasses of beer and wine and eating small pieces of bread with various spreads etc. and other food coming out of the cafes and bars that lined the street as far as one could see.

Gretchen soon has us inside a bar and ordering pinchos from the vast array on display behind glass on the bar. Together with a couple of glasses of beer we sat at a table and watched the locals come and go for their lunchtime tradition. Now this is one tradition that we would be happy to see established back home.

At €10, 60 for our pinchos and 2 beers it was a cheap lunch. And there was a nice clean toilet too!

I think I can forget about having to find a McD’s again while we are in Spain.

We finished off our walk with a call in at the Plaza del Castillo, this is a huge expanse and today filled with families out enjoying the sun.

Buying an ice cream it was time to sit on one of the many benches and watch the locals go about their day off, many of them with young children in tow.

Among the people crossing the square were the occasional couples with walking sticks and packs on their backs sticking to the Camino plaques that will lead them eventually to Santiago do Compostelo.

We had sat on a bench where a young couple had their toddler, probably about 2 years old, with them.

At the sight of my ice cream he started to perform and eventually his mother gave in and took him away to choose a flavour for himself. They came back with the boy holding desperately to an ice cream that appeared would topple off the cone at any moment. He was still clearly in the phase of learning just what it takes to hold and lick an ice cream at the same time!

Thankfully, in one way, they were joined by another couple and their children and moved to another bench where there was room for all of them. I wasn’t going to have to see that ice cream fall onto the ground as the young boy lost control, if that happened!

It had been a very enjoyable day walking around a city with its own personal history such as the Bull Run.

Before we finished and headed home we took a quick look inside the citadel which was deserted almost of people except for two men finishing off a display of some kind and an amorous couple on a bench in the distance who had clearly chosen a more private place other than the square to continue their courtship.

The only police presence we saw today was outside the police headquarters where there were a number of officers on patrol or standing around. Perhaps they were there to protect the police station in case the independence parade got out of hand.

We never did actually see the parade which must have happened off our walking path although we did a number of the participants in the square easily identifiable by their light green bandanas worn around their neck. All friendly looking mostly middle aged locals looking to be no threat to anyone.

We took a slightly different track back to our car hoping that perhaps we might come across a 7/11 store and pick up a salad for dinner tonight even though ‘the greasy spoon ‘cafe at the truck stop had produced a delicious cheap meal for us last night.

Surely amongst the lines of apartment buildings there must be something open.

Sadly there wasn’t and we were scratching our heads what to do.

In the car and following Gina’s directions to get home we spotted a Carrefour Express in a petrol station and we took a quick diversion that paid dividends with a fulsome salad with lots of additives, mayonnaise and some chicken for €2.95,a bargain dinner that was enough for the two of us!

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