A detour from my “Best Book Ever” series I’ve got Fiesta on the brain from recently featuring Ernest Hemingway. What comes to mind when I think of Spain? Arid terrain? Majestic forts? The running of the bulls? Pamplona is home to it all. Though visited long ago in 2012, the city has a special magic. With Barcelona being a nation of its own and Seville belonging in part to the Arabic Moors, Pamplona just might be the perfect Spanish city.
Pamplona: Home of the Fiesta
The funny thing about Hemingway co-titling The Sun Also Rises as Fiesta is that the Spanish don’t call the Festival of San Fermin a Fiesta. Feria is actually the world for festival. One can only assume that in utilizing the term fiesta, Hemingway was referencing the giant party he and his friends had there. Don’t worry, we partied too.
I picked Pamplona for the list of Spanish towns we would visit based off my love of the novel. Knowing little about the town other than its feature as home of the running of the bulls, I wasn’t prepared for how much I’d fall in love with the town for its own charms.
Herald of the Basque regions, the Kingdom of Navarre has existed since Roman times. Much traded between warring factions, it was in the 1500s that King Philip II started to fortify the city, redesigning its protective walls. From the city center, you can still wander out to see these labyrinthine constructions designed to protect the citadel at all costs.
Encierro -The Running of the Bulls
With no agenda other than to drink where Hemingway did, we wandered the city in search of adventure. We had just missed the festival of San Fermin, but explored the popular hot spots of the celebration anyway. We visited the start of the encierro, the famed Running of the Bulls, which happens every year during that festival season. How the runners decide sprinting up steep, stone slopes seems like a good idea, I’ll never know. Personally, we opted for the less aggressive run, but got trampled anyway.
Cafe Iruna -Toasting History
Finally, we made it to our trip’s mecca -the Cafe Iruna in the Plaza del Castillo. A key location in The Sun Also Rises, the Cafe Iruna is where the ex-pats gather to eat, drink and party with the locals. It’s where Lady Brett Ashley seduces Pedro Romero, the young bulfighting superstar and everyone, Spanish taverna owners included, fights about it. As far as Spanish cafes go, the Cafe Iruna benefited from its popularity. A sprawling mass, the floor plan would allow for ballroom dancing should you decide you’d like to relive the parties of eras past. With its black and white checked floors, elaborate wood working, and chandeliers galore, Cafe Iruna drips decadence.
We stopped in for a coffee and flan just to say we had dined at the iconic establishment. I ordered a brandy, ready to live like legends, and discovered my palate as a 22 year old wasn’t quite ready to accept it. I quickly ordered some water to dilute the effect. And so, sipping drinks on the patio on a warm night, we ended a perfect day in a perfect Spanish town.