Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Full Day in Pamplona

Pamplona, of course, is famous for the annual running of the bulls (in July), as depicted in this statue, right around the corner from my hotel.

Located in the autonomous region of Navarra, right next to the Basque region, Pamplona has two official languages -- Spanish and Basque. (In some parts of Navarra, only Basque is spoken; in other parts, only Spanish. Around Pamplona, in the center, both languages are official. Just when I thought that I was doing ok with essential communication in Spanish, I come across a language loaded with Xs, Zs, and Ks. As you can see from this street sign, the languages are not similar. The more interesting feature of this picture is the way marker for the hikers making the pilgrimage along the Camino. I saw hundreds of them today, easily recognized by the scallop shell fastened to their backpacks or other articles they were carrying. I was amazed at how little they seemed to be carrying. It made me wonder whether they were simply sightseeing for the day and had stashed their heavier items in their hostels or whether they could actually travel for several weeks with not a lot more than the clothes on their backs.

I spend the day walking the central part of Pamplona. All morning long, I noticed a helicopter circling the city and wondered why. Then, around noon, I noticed a very heavy police presence around some of the government buildings. Shortly afterwards, it all became clear to me. There was a massive (and very peaceful) demonstration against the current austerity measures being threatened against public workers including teachers in particular. I would guess that there were several thousand marchers in the parade, many of them with their children, including infants in strollers. The need for the police seemed to be limited to traffic control, although several of them were armed  with riot control gear. They gave no expectation of having to need it, and apparently they did not.

An interesting feature of Pamplona is that there are public WiFi zones in many areas of the city, principally the parks and pedestrian malls. As I ate lunch at an outdoor cafe, I was able to browse through the news on my iPhone, thanks to this WiFi. I think that I have about walked my way through the entire city (some streets several times over), so tomorrow I will take it fairly easy until I meet up with the rest of the group in the early afternoon when we will shuttle over to Roncesvalles, where we will begin our cycling trip.  I'm ready!
Pamplona City Hall

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Madrid to Pamplona

I am writing today’s installment on the train from Madrid to Pamplona. It is proving to be a very pleasant way to travel and take in the scenery, which is reminiscent of Eastern Washington. It is very dry and sparsely populated almost from the moment we left Madrid.

After finishing yesterday’s journal entry, I purchased a two day city tour bus pass (senior discount!) and rode around Madrid getting a bird’s eye view. I then walked until I was tired enough to call it a day.

I managed to stay awake until around nine, and then retired. To my surprise, I awoke at 2 am feeling fully refreshed. I force myself to stay in bed, and the next thing that I knew, it was 9 am. Much better. I think that I am now on Spanish time.

After a good breakfast, I resumed my bus tour. I hopped off at the Plaza Mayor and happened upon the Mercado de San Miguel. This was a bustling covered market full of vendors of specialty food items intended primarily for on-site consumption. They had everything from  a selection of caviars to exquisite pastries, olives to hams, fresh seafood to pasta. I lunched on fresh gazpacho and a dish I know only as “coquilles St. Jacques” – I don’t know the Spanish name for it. This was very appropriate for my visit, since the symbol of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage is the scallop shell.

After this respite, I resumed my travels by foot, making it back to the Palacio Real where a formal military parade (which I had seen from the bus) was still underway. There were bands and cavalry, all in dress uniforms. I don’t know the occasion for the celebration, but it was very picturesque. By now it was almost two, so I made my way to the hotel, collected my luggage and took a taxi to the station for my three o’clock train.

As we neared Pamplona, I missed what could have been a great photo. Out the train window, I saw a fit cyclist, traveling with a complete second bicycle on his back. For the rest of the trip I tried to imagine the scenario: Did he always carry a spare? Was he carrying the bike for a companion after a mechanical problem? (Where was the companion?) Was he taking it to a friend who would ride with him?

Next stop: Pamplona.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


We will land in Madrid in one hour and 13 minutes. By design, I took the “long option,” spending Sunday night in Atlanta. I was able to book the trip with far fewer frequent flyer miles doing this, and got a head start on adjusting to the nine hour time difference.

Atlanta has a new international terminal (it has been open less than a month). To get there, I had to take a shuttle bus from the domestic terminal and then go through security. Only then did I find out (1) it would have been quicker and easier to go through security at the domestic terminal and then move through the airport on the train, and (2) many international flights, including mine, still depart from Concourse E in the "old" domestic terminal.  Since I had lots of time to spare, it all made for an interesting exploration. 

Bulletin: We just made landfall over Portugal.

I also got to experience the new flat-bed seats that Delta is installing in its Business Class cabins. They truly do lie flat, although you feel like you are in a cocoon. I think that someone much bigger than I am – either in height or girth – would find them claustrophobic. Nonetheless, I did get some quality sleep. Another helpful feature on both flights so far has been 110 volt outlets at my seat – I have been able to keep my netbook computer plugged in and fully charged.

One minor glitch this morning was waking up and finding only one shoe. The cabin was still dark, and even with the help of a flight attendant with a flashlight, I could not find the missing one. I had visions of having to clear customs wearing my biking shoes which are in my carry on. As she pointed out, however, it could not have gotten off the airplane, and as she predicted, I found it (pushed under the seat) when things got light.

To be continued on terra firma ….

In Madrid

Retrieving my baggage and going through passport control took only a few minutes. I had a pleasant taxi ride to the hotel in beautiful weather. As expected, the room was not ready, so I left my bags at the hotel and started exploring. I soon found myself at the Museo del Prado, which was one of my intended stops anyway,  so I bought a ticket and went in. The Prado is huge and I had no idea where to start, so I headed for the collection of works by Bosch and saw the famous Garden of Earthly Delights. Then I pretty much walked through the rest of the Museum and saw the "masterpieces," which they conveniently highlight for you in the guide brochure. Lots of works by Goya and Rubens. The Museum has excellent signage in English, as well as Spanish.

Then it was back to the hotel where my room was ready. When I made my reservation, they had an interesting promotion -- a room with an iPad for you to use during your stay was about 35Euro cheaper than their standard rate. So I now have an iPad to keep track of for 24 hours. 

Time for a little lunch and some more walking before calling it a day.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Three Weeks to go

I leave for Spain three weeks from today. I have to overnight in Atlanta, then fly to Madrid where I will spend two days sightseeing before taking the train to Pamplona. There I will have two free days before joining the rest of the group. I received the participant list this week and see that there will be only five riders the first week (four from Ft. Collins, Colorado plus me). We pick up four more the second week (two from Iceland and two from New Jersey).
Hasta la vista!