9 December 2015

Erasmus North Trip - Pamplona, San Fermín and the Importance of Euskera

Like in many other Catholic countries, the 8th of December is a national holiday in Spain. As this year the day fell on a Tuesday, universities shut for the entire weekend for a puente (=bridge) and I used the chance to go on a trip to the North of Spain, which I meant to visit for ages. I decided to go with a trip organised by Erasmus Valencia which was very convenient and included loads of activities.
Our first stop after an exhausting six-hour-trip was Pamplona. Pamplona, or Iruña in Basque, is the capital city of Navarra, a region at the border with France, Aragón and La Rioja. Two fun history facts about Pamplona: first, it was used by the Spanish as a fortress during the wars with France in the 16th century; second, it has been and still is an important point of pilgrimage for Santiago de Campostela as well as other routes.
The town is small but very nice, with a great atmosphere to it: even if it was Saturday, the main streets were very crowded, something that we aren't very used to in Valencia as it's usually quite empty at the weekend.

I usually don't include people in my pictures, but this was what the city centre was all about: a vibrant and Christmassy atmosphere brought by the people of Pamplona themselves. While we were walking we found a big group of people singing traditional Basque songs in order to keep the culture of the region alive. Minority languages and cultures other than the Castilian one were strongly repressed during the Franco years, hence a very long time (from 1939 to 1975), so it's not easy to maintain the traditions today. Unlike the common belief, Basque language (Euskera) isn't spoken only in the Basque Country but also in Northern Navarra. In Pamplona, most writings on the streets (i.e. road signs) are both in Castilian and Euskera. This language is a very interesting and controversial one: it is deemed to be the oldest in Europe and it has no connections to the other European linguistic 'families'. Today, 1 in 10 young Basque people can speak it, with a total of 700,000 speakers in the world, and according to UNESCO it is in danger of disappearing.

After a stop to have pinchos (pincho=a round slice of baguette with food on it, which can be fish, meat, vegetables, cheese and so on), we went on a guided city tour. The guide explained to us the importance of San Fermín in Pamplona: this is a yearly festival from 6 to 14 July in honour of the patron of Navarra including folkloric events like the running of the bulls (a crazy run in front of a group of six bulls). At some point the guide started singing the typical San Fermín song (Pobre de mi = poor me) and people on the street sang along with her which was so cool!
 Here's the monument of the city representing the running of the bulls. 
I took a picture of these houses just because they are so different from the ones I took in Barcelona or Valencia; however, I noticed that like in Barcelona people hang political or just patriotic flags of their own region like in this case. 
This funny cow is a symbol of Kukuxumusu (=flea kiss in Basque), a Spanish brand of clothing and product design from Pamplona. The guy next to it was posing and making funny faces (not sure if he was meant to promote the brand's clothing? haha!).
We then ended the tour in the main square which looked very pretty and colourful. I couldn't find information about the statue, but I liked it because it reminded me of the one in Madrid in front of the Art Centre Reína Sofía. 

My advice on Pamplona (even if I've only been there for a few hours):
- you only need a day to see it
- it can get very cold in Fall / Winter so bring a cozy scarf, gloves and hat!

Have you been to Pamplona or taken part in San Fermín?


  1. As an American and a literature enthusiast, Pamplona always makes me think of Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" (although I preferred his "For Whom the Bell Tolls," also set in Spain/1930s). I've never actually been there, but we have our own San Fermin Running of the Bulls in New Orleans with Derby Queens on roller skates dressed as bulls whacking the runners with plastic bats.

    1. Yeah, the guide told us that too - I probably didn't mention it subconsciously because I find Hemingway tedious (I know you will hate me for this). However, I might give the books a try.
      That's crazy, I would have never thought another city would re-create the same festival! I've had a look at the New Orleans Running of the Bulls pictures and they look a lot safer than the real running in Pamplona. I think that's such a crazy idea, why should one want to do it? Thumbs down for that.

  2. If Hemingway, try "For Whom the Bell Tolls" over "The Sun Also Rises." Yes, the New Orleans running is safe, unless you drink too much and get hit by a streetcar. And some of those Roller Derby girls can give you a sting!