Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Summer Trip - Day 40: London, England

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

I checked into my flight fine except for one strange thing: I forgot to fully check my backpack before I checked in my bag and went through security, so when I put my backpack through x-ray it was flagged and checked out.  The woman who searched my back found a bread-knife that I had been using for peanut butter etc, a small pair of scissors, and a sharp knife (see picture).  She took the first two items but then opened up my actual knife, looked at it, and put it back in my bag.  The French sure are strange.

I flew into London-Stansted airport and got in the evening.  I was going to stay with Zarina in my time in London and I figured I’d take the metro (as I’d assume to be the easiest solution) to her apartment but then found out it was going to be 4 pounds just for one metro ride!! That’s 6 dollars.  In all my travels around Europe I don’t think I’d ever seen a metro cost more than 2 euros (usually it’s closer to 1).  So I took the bus instead. I dropped my stuff off at Zarina’s and then went out and met up with Miraya Berke (another friend in London for a summer-program).  Zarina had a final on Friday so she couldn’t go out.  We went to an American bar, which was a lot of fun.  Even though England technically speaks English… I still have such a hard time understanding strong British accents and it really is refreshing to hear American-English (which, and yes I know I’m biased on this subject, I swear is easier to understand).  The bar scene was fun and I got to meet a bunch of other Berkeley kids through the program Miraya was on. 

Summer Trip - Day 39: Marseille, France

Monday, July 19, 2010

Today Andy and I got driven to Toulon.  Andy only has a few days left of his trip here so his plan was to go to Copenhagen straight from Toulon while I continued to Marseille to try to find my Eurail pass.  It turned out that the trains he needed to take were all full so his plans didn’t work out and he ended up going to Italy instead.  I went to Marseille without buying an actual ticket for the train.  I was hoping that they just wouldn’t check… the conductor(s) checked most of the tickets around me and passed me a few times but for some reason never asked for my ticket (I just pretended to look busy on my computer).  Either way, I think I could have pulled off the: “looking for my Eurail pass and freaking out when I didn’t find it” enough so that I wouldn’t have to actually pay for a ticket.  When I got to Marseille I went to the lost and found, with no luck.  I then went to the Police there to try and fill out a police-report for the loss (in hopes to get reimbursed some from Eurail).  The police were the most unhelpful and when I finally got to talk to someone who spoke basic English, she just said that lost items weren’t the police’s problem and sent me on my way.  At this point I gave up the remote chance that I’d find my Eurail pass again and took a bus to airport (Marseille is a Ryanair hub).  

I bought a flight to London, which was more expensive than I wanted to pay but I have a friend in London to stay with so I figured that’s where I’ll make up the money.  I spent the night in the airport, sleeping maybe 2 hours

Summer Trip - Day 38: Bormes-les-Mimosas, France

Sunday, July 18, 2010

End of the best week of my life: Start of one of the worst ones.

So by now you’ll have realized that our plan to leave after one or two days clearly failed (albeit it was well worth it) and today Andy and I were planning on going to Denmark today on our way out.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find my Eurail pass anywhere.  I looked through my entire bag/stuff about 3 different times.  The only thing I could possibly think of is that I forgot it at the last train station we went to (because that’s the last time I’m sure I had it…) but it still shocks me that I would have done such a thing.  I’m still not 100% sure I left it and that it could possibly be somewhere at the Mcganty’s house (although I have no idea where).  Either way, that clearly ruined our plans.  The Eurail pass has been something I’ve always been so afraid of losing and is clearly the most valuable thing I own (other than the pictures I’ve taken on this trip).  At least I lost it toward the latter part of my trip instead of the beginning.  It put a real damper on my travels though and will probably prohibit me from going to a bunch of places I wanted to.  Fuck me! I don’t usually lose things like this and I’m really pissed that this is the 2nd time this trip I’ve lost something important.  Was the first time in my 6.5 months of travel that I wish I were home and just didn’t have to “deal”.  Anyway, we agreed to stay in France one more day and go to the Marseille train station the next day to see if it could possibly have turned up in the lost and found (doubtful).


That evening we went down to the port for a birthday dinner for Greg, and as part of losing a bet, Dan (the dad) had to stick his head into his bowl of spaghetti bolognese.  

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer Trip - Day 37: Bormes-les-Mimosas, France

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saturday was another day without any plans so we just hung around the house all day being lazy. 
In the evening though, we went out on the water to give another go at wakeboarding.



  
The next day was Greg’s 18th birthday so we played beer pong (well, Baseball) that night and us Americans beat the Britts pretty handedly (no thanks to Andy!).  It’s been really interesting learning the differences between English and American social lives (which are clearly inherently different due to a younger drinking-age).  “Beer Pong” for England is: put one jar/cup of beer at each end of the table and take turns shooting until one makes it.  Then you drink.  They had, surprisingly, never heard of the actual rules of Beer Pong.  Right around midnight we left to go find a bar so Greg could buy his first legal drink and stumbled upon a bar run by an English guy so that, along with the birthday landed us a few free drinks.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Summer Trip - Day 36: Bormes-les-Mimosas, France

Friday, July 16th, 2010

We had the usual relaxing morning today and then in the evening went out on the boats again.  Us kids took the speedboat to go and jump off the same rock from the other day (this time with Andy).  During our 2nd time climbing up the rocks a security guard saw us and told us we needed to leave.  We then met up with the parents (who had taken the sailboat) at one of the islands just off the coast for dinner.  It was a very picturesque dinner right in the bay, with the only access being by boat.




That evening we came back and I fell asleep watching a movie… nothing special.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Summer Trip - Day 35: Bormes-les-Mimosas, France

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Today was a relaxing day for just about everyone.  We didn’t have any plans but in the morning Dan bought a bunch of beebee guns, so we had a series of 2 v 2 battles around their house/yard.  It was definitely fun although I wasn’t very good at all.  Throughout the day we played the usual games: chess, cards… went swimming in their pool… watched more CSI.


At night Greg (their eldest son), Andy and I went out to dinner downtown and then hit up a few bars (not a very exciting scene given that it’s much more of a quiet old-person’s town) but it was a fun night anyway and we had a good time walking back to the house (which included jumping a fence or two).

Summer Trip - Day 34: Bormes-les-Mimosas, France

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010
We had another relaxing morning where I took some time to update my blog, play chess and cards with the kids. 





I then went out with Anya (their youngest daughter), Hamish (her boyfriend who was there for the week) and Dan (the Dad) out intertubing for a bit.  The water was really choppy and it made for a rather bumpy ride and made me sooo sore the next few days.  We then drove the boat over to the property of Carla Bruni’s house (that’s the French President’s wife) where there’s a great rock we can climb up and jump off.  Because of the high-profile residents of the property there is security around the area so we had to sneak up the back side of the rocks and then quickly jump off before the security guards saw us.  It was definitely a lot higher than it looks from down below, and is the highest rock I’ve jumped off in my life (probably).

Today is Bastille day (the French equivalent to the 4th of July) so we went down by the harbor for dinner and then took the boat out to watch the fireworks.  We took the boat to the closest point we were allowed to watch the fireworks from.  They were being shot off about 40 feet away from us and a few exploded right over our head… definitely a fun time.  Us boys then messed around in the water for a bit before heading home for the night. 


Summer Trip - Day 33: Bormes-les-Mimosas, France

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

We had a relaxing morning for breakfast… watched an episode or two of CSI (which was the TV show of the week) and then took the boats out for a bit.  The Mcganty’s have two boats: a small speedboat and then a larger sailboat.  We took both of them out in the afternoon on our way to lunch down the coast.  We went wakeboarding in the speedboat on the way there.  This was my first time ever wakeboarding (I’ve skied before, but never tried wakeboarding) so I had a bit of trouble getting up at first but eventually got it.

The lunch was really cool (before I continue, let me say that ALL of the food during our stay here was absolutely amazing.  From home-cooked meals to any time we went out it was such good food and a really great thing for the Mcganty’s to treat us to) because we had to anchor the boats in the bay near the restaurant and then swim to shore.  After lunch we hung out on the beach playing sports and messing around.  The Britts made us play rugby so we taught them a bit of American football.  We then busted out the Tarazan-swing off of their boat and messed around for a bit before sailing back home.



That night we played minigolf, which was fun.  Afterward we didn’t do all that much but it was definitely a welcomed change-of-pace to just relax and watch tv.  Between warm weather, good food, playing cards, wakeboarding… what else is summer supposed to be about? J




Summer Trip - Day 32: Spain to France

Monday, July 12th, 2010


Today we took a series of trains from Madrid all the way to Toulon… we didn’t have reservations so to ensure we’d get there by the evening we had to wake up pretty early and take the 8am train out of Madrid.  Some people were still partying in the streets but either way: I felt connected to everyone in Spain that day.  Everyone in the country had just witnessed history and we were now all a part of something that will be written about for years to come.  As part of the best week of my life (which I definitely have no reservation in saying) I had checked off two things on my life’s to-do list and it felt great.

The trains to Toulon worked out fine and we got picked up by some family friends who my parents knew in Hong Kong.  This family is British (although moving to LA this summer) and they had a house in the south of France right in a small town near the ocean.  The last time I had met the family was in 1998 so definitely too long ago to actually have memories of them.  The original plan was to stay a night or two at their place and then make our way up to Scandinavia.  When we got back to their house, 3 of their 4 kids were there this summer but one of them (Kyle) had two friends in town so it was a pretty full house.  Our first night was just dinner and hanging out relaxing.

The View From Their House

Summer Trip - Day 31: Madrid, Spain

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

Andy and I took the AVE (Spain’s high-speed train that maxes out at over 300 km/hr) to Madrid.  We got to our hostel, for which we had our own room and bathroom so it made it much more hotel-like but it was still pretty cheap.  We then walked around downtown for a bit and then tried to find public viewing area.  I was originally told that they would set up a screen for the public around Real Madrid’s stadium, so Andy and I got on the Metro and started heading in that direction.  On the metro we met some guys who were clearly doing the same thing as us, but they had heard of another location and given that they were Spanish, Andy and I tagged along with them to try to find the best spot to watch THE GAME.  Well it turned out that both of us were wrong and the huge public-viewing screens were actually set up about 3 blocks away from where we had originally got on the Metro… so we just turned around and went right back. 

This was the 8th time that I had been in a country when they played a World Cup game… and the 64th game of the tournament.  Previously there was always a ton of energy and people celebrating with their flags and horns AFTER the team won.  This time, it was absolutely ridiculous even before the game.  Everywhere around the city people were wearing their red and yellow… people in the subway were blowing horns and cheering for Spain.  The crowds close to the public viewing area were enormous.  They had a screen set up at the bottom of one of the bigger streets in town, but actually set another screen half-way up because of how many people they expected to show up to watch.

Before the game started everyone was giving a variety of “A por ellos”, “Yo soy EspaƱol”, and the Spanish national anthem as loud as they could.  The fire department had set up firetrucks along the side of the crowd and was hosing everyone down to keep them cool (so much fun!).  I ended up making a ton of friends for about 30 seconds each as we put our arms around each other… sing part of a song while jumping up and down a bit.. then move on to the next group.


During the game was all of the same: songs, chants, group gasps, yelling and exclamations… flags waving, griping at every call against Spain and cheering at every call for us.  I’m really glad of my slightly above-average height because it was pretty hard to see the screen over so many people (I don’t know why they didn’t just raise it up another 20 feet) but watching the game for most people was a secondary priority to just being there in the environment.

I shouldn’t have to retell what happened in the game as I should assume anyone who’s read this far in my blog must have some slight interest in the World’s game and the biggest sporting event in history.  However, when Iniesta (sorry Andy, Ramos is still my boy!) scored the goal in the 117th minute for Spain… the crowd absolutely EXPLODED.  I remember 4 years ago for the World Cup Final I hosted a party and whenever a team scored… my friends jumped in the pool and/or just cheered for their team.  This was on a different world.  Unbelievable celebration… if I were a better writer I’d go on and on about how crazy it was… but just know that it was the biggest celebration I’ve been a part of… far exceeding Cal beating Stanford last year and rushing the field.

The only time the cheering died down at all was right before the final whistle, only for everyone to explode back up again. The same thing happened when the Cup was awarded to the team; everyone wanted to see Casillas lifting the cup, and then went right on partying again.  Eventually Andy and I slowly made our way through the crowd toward Madrid’s central plaza.  The party there had already begun with firecrackers being sent off, people climbing the statues, everyone just having the best time ever.  Andy and I eventually made it on top of a newspaper stand to get a better view and party up there.  I’ll keep this story a little short and add some video/pictures for you guys to see.
This was, by the way, consistent for pretty much all of the downtown area… for hours and hours into the night.

Summer Trip - Day 30: Pamplona, Spain

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

Today was my day to run with the bulls.  I got into the course at around 7am and this time gave the camera to Andy to take pictures from outside, as well as the arena (I was stupid for asking him to, because he ended up taking 0 pictures whatsoever… thanks bro).  The build-up to the run today was similar to the day before except that because it was a Saturday, there were more people running.  It was really crowded.  I met some guy from New York (Mark) who I decided to “run with” (I put the previous words in quotations because you can’t really run WITH someone… as soon as the running starts it’s a complete free-for-all.  I picked my place to start the running (kind of toward the middle of the course) and hung out there for a while even after it started; I wanted the bulls to get close to me before I really started running.  The start of the run is indicated by a cannon going off, and as soon as it starts a lot of people start running, but some of those people probably make it to the arena before the bulls do (as I previously stated, that’s lame).  I waited for 30-40 seconds until I knew the bulls were close; you know this by the wave of people running around the last corner at full speed.  When that happened, I ran as fast as I could down the street in an absolute free-for-all.  You end up pushing people to the side as you sprint pass them… jumping over people as they fall down in front of you… it was really an intense experience.  Then all of a sudden as I wasn’t really paying attention to anything but the path in front of me, the herd of bulls ran past.  When the bulls came, anyone who was running toward the middle of the street moved off toward the side, then they kind of close the gap behind the pulls after they pass.  I was one of the people that ran in the middle of the street after the bulls passed us, because there was more space.  After a few seconds of this (the whole thing was happening so quickly) I saw people in front of me turning their heads back, as if to look at something behind us.  Immediately I realized that there were more bulls to come (two of the bulls had gotten separated and were running a bit behind the rest of the group).  I immediately moved to my left and within 2 seconds, the last two bulls ran through the spot I was just.  When they ran past, I pulled a running faux-pas (but something I wanted to do) and touched one of the bulls on the back as it ran by me.



Ironically, after the bulls passed was when it really got crazy; because everyone running wanted to get into the arena before they closed the gates, you sprint to the end as fast as possible so as to not get locked out and, without the bulls to worry about, people were allowed to run wherever they pleased and push people out of the way as much as they wanted.  It was really brutal getting through the people in this latter part of the run and I ended up getting tripped as I jumped over a pile-up of 3-4 people.  I fell down, skidded a bit (cut up my pants), and got right up to keep on running.  As I explained, the very end of the run goes into the bullring.  But the entrance to the arena is much more narrow than the majority of the road, so running in the entrance when the bulls are behind you is very dangerous.  Although all of the bulls had passed me on the run, there were still a few steers that still had to go through so as we neared the entrance to the arena, everyone slowed down and looked behind them to see if the steers were coming… and then when you get to the point of no-return, you sprint as fast as you can into the ring and immediately go to the left or right.

The feelings of exhaustion and accomplishment when I entered the arena were amazing.  As soon as all the bulls were penned away, everyone in the ring, regardless of nationality, was high-fiving each other and were all connected by this crazy experience.  The relief, however, was soon taken away by them releasing the young bulls into the arena to, yet again, run down as many people as possible and give the crowd a little entertainment.  I joined in with most people, running around the arena and testing my own limits of how close I dared to get to the bull.  As evident in actual bull-fighting, the bulls charge at distraction and movement so people quickly realize that huddling up against the outer wall of the arena is a safe-haven and for the most part the bull will ignore people standing against the edge.  My first very close encounter to the animals was when one of them charged in my direction… forcing me to run toward the outer wall and wait for the danger to pass.  The bull, however, stopped right in front of me and turned toward the center of the ring, trying to pick out its next victim.  In the few seconds it waited there, I was able to reach off the wall enough and give it a little tap on its side.  Mission accomplished.  Throughout the course of the 6 bulls each taking their turn in the arena, I was able to run at one looking the opposite direction, touch it, and immediately get out of there as fast as possible.

One of the most thrilling things, however, is when they first let the bulls out from the corral, into the arena.  As soon as the previous bull gets put away, everyone huddles around the entrance to (and I am not kidding here) crouch down in front of the entrance way and let the bull jump over you as it runs into the arena.  On the 4th bull of the morning I got myself into a good position and was in the 2nd row of these people.  We all huddled down (probably forming up to 5 rows of people) and waited for them to open the gate and let the bull out.  One of the scariest sights I’ve had in my life was when they first opened the gate and you saw the young bull in the entrance way.  It only took about a second for the bull to realize which direction to go and it started charging at us.  At this point everyone puts their heads down, but tries to keep their eyes just high enough to see the bull charge at us in one’s periphery.  I had seen this happen plenty of times before, but still prayed that the bull would actually remember to jump over our heads instead of come crashing straight through.  Sure enough, things went as planned and the bull jumped over everyone as it came excitedly into the arena (the bulls are much more dangerous and energetic toward the beginning of their 7-8 minutes in the arena).


After all of that was over Andy and I met up and just walked around a quieter part of town to look for food and take a nap outside.  The grassy park we picked to nap happened to be the location of some strength-events taking place as part of the festival.  We saw a tug-of-war contest as well as a variety of strong-man challenges.

After that we went back to the train station to hang out for a bit before our train back to Barcelona.  On this train we ended up sitting next to a guy who was wearing his Oregon shirt… so we started talking about the Pac-10.  Well this Oregon guy (Ted) was traveling with two girls who went to Oregon and Washington State.  My brother’s going to ASU… there was a USC kid in the same car, and a bit into the train ride someone walked by and gave me a “Go Bears” after seeing my hat… talk about a Pac-10 oriented train-ride.
When we got back to Barcelona, we went over to Francesco’s apartment to pick up our bags again.  We were, of course, still wearing our San Fermin outfits, completely dirty, sweaty and gross from having worn them for the past 48+ hours… as we took the metro and walked around Barca a bit everyone gave us looks and/or commented about San Fermin.  Although I was very happy to shower and change that night, it was still kind of cool having everyone know that you just partook in the Running of the Bulls.  That night Andy and I crashed on the couches of the same hostel before our morning train to Madrid the next day.


Summer Trip - Day 29: Pamplona, Spain

Friday, July 9th, 2010

Andy and I both woke up at the same time to a group of Americans talking about how “Lebron is going to Miami” (funny how that's the one possible line that Andy would immediately jump to attention for).  At around 6am we went to the back-check toward the center of town to leave our stuff as we did the running.

Background on the actual Running of the Bulls: the course is 825 meters long.  It starts at a corral and ends at the Bullfighting arena.  Every day of the festival, at 8am there is a run with 6 bulls and 6 steers.  While the steers are naturally less aggressive than the bulls, they can still easily run you over and/or gore you with their horns.  Every year at the festival around 300 people get injured, but deaths are relatively uncommon.  Fewer than 20 deaths have occurred since it’s been documented, starting in 1924.  I would say that every day about 5-6 people get sent to the hospital with rather serious injuries.  The course is completely closed so the bulls only have one way to go.  The majority of it is closed off by buildings on each side of the street but in plazas and any intersections, fences are erected.  These are the prime viewing areas, as well as an opportunity for the runners to duck under, or climb over the fence if the bulls get too close.  Because the bulls are much faster than any people, you pick where you want to start running.  You’ll pretty much hang out there until the bulls come close (you either see them or see the huge waves of people running your way) and then just take off as fast as you can.  Plenty of people start their run toward the end of the course, and make it to the stadium before the bulls even get there.  When this happens, the locals who are in the stands of the bullfighting ring  boo, throw bottles, fruit and whatever they have at these people because there’s no risk whatsoever if the bulls don’t even pass you; anybody can run 100 meters down a street.

When Andy and I got to the course it was an intense sight.  So many people were drunk and sleep deprived (the worst combination when literally running for one’s life).  People were stretching and tying their shoes… walking the course to see where the best place to start is, taking pictures.  You meet a ton of people walking around… all waiting in anticipation for the rocket to go off, announcing the start of the run.  Throughout the entire event there is a huge police force there making sure everything is under control.  They walk amongst the crowd and pick people who look too drunk, are messing around, have backpacks on, or aren’t properly dressed (you don’t have to wear the traditional outfit to run… but closed-toed shoes are a requirement) and forcing them to leave the course.  I, rather unfortunately, was one of those people forced to leave; about 10 minutes before it started a policeman saw my camera in my hand, which isn’t allowed during the run but I just hadn’t put it in my pocket yet and kicked me out.  I was rather upset about the situation but at least I had the next day.  Because I hadn’t secured any spot along the course to watch the running, I went to a local bar where they were showing it on tv.  Andy stayed to run.




After the run I made my way over to the Bullfighting arena.  When all of the bulls are safely in their pens, they let out 6 younger bulls, one at a time to run around the arena with all the people in it.  These young bulls have their horns padded so they can’t actually pierce you, but they are still a good 7-800 lbs and can easily knock you over.  Most of the people who ran get out of the arena to watch this but a few hundred stay in and try to run away from the bulls as they charge.  The brave ones try to touch it as it’s facing the other way.
I watched this for a bit… it’s really funny yet sadistic how the crowd completely cheers when people get taken out.


After the running, Andy and I had agreed to meet at the bag-check place (which was in one of the more central plazas.  We said we were going to meet at 9am, which was 15 minutes after festivities with the young bulls.  I got there a bit early and waited for Andy.  He hadn’t showed up after 10 minutes… then 20… On this trip Andy had previously yelled at me for being late so I assumed he’d be on time for this.  After half an hour, I figured that was enough time to  use the excuse of: I lost track of time… or there were big crowds… or I got lost.  So at the half-hour mark I ended up getting really scared that something happened and ran to find a police officer to ask them if any American boys had gotten stabbed by a bull or something.  They said no and I should just wait a bit more… I was still unconvinced that Andy wasn’t in the hospital or something (and people say I don’t care about my brother).  I ran back to where we were supposed to meet and Andy showed up 5 minutes later… claiming he had gotten lost for 45 minutes.  I don’t really understand how that’s possible because the entire city takes about 20 minutes to walk across… and the plaza were met at was around a 5 minute walk from the bull ring.  Either way: he’s incompetent.  Eventually we went back to the train station to get online for a bit and take a nap.  After sleeping for a bit Andy and I split up for the afternoon/evening.  I needed a bit of a break from him and found that I’m not nearly as social/outgoing if I’m with other people that I know.  Mainly because I’m not forced to go out and meet other people.
On my own I ended walking around for a few hours, checking out the sights and environment.  I loved how many people were always dancing and having fun.  Men drinking and singing songs… street performers hoping to get a crowd’s attention… it was a great time for everyone.

Andy and I met up again to watch the fireworks at night.  Every night of the San Fermin festival there is a firework show and it is a competition among different people/companies to put on the best show… so it really was a good show every night.




Andy and I tried to sleep out in a park that night but it was just too cold, and we stupidly didn’t bring any sweatshirts or anything so we barely got any sleep out there.  We then went to the bag-check area and tried to get some sleep around there, but it was too loud and didn’t really work out.  Oh well… I’ve gone plenty of nights without sleeping before, and I got a nap or two during the day so I was fine.  The most amazing thing about the night was just how many people were out and partying at 5 in the morning.  The streets were absolutely full with people partying.  There were more people out at 5 in the morning than there are during the day.  It was crazy. 


Friday, July 16, 2010

Summer Trip - Day 28: Pamplona, Spain

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

We got up in the morning and kind of half snuck out of the hostel.  We didn’t really need to though because the employees all knew us by then and without looking us up in their system, would have never known that we didn’t actually have a reservation.  We took our train to Pamplona but slept pretty much the whole way there (which was a good thing ‘cause we weren’t going to get a lot of sleep in the next few days).  Andy and I both only brought small soccer-bags with a water bottle, our wallets, train tickets and some food we bought that day.  No change of clothes or anything.  The train station was really packed with foreigners with Australian being by far the majority nationality (not sure if it’s because they tend to be more outdoorsy and adventurous or because it’s their winter so everyone wants to leave and come to Europe.  Either way, everyone around was pretty much in the same boat (so many Eurail pass travelers) so it wasn’t hard meeting people and making friends.  As soon as we got to the train station we tried to book our train back to Barcelona.  Because we didn’t have a place to stay and didn’t have any stuff with us, the original plan was to only stay for a night and take an evening train back the next day.  Very fortunately (you’ll find out why later) all trains the next day were full so we had to spend an extra day in Pamplona.

We walked into the city from the train station and got our first experience of the festival of San Fermin.  For those of you who know nothing about it, I’ll give you a quick rundown: Pamplona is the city.  San Fermin is the festival celebrated in order to honor Saint Fermin who was born in Pamplona and became a priest of the city a long time ago.  The Day of San Fermin is always July 7th and the festival always surrounds it.  The entire event varies in length from year to year (not sure why), but this year it was 8 days long.  The running of the bulls was originally used as a way to transport bulls from one side of the city to another in the 1300s and over time people started running with them.  Over time (and thanks to Ernst Hemingway) the event became very widely known and a very popular place to visit.  A very few percentage of people who partake in the festival actually run with the bulls; they mostly just party all night long for the entire week.  I am not exaggerating whatsoever.  It was unbelievable how many people were constantly drinking, partying, dancing and having a good time.  All the streets were crowded.  A ton of street performers, bands playing everywhere, it was amazing.  This is best showed with these pictures, but just know that this was just about the entire city, all the time.  With the exception of a few hours in the afternoon for the typical siesta, parties were going on at all hours.  The streets were just as crowded at 5 in the morning as they were at midnight.
As we walked around it was amazing how many people were wearing the typical San Fermin outfits.  I, at first, wasn’t sure if that was something I necessarily was going to buy and wear but the entire city was dressed up.  Taxi drivers, employees at the train station, bartenders, tourists, locals, kids, grandparents… everyone was wearing the: white pants, white shirt, red sash & red bandana around the neck (San Fermin was decapitated in France, which is why they wear the red).  So as soon as we could, Andy and I bought the entire outfits.  At the store we went to, the entire outfit cost 20euros but as we pulled out our wallets to pay, the lady in the store saw USD in Andy’s and my wallet.  She asked to see it and said that she’d take $20 instead of 20 euros.  We gladly accepted.

After we were properly dressed, we just walked around for a while taking in the sights and enjoying the culture of the festival.  I really love the fact that Spaniards love dancing.  It seems like everything they do revolves around it… whenever there was music around (which was all the time) you could find plenty of beautiful Spanish women dancing to it.  After a bit of that we went back to the train station, which had a nice grassy area outside it, to try to get some sleep before the big day.  It was a pretty warm night so sleeping outside on the grass wasn’t much of an issue, but in the middle of the night the wind picked up and we moved to right outside the train station to sleep on the ground there.  

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Summer Trip - Day 27: Barcelona, Spain

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010
Andy and I went to the train station for a while this morning to try to figure out how we were getting to Pamplona.  The entire train station was pretty hectic so it took us a while to get any valuable information.  We did get our train ticket to Pamplona and actually saw some guys who had just gotten back from there.  They were telling stories about the “running”.  Then we went to Francesco’s (my couchsurfing host from when I visited Barcelona over spring break) place to drop off our stuff.  We didn’t want to bring our big backpacks out to Pamplona so we just kept them in Barca for the few days we’d be gone.  We then went to Park Guell.  Because I had been to Barcelona recently and Andy hasn’t been in 10+ years, I asked him to do some research and pick a place or two he really wanted to see.  He picked Park Guell.  Because I had been there recently I knew how to get there… but my brother, in his extensive research, also “knew” how to get there and chose to take us on a different metro line that he swore was close.  Well we ended up getting lost and walking around for about 2 hours before actually getting there (this was the first time Andy had taken initiative in directing us… I wonder why J ). 

We then went out downtown to find the public viewing area to watch the semifinal between Spain and Germany.  People I asked said there would be a big screen at one of the main plazas.  When we got there, there was no public viewing area.  In fact, there was almost nobody watching the game.  We had to walk down three or four streets in order to find a bar that was showing it on a projector.  A fair amount of people showed up for the game but for the SEMIFINALS it was a very poor showing.  Part of the reason is because they’re part of the Basque Country and many people in the area want autonomy from Spain.  We then had a similar night to the one before of: drinking and hanging out at the hostel with friends.

That night Andy and I slept downstairs in the common-room of the hostel on couches.  I guess technically we weren’t supposed to do that but c’est la vie. 

Summer Trip - Day 26: Barcelona, Spain

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Andy and I walked around Barcelona for a bit, eventually making our way to La Rambla.  We then went grocery shopping then back to the hostel to watch the Netherlands/Uruguay game.  We ended up drinking a bunch and hanging out with other kids in the hostel, but never went out.
Andy buying his first legal alcohol


Summer Trip - Day 25: Barcelona, Spain

Monday, July 05, 2010

We had a long day of travel ahead of us so we got up pretty early, had breakfast, then started our journey to Barcelona.  Because we were always traveling on such late notice, we took the slow trains that didn't require a reservation.  At one point one of our 5 trains was cancelled, which would have made it impossible to get down to Barcelona in time.  Luckily (the only good thing that's happened to us in France), a woman at the train station instead gave us 1st class tickets on a higher-speed train to make up for it.  So we got into Barcelona and walked to our hostel.  This one was definitely a lot more fun and we immediately made friends and hung out with the whole crew there.  That night we went out to La Rambla to find a few bars, but it was pretty quiet.  We ended up going to the beach and going swimming.