Ernest has a lot to answer for. (November 2012)

Ernest Hemingway is said to have put Pamplona on the map.

The inhabitants of this, usually quiet, medieval town in Navarra certainly seem to think so. There are bars, hotels and monuments in his honor.

Hemingway first visited Pamplona in 1923 and became fascinated with bullfighting and the bull run or ‘Encierro’ at the the San Fermín Festival.

As a result he wrote “The Sun Also Rises’ and the rest is history.

The San Fermín Festival happens annually, from July 6th to 14th, with vast numbers of tourist converging on Pamplona to watch or take part in the action.

The local authorities have had to do a lot to stop the visitors from killing themselves.

Firstly there’s the bull run, which happens every morning at 8am and involves hundreds of people running in front of 6 bulls.

This is expected to have a fair number of casualties and there are appropriate measures in place to limit the injuries, or at least patch up those who don’t run fast enough.

Then there are the casualties that happen as a result of the ‘idiot’ factor.

With the population of Pamplona swelling from 200,000 to over 1 million there’s a shortage of accommodation. This results in every available bit of spare space being occupied with revelers. Now there is a lot of spare space on top of the ramparts of the Citadel, unfortunately there is also a 5 meter drop to the dry moat bed below.

Fences are now put in place during the festival.

There is also a 4 meter high fountain, just outside the Palace of the Marquis of Rozalejo, that the party goers love to climb and subsequently fall off.

This is now dismantled every year.

We were there in December, there were no bulls and very few tourists, so our adventure was much more sedate.

We stayed at a hotel that was a fair distance out of town and caught the local bus into the old city centre.

The old part of Pamplona is an oasis of classically beautiful buildings surrounded by a desert of very average contemporary architecture.

The people of Pamplona seem to be better off than the average Spaniard. The shops are busy, the restaurants full and the people are elegantly dressed, especially the older men in their oversized berets.

There is also disproportionate number of very young children, all being wheeled around in designer prams.

The biggest surprise in Pamplona wasn’t in fact in the city but a 40 minute bus ride south to the small medieval town of Olite.

A highlight of Olite was the Royal Palace, originally built during the 13th and 14th centuries, with construction continuing into the 15th century. This ongoing building has resulted in a haphazard design that gives it a very Disneyesque feel.

It was badly damaged by fire in 1813 but a painstakingly detailed restoration was started in 1937 by Javier and José Yárnoz and finally completed in 1972.

Next door, the Old Palace or Palacio Viejo, now a Parador, is a more sober structure with a fortress like feel.

The streets are narrow and you can get a real feel of what life would have been like in this medieval town. Even the street names give you an idea of the inhabitance. Rúa de la Judería, is where the Jewish community lived and Rúa Tafureía is the gambling street.

However there was no Rúa Toro.

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