We slept in this morning and awoke to foggy weather on the coast. After a few strong cups of coffee we decided–Pamplona? Why not?
The drive was a little over an hour, and before we knew it we were in Pamplona, in the midst of the Fiesta de St. Fermin. We even magically found free street parking close to the city center. Of course our first site was the miniature running of the bulls. It was great fun.
The entire city is dressed in the traditional all white with red scarf tied at the waist and a red neckerchief. In fact, you really stand out if you aren’t (word to the wise and any lazy ill-informed tourists who decide to wake up and go to Pamplona during the Festival of St. Fermin on a whim–wink wink). It was almost lunchtime by the time we arrived in the city, and all of the spectators, residents and tourists alike, were filling streetside cafés.
We walked around towards some of the monuments–the Palacio de Navarra, the Plaza de Castillo, etc., but then found that the real action was on the old, narrow, side streets were the bars were a little more than crowded.
At first it was fun, but then I realized I was hungry, and the line to the bar everywhere was about six drunkards deep. Eek! Everyone was much drunker than I was, and probably had been for a few good hours by 2pm (being that the bulls run at 8am). The sun was high in the sky, it was very hot, and the odors of thousands of drunk people were starting to marinate. I was borderline panicky–where would I find food (as not being able to find food is one of my greatest fears)??? Not even the smell of baking urine (sorry!) would allay my hunger. I had to stay strong. “I’m a traveler. I’m exploring Pamplona (dammit!).”
We walked towards the Cathedral. All of the monuments were closed due to the festival, and as we got closer to the Cathedral it got quieter. Alongside the old church many of the revelers had resorted to street-side siestas (one of my most amusing discoveries so far in Spain–the public siesta–I’d like to think it is my great esteem for human dignity that kept me from photographing these hysterical scenes).
When I had gotten to the point where adrenaline had taken over as energy supplier in place of my usual daily calories, we turned a corner behind the Cathedral and found this lovely café:
Amazing. No house music blaring from inside? No line to the bar? At least one person in sight who is clearly an employee of the institution? Sold! You can’t imagine what a haven this little café became. It’s called El Caballo Blanco. The service was necessarilly brusque, but efficient. They were out of Txakoli by that hour, so I had beer, I’m not sure what kind, but it was cold, and the nice man brought it over to my table, which made it, as far as I’m concerned, akin to ambrosia.
Much to the amusement of the clientele seated nearby (who mostly drank and smoked) we ordered a lot of food–foie gras, jamón ibérico, tomates y avocates, y gazpacho. They all teased us to see if we would eat it all–and we did.
It wasn’t until I got home tonight that I figured out the name of this café by Google-ing “cafe behind cathedral pamplona.” What I found was this timely little piece by on the New York Times. And what do you know? They found the same soothing little spot behind the Cathedral. I double checked by matching up the NY Times and my own photograph of the café exterior. I couldn’t have planned my sojourn in Pamplona better. While I love reading travel guides and planning, I hate feeling bound to an itinerary when traveling (you’ll later find out that although I read the Pudlo guide to the South of France cover to cover not once, but twice, I only visited two of the restaurants it lists in my two weeks in the country). I’d rather just walk and enjoy what’s in front of me. So discovering El Caballo Blanco was a happy coincidence. We returned to rain in Hondarribia tired, happy, and with an appetite for a late Spanish dinner.
Goodbye sunny Pamplona
Hello rainy Hondarribia