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(2) European Road Trip: the finale

Thursday, November 19, 2009
All good things come to an end, and Getaway's four newest travellers crossed the border from France to Pamplona in the north of Spain for their last hurrah.

Pamplona is the capital of the fiercely independent Navarre province, sharing a 130km border with France. It has a strong Basque tradition which is an important link between Iberia and the rest of the continent.

It has had its share of conflict and the remains of castles and fortified walled towns bear witness to that. But the ancient kingdom has somehow been able to preserve its own government and identity.

Romans, Christians, Muslims and Jews have all left their marks on Navarre and its rich architecture, landscape and folklore are wonderfully diverse.

Ernest Hemingway's descriptions of the running of the bulls in his 1927 novel The Sun Also Rises made Pamplona's Fiesta de San Fermín internationally known. The festival occurs each year from midday on July 6 to midnight on July 14, and is a time of non-stop partying and flowing wine. Attempts to outlaw the bull-running part of the fiesta have failed and it remains an attraction.

While not the patron saint of the city (that honour belongs to San Saturnino) or the region (that belongs to St Francis Xavier), the annual fiesta celebrates San Fermín.

The tradition is said to have come from practicality when, in 1591, residents needed to herd bulls to the fighting arena. At first drovers were used, but others joined the throng to chase them and it continued to grow. The route from Santo Domingo Street, through Plaza Consistorial, Estafeta Street via the dangerous and twisting Mercaderes Street has remained unchanged.

When Pamplona was just another city belonging to the Roman Empire, Fermín was the son of an important resident. He was influenced by San Saturnino, a visiting French bishop, who was spreading Christianity to the locals. Fermín was convinced to go to Toulouse to study and became a bishop. He returned home to continue San Saturnino's work but, upon revisiting France, ran into conflict with local powers-to-be. They tortured and beheaded him and his body remains in the local cathedral.

CJ, Eloise, Gabriel and Courtney divested themselves of their van and wandered around Pamplona to get a feel of what was to come. They were split as to the rights and wrongs of chasing bulls through the town's streets, particularly as there had been a fatality two days before. Gabriel and Courtney decided they still wanted to take part, and decked themselves out in the traditional red and white clothing worn by all the chasers.

After the running it was all a bit of a blur, but at least they can say they have done it. And whether we approve or not, it will be on again next year — and the year after.

Now all safely home in Australia, CJ, Eloise, Gabriel and Courtney have shared individual memories and highlights of their most unusual trip through Europe. They came out the other end friends, which speaks volumes, each a little worldlier and wiser and saving for their next overseas trip.

Location

Pamplona in the north of Spain.

Cost

The Running of the Bulls will be on again between July 6 to 14, 2010.

For further information

Running of the Bulls
Calle Estafeta 57, 4 dcha
Pamplona 31001
Spain
Ph: +34 638 206 664
www.sanfermintravelcentral.com

Visas: Australians travelling to Spain do not require a visa.

Electricity: 230V at 50Hz using European plugs.

Time zone: GMT +2.

Currency: The euro.

International dialling code: +34.

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