Running of the Bulls

Does being bulldozed by a bull sound like your idea of fun? Do you enjoy Sangria in the eye? What about uncontrolled street revelry? If that’s a yes to all of the above, then you are a first-rate candidate for the annual San Fermin festival, otherwise known as Running of the Bulls.

Held in the picturesque Spanish city of Pamplona, the festival runs from the 6th-14th July and celebrates the life of San Fermin, the first bishop of Pamplona. Over the years, the festival has become wildly popular and attracts visitors from all over the globe. Here’s a rundown of some the things to expect, based on my experience at the 2012 festival:

Opening Ceremony
Town Hall Pamplona
Image by Jultud

On the 6th July at midday, the major will officially open the ceremony with the launch of a rocket from the Town Hall. The crowds will chant, they will hold up their red scarves and everyone will go just that little bit crazier, if that is possible. For in reality, the partying and celebrations kicks off much earlier in the morning.

We arrived at 10:30am and there was already a huge swell in the main square. Within minutes, we had been doused in sangria by boisterous strangers. Within half an hour, I had a cracked egg on my head. Revellers also throw flour at each other. Just before midday the crowd surged as latecomers pushed their way in. Then came the pushing and swaying. As a short individual, this was a very unpleasant and frightening experience!

Tips:

–       Do avoid the main square like the plague if you are at all claustrophobic or uncomfortable in crowds. There are balconies (for a price) or other squares with smaller celebrations.

–       Do not carry or wear anything valuable; not only are their potential pickpockets, you are going to be getting very, very messy.

–       Do consider wearing some cheap sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sangria!

–       Do wear closed-in, comfortable shoes like sneakers. You need to protect your feet.

–       Do dress up and get in the spirit of the festival. That means white clothing, a red scarf around one wrist and another red scarf around your waist.

Bull Runs

Bull Ring Pamplona

The daily Bull Run is undoubtedly the highlight of the festival and could also fall under the ‘drunken antics’ category for many participants. For the locals, the Run is a serious event that requires proper training. To us spectators, it is an absolutely insane undertaking in which people have been killed.

The Bull Run commences at 8am every day, except for the Opening Ceremony Day and covers a distance of approximately 830 metres. The Run only takes between two to three minutes and ends in the Bull Ring. Spectators line the streets, standing behind the wooden barricades. If you’re both up early and lucky enough, you will get a position overlooking the main street where the Run will be happening. Or if you have some cash to spend, you can book a place on a balcony.

We simply bought tickets for the Bull Ring and watched the Run on the large screens. The collective gasps, groans, and laughs of the stadium made the experience hugely enjoyable. The show continues after the bulls run through the ring, as one by one, they are brought back out to flatten and intimidate the (brave/foolish) runners who remained behind.

Tips:

–       Do research the best places to stand or any other run strategies if you choose to do the Bull Run.

–       Do stay down if you get hit by a bull!

–       Do not ever hit or tease the bulls, the locals will soon sort you out!

–       Do make sure you get up early to either get a good position or get to the Bull Ring in time to watch the Run.

–       Do be aware that female runners are frowned upon and may not be allowed to participate.

Drunken antics

Sangria
Image by Ildi Papp

Partying, partying, partying. At its peak during the Opening Ceremony Day, but continuing throughout the festival, you will see a LOT of drunk people partying in the streets. People will be urinating in public. The ground will be covered in rubbish. Drinks will be sold by would-be street vendors for ridiculously cheap prices.

There is no wonder then that drunken antics are very much a part of the festival. Perhaps the most stupid act we witnessed was fountain diving. That’s right, drunken young men climb to the top of the Navarre fountain (which is a feat in itself) and then throw themselves off. The silliest part? They are counting on fellow drunks to catch them at the bottom.

Tips:

–       Do not be stupid and attempt to dive off the fountain.

–       Do buy a pouch to store your sangria/alcohol in. If it survives, it makes for a great souvenir.

–       Do not take drinks from strangers – common sense really.

–       Do relax and go with the flow!

The cheapest way to reach Pamplona from the UK involves catching a flight to Barcelona. From there, there are buses and trains. We decided to hire a car and drive the four and a half hours; unfortunately there were quite a few expensive tolls we hadn’t counted on.

Also be aware that accommodation in Pamplona is booked up in advance as the festival is hugely popular with tourists. Try and book at least four-six months in advance!

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