CAMINO FRANCES – Big Cities (1)

PAMPLONA (Spain)

  • Most of our readers will know that Berto and I walked the Camino Frances in Spain in 2017. It was, to say the least, a life changing experience. So much so, that we went back the following year to complete the Portuguese Camino.
  • We have already written all about this journey (that’s actually how our blog started).
  • As we looked through our photos recently, we realised just how many photos we have of the bigger cities on the Camino. We never really gave much credit to these, because at the time of capturing our Camino, it was all about the walking.

So, let’s do a bit of a throwback to enjoy the beautiful cities on the Camino.

We will start with Pamplona, the capital city of the Chartered Community of Navarre in Spain. This is from where we started our Camino Frances in 2017. We arrived on a Sunday morning at 6:00 in this beautiful city (taking the midnight bus from the Madrid-Barajas Airport). We were without our backpacks and therefore all of our belongings (left behind by the airline at a chaotic Dubai airport) and while waiting for the airline to forward these to us, we had to postpone our hike with one day.

So, what can you do? Well, use the extra day to explore the old city of Pamplona!

Plaza del Castillo

Bandstand in Plaza del Castillo

Since we were staying in the old city, we headed straight to the Plaza del Castillo. It is a lively site of the city that are normally used for hosting large local events. However, when we were there, it was almost deserted … remember, it was very early on a Sunday morning.

Me in the bandstand
Berto in the bandstand
Striking architecture in the square

The Bullring

Pamplona is of course well known for their ‘Running of the Bulls’ event that normally occurs in July. Since we were there at the end of March, we did not see any (live) bulls in the streets – which we were quite happy about – but we did end up at the monument that pays tribute to the iconic annual bull run.

‘Monumento al Encierro’

Pamplona’s bullring is the third largest in the world (after the bullrings of Mexico and Madrid). It was opened in 1922 and now already seats 19,529. As it was a Sunday, the bullring was closed and we could not go inside – so we had to be satisfied with a front view only.

La Plaza de Toros (Bullring)

A clean city

The one thing we immediately noticed in Pamplona was how clean the city was. This made quite an impression on us – the people of Pamplona clearly care about their city.

We also arrived at the beginning of spring in Spain and the flowers in the city were colourful and beautiful (something we also saw regularly during our walk the next 5 weeks).

Old city walls

During our excursions, we found the old city walls of Pamplona. It is 5km around the city and are one of the best-preserved military structures in Spain. The city of Pamplona was founded in 74BC by the Roman military leader Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (or better known simply as Pompey). With Pamplona’s excellent strategic location – close to the French border and the Pyrenees – the city had to be fortified and therefore big walls were built for protection.

Pamplona Cathedral

There are over 90 cathedrals in Spain – we saw many of them during our Camino. It just felt fitting to visit the Pamplona Cathedral at the start of our Camino. This cathedral was built during the 14th and 15th centuries over the remains of a Romanesque church. We could unfortunately not enter the cathedral, but it was great to see this before our pilgrimage started.

Pamplona Cathedral
At the front gate of the Cathedral

Camino signs in Pamplona

Of course, we were also very alert to any Camino signs in the city … and we found plenty!

Pilgrims are always on the lookout for the yellow signs
Yellow arrow and scallop shell on a building
Sign on the pavement for Camino cyclists
A sign and yellow scallop shell points out an albergue (hostel for pilgrims)

If there is one word that any pilgrim should recognise and be able to pronounce in Spanish, it’s ‘Farmacia’ (pharmacy) … because you will surely need plasters and/or pain tablets at some point on the Camino!

A pilgrim’s best friend

Buildings, doors & monuments

While on our walk through the old city, we saw so many interesting little shops … and you know, one can’t walk past a unique door and not take a photo!

Lovely antique shop entrance
How would you open this door?
A covered passageway in the Plaza del Castillo

Before leaving the old city, we noticed a few more interesting buildings and monuments. We were suddenly wondering how many photos we will take in the next 5 weeks … and happy we brought those extra memory cards with us!

Pamplona Town Hall
Monument to the Fueros – 1903 (it’s defined as the ‘symbol of the liberties of Navarre’)

Ernest Hemingway

And I suppose no visit to Pamplona is complete if you have not visited the statue(s) of Ernest Hemingway, the great American author. His novel, ‘The Sun Also Rises’ was published in 1925 and is set in Pamplona. They say, that despite the fact that Hemingway was married four times, it can be argued that Pamplona was his first love. There is a life-size statue of him in Café Iruña, one of his favourite places. We found his statue in the Plaza de Toros in front of the bullring.

Ernest Hemingway

Taconera Gardens

It’s always nice when there are parks and/or green areas where one can escape from the city noises. And Pamplona has many of these. We visited the oldest park, Taconera Gardens whose early designs are from the 17th century. It’s quite a romantic park with its colourful flower gardens, wide pedestrian paths and sculptures.

Taconera Gardens
Taconera Gardens

Our accommodation

For 90% of our stay on the Camino we were sleeping in albergues, hostels that are specifically there for pilgrims. A standard albergue has one or several dormitory rooms with bunk beds, shared ablution facility and a common area … a very interesting experience to say the least.

In Pamplona, we decided to stay in a hostel. Aloha Hostel was a great choice and we shared our dorm with two other ladies (Berto considered himself rather lucky)!

The relaxing area in Aloha Hostel

The very helpful and friendly (Spanish) ladies at Reception dealt with our phone calls from the airline in order to get our backpacks from Madrid Airport. When we received our backpacks after lunch on Monday, we decided it was a good time to get our first taste of Spanish wine (to celebrate)!

A wonderful (last) memory of Pamplona

Before we started our Camino, we wanted to have a real taste of Spanish food. Once again, the friendly reception ladies at our hostel helped us out. They suggested Yoldi Restaurante (and warned us it’s a proper Spanish restaurant where the staff might not speak English).

The menu

This was indeed the case… no English! There were a lot of hand-signing and the making of noises (like that of a chicken to represent an egg) – an evening we thoroughly enjoyed!

Tuna filled peppers
A suggestion from the chef – it was nice (but we still don’t know what it was)

And this is Pamplona – a beautiful and clean city, full of tradition and history. We left Pamplona early on Tuesday morning to start our Camino… but we would love to go back to explore more of this city. If one of you are closer than we are, visit Pamplona soon!

We will soon introduce you to yet another city on the Camino.

You can read about our Camino Frances journey here (Day 1 of 29 days)

60 thoughts on “CAMINO FRANCES – Big Cities (1)

  1. Been to lots of Spanish cities but not this one, which looks and sounds great – but then I have a real affection for Spain and everything Spanish. Of those tapas dishes, is the one on the left “albondigas”? As it happens, we’re just preparing for our dinner guests coming to the house tonight. You’ve prompted to open the first bottle of red…..cheers!

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    1. We’re like you, we love Spain and everything Spanish (cities, food and wine)! I have no idea if that dish is “albondigas” … but googled it and yes, it might just be tapas Spanish meatballs! Thank you for helping us out – now we know what we ate that evening 😉. Enjoy the red wine and your evening with friends – we’re busy making pasta and of course – red is going perfectly with that!

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  2. Beautiful Pamplona. I loved it. Thanks for doing this, you have so many great pictures of the place. That trip in 2017 was life changing for me also. I met some of the most wonderful people that I will never forget. Two of them are named Corna and Berto. Look forward to seeing more.

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    1. Ah, it’s so nice to hear from our fellow Camino friend on this journey – and what an honour to meet you as well! Carl, you know how much this Camino meant to us … you were after all there for almost the whole way! Pamplona has a special place in our hearts, probably because that was our start of the Camino. Don’t miss the next few posts … you might just make a ‘guest appearance’ 😉.

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  3. Ah Corna, Pamplona. It’s always nice to see a place I’ve been to through another blogger’s eyes. Many of your stops reminded me of my own trip, though there were a few bits I didn’t get round to, such as Taconera Gardens. I also ended up at a fantastic tapas bar, though my mine was called Bar Gaucho. It looks very similar to Yoldi. Seeing the Hemingway sights was a dream come true for me. Oh, and that door is brilliant, but I don’t have an answer to your question!

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    1. Leighton, for some reason I just knew you would have already visited Mr Hemingway in Pamplona! And you know how it is, some sites in a new city you go to specifically because you read about them, but others just ‘appear’ along the way – as was the case with us and the Taconera Gardens (otherwise we would have missed it too)! I could probably do a 100 posts about the amazing tapas bars we visited on our hike in Spain 😁. That door … it puzzled me when we walked past it (and still does)!

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    1. I suppose Pamplona is maybe a bit “out of the way” (sorry Pamplona ☺️), but it’s well worth the visit. Maybe the ideal place to stay and then take a drive towards the beautiful Pyrenees … we should remember that! Yes, one would think that Hemingway was the mayor of Pamplona – his name and statues are everywhere! Thanks for your comment Marion, have a nice week!

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  4. Ah…so how do you open that door? How nice Pamplona looks. I confess I only ever knew about the running of the bulls, (which of course I don’t approve of.) Am always fascinated by a place with Roman ruins and it looks, as you so, so clean and well kept. Nice to see you in a photograph too. Look forward to more of your experiences.

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    1. We were looking at that door knob from all sides, but just couldn’t figure it out 😄. I’m with you on the running of the bulls – not really our scene. Oh, those Roman ruins … there’s just an endless variety of these on the Camino (I was in my element)! Ha, I think this is the post with the most photos of me in it … but it soon changed, because I was walking behind! Hope you will enjoy the next few cities as well.

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    1. Oh well, you know Jo … the lost backpacks were just a way of turning our attention to something else (like exploring a new city ☺️). Happy faces you say … those soon changed after walking 20+ kilometers continuously for a couple of days! No, I’m joking, it was a truly wonderful experience!

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    1. Dis baie waar wat jy nou daar noem … die feit dat hierdie geboue nog bewoon word of omskep is in restaurante, ens. Die argitektuur in Europa slaan my altyd dronk – as ons daar kom, is my nek die eerste aand so seer van al in die rondte draai (en hoog kyk) 😄. So mooi soos ons eie land is, is daar ook ‘n ongekende mooi vir my (nie-Europese oog) wanneer ons in Europa kom.

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  5. Wow, Corna Pamplona is ‘n pragtige stad ,met al daardie pragtige ou geboue en al die interessante plekkies! Baie geskiedkundige skoon stad die! Wens ek sal eendag hier kan uitkom! Dit is so ander werelds mooi! Sien daarna uit om van die Camino ook te lees! Dankie vir die nuwe reeks poste!

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    1. Dis so waar Aletta … dis ‘n ander mooi (iets wat ek as Suid-Afrikaner nie ken nie). En daardie geboue wat so oud is – die argitektuur is werklik besonders! En skoon – dis iets wat ons onmiddellik opgeval het (‘n skoon stad of dorp laat altyd ‘n blywende indruk op my). Dankie dat jy kom inloer het, lekker dag 🌞.

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    1. Dit was verstommend om te sien hoeveel foto’s ons van Pamplona het en net nooit gebruik het nie! Daar was soveel mooi op die Camino wat ons nooit gedeel het nie … en ek het net gevoel ons ‘skuld’ dit vir die Camino wat so ‘n groot invloed op ons lewens gehad het (en nog steeds het). Dankie dat jy kom lees het 😊.

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    1. Definitely a great starting point! I’m so glad we got that extra day to just explore this beautiful city – wish we had that luxury with the other cities, but we were there to walk. It was actually quite amazing to experience the difference between being a tourist and a pilgrim! Thank you for reading Tricia, as always, it’s much appreciated 🌸.

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  6. Well done on your hiking adventures, Corna! I know a good few people who have walked Camino and every single one of the claimed that the Camino de Santiago has become a very important experience for them, even changing their lives. I believe that the physical effort is, in some cases, quite a challenge to follow, however it also brings as a result one of the most revealing moments for some pilgrims. Every time you manage to overcome all the impediments you encounter on the Camino you will realize that with effort and perseverance everything can be achieved, a rule that can be applied both on this pilgrimage route and in your daily routine. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. Thank you Aiva! I really appreciate your thoughtful comments. It was such an awesome experience. Many people (who have done the Camino before) told us that the hike will change our lives in some way … and we didn’t thought much about it. We were just in need of a break from our stressed lives. And then … yes, it changed our lives completely! Of course it’s a physical challenge, but mentally it was just on a completely other level! And while walking kilometer after kilometer, we always appreciated the beauty that we were surrounded with – like the beautiful city of Pamplona! Thanks for the read and have lovely day 🌸.

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    1. Indeed a beautiful (and clean) city! It was almost a shame to leave after just 2 days. Yes, the bull running event is not a reason why we would like to go back to Pamplona … but more for their tapas and beautiful architecture!

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      1. You’re right, we arrived just in time to get the last beds available here! My best memory of Logrono … hmm, a bottle of red wine and the amazing company of pilgrim friends from all over the world 😄.

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  7. I would love to walk one of these Caminos. I’m glad you revisited your adventure to give us a teaser of some of the beautiful cities that you passed through on your route. Pamplona looks lovely. How nice to visit early on a Sunday morning when there was no one else around.

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    1. Do it Linda … whenever the opportunity arise, go for it! Although it was bitterly cold (for us South Africans that just came from a hot summer 🌞), it was definitely worth it to explore the main attractions of Pamplona early morning. In the next couple of posts, we have decided to include only one photo of each day’s hike … it will surely give you a quick overview of the Camino!

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    1. I think Pamplona can get very busy – especially in the warmer months. But since it was still early spring (and early on a Sunday morning), we missed the crowds – fortunately 😉. That door with the hand, it was fascinating!

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    1. I think, after the quiet time we experienced in Pamplona, it would have been way too busy for us during the bull festival! I’m so happy you enjoyed the photos – you must have recognised some of the places (though without the crowds) 😁.

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