Saturday, October 01, 2005

Lourdes to Pamplona via Basque country

St Jean Pied de Port

8am out of Lourdes - won't be using Ibis Hotels for a while if I can help it - they have a lot of chargeable add-ons that they don't advertise up-front and which vary from location to location. Here I got stung by separate charges for pet, parking and wifi access. Their only retort is that "it's policy and we list it at reception" - which is useless for internet booking, where their rules and conditions omit these charges, which together can add 30% or more to your bill.

I had some suggestions for an alternate, albeit more direct route to Pamplona, so I skipped Biarritz and San Sebastian for now. Instead I drove through the Pyrenees via St Jean Pied de Port and then into Spain.

I reached Pamplona just after noon and after parking near the Plaza de Toros, found free wifi access in a small park, and sat down to get bearings and do this update.
Found the home of my friend Joaquin (Jokin’) just in time for lunch. He then took me for a walk into the walled part of Pamplona proper, through the gate used by pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela (about 600km to the west). The city had been “owned” by the army up until the early 20th century, and no building had occurred outside of the original walls.

Within the old part of the city, the restrictions on space had caused apartments to be built and rebuilt or extended upwards. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the first big wave of new construction saw new suburbs arising outside of the old city. We passed the spot where the famous running of the bulls occurs each year. There is a fountain where some overenthusiastic visitors – Australians famously – throw themselves into the crowd as if it were a moshpit. More often than not they just leave bits of tiny brain on the flagstones. Joaquin took me to a restaurant high above this quarter where I had some wonderful Andouille sausage and wild sea-bass. Then we took coffee outdoors near the city walls, looking out across the plain to the Pyrenees.

Did some evening shopping for a home-cooked dinner and scored a large bag of fresh meat for Bondi for free from the local supermarket. Called my host family in Salamanca to introduce myself verbally and to announce my arrival time – discovered that they have no English skills(!!), so luckily Joaquin was able to take over the situation. So, it looks like I will have excellent motivation to develop language skills through my instant immersion in a Spanish household.

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