Pamplona and Puente la Reina

  • Sept. 22 – Pamplona. Rest day.
  • Sept. 23 – Pamplona to Puente la Reina. 24 km.

Inside the Café Iruña

I spent my rest day in Pamplona wandering the streets, visiting churches, and, most of all, reading The Sun Also Rises. Many of the most important moments in the book occur in the Café Iruña, where I had my dinner Friday night.

The Sun Also Rises was important to me for several years, back when I was only starting to understand what literature can accomplish, and it still seems fresh and powerful to me. The last paragraph of the book is the most heartbreaking two sentences in American literature. (“Yes,” I said. “Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?”) I finished it in the Café Iruña, with the scant remains of a bottle of wine in front of me, and reeled back to my albergue next to the cathedral.

Today, I walked from Pamplona to Puente la Reina. Many of the more dissolute pilgrims were planning to spend today in Pamplona, to take advantage of the second of the two annual festivals of San Fermin – not the famous one, with the running of the bulls, but the local one, where bands play in the streets and everybody drinks to excess.

The most Holy femur of San Fermin

When I arrived in Puente la Reina, I discovered that practically every room in town was booked, for the local version of the same festival. I overpaid for a room outside of town, limped into the old quarter on my blistery feet to find dinner, sat at a table in the street for half an hour without getting anyone’s attention before realizing that the place was being run by one desperately overworked woman who was single-handedly dealing with the festival crowd, and gave up. I limped back to my hotel and then realized I’d left my blue fleece hanging on the back of my chair at the restaurant.

So I limped back again.

When I got there, the street had been barricaded off with a six-foot-tall wooden gate. As I watched, a crowd of young men rushed toward the gate, followed by a few black bulls. Everybody scrambled up onto the gate unhurt, and the bulls turned and trotted alertly back the way they’d come. My blue fleece was in a restaurant on the other side of that gate. When the bulls had disappeared around a corner, I climbed over the barricade.

Some of the young men tried to explain that the street was closed, but I waved them off. A couple of older guys, who were enjoying the action from behind two sheets of plywood they’d erected on the curb, saw what I was up to and helped me hammer on the door of the restaurant where I’d been sitting, yelling for them to open up, and keeping a weather eye out for the return of the bulls. They told me that I was welcome to join them behind the plywood, if necessary, which I thought was swell of them. The restaurant opened the door for me before the bulls returned.

They returned my fleece and then they fed me a nice meal. The restaurant was dark and calm. Once in a while there would be yelling and the pounding of hooves in the street outside, but on the whole it was quite genteel.

Tomorrow I’m walking to a town named Estella. I’m ready for anything.

Pilgrim-oriented art at the high point west of Pamplona

An old doorway on the way to Puente la Reina

Bookmark the permalink.


  1. I’m so grateful to that sweet restaurant in Puente la Reina for reopening to feed you. If you can remember the name of the place they might get a little reward from Burien.

    • Actually, they just shut the doors to the street when the commotion started, opened the back door so that the people inside had a way out, and kept serving food. Had I known about the back entrance, I wouldn’t have jumped the barricade.

  2. Nice to see what happens in the biggest festival of a central place in a book you love. What an experience in Pamplona! Think the Pamplominian’s were trying to warn the “* – American” bulls were coming? Speaking of bull, holy femur in a gilded cage. What? – Embarrassing! dishonest church leaders may have created a mythology surrounding this relic, but that probably makes it valuable. You know that femur would fit through those bars. Where you tempted?

    “Yes.” I said. “Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?”

    [Seriously, given how the story went, – it wouldn’t really have been so pretty, but OK – it is pretty to imagine???] less said allows the mind to find itself in its own poetry
    … the rhythm started before the music…
    … the sun set before it rose…
    … a man is broken before he is healed…
    … the drowning started before the rescue … [Thanks by the way]
    … the ship wrecked before the sailor changed…
    … Jesus Christ died before His resurrection…
    … the Seed died before the promise grew…

    God Bless you in all the ways on your journey, I pray

  3. I was in Pamplona proper for that festival! They called it the “Junior Festival of San Fermin”, or something like that, because the September celebration is geared toward children. There were so many parades, and costumes, and surprising events. No bulls at all, though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *