Elements of Pamplona

Since I’ve been here at Pamplona, my experience has sort of splintered into five areas, based on my interests and situation. These are basically the five ‘lives’ I want to lead here, the things I want to explore. Of course, I won’t be fully immersed in any of them if I split up my time, but life is short and I want to taste as many things as possible. 🙂 These are not exactly equal to each other – they vary in terms of my motivation, the time and energy I will put into them, etc, but they’re all things I look forward to experiencing this semester.

1.) The Spanish Experience

Well, I don’t think I could get out of this one if I wanted to – it’s basically my default experience here. And it’s awesome. I’m taking all but one of my classes in Spanish, living with a Spanish woman, and making a few Spanish friends too, so I’m hoping to improve my knowledge of the language and the culture (both with a capital and a lowercase c). I love my province, Navarra, but I’m also very interested in exploring as much as I can of the rest of Spain – I’ve already been to Barcelona, Valencia, and Bilbao, and am going at a bare minimum to Madrid before I leave. Galicia is also on my almost certainly list. I’m also definitely eating as much Spanish food as I can!

Example: Every minute, every day.

2.) The Basque Experience

Yes, Pamplona is most certainly in Spain. But it’s also in Euskal Herria, or, the (greater) Basque Country. Fully half of the people I’ve met who have grown up here speak the language, Euskera, and the political situation is a constantly changing, dynamic thing reflected by graffiti, posters, and protests on the street here. I’m also close enough to Euskadi, or, the (autonomous region of the) Basque Country, that I’m able to explore it as well as I explore Navarra. So far, I’ve visited the three capitals – Bilbao, San Sebastian, and Vittoria – and loved them. With any luck, I’ll rent a car with some friends to head back and see some of the smaller towns. And anyone with a drop of linguistic leaning blood can’t help but be fascinated by Euskera itself.

Example: I signed up for a weekly Euskera course – I couldn’t resist!

3.) The Academic Experience

Yes, it sort of hit me by surprise, too. I may be studying abroad, but I’m still going to need to study – as much or more as I do back home. My classes aren’t just Spanish language, either – I’m studying visual culture, literature and its impact on the modern world, film and literature, linguistics, and the aforementioned Euskera, all in Spanish, with Spanish students. Of course, I can’t claim to love every second of this experience, but it’s a valuable one and fascinating if I let it be. So much of art history, for example, is the same as back home (imagine that) that differences really stand out and shine.

Example: Sitting in a huge classroom and trying to understand abstract lectures about Romanticism, while being unsure whether the processor just said concession, connection, or conception.

4.) The Pyrenean Experience

I love mountains – both for their scenic qualities and the possibilities for fun and exciting activities. Pamplona itself is surrounded by low mountains, and the Pyrenees themselves are just a short trip away. It´s very exciting for a little Missouri girl, and I want to make the most of it!

Example: I plan to go on many of the Club de Montaña excursions, mostly hiking, but this weekend an intense two days of canyon exploration, repelling, etc!

5.) The Erasmus Experience

This one is somewhat controversial among people studying abroad. Some love it and embrace it as a full half of their exchange experience – others feel that mixing too much with the Erasmus students from all over the world will take away from their immersion in the native culture. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about it myself, as I’ve already experienced the craziness and wonder of an international community at Mizzou. I also know that spending time with the Erasmus students means more speaking in English and less practice with my Spanish. But ultimately, I think its an exercise in futility and self-isolation to try to avoid it on principle. Besides, the Erasmus students are my friends, they keep me sane, they’re fun, and, since we’re all (let’s face it) just tourists on speed anyway, its nice to have traveling companions. 🙂

Example: Last night a group of us (from Germany, Portugal, Lithuania, Peru, Austria, Finland, Spain, and Taiwan) had a pancake party together. Not exactly traditionally Spanish… but part of the experience, just the same.

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Vitoria of the Bean Eaters

This weekend, I visited Vitoria (Gasteiz in Euskera), the capital of the Basque Country. Like other parts of the region I’ve visited thus far, Vitoria charmed me with its duality – the medieval alongside the strikingly modern, the way children laugh and play in the fountains as police block off plazas for protests, the way everything has two names – in Spanish, and in Basque. The residents of Vitoria can be called Vitorianos, or Gasteiztarras… or Babazorros, which means Bean Eaters. I like that.

Sea, Sky, and Sculpture in San Sebastian

San Sebastian seems to be famous for a dizzying number of things: blue waters, stunning vistas, a calm beach here, a surfing beach there, amazing seafood, delicious pintxos, an international film festival, lovely sculptures… and from what I could tell from a single day trip, its good reputation is well deserved. (And, it’s only about an hour from Pamplona by bus!)

Ida, Lea, Cynthia and I started the day with a walk around Monte Urgull on the Paseo Nuevo, which during bad weather can be unpassable as the waves leap over the balconies. When we walked it, the surf was calm and delightful, playing on the rocks below. As we came around the mountain, the sculpture “Empty Construction” competed with the lovely bay for our attention. A crescent moon of sandy beach stretched out before us, snuggled into a natural harbour formed by the Isla de Santa Klara and filled with sailboats gliding about.

The view was nice enough from sea level, but we took the funicular up Monte Gueldo to find what might be the theme park with the best view in the world. The sea and the sky seemed perfect mirrors of each other as we stood suspended between the two. Heading back down, we walked a bit farther past the beach to find “The Comb of the Winds”, another lovely sculpture, or set of sculptures, all rusty red in contrast to the deep blues all around them.

We’ll have to return to give the city itself a fair share of our time and interest, as I know it’s filled with incredible cuisine and lovely architecture. Still, on our way back to the bus stop we did happen to wander through the procession for the 31st of August Celebration – it was a loud and flashy parade of cannons, music, and traditional Basque clothing – what luck that we happened to be there to see it!

Stranded in Puente La Reina!

On Allan’s main day in Pamplona, we took an easy day trip to Puente La Reina. Advertising in the station showed a lovely roman bridge there, and google also told us that it was a prime example of a street-based town, with many other lovely buildings. Like Pamplona, Puente la Reina is situated on the Camino de Santiago, and is in fact an important spot on the way, as it is where multiple routes converge to become a single path leading the rest of the way.

The Bridge of Puente la Reina

Getting to Puente la Reina was easy – we paid 2 euros each at the bus station and caught a bus that left at 1:30 and got in just before 2:00. We enjoyed strolling around and photographing the bridge and even walked a short distance on the Camino de Santiago. For a snack we stopped at a little cafe and ate little toasted open faced sandwiches, mine with goat cheese, peppers, and honey, and Allan’s with Serrano ham and fried egg. If you’re careful, you can climb up into one of the bridge’s arches – we went up and sat there for a while, looking down at the sun moving on the water with every stray breeze and trick of the current.

One of Puente la Reina's lovely streets.

The trouble came when we tried to make our way back to Pamplona. We went over to the bus stop, only to find that there was no bus schedule posted! Not worrying, we made our way to the tourist information office, but it had already closed hours ago. We would probably be okay just waiting at the stop until a bus came – we both remembered there being several in the evening – but I really didn’t like the situation.

We went to the cafe and asked them about the bus schedule – they refused to believe that the schedule wasn’t posted in the station (it must have been torn down recently?), but after some discussion produced one for us to look at, which they had quite ready and even laminated. This showed the next bus at 5:30, so we returned to the station to wait, along with a few Germans. At 5:30 a bus came, and we all queued up to board. When the driver asked me where I was going, I answered, “Pamplona.” He got a bit annoyed and told me that the bus didn’t go to Pamplona, it went to San Sebastian!

I got down and told the others that it wasn’t going to Pamplona, but to San Sebastian. Suddenly one of the women started running back along the street – another bus had stopped immediately after the bus to San Sebastian, and behind it – in our confusion we had very nearly missed the correct bus! To our relief, this bus did take us back to Pamplona Station for another 2 euros each.

Watching the sun on the water...

The trip was cheap and fun, and I’m glad we went. Puente la Reina is definitely worth the short trip from Pamplona. Having adapted to some of the perils of big cities, however, I’d forgotten the vulnerability of travelling in lesser-known places – how dependent one becomes on a single piece of paper that can easily be torn down! Looking back, I could have copied down the schedule from the information computer at the station in Pamplona before I left and saved myself all of the trouble.