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Pamplona is known for the running of the bulls from July 6 to July 14 each year. It is a crazy time. And an expensive time. When we were planning this vacation, we knew we were going to go to Pamplona, Brian had gone to University there for a short while, and he wanted to go back and see the “old stomping grounds”. I wanted to stomp with him . When in the planning stages, we thought about being there for the running, we thought about being there with 2 teenaged boys, we thought about it for about a nano-second. Nope…not going to happen. Not this time.
We left Zaragoza about 10ish… Pamplona being only about an hours drive. We had made plans to meet with Brian’s mentor and professor from the University of Navarra at 2:00 so we have plenty of time to get to our hotel, the Tres Reyes. Brian is very excited. Not only getting back to Pamplona after 20 years, BUT staying at the Tres Reyes; the hotel where, when he was feeling particularly celebratory, he would go for dinner. It was his go to place. And now we are staying there. Yahoo!
As we approach the city, his excitement mounts. He’s looking left and right, “I remember that”, “I remember that”.
Me: “OK honey, now help me find our way to the hotel”.
Him: “Oh, I know exactly where it is”
Me: “Then let’s get there then we can remember this and that”
OK…first problem…he never drove there. He only walked. Walking is different from driving. Second problem..in Spain they put the streets names on the sides of the buildings, along with building names and other stuff and damn, they are sometimes hard to find. Third problem: Pamplona is under construction. Every street that we find that is supposed to lead us to our hotel, is blocked off, detoured. We look out the window. We can see the hotel. It’s right there. But how the heck do we get to it? We try street after street thinking we are going to luck into it. I have done round-about to round-about. But all paths lead to roadblocks.
As I reach yet another dead-end, I see a long buses only zone. So what did I do? I turned into a bus and stopped. The hotel is right there, to our right. “Brian” I say, “just run over there and ask them how do I get to their entrance, I’ll wait right here”. So he does, and I do. So here’s another interesting thing about Spain and the culture; busses came and busses went and not one of them honked at me or told me to move my car. They simply stopped behind me, did their business and then went around me. I can tell you when the first one came up the American in me almost pulled out.
Brian returns with instructions. “See that street right there?” he asks.
“Yes, I see it”
“Well we need to go down this street here, then make a left down a little street, then on the first round-about we go and get off on the second exit and that will be that street and that leads right to the front of the hotel” Yeah right…
As I’m hanging one of my many U-turns on this trip, I see a sign. It says “Taxis only” and it leads right to that little street that leads right to the front of the hotel. So what do you think I did? I turned into a taxi and right up to the front of the hotel, just like that.
The Tres Reyes is a very nice hotel set just off the Plaza del Castillo and some beautiful parks, churches and restaurants. Walking distance to most everything. Our original plan was to walk to the University, although in hind sight with the heat I’m pretty sure I would have vetoed that plan anyway; but as it turned out, all of our detours caused us to get to the hotel at about 1:00 – just enough time to get to our rooms, clean up a little, and get to the University. Not even time for lunch, and I’m hungry. And trust me, you don’t like me when I’m hungry. But I’m a good wife, so smile on the face, into the cab and off we go.
I thought Brian was going to jump out of his pants with excitement as we entered the hallowed grounds of the University of Navarra, a private Catholic University. “Wow” he said “It’s changed a lot”. There used to be only one main building and a library, now they had an Art Building, an Engineering building, it was huge. At last Professor Alban d’Entremont arrives. Alban is not Spanish, he’s actually from Canada, but has lived in Pamplona and taught at the University for many years. He later tells us that the student body has grown from 2,500 when Brian went there to over 25,000 students. They are thrilled to see each other. After hugs, introductions and handshakes, thank goodness the first order of business was to go to the cafe and have a coffee, and hamburger. Yeah, Lindy gets to eat!
After a rather interesting hamburger, a couple of fairly unseasoned thin patties on a roll (they had run out of hamburger buns, so they put it on a baguette, not the best way to eat a burger, the burger being round and the baguette being long and skinny – but hey – it’s a University and University students will eat anything); we set off on an interesting tour of the school grounds.
Once the tour was done, Alban, who had taken the rest of the day off, said he was going to show us the town. And show us the town, he did.
While we didn’t want to be involved in watching the running of the bulls, we did want to go to where they ran. So that was stop #1.
As we continued to walk through the city, Alban pointed out many interesting sites and told us the history of some of the buildings.
We end up at the Plaza Del Castillo at the Cafe Iruna, of Ernest Hemingway fame. And also of Brian Baker fame, as apparently they both spent many hours at the Cafe enjoying a beer or two or three as the case may be. As we sit to visit, Trevor and Evan decide to go off to see all the other shops that surround the Plaza. I never knew a boy that likes to shop as much as Evan. Every time we got near a store, he wanted to go in to see what they had. But off they went. We talked. After a bit, Trevor comes back with a big grin. He got himself a Cuban cigar. A real, authentic Cuban cigar. And using his father’s strategic instructions, he negotiated a deal, in Spanglish. Yes, the boy was proud of himself.
Once our tour was done, we returned to the hotel for much needed showers and a few hours of peace and quiet, and cool a/c. We had some time since, as you remember, no one eats before 9:00 and that’s early.
Walking home we had noticed a few restaurants along the way. While I was perfectly happy to eat at the hotel (it was after all Brian’s go to place) they all wanted to strike out to have an adventure. So we set off, headed back to the Plaza looking for good eats. When you are picking a dining spot without any idea where you are going; and when you are 4 people with your own ideas, it is sometimes a challenge to come to an agreement of a place to eat. Granted it’s usually me who voices the objections, but sometimes someone else has an opinion too (smile). Anyway, we passed a few until we saw one that looked promising, everyone could see something they thought was interesting or good on the menu (love that they all have menus posted outside for you to see) so we decide this is the place. I don’t remember the name as we ended up walking out. We were right on the fringe I guess, of them having adequate staff for their customers or not. And I think that most of the other patrons were Americans too, cause here we all were at the early hour of 9:30; and there was one poor guy running his head off trying to serve everyone; but he never even acknowledged us. After we sat there, being ignored for 15 minutes, we thought what the heck…let’s move on. So we upped and left. I don’t know that he missed us, probably not.
We move on down the alley and I see restaurant Baserri, and it is Michelin recommended. Not rated, just recommended. But that’s still a pretty big nut to crack, getting a Michelin recommendation; we look at the menu, looks good, so enter we do. Now this one is pretty empty, only 2 other tables with people, and we’re pretty sure they are also Americans…it’s now 10ish. But we are promptly seated and given menus. Our waitress comes to take our orders; the food is prompt. BUT first of all…what’s with the music? We are hearing some of the most eclectic variety of music coming out of those speakers. da da da segways into dadada…then into the Imperial March from Star Wars, then into some 197o’s motion picture theme…
And wait. Doesn’t a Michelin recommendation have also something to do with the food? And it’s presentation? The Jamon Iberico with Melon is an unattractive pile of ham with huge pieces of melon that the rind hasn’t even been cut off of.
And the bean soup? Well, it looked a bit like Cambell’s Bean with Bacon soup…
now my white asparagus soup…that wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t special either.
Once I noticed the basket of bread was actually just thrown into a metal bowl and we started listening to the music, well, the evening just became a joke feast.
I don’t even remember what we had for our entree, because it was so forgettable. Well, actually I do remember Evan looking at his plate and saying something like “what the heck is this?” and from the photos you can tell we had some fries with our entree…very Michelin like.
We are convinced that this place did one of two things… #1 – they stole the Michelin sign from someone else’s restaurant or #2- they sold the restaurant to someone for lots of $$$ based on the recommendation and the new people have no clue what to do. It was truly a mishmash. And if Michelin goes back, I think the sign goes down. At least I hope it does.
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