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South Africa Travel Tips

King of the Road

My wife and I loved South Africa and have been meaning to go back ever since. (Unfortunately there are a few other countries we haven’t been to that we’d like to explore before we start repeating places.)

Overall, we didn’t care for Johannesburg much. We met a couple on our safari and they were from “Jo-berg.” They told us no one ever drives with their car windows down as people will just reach through your windows to grab stuff (or worse). We stayed at a B&B and were about to leave for dinner when the proprietor stopped us and told us to take only what is absolutely necessary and leave everything else behind and walk only down the middle of the street (it was a quiet neighborhood). She said go directly to and from dinner and do not wander around. While I’m sure parts of the city are lovely, we didn’t get much of a good impression as even the locals had a “this place is awful but it’s what we call home” attitude. That being said, it is a HUGE city and fascinating to see none-the-less.

Cape Town, on the other hand, we loved. It was friendly. It had great restaurants. It had beautiful scenery. It was fantastic.

Table Mountain is where everyone takes a gondola up to the top and can see to the edges of the earth. While we were there it was closed for renovations so I cannot attest to whether it’s worth it or not.

The V&A Waterfront is where a lot of the restaurants are. We enjoyed strolling around taking in everything from fancy restaurants to street musicians and the general “harbor vibe” the entire area had. A regret is we waited until our last night to go down to see it and we certainly wish we would have discovered it sooner.

I can’t remember where exactly, but someplace in downtown Cape Town my wife and I threw down some beers one night. We generally try to do this one night while on vacation wherever we are. Whether we chug rum swizzles in Bermuda, caipirinhas in Brazil or only God knows what that was in Panama, we try to take in a hearty slice of the local night life. Whatever region it was, it had a number of bars within a couple of blocks. Everyone was out. Everyone was having a good time. Whatever bar we were at had a cover band trying their best and an enormous selection of cider beers. At the end of the night (after crushing some late-night food) we flagged down a taxi and headed back to where we were staying. While all taxis are metered, few meters are regulated; ask your driver ahead of time how much it will take to get you back to your hotel and base part of your decision to enter the car based on that.

We stayed at Atlantic View while in Cape Town and it was up in the hills towards Table Mountain. Below us, near the waterfront, was a lesser-known restaurant district (Camps Bay, I think). Most restaurants faced the water and we had our pick of places to dine while we watched the sun set over the ocean. My wife and I were just reminiscing about this trip and we truly enjoyed strolling along picking out a restaurant. Since it was their winter, there was a chilly breeze off the ocean, but nothing a fleece couldn’t fix.

Atlantic View, as I’m sure most places do, offer up a host of tourist options. Two we chose were visiting Cheetah Outreach and Wildlife Trust, where one of the perks is getting to pet a cheetah. It’s pretty quick and simple but also damn cool. We were the first to arrive so we got our tickets and were then the first to be allowed in to do some giant cat petting. Everyone arriving after us had to sit and watch us. It was nice to be first for a couple of reasons. One is that it was slightly “more special” because we were the first of the day. Being the 25th person to do such a thing wouldn’t have been so cool. The second reason it was cool is we were in, out and on our way to the next thing. We didn’t have to stand in line for a half-an-hour while fifteen people in front of us all had a couple of minutes each to pet a cheetah. I could see waiting around watching others pet the cheetah getting old quickly.

The second thing we did was the obligatory wine tour. We visited two or three vineyards and each rolled out the red carpet for us. (It may have been a honeymoon thing or it may have been standard operating procedure.) I’m sure you’ve done a wine tasting before (or at least something similar), but what I can most certainly advise is to be cautious when ordering delicious, delicious wine to send home. Make sure the vineyard has a distributer in your home country. If they don’t you’ll have to pay all sorts of taxes and tariffs, and you’ll have to find someone to be a licensed importer for you. Everyone I called in Chicago only wanted to deal with me if was importing 6,000 cases of wine, not six bottles. Of the two vineyards we ordered from, one had a US distributer and the other didn’t. The vineyard who didn’t was kind enough to refund our credit card when we told them it wasn’t working out for us.

If time permits, I strongly, strongly recommend a safari while in South Africa. The self-driving tour through Kruger National Park can work out in a pinch, but it is so much better if you can go enjoy a private game reserve. Two nights/three days would be a minimum. We went with Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve and their property butts up against Kruger National Park. (Well, sort of. Their property sits along the Sand River and directly across is Kruger.) Kruger is a five-hour drive on a national highway from Johannesburg. Our game reserve had its own private air strip and flights leave daily from the Jo-berg airport. It’s a twelve-passenger plane and can get you there in about an hour. The plane stops at a few other game reserves and a highlight, for me at least, is one of the airstrips was gravel. Taking off and landing on rocks makes me appreciate the fancy concrete runways so much more. Safaris vary in price, quality and, experience. The car ride through Kruger will probably offer you a glimpse of animals in “the wild”, but a private game reserve is a far better experience. (Obviously you get what you pay for. Sabi Sabi isn’t cheap, but I cannot recommend it enough.)

We went to South Africa in early-August, which is their winter. It’s the best time to go on a safari because the grass isn’t as long and there are less watering holes so the animals all congregate at the same few. Dress in layers because, near Kruger, the temperature was 0F at sunrise but 70F by mid-day. Near the ocean there is much more of a narrow range of temperatures so a long-sleeved shirt was fine during the day and a fleece worked at night. Everyone we encountered spoke English (although some with a heavy accent) so language wasn’t an issue for us.

While we were in the region we also explored Namibia, which is the least populated country in the world. If you have time, I’d say one reason to go is to see the stars. We drove to Sossusvlei and spent a couple of nights at the Sossus Dune Lodge. Because the desert is so dry and Sossusvlei is so remote, there was no light pollution. At all. The stars were amazing. While in southern Africa, if you’ve got the time, I’d recommend exploring the option of visiting Namibia, and specifically the Sossusvlei region. The adventure to and from was almost as good as sitting under the stars in the middle of the pitch-black desert. (You can read more at my page with Namibia Travel Tips.)

We truly loved our South African experience from the uber-populated Johannesburg to sitting by ourselves watching the sun set behind the sand dunes in Namibia, the world’s least populated country. No matter when you go, you’ll have a wonderful, wonderful time, whether you follow in our exact footsteps or create your own.

And send home postcards. Everybody loves getting postcards.

 

0811. (3822) http://www.kjkettner.com/?p=6735

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Namibia and its Sand Dunes

Namibia and its Sand Dunes

My wife and I went to Namibia in August of 2011 as part of our honeymoon. While taking a break from the planning of our wedding, I was reading a magazine that had images of crazy-high sand dunes on the cover. My wife and I literally said “Let’s go there!”

So we did.

We booked the trip entirely on our own, so we didn’t go through any tours or travel companies.

After landing in Windhoek, Namibia‘s tiny little airport, it wasn’t difficult to find the rental car counter. After checking in for our reservation my wife and I were taken outside and given a COMPLETE tour of the vehicle. We requested a 4×4 through a few different companies, but no one had any. We had to settle for a standard truck and just hope for the best. The rental agent went over every tiny detail about our truck like a father was letting his sixteen year-old kid take the car for the first time. I would later understand the rental agent’s thoroughness.

About 70% of the roads in Namibia are unpaved, and that 30% paved is pretty much downtown Windhoek. Namibia one of the least densely populated countries on earth, so there really isn’t any money or need for the government to get paving.

On our travels from Windhoek to the village of Sossusvlei in Namib Naukluft Park it would be about a five hour drive, four of which were on rough gravel roads. At times, my wife and I would drive for what seemed like an hour before we passed another vehicle going the opposite direction. The solitude was comical as it was terrifying. After 45-minutes or so my wife and I would start laughing about how ridiculous the road conditions were, then a few minutes later get back into our “okay, done with this” attitude. The fun went away for good when we cut a tire and had to pull over on the side of the road to change it. We were just beyond halfway in our journey, and although we had a full-sized spare, it was our only spare. Any trouble beyond that would mean we’re up Shit Creek without paddles. Our rental agency had an emergency phone number, but not surprisingly neither of our phones worked in the remote desert that is nearly all of Namibia. Furthermore, in the period of time leading up to our flat, it had probably been close to an hour since we saw our last vehicle, and it would be another 45 minutes to an hour of driving before we would see another one. Add in twenty minutes to change a tire and you have the idea of the remote and scariness of it all.

After finally reaching our destination, the Namib Naukluft Park, we gladly ditched our car and went straight for the bar. We stayed inside the park gates at the Sossus Dune Lodge which is an all-inclusive resort, and that was good because that last thing my wife and I needed to do was go out and look for a dinner option at this point. Additionally, we were staying inside the park’s gates, which close at sunset. Obviously we couldn’t go far if we couldn’t get out or, once out, back inside.

Staying inside the park was a wonderful advantage and I highly recommend it. At Dune 45, one of the park’s more famous places, tourists were sitting along the peak of the 500-foot tall sand dune watching the sun set. As it dipped low in the sky, each one packed up their belongings and made their way to the cars. As the sun slipped behind the miles and miles of sand dunes along the horizon, my wife and I were the only ones at the park since everyone else had to be out before sunset, lest they be locked inside. That is one huge advantage of staying within the park, the other is the sunrise side of things. We booked a tour (through our lodge) to head to the Big Mama and Big Daddy Sand Dunes for sunrise. The sand-blasting wind was something I’ll never forget (nor be able to accurately describe), but then again neither is sitting atop a MASSIVE sand dune watching the sun slowly peak up over the horizon. By the time the sun was high in the sky, a few other tour companies had arrived, but we were so far ahead of them it was fantastic.

Speaking of fantastic: The stars. Never in my life have I seen so many stars. July is winter in Namibia, so the air lacks humidity. Additionally, being so far removed from any civilization gave us zero light pollution. At night, we’d sit for hours and watch countless shooting stars streak across the sky.

There isn’t much to do in this area of Namibia so I’d only recommend two or three nights. Take the sunrise tour of Big Daddy Sand Dune, stay up and watch the stars, and enjoy hiking around the rest of area during the day time. We did venture into town briefly (to get our tire fixed) and there wasn’t much beyond a couple of gas stations with oversized convenience stores attached.

On our journey back to Windhoek, we decided to take the longer route because it had more traffic. We would sometimes go twenty or thirty minutes between passing cars, which was far better than the “shorter” route we took to Sossusvlei. Before we left the resort, the girl checking us out recommended we stop in Solitaire for some apple pie. I can certainly vouch for the apple pie, but more so it was a nice break a few hours into the journey (we would have stopped anyway, just for the stretch, but the pie was certainly a nice touch). Additionally, there are a couple of signs along the way marking the Tropic of Capricorn which is a fun place to stop and take pictures.

The road back to Windhoek twists and turns quite a bit. At times, the ledge is a straight drop down the side and guardrails are nowhere to be found. Other times you’ll splash through a river running through the roadway. If this is your first or second trip out of the country I’d suggest going to some other country first. If you’ve been to a couple dozen countries you’ll be just fine.

Both roads to and from Sossusvlei take the traveler miles and miles through private game reserves. Its fun to see ostriches, springbok, monkeys, warthogs and zebras all watch the passing cars. Be prepared to stop. One of the highlights from our trip back to Windhoek was a group of six zebras curious of our car. My wife and I stopped to stare at them, as they were staring at us. When we decided it was time to head out, the zebras galloped alongside our car for nearly a mile.

We spent our final night in Windhoek at Roof of Africa, and one of the perks was gated, secured parking area. Not that crime is rampet in Windhoek (like, say, Johannesburg, SA), but things still happen. This hotel is also walking distance to Joe’s Beer House, which is famous for the different types of game one can try. It’s a HUGE restaurant that has a fire pit in the middle, long picnic table style of seating and plenty of cold beer. Even though it’s winter, beer still tastes damn good after a long journey.

On our final day, while traveling to the airport we ditched our rental truck at the drop-off site. The guy who painstakingly went over our car before we rented it out was back to do the same before receiving. The purchased insurance didn’t cover the frame, the windshield or the tires; three things we thought odd as we left, three things we completely understand upon arrival. The man seemed almost heartbroken when he discovered our patched tire. We tried to explain our displeasure in calling their help line and not getting any help (from the Sossus Dune Lodge), but he’s the car mechanic and not customer service, so he didn’t really care. As he walked us to the rental car counter to tell them about our damaged tire, he casually made a passing comment of “you know, we can solve this ourselves before we get to the counter.” I caught it; my wife didn’t. As we get to the counter, our car was perfectly fine and there are no issues or damage to report. My wife, who knows the tire had a hole and still isn’t pleased with no one helping us via the “help line” started to speak up but was quickly “shhhh-ed” and pulled away by me, while the mechanic-guy says she was mistaken. It’s only then my wife realized a deal had been made and I paid the mechanic to take care of it, instead of going though all of the paperwork and making an official report. As annoyed my wife was about not being informed of our deal, she completely understood that I can’t just turn to her and yell out “Hey honey, I just bought off the mechanic!”

As odd as the airport and rental car return may have been, it was a seemingly fitting send-off to our time in Namibia. I can’t recommend going enough, and my wife and I truly enjoyed ourselves there. It would have been nice to make it to the Skeleton Ghost Park to see some of the wrecked ships laying scattered off of the coast, but time was a factor for us. Then again, time is a HUGE factor in Namibia, where things are so spread apart and the gravel road to get from one place to another is in pretty rough shape. Maybe that’s why I loved our time in Namibia so much. It’s very much “off the beaten path,” but that path may not be so beaten, after all. From the tiny international airport to the never-ending sand dunes, Namibia was quite the adventure. I could have done without the flat tire, but in the end, it really became the cherry on top what was a great adventure trip.

0711. (3719) http://www.kjkettner.com/?p=6366

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Puerto Rico Travel Tips

20090212-2414

Recently, my friend Emily and her boyfriend fiancé were planning a trip to Puerto Rico.  I’m a big advocate of travel, and am always willing to help out with whatever tips and I can give. Emily asked for whatever advice I could give her for planning a trip, and I don’t think she was expecting my lengthy response. For anyone else planning a trip to Puerto Rico, here’s what I know:

In February of 2009 I traveled to Puerto Rico, but stuck strictly to the East side of the island (because my parents are taking were planning to take the family down to the West side in 2012).  When we go back, we’ll take surfing lessons and plunder the West side, but in the meantime, what follows is what I can tell you about the Eastside. In Old San Juan, we stayed at Da’ House Hotel. The price was $112.00 a night. What’s nice, is you can book your room through the website (not just book a reservation, but the actual room).

I went through and found room 304 which is on a higher level on a corner.  It has two little balcony-type things with doors that open, so we got an awesome cross-breeze.  The hotel is in the heart of Old San Juan right on the party (seriously, its all about location, location, location).  If you’re not into staying out late, throwing down some cocktails and being social, this isn’t the room to stay in (get a quieter room, away from the party).

You don’t really need a full day to explore Old San Juan, but it’s a good starting point.  There’s the old fort, the cemetery, the fun old-style buildings, lots of bars, an easy commute to the Bacardi tour (free samples!).

Speaking of the Bacardi tour: Take the ferry across from Old San Juan to the other side of the harbor.  Out of the boat dock, it gets a little confusing.  We walked out of the dock to the right, and in the parking garage down the street is where a bunch of white vans are there to take you to Casa Bacardi.  Negotiate a price and off you go!

While at the tour, you don’t actually have to take the tour to get the free drinks.  You’ll walk up to the giant “bat tent,” get your ticket for the next tour, and get a couple of drink coupons.  You can pound drinks before or after your tour and then get on the trolly.  If you don’t want to do the tour (might as well, though, since you’re already there), just get hammered and head back to Old San Juan.  There were other white vans waiting to take people back to the boat docks in the parking lot of Bacardi, so it wasn’t a problem getting to or from for us.  I’m sure the Bacardi kids can assist you if you find yourself without  van.

On the East side of the island, I stayed at the Ceiba Country Inn. I want to say it was about $95 a night.  The couple who own the place are friendly and have a handful of friendly dogs running around the place.  Our room was quiet and in the back.  At night — it was awesome — the “Coqui Frogs” would come out and make an awesome rain-foresty type of sound.  Which was cool about where the Ceiba Country Inn is, right off the back edge of El Yunque Rainforest.  This means it’s quite the journey to get to the place.  On the other hand, its awesome because you don’t hear trucks downshifting or sirens anywhere.

Take a day to plunder El Yunque Rainforest as its fantastic. I also hiked to La Mina Falls and jumped in.

I hiked to the waterfall in my swimsuit and Keen sandals; it was perfect to make our way down through the rainforest (yes, it rains in the rainforest), then stumble over the rocks to get into the water.  There is no place to change at the waterfall; you wear in what you wear out. There are rocks to throw your hats, sunglasses and T-shirts on while you swim, however.

Vieques Island is where the best Bioluminescent Bay in the world is.  Time-wise, it was nearly impossible to make it there because the ferry doesn’t come home late enough, so we would have had to stay on the island, but the prices were more then I cared for anyway.  Instead, I hit the 2nd or 3rd best Bioluminescent Bay in the world near Fajardo at Laguna Grande.  I think it was $100 for a two-person kayak and it. was. awesome.

Unfortunately I only had four nights in Puerto Rico, so I really had to cram a lot in a short amount of time. I also road-tripped to the fishing village of Naguabo and had an insane seafood lunch.  (I couldn’t even find my fish it was buried below so much other fresh sea things (octopus, anyone?).)  I also spent time playing in the sun, sand and water at Luquillo Beach.

Random notes: Make sure you reserve a rental car in advance as Puerto Rico tends to run out apparently.  Also, rental cars all have a TollPass type thing, but charge $2.00 a day even if you use it only once (plus the cost of tolls).  I just kept going through the cash lanes and paid ourselves, saving $10 along the way.  (It isn’t a big deal, but it buys a couple of drinks somewhere along your trip.) … They really like their fried food in Puerto Rico.  …  Apparently all of the locals prefer Don Q rum, since it has always been made on the island (Bacardi fled Cuba to Puerto Rico).  …  Most everyone speaks English, but don’t assume the person you’re talking to does.  …  The locals like to go to bed around 8pm or 9pm on weeknights; don’t be shocked if you see few people around.  (We ended up at the El Conquistador Casino a couple of nights; not to gamble, but to drink and socialize.) … In Fajardo, I can recommend Rosa’s Seafood Restaurant for dinner. … Your cellphones SHOULD work in Puerto Rico — it’s the US’ 51st state — but mine was off the entire time anyway.

That’s the trip in a nut-shell; some pictures are online in the photography section.  Make your trip your own adventure and take a lot of pictures along the way.

And send home postcards. Everyone loves postcards.

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Running of the Bulls Travel Tips

Revelers run for safety during the annual Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. (1006)

Revelers run for safety during the annual Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain.

So, you want to do the Running of the Bulls, in Pamplona, Spain?

The first thing you need to know is the entire festival is EXTREMELY graphic with the half-ton bulls goring whoever they can. The bullfights. The excessive drinking. The protests. If you’ve got a good head on your shoulders, you’ll be just fine.

Officially the festival is referred to as the Festival of San Fermin, but thanks to Ernest Hemingway and his book The Sun Also Rises, most refer to it as the Running of the Bulls. (It should be noted there is FAR more going on for the festival then just The Running.) Originally the festival was nothing to do with running of bulls down the street and it was just about the bull fights in the evening. However, some time back, as the people were walking the bulls from the fields to the bull ring, someone thought it’d be fun to run in front of the bulls – instead of behind. After a couple of years things caught on, some guy mentioned it in a book and the Festival of San Fermin would become one of the parties in the world.

PLANNING
To coincide with my 30th birthday, I decided to attend the 2009 Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, and two years prior started planning where to be and how to get there. Once the hotel was booked it was on to flights. (The Festival was July of 2009. I booked hotel and flights in November of 2008.)

GETTING TO PAMPLONA
Airfare would have been over $1,000 per ticket (Chicago to Switzerland to Madrid) but instead I used frequent flyer miles to save on costs. As mentioned earlier, I booked our flights in November and had no issues with using airline miles. One of the other guys meeting up for the festival decided last-minute to join up and his flight was $800 (Chicago to Dublin to Barcelona).

In Europe, you can mostly show up at a train station and purchase tickets in the hour or so before you travel. This is not the case with getting to Pamplona for the festival. Make sure you get your train tickets in advance. (We bought them in Madrid the day before travel, and one train had no second class seats remaining, and the other train had no first class seats available.) We purchased our train tickets back to Madrid once we reached Pamplona.

LODGING
We stayed at the Gran Hotel la Perla, which one side faces the Plaza del Castillo while the other side is on Calle Estafeta, which is part of the route the bulls will use. The hotel wanted their money — paid in full — at the time of booking through a wire transfer to their bank. The cost of a room with a balcony on the route was six times what the “off-season” price was. The six of us fit snugly onto our balcony. (Four others split two rooms at a hostel for 200 euros per night, with a shared bathroom.) http://www.granhotellaperla.com

THE FESTIVAL
One account I read about the Festival of San Fermin was how many days to stay for the Running of the Bulls? The suggestion was four days/three nights. I think it was the perfect amount of time. We arrived in Pamplona the night before the opening ceremony (trying to make it for the Running of the Nudes), then left after the second bull run.

PETA leads a protest called “Running of the Nudes” through the bullrun route on noon on July 5th. It’s their way of drawing attention to the cruelty the animals face. (It seems to be a hybrid idea between protesting and the old saying, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”) We did not make it to Pamplona in time to see the nearly-naked folks run down the street, but everything I’ve read says it’s not a violent or angry thing by any means, its sort of the “Opening Act” to the party. http://www.runningofthenudes.com/

The festival begins on July 6th at noon in the main plaza of town, Plaza Ayuntamiento. If you want to be in the plaza for the celebration, arrive no later then 10:00 AM. Do not wear jewelry (this includes earrings, necklaces, bracelets, watches, etc.), nor should you bring along your purse or a backpack. Close-toed shoes are a must with all of the broken glass. (Glass bottles have since been banned from the opening ceremonies, but still, wear close-toed shoes.) Anyone claustrophobic should rethink about going to watch opening ceremonies from the plaza. Whatever you wear will get soiled with a variety of things.

At 12:00 a rocket is fired into the air and everyone holds up their red bandanas to salute San Fermin. At this moment, the crowd starts to dispel and now it is acceptable to wear your bandana around your neck (it’s normally worn around the wrist until the festival begins).

During the festival, a variety of things occur every day. The Toro de Fuego (“Fire Bull”) is a paper-mache bull with fireworks attached and runs the route of the bulls. Fireworks galore. Gigantes y Cabezudos (giant paper-mache dancers and over-sized heads) torment adults and children. Bands in the Plaza del Castillo. Throw in some time to drink and be festive and its very easy to spend three days merry-making and never really stop to sleep.

RUNNING OF THE BULLS
The bullrun occurs every morning at 08:00 AM from July 7th through 14th. The bulls start near the church on Cuesta de Santo Domingo, turn left on Mercedes (in front of the town hall), turn right onto Estafeta, left on Telefonos and into the bullring they go. There are six bulls are four hefers. If you’re not going to run with the bulls, be in position to watch along the route by 06:00AM at the latest. Bring a sweatshirt you don’t mind losing, perhaps a deck of cards to pass some time, and maybe something to read. The church on Cuesta de Santo Domingo is one of the best free places to watch from. If you’d like to watch from the bullring, there are monitors set up to watch the bullrun (televised nationally every day) before they get to the bull ring.

If you are planning on running, please be smart about it. There are websites out there which have pretty good information on the safest parts of the route to run, and what to expect. Time-wise, I never really saw a time-table of what to expect for the Running of the Bulls. Here’s what I saw while attending:

07:30AM the streets are cleared of the drunk people milling about. (I felt sorry for the people who were there ready to run, only to be cleared away by the police.) After the streets are cleared of people, debris and trash is cleaned up by the street sweepers.

07:50AM those willing (and sober enough) to run are allowed to take their positions on the route.

08:00AM a rocket is fired into the air to announce the bulls have been released to the streets. A second rocket is fired when the bulls reach the people. A third rocket is fired when the bulls reach the bullring. A fourth (and final) rocket is fired to announce all of the bulls are safely in the bullrun stable.

If you’re going to run, wear good running shoes and enter the route in the designated entry areas. Know that people are aggressive as they run; every “bull versus man” incident we saw was a result of a runner tripping over another runner and wiping out in front of a bull. (This is one of the reasons why I didn’t run. I knew I could out-manuever a bull, but the guy I saw shoving other runners out of his way was a concern to me.)

BULLFIGHTS
We paid fifty euros each ticket to a scalper to sit five rows from the back on the shady side of the bullring. The sunny side was chaos and fantastic to watch from our vantage point. The bull fight was not-so-awesome to watch, as anyone can win when it is eight versus one.

Overall, the Running of the Bulls was an amazing experience. At the bullfight, we sat next to an old Spaniard who filled us in on the goings-on for the festival. He ran with the bulls that morning and the previous twenty-two years as well. He said Pamplona was his number three party on the list, after Carnaval in Brazil and Oktoberfest in Germany. As for our party, it was an awesome experience and I’m so glad to have been a part of it. We didn’t run, but didn’t need to with a spectacular balcony overlooking the longest stretch of the route.

Random notes: Whoever you’re planning on going with, make sure they’re good, stable people. Don’t bring anyone who is a “bad drunk.” … Be prepared to spend some serious cash. … Be safe with your belongings. Use the hotel’s safe. Use a money belt. … Every bull dies every year. You’ll end up cheering for the bulls during the festival. … If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll have a slightly more difficult time finding food. … Red and white is the attire of the festival. Cheap white pants and white shirts can be purchased at several locations around Pamplona. Red scarves and bandanas can be purchased readily as well. … Don’t wear any clothes at the festival that you don’t want to get dirty. … About.com has an information-packed website, but I wanted to write down some random things which I thought were good to know. Click your way over there when you’re done here (if you haven’t already been over there yet). http://gospain.about.com/od/spanishfestivals/a/pamplonabullrun.htm

That’s our trip in a nut-shell; there are some pictures posted in the Europe travel gallery.  Make your trip your own adventure and take a lot of pictures along the way.

And send home postcards. Everyone loves postcards.

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