Every year, I’m drawn back to good old San Sebastián de los Reyes for another round of watching drunken teenagers narrowly escape angry bulls. Somehow, as I hide my face behind my hands, I can’t resist the urge to peek through my fingers and watch the train wreck of an event that is the second largest running of the bulls in Spain. But rather than tell you about it, here is some footage from yesterday’s run along with a few pictures.
It’s that time of year again when the residents of Spain’s bigger cities flock to the beaches leaving urban epicenters like Madrid more like ghost towns. People skip pueblo like it’s Armageddon. The same streets that are usually buzzing with booming Spanish voices and horn honking (I never really escape it) are eerily quiet on August afternoons. Aside from this mass exodus to the coastline, August is also often the time of year that towns celebrate their fiestas – a week of celebration in honor of the city’s patron saint.
It just so happens that our town, San Sebastián de los Reyes (a part of the community of Madrid), celebrates its fiestas during the last week of August. Essentially this entails a week-long carnival of chocolate covered churros, concession stands where you can win a jamón (just what I’ve always wanted – no, really!!!), roller coaster rides, and….the running of the bulls! Always out-shined by its more popular rival in Pamplona, the running of the bulls, or “encierros” as it is called in Spanish, in San Sebastián de los Reyes is indeed the second largest in Spain. I like to think of the running of the bulls in Pamplona as the run for tourists – while this may not be so true, I can guarantee you that non-Spaniards are far and few between at the encierros in my lovely town just ten minutes away from Madrid.
Early in the morning for a week, people eagerly mount the fence-guarded streets of SanSe (an affectionate abbreviation of the city name) to witness all the Spanish crazies that decide they want to run along side the bulls. Perched on top of these fences you wait wobbly as the designated shepherds of the race stretch their legs while clasping on to their sticks that will be used to ensure the bulls keep on the move. At this early Spanish hour, drunken teenagers with mullets and abnormally large numbers of piercings are a more likely site than bulls, but just as entertaining nonetheless.
Despite the potential chaos, as the clock approaches 8am, everything falls into place – fence watchers brace themselves (I clutch onto Jacobo for dear life), runners take their final calm breathes, and silence ensues as the firework man (I’m sure he has some fancy Spanish title like “fireworkerero” – I’ll do my research and add that to a follow-up post of Awesomely Spanish Jobs) prepares his rocket. What’s this you ask? It signals the start of the run, and let me tell you, this is not a normal firework that bursts into an array of beautiful colors and is accompanied by a friendly boom. The first few times I heard it while lying fast asleep in bed I legitimately thought it was a bomb and that the world was ending – no, really, I did. This sensation still hasn’t changed, but at least now I realize a few moments after I wake up that in reality it is not a bomb and, no, the world will go on for another day, or at least long enough for the bulls to do their run.
With that, the bulls run and charge, probably as lost, confused and angry about the sound of the firework as I was. The majority of the runners (particularly those with mullets and peculiar piercings) run way ahead of the bulls, out of harm’s way, only to secure their free spot in the Plaza de Toros (where later they let younger bulls chase around these same young, invincible-minded teenagers). After this first group of people staggers its way to the Plaza, there are seconds of deafening silence before the real deal begins. Then, in the flip of a Spanish tortilla, you see a rush of people sprinting as though their lives depended on it (oh wait, they do!) intermixed with several hundred pound bulls and the alarmingly peaceful sound of cow bells strapped around their necks.
And then it’s over. People plop off the fences like rubber duckies in one of the carnival games, rushing to the cafeterias that line the street in order to watch the never-ending loop of run-replays. While folks sip on their coffees and chow down on their chocolate and churros, their eyes remain glued to the television as though each replay of the run were the first they’d ever seen. Then you go home and inevitably every time the news comes on they passionately show the run again just in case you missed it the first 50 times. And heaven forbid there be an accident or injury – this will be played in slow-motion, close up, multiple times so that the viewer may carefully analyze exactly which bones were broken and what puncture wounds may have been incurred.
Welcome to Spain my friends. Until next year, felices fiestas!
Last week, I was lucky enough to have yet another friend visit Madrid. This time it was Iris – a friend whom I’ve know since I was in 5th grade. She and her fiance were traveling through Spain, leaving Madrid as their final stop.
She arrived on Thursday, so we decided to meet up in Plaza de Santa Ana where we would start our tour of tapas – always a crowd favorite. We began at Lateral where we started the evening summer-style with gazpacho and tinto de veranos (a summer drink made of red wine, flavored sparkling water and ice). From there we headed to several other spots where we knew they would be able to try yummy tapas. During these stops we learned that neither of them had been at all impressed with the cuisine in Spain, but that during this tapas tour they had completely changed their perspective. The thing about Spanish food is that it can be rather confusing if you don’t understand it – if you get a menu translated into English, the food sounds horrible, or if you try to translate it yourself, it will sound equally as horrible. It’s all about understanding the dishes and knowing what to order, and then you will rarely be disappointed, and in fact become obsessed (like me).
After several stops for tapas we decided to head to the top of the Urban hotel for drinks, where we actually met up with another group of Americans traveling through Madrid – friends of an old colleague of mine. We stayed there for a couple of hours just enjoying drinks, the amazing view, the fantastic night temperature, and just chatting it up about everything.
The next day, after a long day at work, we picked up Iris and Brian to take them to one of our favorite spots – the small town of El Molar. I’ve always taken my guests there because it is incredibly rural, hidden, has the most amazing meat, and is very charming with it’s cool caves where you can have dinner! We started with drinks at one of the restaurants at which time the camarero offered to let us walk in their caves that weave underneath the mountain and connect with other restaurants. This was really special because we hadn’t ever had the chance to walk deep into the caves. It was so super cool – they gave each of us a candle and we were able to just get lost in the caves that curved and split in various places…watching our heads as we ducked into tight spaces. Dinner was of course amazing as usual. I’m not a big meat eater, but this meat is just plain out of this world.
The next day, we had very big day planned – on the itinerary was Segovia (again, I know), La Granja and Avila. See, Iris and Brian were such enthusiastic and grateful guests that we were eager to make sure that they had the most amazing time possible. So, being the energetic group that we are, we pushed full speed ahead hitting the as many stops as possible.
The next morning brought another important occasion – they were lucky enough to be visiting during the fiestas for our town, San Sebastian de los Reyes, which, if you remember, includes a running of the bulls each morning of the week. What’s so cool about this running of the bulls is that it is the second largest in Spain behind Pamplona, but rather than being full of foreigners, it’s all Spaniards – the real deal. And in fact, it’s been happening in our town since 1525!
It was a crazy mess of people. Usually it hadn’t been quite so busy, but since we were going on the weekend, the crowds were much larger. We ended up watching the run and then entering the Plaza de Toros afterward to watch the usual taunting of the teen-aged bull by equally energetic teen-aged boys.
We drove Iris and Brian straight to the airport after that, at which point we returned home for an hour, packed our suitcases, showered, and headed back to the airport to catch our flight to Florence, Italy!!
Ahhh, the adventure never ends .
As if Spain isn’t already great enough, sharing it with friends makes it just that much better. This last week I was able to share my love of Spain with my dear friend Robin. We tried to mix it up a little so that her itinerary wasn’t a carbon copy of Kim’s, but of course even though there was some overlap, I couldn’t complain. I am officially an expert on giving the walking tour of Madrid, and I will gladly do it many, many more times.
Her trip began with a return to the last day of the running of the bulls here in San Sebastian de los Reyes. While exciting, I must say this time around was a bit more intense than my previous experiences. Several people were trampled during the run, and then in the actual Plaza de Toros it was a similar outcome. I learned quickly that bulls and people together are only fun to watch when nobody gets hurt. I think I will pass on the actual bull fights….
During Robin’s trip we made the journey down to Sevilla for a night. It had been over a year for me since I had last visited the South, so I was super excited since it is my favorite part of Spain. Sevilla was as beautiful as ever and boy did we ever luck out with the weather! Usually during this time of year Sevilla is scorching hot, but lucky for us it was relatively mild with a refreshing breeze. In fact we’ve had impeccable weather during Robin’s entire trip.
After our trip to Sevilla we took Robin out to Avila, a city I visited earlier this year and fell in love with. We really wanted to share the charming city surrounded by its famous walls, along with a fabulous restaurant that I had discovered via one of my English students. Robin loved it, so our mission was accomplished!
Upon our return to Madrid we took Robin to a Flamenco show, as well as dinner at one of our favorite restaurants – La Favorita. The restaurant is owned by the opera school here in Madrid and the waiters are actually students who do various operatic performances throughout the evening. For Robin this was especially close to her heart since she sings opera.
In addition to Flamenco and our night of opera, we also had the chance to have dinner at our friends Carolina and Jose’s house. Then last night we took Robin to the same restaurant we took Kim – a restaurant that is nestled in the caves of a local town – each table having its own little cave. A very special way to sum up a fabulous trip.
So now it’s back to reality for me – well almost. I have one last excursion before I really return to work. This weekend Jacob and I will be heading out to Ibiza for a friend’s birthday. After that, I will officially end my hiatus from work and begin my new job here in Madrid. I hope to keep the weekends filled with new adventures though as there are so many more to be had here! More to come very soon….
What a week Kim and I have had! I arrived here in Madrid last Tuesday, followed by Kim on Thursday. I couldn’t have asked for better timing – it’s not easy transitioning back to life here, and having a buddy with me while I get back into the swing of things cheered me up more than I ever could have imagined.
We had quite the itinerary laid out for Kim and she was up for the challenge. The first day Kim arrived she was a real champ – we pretty much headed right out to tour Madrid. We hit up Retiro Park, Puerta de Alcala, The Prado, and even shopping on Serrano – all before heading to drinks, dinner, then drinks again with Jacob. Kim powered through the night without a trace of jet lag.
The next day we returned to Madrid to finish up the site seeing, which included the Palace, Plaza Mayor, Sol, Gran Via and more shopping! We capped off the day with an evening at Jacob’s friend Manu’s house for homemade paella on the BBQ – best paella ever!!!
Saturday we hit the road and headed out to Segovia – Kim’s favorite spot on the trip. On the drive home we swung by La Granja (a palace with beautiful gardens) and made the trip home for a nice dinner in Madrid.
Sunday brought a new excursion for me – Salamanca. The city known for its university, was extra charming and like no other Spanish city I’d visited before. What we especially loved is that we were able to walk the perimeter of the inside and outside of the cathedral – a unique perspective that we’d never had the opportunity to see in the past. We discovered breathtaking views both inside and out (albeit a little frightening for me at times!).
Yesterday brought my favorite event of all – the running of the bulls here in San Sebastian de los Reyes. It happens all week this week (which is especially fortuitous since I have another friend coming on Thursday). We headed out early to reserve our spots to view the run. It didn’t disappoint! While short, it is exhilarating to watch nonetheless. Be sure to visit the movies page to see a clip of the race.
After the running of the bulls, Kim and I made the long trip to and from Toledo. Toledo is always a charming destination – although taking public transportation for virtually the entire expedition was exhausting for sure! In the future I think it should be best left to those with cars. We made up for the journey though by capping off the day, and her trip, with dinner in the caves of a local village – yes caves (they are natural caves used in old times for wine)! Each table had its own little cave, like a cubby hole. It was a unique and distinctly Spanish way to finish off her trip.
Now we have sent Kim off and fortunately I have another guest right around the corner. My friend Robin will be out on Thursday, at which time I will begin the tour of Spain again! Good thing I love this place! More to come next week…