Aug 16, 2006

Italia - The Prologue

The day I bought my tickets to Italy I was in awe. Complete and total awe. I hadn't planned on going to Italy... I mean I wanted to obviously, but I didn't think it was going to happen. But Kat and Trevor kept pushing, and eventually we ended up with a group of 8 people heading off to Italy in split shifts because of class, with plans to see Rome and Venice over the spread of as many as five days depending on your schedule.

The problem was... the planning pretty much stopped after the flights were booked. The weekend before we left, every one was every where but campus. Hotels were booked late, and although we booked our train from Rome to Venice, not much more research was done. No one really knew what they wanted to see besides The Vatican and the Coloseum, so obviously we didn't know what to see when. This was a by the seat of our pants trip, and it's safe to say that we paid for it.

Although I apologize for the delay, I think it's best that I'm writing about this particular trip a long time afterwards. At this point I remember that it was rough, but I mostly remember the good stuff. I remember falling in love with San Marco Piazza in Venice, I remember gelatto, the beautiful views from St. Peter's Basilica, and being "pen pals with the Pope". Sure, I remember the look on Christina's face when we missed our flight home, but I can laugh about it now. We knew it would be better once we had some distance. Suffice it to say, close to five months is enough.

And so, without further ado...

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Italy.

Aug 15, 2006

London with Moe

A few days later I spent my long weeked in London with my friend Moe. The weekend was awesome because not only did I have someone who knew the city and could show me around, but Moe's a wealth of photographic knowledge that he was more than willing to share. Plus he's always good for a laugh.

Aren't you Moe?

Ha! Revenge for all those photos you snapped of me. And just think, the first shot is even funnier. I showed mercy in posting this one...

Of course, like all things that seem to involve me this summer, the trip didn't quite go off without a hitch. Friday we were supposed to meet in Leicester Square close to noon. I didn't know how to get there so I got on the National Rail website, wrote down directions, and headed out on my way.

Well some how I ended up in the city of Leicester, an hour outside of London... instead of Leicester Square in London. Good thing I had a rail pass. The funny thing is when I asked people in Leicester how to get to Leicester Square, none of them knew what I was talking about. And this is supposedly a famous place in London.

Oh, and for the record... those crazy Brits pronounce it Lester, not Lie-kester. How they get Lester, I have no idea. Neither did Moe, which made me feel a little better. But still, Lester? Come on people.

Anyway, after a few questions and text messages, I figured out that although I was on time, I was not where I needed to be. An hour or more later I returned to London, found Moe, and we were on our way.

Oh look... it's the view out my window on the way back to London.

With our Oyster Cards we were able to travel around a large portion of the city by bus or underground, and so we tubed it pretty much every where. We saw Picadilly Circus twice the first day, during the day and at night. We also saw Leicester Square, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery, before making our way to the Thames.
There was a concert going on in Trafalgar Square, and people filled the steps up towards the National Gallery.

This is looking back on Trafalgar Square. The statue, like most things in Europe, was under construction, and then you can see the National Gallery behind it. Throw in a few double deckers and a phone booth and voila!

Once across the Thames we passed County Hall which houses Dali Universe, and exhibit of some of Dali's works. A few were outside close to the London Eye, and I have to say, they were pretty cool.

Elephant on stilts anyone?I'm not sure why this looks so dark when posted here... it's not, I promise.

We walked past the Tate Modern and bought tickets to see Antony and Cleopatra at the Globe Theatre on Saturday night before crossing the river to walk past St. Peter's Basilica.

The day passed quickly, and as I hadn't seen anything but the buildings along the Thames and Greenwich Village, I basically followed Moe blind just taking it all in. I didn't have a place to stay in London so I had to take the train back to Brighton, and then get up the next morning to do it all over again.

Picadilly Circus, which for obvious reasons is far more impressive at night. And this place is so bright, I didn't even need a tripod for this shot. Totally crazy.

Saturday we spent quite a bit of time in Camden Town, a huge outdoor market with so many different vendors and shops it's insane. I'm pretty sure you could buy anything there. Well, anything other than a wind chime because I tried to find one and couldn't.

Like I said... almost anything.

We also went to Oxford Circus where there were several other shops, but by the time we made it there, most of them were closed. I think we also hit up Soho that night before heading back over to the Globe to see Antony and Cleopatra at midnight.

I know Shakespeare is supposed to be phenomenal live, but this play just wasn't. The theatre was really cool, but the acting was in need of... well, a lot. And Moe and I chose to stand, which gets a little annoying after three hours when you've been walking all day. I wanted to make it back to see A Comeday of Errors which got much better reviews, but it never happened.

It was a little after 3am when the play was done so I was stuck in London for the night. I say stuck like it's a bad thing. Even without a tripod I got some pretty cool night shots along the Thames before the sun started to come up around 4:30ish. And that image... totally copyrighted, so don't even think about it. Hahaha... yeah, right.

We went to his hostel but couldn't get in because security wasn't at the desk, so we wandered around the city before returning a few hours later. At about 7am I crashed on the couch in the lobby for a few hours and then we took off again.

Next on the list was China Town followed by The National Portrait Gallery which was really cool. Entrance into the museum is free, but there was a special exhibit of Angus McBean photographs that you had to pay to see. We willingly shelled out a few pounds and I'm glad we did. McBean photographed several famous people, but what was most impressive to me was his imagination and the settings he chose for his portraits. Google him, it's definitely worth it.

He also took the famous picture of the Beatles looking over the balcony that became the cover for a few of their albums. And since he has such famous clients, he kept a book for all those he photographed to sign. Needless to say, they had it on display, open next to the shots he took of the Beatles. I saw John Lennon's autograph, and although all four of them were there for some reason Lennon's, well... it was unreal. I stood there staring for a good few minutes. I mean John Lennon, really? Wow.

We hit up The Photographer's Gallery afterwards which had some really cool stuff, but unfortunately half of it was still in the process of being put up.

We also returned to The National Gallery in Trafalgar and actually went in this time. After a little over an hour we headed back to Leicester Square to meet a friend of Moe's, and then practically rushed to Oxford Circus to do some music shopping. I wanted to buy more than a few cds, but because the price was in pounds it would have cost me basically twice as much as if I bought it in the States. In the end I walked out empty handed, and Moe had quite a bit of new music.

Eventually both Moe and I had to catch our trains to get out of town. I headed back to Brighton and Moe took off to some fancy city that he called the English Riviera. Must be nice. But I enjoyed the weekend, saw some pretty cool stuff that I wouldn't have if not for Moe, and I got a few good shots in. Not that I got a lot of sleep, but when do I ever?

Gotta love exploring new cities with good friends.

Bialystock & Bloom

Let's rewind a month and pretend that it's July 12th...

Yes, I'm that far behind.

So much like the trip into London to see The Lion King, which was incidentally, right around the corner... we hopped on a bus sometime around 3:30 in the afternoon and headed into town to see The Producers.

I knew the basic premise of the play, but hadn't seen the recently released movie nor heard any of the music from the production. But Mel Brooks is almost legendary, and I'd heard good reviews, so I decided to go.

Once arriving we had time to eat dinner before the show. I wandered around with Jen and Addy for a little while before deciding to eat at the same restaurant where we had eaten dinner a few weeks earlier before seeing The Lion King. Put simply, we knew the food was good, and that it was decently priced, so it was a win-win situation.

After having a half roasted chicken a piece we made our way back to the theatre. I noticed the sign said Drury Lane, and was disappointed to find there were no shops or restaurants called "The Muffin Man." If I lived in London and were in the baking business, I would definitely want my shop to be "The Muffin Man" on Drury Lane. But enough with nursery rhymes.

This was another sign near the entrance that I thought was cool. Please forgive the obnoxious reflection of the plexiglass.

Show time was fast approaching so we made our way into the theatre and to our seats. Much like the Lyceum Theatre, the inside of the Theatre Royal was incredibly ornate.

And once again, much like when I went to see The Lion King, we had the cheap group seats on the balcony. Thankfully this time we were closer to the front of the balcony and not the very last row, but we were still significantly far away.

It was also rather warm where we were sitting, and when they passed out fans at intermission I don't think mine stopped waving for the rest of the show. But hey, free fan. Overall I enjoyed the show. I think there are a few instances where the humor just didn't quite click with me, but there were also other times when I and every one around me were laughing pretty hard. When Max Bialystock is in jail and sings Betrayed, there is a line about intermission and the cost of food at the theatre that was so funny and so well done I almost died.

On the way out I grabbed a program and we all headed towards the bus. Thankfully we didn't have to cross the street this time, because stopping traffic last time just wasn't fun. Within a few minutes we were on our way back to campus along what had become a very familiar route. I was gearing up to write my paper within the next week so I tried to read, but I'm pretty sure I slept the entire way home.

Aug 10, 2006


Once leaving Pamplona, our journey continued southward to the capital city of Madrid. Much like on the bus ride to Pamplona, we took a half hour break or so at a rest stop in the middle of no where. Unlike the day before, this place was rather small, but it served its purpose.

As a side note, I heard lots of Celine Dion on the radio on the bus ride. Apparently she's big in Spain. And mullets. For you mullet fans, the mullet is alive and well in Spain. Funny how I grouped those two things together. Moving on.

It was mid afternoon when we made it to Madrid, and once inside the station we proceeded to the metro... which was really cheap... and then on to our hostel. We checked in, immediately dropped our bags and headed straight for the shower. We both took rather long showers, but it felt so good to be clean.

After drying off and getting settled I was hungry. Sarah had her heart set on paella, so we ventured forth in search of a decently priced restaurant. We stopped at a few shops, and noticed several post cards, statues, and other random collectibles of a statue of a bear eating out of a tree. As it turns out, El Oso is the symbol of Madrid, much like grapes are to Lodi. The bear must be the city seal because I saw it on pretty much everything. Man hole covers, public garbage cans, the tops of signs... everywhere. It started a whole day and a half of bear sightings.

I know it's nothing impressive, but I found it amusing.

Eventually we passed through Puerta del Sol, where incidentally, we came across El Oso y el Madroño. With how large the post cards made it look, we expected it to be bigger. But it's obviously very popular and I snapped quite a few shots.
And then around from the other side, over looking the Puerta. A few streets down in this sort of outdoor mall we found our restaurant and ate paella. It was good, but I prefer tappas.

Next on the list was finding a place to watch the World Cup Final. We came across a place with a big screen TV, ordered a few cokes that came in these cute little glass bottles, and sat and watched the game. The crowd was pretty pro-Italian... I guess no one likes the French. I didn't care who won, I just wanted a good game. Sarah used to play, and then was a referee for a few years, so it was great to have her commentary. Especially since the television commentary was in Spanish. I don't know if you've ever listened to soccer commentary, but it's pretty quick, at least this side of the Atlantic. And then put it in a foreign language. I tried to keep up, but really... it wasn't happening.

After the game we headed back to our hostel, and saw a few people in the streets celebrating Italy's victory. I'm loving the painted face.
Once back at our hostel we basically went straight to bed. Not sleeping the night before in Pamplona had taken its toll, and any sleep we'd gotten on the bus wasn't the most restful. The next morning we checked out and then tried to decide where to go first. I never really had time to research Madrid, and we were basically playing it by ear. All we knew was when we had to be to the airport and how to get there. And so we started walking, luggage and all.

Just so I don’t confuse you, I’ve thrown in a map for good measure. Keep in mind that this is significantly cropped and probably only covers about 1/8th of the city. Yep, Madrid is big.
We walked through Puerta del Sol and down to the Plaza de Cánovas del Castillo.
Here is Neptune, or King Triton as Sarah so eloquently called him. We're the UCSD Tritons, so I guess we should have some school pride. We crossed 8 lanes of traffic to get pictures, and were basically walking in flower beds around it to stay off the street. Hey kids, don't try this at home. We saw several fountains... they like fountains in Madrid. Basically at major or even minor intersections they create a plaza and a round about, around a fountain. Or a statue... but usually a fountain.

Sometime after Neptune we made a left and walked by el Museo del Prado, that currently has a Picasso exhibit on. Due to time constraints, we didn't go in. I know, I know, I'm horrible and I missed out on some amazing art and culture. Forgive me for wanting to see more of Madrid.
And just in case you miss those large orange signs, we have...We then saw a Church under construction that I believe was la Iglesia de los Jeronimos. The inside of the Church was nice, but it was nothing compared to the tower outside. Of course, the tower was covered in scaffolding. Next was el Museo de Ejercito and la Plaza de la Lealtad.

Following the fountains we walked down el Paseo del Prado and saw the Robert Indiana outdoor exhibit. The sad part was that someone decided to tag the pieces, so most of them had at least some graffiti.
Once again, although it's obvious I didn't take this... my apologies for the over exposure. The sad thing is that this is under exposed. I guess it's just bright every where in Spain. Among other things we passed the Plaza de Cibeles with the Palacio de Comunicaciones as well as a fountain of Cibeles in a chariot. Cibeles herself...And then Cibeles with el Palacio de Comunicaciones as the back drop. Impressive building isn't it?

Are all the Plaza's confusing you yet? Thought so. Don't worry, there's more. In this Plaza there is also el Banco de España and the headquarters of the Spanish Army. For the record, they wear very funny plastic looking hats. Think black Devo beehives with a flat brim in the back. It was something straight out of lego land.

We then continued down Paseo de Recoletos which is a tiled pedestrian walkway in the middle of several lanes of traffic. It's also flanked by more fountains and trees.

Next came la Plaza de Colón, where there were, not surprisingly, more fountains and a statue of Christopher Columbus. There was also a large Spanish flag, and we spent forever trying to get a shot of it unfurled in the wind. It took quite a few takes I must say.I know the flag isn't blowing in the wind here, but I wanted to give you an over all feeling for la Plaza from across the street. The statue of Columbus is to the right, with the fountains in front. Beneath la Plaza is the Centro Cultural de la Villa, hence the sign. But oh look... flag.

There were also interesting modern block sculptures behind the statue of Columbus with some great quotes carved into the stone. Thanks to Wikipedia, I know that these were designed by Joaquín Vaquero Turcios.
It was also ridiculously hot. When we finally made it to a subway for food, I finished the large drink so quickly I wondered where it had gone. Think 32 ounces in about 5 minutes.

After lunch we back tracked down the Paseo de Recoletos to the Plaza de Cibeles before turning onto the Calle de Alcalá which incidentally runs into the Puerta de Alcalá. Hey, at least it makes sense right? We then entered el Parque del Buen Retiro, our final destination for the day. Inside the park is the Estanque del Retiro, a large man made lake complete with cat fish, koi, and a statue of Alfonso XII. Who is he? I don't really know.

But according to whoever cast this statue, he looks like the guy on horseback...I had a package of cookies in my bag, and the ducks looked to be pretty hungry, so we decided to feed them. The problem was that the cookies had chocolate between them and had already significantly melted. We didn’t think chocolate was good for birds, so we took out the cookies, licked off the chocolate, and then threw the cookies in the water. I think one made it in chocolate and all, but the ducks didn’t seem to mind. Neither did the fish. It was good fun for about 5 minutes or so.
Next came el Palacio de Cristal, this gorgeous building that I guess was inspired by the once standing Crystal Palace in London.
For obvious reasons, I absolutely loved this building. And the refraction up close was simply beautiful. To be honest, I don't know why the sky is purple. I think I confused my camera.

Even the floor is reflective, and for some reason they had this really cool idea to let people inside. You walk up the front steps and this lady hands you a pair of socks for free, so that you can walk around inside. Unfortunately, you're not supposed to take pictures. Supposed to being the key phrase.

Of course, the only one I could sneak was while hiding behind a pillar and you can't see any of the reflected or refracted light... but it really was beautiful inside.

This is going to sound horribly non-descriptive, but from that point on we really just saw more statues, gardens, and fountains. The only two notable items would be El Angel Caído which I guess is the only statue in the world to honor Lucifer the fallen angel, and the rose garden towards the exit.

I'm glad we saw the rose garden. I think it's safe to say that it is the largest I have seen while here so far, and it was adorable. I have quite a few pictures because it was so darn cute, but I'll limit it to two because I know some of you really have no interest in seeing more flowers.
Eventually it was time to hop the metro to the airport in order to catch our flight home for some much needed rest.
This shot would be perfect if it weren't for the guys head. Anyway...

To be honest, I think if I'd done a little more research I might have enjoyed Madrid more. I liked what we saw, but I think the city had more to offer that we didn't get to see. The time constraint certainly took its toll. But even if we'd been there longer, I don't think I could have loved it near as much as I did Barcelona.

Not even close...

Aug 9, 2006


I think it's best that I preface this post by saying that I'm going to try to give Pamplona the benefit of the doubt, and acknowledge the fact that I was so excited to be going to la Fiesta de San Fermin that I set myself up to be disappointed, and quite honestly, disgusted.

Before boarding our bus, which was late, we ended up talking to a few of the people in the crowd looking for information. There was confusion about which bus was ours and eventually, why our bus hadn't arrived. One of the guys who knew what was going on had lived in Barcelona all his life, and had been to Pamplona a few times for the festival. He told us with a sort of smirk on his face that Pamplona was much different than Barcelona, especially now. I expected difference, and so I thought nothing of it.

After about 4 hours on the bus, we stopped at a large gas station, that I would equate with a truck stop. Coaches were parked pretty much every where. There was a decent sized diner with bathrooms, and more vending machines than you could shake a stick at. On the road to Pamplona, this seems to be the place to stop. I noticed that many of the people there were either dressed in white, or wearing a red scarf. Like a little kid I pointed them out to Sarah because I knew they had come back from the festival. We were getting closer, and I was anxious to be there.

While waiting to leave I ended up sitting by a group of people that were clearly on their way back. I started up a conversation and asked them how the festival was. To my surprise I got shoulder shrugs and non-enthusiastic replies. "It's all right" would basically sum it up. I wanted to know why, but instead we started talking about where we were all from and shortly thereafter I had to board my bus.

I tried to figure out why all those people hadn't been ecstatic, or at least somewhat thrilled. It didn't make any sense to me, and so I dismissed it, thinking something must have gone wrong for them, or that they just hadn't understood what was happening.

I on the other hand had done my research. I knew where we could leave our luggage for the night, I'd read up on the customs and history, and I understood more about the festival than most tourists who show up every year. I'd read Hemingway and a book written more recently by an American who has run in several encierros. I liked the more modern perspective that was full of information, and I thought I had a more realistic picture of what to expect when I arrived.

When our bus finally pulled into town we passed a carnival in the park that was crawling with people. Really, everything was crawling with people. The streets were awash in red and white, and we were only on the outskirts of the festival.

Sarah and I found ourselves a map and made it to Plaza San Francisco where we could check in our luggage. Not wanting to feel left out, we changed into our traditional white skirts and shirts, and were ready to go. Music was everywhere, and we had already been passed by a few of las Peñas waving their banners and singing the songs that only they know.
We hadn't been free of our bags for long when two guys started talking to us. They seemed nice enough at first, but when they asked if we wanted to follow them around, I'd had enough. We left them in la Plaza San Francisco to go buy our red. Neck ties are the most popular, but both Sarah and I wanted scarves, and we found ones we liked for a decent price. I thought I might buy a neck tie later, but never really found one I liked. A few hours later, we got a picture of the two of us all decked out.. Sarah and I in our white and red, standing in the main plaza.

We wandered the streets, past street vendors and performers, and eventually began to look for a place to eat. As easy as this sounds, it wasn't. Think of what would happen if you crammed the entire population of Lodi into downtown. Got the visual? There were so many people that it was impossible to walk, a feat made even more difficult by the streets. They were, putting it nicely, repugnant. There are no garbage cans, so people throw all their garbage on the streets. In addition, I've never seen so many people so drunk and still walking. They would spill their drinks all over the place, and public urination was not uncommon. We were effectively walking in grime and filth... in flip flops and good white skirts. Worst idea ever.

Unfortunately we ran into the same two men we'd seen before, and when they offered to show us a place to eat, Sarah accepted. They made me uncomfortable, and I avoided them as much as possible. I had no interest in associating with them period, let alone following them around town or dancing with them which was their suggestion after we ate. As soon as I saw my chance to get away, I took off into the crowd so that Sarah would follow me and we could escape. That stretch of an hour seemed like much longer, and I was glad to be free of them. And honestly, with the thousands of people there, the odds of us running into the second time were so slim I don't even know how we managed.

We spent some time in the main square, and saw part of the concert that was on for the night. These were the decorations above the main Plaza. Those angel looking characters represent San Fermin, the patron saint of the city and the whole reason for the celebration.

This shot would be infinitely cooler if the dolphin balloon weren't blocking the guitarist's head. But I still like the lights...

After a while we found a clean, dry bench to sit on towards the back of the Plaza, and ended up talking with a few pretty cool people. I met this guy named Alex, who went to the University of Granada but is originally from Argentina. Between his English and my Spanish we managed to have a pretty good conversation, and I was glad to have met him.

We then wandered the streets for a while, trying our best to stay clean. It's safe to say that I carried my skirt the entire night. We avoided the main square, and tried to avoid the busy streets. This was a mostly futile attempt, but sometimes we managed.

We came across some pretty interesting people, and sometimes, some pretty funny things. This guy decided to climb whatever statue this was, and was soon leading the accumulating crowd in a chant. The chant became a song, but it was interrupted by...People bowling! I don't know where they found the shopping cart, but they'd push it down hill, through the crowd, right into the wall with a very loud smash. It was funny at the time, but I'm sure it hurt in the morning. And it wasn't just one person, it continued for a while with different people taking turns. Crazy...

The night felt pretty long, and at about 4:30 am I picked the spot where I wanted to be for the run. I'd decided to set up towards the beginning of the run, where the bulls have to make a sharp right hand turn onto Calle Estefata. The bulls usually slip and run into the fence. It's also a common place for pile ups as the street narrows, and I figured that I was only going to do this once so I'd better pick a good place.

Standing in one spot doesn't seem to be the best idea, because more people that you don't want to talk to, stop and strike up conversation. Sarah and I had more than one group of guys decide we were easy prey, and they would introduce themselves briefly before asking us where our boyfriends were. Sarah and I may be single, but we both had boyfriends that night. I even moved one of my rings over to my left hand in hopes of deterring future inquiries.

Around 5:30 a truck pulled up and the crowd went insane. They rocked the truck so hard I thought they were going to knock it over. I'm not sure why they decided to stop, but eventually several workers began to construct the barrier for the running. They started with the outside barrier, and then moved to the inside barrier. I'd read about this, and unlike most everyone else, I knew that the outside barrier was for spectators.

I felt pretty bad for the men who had to put the fences up, and it seemed obvious that they were tired of dealing with drunk people. I was tired of dealing with drunk people and I'd only been there a few hours. They also constructed a tower to be used to overlook the run. We thought it was a media tower, but none of the photographers used it, and I don't think the television news crews could even get a camera up there.

As the fence started to take shape, people started to get pushy. I wanted a spot on the fence, but wasn't sure if I was going to get it. There was a group of guys that had been there since around the same time, and I figured they would take it all. But as the last plank went up, one of them tapped the fence in front of me and told me it was mine. I was pretty happy, but as everyone climbed up and sat down there wasn't enough room for me to get my legs over in my skirt. Like I said... worst idea ever. I was pretty mad at myself for wearing it from that point on.

Sarah left around 6am to get to the bus station in order to buy our tickets out. She'd had enough of the people, and really just wanted to leave. I couldn't blame her, but we couldn't get out of the city until about 10am.

Around 6:3o or so it got ugly. In order to clean the filth off the streets for the run, they flood them. That's right, flood. And water of course runs down hill. My luck being what it was, I was standing down hill. I clutched the fence while holding my skirt as best possible for a good half an hour. I bruised my forearms, but managed to stay clean... until someone decided to kick water everywhere and someone spilled beer all over me. It later took me a good half hour to get the stains out of my skirt.

As the sun came up the excitement began to build. I met a few girls who had been there since the beginning of the festival. One of them lived in Pamplona, and the other was from Florida, but they'd known each other since they were kids. They had some food with them that they were kind enough to share. We ate our modest breakfast and watched the people gather on the balconies above. A little after 7 the police showed up and began to clear out the space between the inside and outside barriers. The inside barrier is reserved for the runners when they have to escape, as well as for the police, medics, and media. The police are pushy, and as people begin to realize that they've lost their fabulous view, they want yours. Someone actually grabbed me around the waste and tried to pull me off the fence. He got kicked. They also rocked the fence and many of the people sitting on top almost fell. The guy to my right had been sitting on the post between the fence and the gate since 4:30am and he deserved to be there. As I found out, all the guys to my left were his friends, and they were all holding onto each other trying to keep their balance. I steadied the guy to my right and his friend on my left, until the crowd calmed down.

I managed to keep my spot on the fence, but couldn't climb up because there was no room. As a reward for helping them all out, the guy to my left grabbed my bag and he and his friend pulled me up. The police wouldn't let us sit, so we stood, with our shoulders leaning over the fence in the best hamstring stretch of your life.

My feet and the feet of the guy next to me on the fence. Notice just how dirty we are, and the ring on my left hand. Told ya...

We watched them clean up the rest of the garbage before all the photographers showed up. I learned that they guy to my right had lived close to Pamplona all his life but that this was his first fiesta. Mmm... garbage and dirty icky streets.

Every once in a while, someone in the crowd would decide that they wanted to be on the fence, and much like a concert, would start pushing. All of us on the fence would steady each other, and wait for the wave to subside. We'd make sure everyone was all right, and the waiting would continue. I have to say that the few hours I spent on or around the barrier were my favorite in Pamplona, simply because we built a sort of camaraderiee around not only our shared experience, but our desire to see the run.

The "run" started about 10 minutes early. Basically, so many people want to participate that they let the less serious runners, or the runners who want to join the run towards the chute and the bull ring to walk ahead and find their spots. Those that are deemed unfit to run are pulled out by the police.

One guy was dumb enough to try and run in sandals, and was pulled out by an officer in front of me. When he tried to lead the guy towards the fence to exit, the guy resisted. He didn't speak a word of Spanish, and the cop didn't speak English. The cop got pushy, and I tried to explain to the guy that he couldn't run in the shoes he was wearing. He didn't hear me, and the cop kept pushing. He eventually shoved the man to the ground and rolled him under the fence. In the states, it would have been classified as police brutality.

Eventually the rocket went off to signal that the bulls were out of their pens. I watched as the runners began to pick up their speed, and as the bulls got closer, the runners that came around the corner were sprinting for dear life. Unfortunately, I picked such a good spot that the barrier in front of me was filled by photographers and I hardly saw a thing. If I had been on the other side of the turn, my view would have been completely clear as there were no photographers, medics, or police to fill the viewing gaps in the fence.

As the bulls passed, they closed a gate along the route so that the bulls couldn't turn around. About a minute later I heard another rocket signalingg that the bulls were inside the ring, and then the final rocket indicating that the bulls were inside their pens.

At this point I began to walk towards la Plaza San Francisco, where I was supposed to pick up my luggage and meet Sarah. Someone had been hurt along the run, and streets were still closed. It took me quite a while to make it back to the Plaza, but I was amazed at how quickly the streets emptied. Most people go to sleep after the run, and wake up in time for the bull fight to do it all over again. I found Sarah in plenty of time and we made our way back to the bus station. We were both glad to be leaving the city, and I understood why the people I'd met could only shrug their shoulders. I think it would have been a better experience if I'd been there with at least one guy, just because it would have prevented situations that I would have much preferred to avoid. I also would have been happier if I weren't worried about my skirt the whole night. If you ever go, don't wear good clothes. And tennis shoes are a good idea... a very good idea.

But even if those two things had been different, I still think I would have felt disappointed. Between Hemingwayy and Gray I had a more romanticisizedd version of the festival. I read that sometimes the parties spilled out into the streets. What I experienced wasn't spillage, it was ridiculous. I couldn't get anywhere near Hemingway's favorite restaurant, and never even made it to the bull ring. The history and culture seemed mostly lost to me, and it upset me. I believe that Pamplona is a beautiful city, and I would like to see it again, but not during the festival. I'm glad I went, but the only way I'll ever go back is if I'm a photographer and don't have to deal with the people.