It seems an age since I last updated the blog. Last time I left you we were preparing for a day at the Royal Ascot races back in June.
Oh what an incredible four weeks it has been since!
Royal Ascot proved to be a little much for our betting talents (I am a twice Melbourne Cup trifecta winner!) but was a splendid day none the less. We were up at the crack of dawn, dressed and beautiful for a champagne breakfast on the coach that took us out of London. We had fortunately opted for the coach to avoid horrendous queues and crowds on the trains and made it to the silver ring (no grand stands for us this year!) with plenty of time for a decent lunch before the races commenced.
The drizzling rain throughout the day did not dampen our spirits as we waved to Queen Lizzie parading past in her carriage and cheered on horses that did not live up to the hype of Black Caviar the year before.
After a spectacular Queensland win over New South Wales in the second State of Origin, we were stuffing tents, wellies (gum boots), camping chairs, backpacks and 3 friends into a hatchback that transported us to Worthy Farm, 200km from London. There we embarked on a 5 day adventure in the rain then the mud then the sun with 180,000 other revellers at the Glastonbury Festival. The port-a-loos were smelly, the food was delicious and the music was incredible.
In three big days of non-stop musics we danced and moshed along to headliners The Rolling Stones, Artic Monkeys and Mumford and Sons as well as Liam Gallagher’s Beady Eye, The Hives, The Lumineers, Tame Impala, The Vaccines, Bastille, Disclosure, Azellia Banks, Noah and the Whale, Alabama Shakes, Two Door Cinema Club, Blue King Brown, Of Monsters and Men, Vampire Weekend, Nick Cave and the Black Seeds. It was exhausting, but worth it and we have vowed to return.
Concerned that there was not enough annual leave in the year for all of our desired travel, I returned to work on the Monday after the music festival. We departed shortly after watching Mumford and Sons close the festival on the Pyramid stage with The Vaccines, The Staves and Vampire Weekend all performing A Little Help From My Friends. Arriving back at home just after 6am Monday morning I had enough time to shower and sleep for an hour before dragging my sore, tired feet into work.
Three days later, on the Thursday afternoon, Dan, myself and 4 friends piled onto a bus that was to take us on a 20+ hour drive through France and into north Spain. Here we discovered the beautiful Basque Country and all it had to offer.
We soon learned that Basque is an autonomous community with its own people, culture and language. We noticed graffiti of crossed out Spanish flags and “This is Not Spain” were scattered throughout the small town of Pamplona and heard the locals talk proudly of being Basque, not Spanish.
The population of Pamplona, usually at 200,000 people, swells to almost 2 million as locals, travellers and tour groups descend on the town for the San Fermin festival which is opened at 12.00 on 6th of July each year. Dan and I were two of the thousands that squeezed past riot police into the small square in front of the Town Hall to witness the opening ceremony in which everyone wears white with red scarfs and is doused in sangria.
It was overcrowded, exciting and sometimes crushing. Unbeknownst to us, we were in the middle of a political protest for the recovery of the Basque identity, language and culture of Navarre. The Basque flag (green, red and white) was displayed everywhere. Other than a delayed start, chanting and pushy protestors, it was a relatively peaceful demonstration.
The following day we were caught a shuttle to be in town before 7am for the first running of the bulls. The running of the bulls involves hundreds of people (mainly men) running in front of six bulls and another six steers up an 825 meter stretch of narrow streets through the old town of Pamplona. The race starts at a bull pen behind the Town Hall and ends in the bull arena and takes place from the 7th to the 14th of July at 8am. The event is dangerous and 16 people have died during the event since 1925.
Even so, Dan was adamant that he would run with the bulls and he successfully made it into the arena at the end of the seemingly long 4 -5 minute run. The arena was even more intense with the hundreds of successful runners tempting fate as one bull at a time was released into the bullring to run amuck through the crowd. It was exciting and scary all at the same time. After the morning excitement we retired back to our campsite for some rest and relaxation in a nearby creek.
Pamplona, when not overcrowded and dowsed in sangria, is a beautiful town of history and culture. We very much enjoyed our time there and sampled much pintxos (tapas), paella and sangria before we were bused to a new campsite in Zarautz, a 25 minute train ride from San Sebastian.
Zarautz is a sea-side surfers’ paradise. The beach was crowded, the water was warm and the surf was perfect, just like home. We discovered a fantastic pintxos (€1.60 per piece) and wine (€1.20 per glass) bar that was located in the center of the old town square and spent a lovely couple of days relaxing by the beach. We did venture to San Sebastian on one day to check out the beach and ended up hiking to the top of the mountain that hosts the statue of Christ (usually a 1 hour leisurely walk) and provided us with the most incredible view out to see and over the city of San Sebastian.
Our final four nights in Spain were spent camping atop a mountain in Bilbao and attending a 3 day music festival, BBK Live. Across 4 stages we saw bands such as Green Day, Depeche Mode Kings of Leon, The Hives, Two Door Cinema Club, Fat Boy Slim, Biffy Clyro, and Vampire Weekend. It was not nearly as well organized or greatly attended as Glastonbury, but it was fun none the less.
After 14 of the last 17 nights in a tent we were sad to see our wonderful friends off but grateful for the final two nights of our trip in a superior suite in Rembrandtplein, a major square in central Amsterdam. Being our second trip to Amsterdam (the first was for New Years’ Eve 2009/2010) we enjoyed walking around in the sun and experiencing the city in the summer time.
We returned home late on Tuesday night with bags full of dirty clothes and brilliant tans to the hottest summer London has had in seven years. The media are going crazy with the Ashes, impending Royal addition and the scorching heatwave. Yes, that’s right! Now that the temperature has exceeded 32C five days in a row we are in a heatwave!
Apparently you can swim in the pond in Hyde Park… I think I might have to find out if this hot weather continues.