The bull’s nostrils flared and released a plume of steam; its eyes piercing the very depths of our hero’s chicken noodle soup craving soul. It stomped its hoof down menacingly, sending a message of its intent to kill. Message received. Please empty emotional mailbox, it is approaching 100% capacity. The bull has requested that you send a read receipt. Receipt has been sent in form of urine trickling down your shaky leg.
The wind, the people, time…. it all stopped in one bone chilling moment as the bull charged forward. Our hero’s vision focused on the bull, the peripherals blurring with every thunderous step it took. A single bead of sweat, victimized by gravity, zigzagged down the side of our hero’s face while the physical, emotional, and spiritual planes of existence collided in one spectacular display, forming a knot that reached the deepest corners of our hero’s stomach. This was it. This was his destiny. With an overwhelming sense of determination and absolution, our hero ran to meet the bull in the center of the arena. The skies turned black, and the bull’s eyes flamed with a hot red anger that couldn’t be tamed. At the last second, our hero pivoted out of the bull’s way, grabbing hold of its horn and completing the dangerous Spanish rite of passage. He had done it. He had laid his hand on the bull’s horn. There would be no prize money, no trophy, no aroused women. Just the glorious feel of winning. He wasn’t exactly sure why, but he had the feeling that everything that had happened to him over the years was building up to this one fateful moment. And, in a way, he’d been trying to grab this bull’s horn his whole life. The glory began to fade, as a wet, warm feeling washed over his chest. That’s when our hero looked down and saw his severed carotid artery spurting blood like a faulty water main. He had completed the rite of passage, but the bull had gotten the last laugh. The street ran red with his blood as people herded the bull away and flocked to our fallen hero. They gathered around him, staring at him with beady, helpless eyes; murmuring in whatever language Spanish people spoke in. He didn’t have time for trivial details like that, he was dying. His eyelids began to flutter to a close, when he heard a familiar beat whisk its way into his ear drums. Dun dun dun dun dun dun….. he concentrated as hard as he could, using his remaining energy to focus on the music.. “Muh-muh-muh-MY MILKSHAKES BRING ALL THE BOYS TO THE YARD. DAMN RIGHT, THEY’RE BETTER THAN YOURSSSS”. No, it couldn’t be, he thought… this can’t be how I die….he always imagined it would be to the sweet serenade of Dallas Green. The crowd began dancing and twerking as everything faded to black, milkshakes raining down from the sky….the bull drinking his blood as if it were rich sangria…
I jolted to life with one simple thought echoing in my head: “I’M ALIVEEEEEEEEEEEEE”. It had all been one really fucked up dream. And that’s why I would NEVER have truck stop food ever again. I rubbed my eyes and saw that we were approaching Pamplona, the city known for its infamous Running of the Bulls festival that happened every year. Here’s a little backstory for ya, courtesy of everyone’s favorite internet know-it-all Wikipedia: “The origin of this event comes from the need to transport the bulls from the off-site corrals where they had spent the night, to the bullring where they would be killed in the evening. Youngsters would jump among them to show off their bravado. In Pamplona and other places, the six bulls in the event are still those that will feature in the afternoon bullfight of the same day.” To sum it up for you, people are herded onto the street and chased by bulls much to the amusement of locals and onlookers. So essentially a bunch of dumb tourists, like myself, put themselves in the same corner as Death for a few rounds and hope that we don’t get TKO’d while everyone watches. The best part about this though is that the very nature of the event encourages the fact that your body will never be found by your loved ones back home. What do I mean by that? Well, to start you don’t want to carry around your phone or wallets (COUGH identification COUGH) in case you lose them while you’re running. Toss in the fact that you have to wearing matching bull running uniforms, and that’s a pretty slick setup for sweeping problems under the rug, Spanish style. I’m assuming it’s so when you die they can’t identify you and don’t have to worry about the political issues that come with transporting your body home. Instead, you probably get tossed on the side of the road somewhere with all of the other matching, mashed up bodies.. Just a guess though. This event is heavily grounded in tradition, so failure to wear these uniforms while you’re running results in you getting tackled, along with a probable cameo on Cops: Pamplona. Here’s what they looked like (the uniform, not the cops tackling people):
But I shouldn’t get too ahead of myself. Before all this bullrunning business, we had an entire night to kill. Naturally, we had booked our tour with a company that was pretty much run by a bunch of drunk, STD ridden university students. So, what happens when you leave all the planning in the hands of such a capable group? You end up drinking sangria all night and partying until you have to do your best attempt at a drunken run with bulls at 8am. I started my crazy birthday by getting serenaded in an underground parking lot by a bunch of strangers I’d soon hold an eternal bond to, strictly because of the morning we had ahead of us. It looked like I was playing an accordion made up of boxes of sangria as everyone passed a box to me and sang happy birthday. Once we hit the streets, the first birthday goal was to find some goddamn cake. What’s a birthday without cake? Absolutely nothing worth celebrating. You might as well go to bed and give up on life. We looked for ages but couldn’t find ourselves a bakery that was open so late. Saddened, we decided to go to the party street to transform our cake cravings into a drunken stupor. Then, a miracle happened. We found a late night creperie. Boston Pizza ran up, announcing that she would buy my birthday crepe for me while I yelled in response “YEA YOU ARE!!!”. That’s when things got even better. We discovered that the crepe lady had CANADIAN MAPLE SYRUP. OH HALLELUJAH, THERE IS A JESUS AND HE LIVES ON THIS EARTH IN THE FORM OF AN ELDERLY SPANISH WOMAN WITH A MEDIOCRE SENSE OF FASHION! I wish I had video of how ridiculous Boston Pizza looked as she tried to explain to the crepe lady that she wanted all the maple syrup. She didn’t just want a small, healthy portion. NO, she wanted her to dump that bottle on my crepe and turn it into the shamefully syrupy mess that my sangria soaked body craved and deserved. To paint a picture for you: imagine a starving, mute chimpanzee trying to get a banana held behind a glass wall with about a dozen people watched. That was Boston Pizza trying to get syrup (and no I’m not calling you a chimpanzee, but I just watched Zoolander and I was thinking of the scene where they tried to open the Mac computer and it inspired me to give a monkey related description. I know you’ll love that reference :P). Everything after the crepes is a blissful sticky blur (insert sexual innuendo here) that had us hopping from bar to bar in search of a place that could fuel our consuming hunger for debauchery. Things sank into clarity when we found ourselves tired and ready to pass out; our white girl dance moves draining us of the energy we had. We were like the energizer bunny, only we ran on sangria…and we needed a recharge. Unfortunately for us, the bars were closing and the only option was to rest on a park bench in the middle of Pamplona. Squeezed between other partiers and hobos, we formed a giant spoon train with some other people we had met on the tour. I wasn’t able to sleep, so I stayed awake and watched out for us. None of us had anything worth stealing, but we were a very attractive bunch, so naturally I decided it was a smart idea to go on rape patrol. Surprisingly, no one tried to get in on the action or rob us. Instead, tons of tourists decided to whip out their cameras and take some photos (and yes, most of them were asian). It’s like they’ve never seen a spoon train before. Since I was the only guy there, I was tossed a few “HAHA BIG SPOOOOOON FOR DA WIN!” looks from guys passing by.
Eventually, it was time to head to the starting point for the running of the bulls. By now we had processed how stupid our choice was to participate, so we were going through alllll the stages of denial. Anger, denial, acceptance, nervous flatulence…. they were all there to attend our big mopey-we’re-going-to-die-pity-party. It’s quite the sight as they herd you onto the street with all the other poor decision makers. The only thing going through my mind when they closed the big wooden gates behind us was “this must have been how Jack Bauer felt when he got exiled by the US Government”. Then again, Jack Bauer would probably fight all the bulls with his bare hands AND stop a terrorist plot at the same time. I was just trying my best to not pee when I sneezed. Different battles. Both heroes. While we sat with the masses and pondered how we would rather die, the event organizers decided it would be a cool idea to put up tv screens on the corner of the street, showing the Spanish version of TSN’s top 10 of last year’s bull run. Now, understand this: up until this point we had been told that there was ABSOLUTELY no way we would get hurt or die as long as we didn’t get in the way of the bull, touch the bull, look at the bull, reason with the bull, or breathe the same air as the bull. And that was comforting. And then they shove our faces into constant replays of people getting run over and destroyed by these pissed off bulls, all to some sort of pseudo Lord of the Rings soundtrack. The video only made me think two things: 1) I should have stayed at the shire, I’m so dead and 2) I can’t believe I won’t get see the third part of the Hobbit. Ok, that’s a lie. I also thought “how the hell does Legolas keep his hair so nice when he’s fighting literally all the time? Middle Earth equivalent of head and shoulders? Good genes?” Now I’m getting off track. The point was that we’re all screwed. To the point where I was seriously considering how I’d position my friends between myself and the bulls. I might have also considered stuff like their weight and ability to balance, just in case I had to make a sacrifice to ensure my survival. Andddd that sound you heard was the sound of friendships dying.
A gunshot shattered the sky, splitting an atmosphere made up of oxygen, ozone, and the evaporated remains of liquid fear (pee). We were off. It took a second to get moving, mostly because no one really knew which way to go, or how fast the bulls were coming. We broke out into a speed walk, followed by a brisk job, and then straight into sprinting. We could hear the screaming and shouting rattling off the windows of the buildings as we blew through the streets at lightning speeds. I honestly don’t know where I found the energy to do it all after a malaria scare and night of partying. Oh wait, of course I could find the energy. I had spent the last 24 hours convincing myself I was probably going to die. And it wasn’t going to be in the jello pit orgy I had always envisioned it would be in.
The whole point of the run was to make it into the arena at the end of the track before the bulls did. If you didn’t, then…well, you got spared the joy of getting chased around by angry, horny bulls (I’m assuming they’re like most pro athletes and don’t get to get their jollies off before big games. You know, contract stuff) while hundreds of people pay to watch your not so glamorous death. And, of course, we managed to get into the arena before the bulls. Lucky us. Boston Pizza, Skywalker, and myself all ran to the wall on the side to get out of striking distance from the bulls. Naturally, everyone followed us. Clearly we looked like the surviving type, so people decided to stay close. Clearly. Fewer things are scarier than having a bunch of sweaty, terrified people shove their helpless bodies against you while bulls run wild in the ring. It was terrifying but also elating in that “I’m going to die, so why do I have a boner right now?” kinda way. Now, one of the “things to do” at the running of the bulls was to try and grab the bull’s horn without getting knocked around. You don’t get a medal or anything, but you “win” so to speak. Pretty much you get bragging rights to say you did something really stupid and didn’t die. It’s the American dream with Spanish subtitles. The bulls were sent out in pairs while the other bulls were rested and fed before being sent back out to wreak havoc on us poor, unsuspecting tourists. Picture Rocky Balboa in between rounds of fighting: spit bucket, stitches, shoulder massage, squirt of water, and then BAM, right back into the ring to take on Apollo Creed.
The event went on for what felt like a lifetime, but was probably closer to 20 minutes. The bulls were all herded into the pen, and we were spared any more brushes with death (for now). Hundreds of people piled out of the arena and filed past the ambulances that were waiting to scrape up whatever was left of the not so fortunate people off the ground of the arena. The only medical equipment they’d be needing was a handful of mops and the world’s smallest violin.
We spent the next few hours waiting in an underground bus station, angry as fuck because our bus was going to be arriving 2-3 hours later than it was supposed to. This bus station had a realllllly questionable looking restaurant with monstrous sandwiches, so we gorged on those while we avoided conversation because of how tired and cranky we were. Eventually, our bus arrived and we hopped on it and took off to our campground. The second part of the tour involved camping near a small Spanish town, where we’d then bus to a 3 day music festival called BBK fest in Bilbao. We got to the campsite in the afternoon, so there was no way we were going to sleep in a hot tent in the middle of the day. Instead, we paid 20 euros so we could drink unlimited booze for the next 4 days, and decided to party with our liquid personalities. To put it all in perspective, they had enough kegs there that we started using them as stools when we were sitting around and socializing. The festival itself was unreal, but I wouldn’t say it was extremely eventful in terms of shenanigans. Besides a few of our friends popping a squat and urinating in public, a ridiculous amount of cocaine being passed around by concert-goers, as well as watching a guy jump off of a c-can that was acting as a public toilet, things were pretty chill. I can say, however, it was the longest birthday of my life. It was also the first time I had spent all 24 hours celebrating my birthday. Here’s the breakdown for the rest of my birthday, and the few days after that: leave the campground with at least 2 liters of alcohol, arrive in Bilbao, catch a connecting bus to the festival around 5, drink and watch the performances until 4am, get back to the campground at 5am, wake up for breakfast at 9am, sleep until 11am, and then rinse and repeat for the next few days. The only snag we found was the first (or maybe it was the second) night when we got onto the wrong connecting bus at the end of the show and ended up on the wrong side of town. We did this 3 more times that night before we found out that there were two separate buses that were running from the festival to the bus station in town. The problem? They weren’t marked. We managed to get back and catch the very last bus to the bus station, relieved to see our drunken compatriots slumped on the sidewalk while they waited for our campground bus. We were 5 minutes away from being stuck on the festival grounds for the next 12 hours. No bueno. I should also make note that the tents we were using weren’t exactly the same quality that you’d find at your local Mountain Equipment Co-op store at home. No, my tent was 90% duct tape and 10% spirit… which didn’t hold up well when it rained the first night. There wasn’t a single thing that didn’t get wet that night. Not. A. Single. Thing.
After the festival, we spent our last few days together in Barcelona exploring the sights and relaxing. The last 4-5 days had pretty much killed us, so we were in power saving mode. Despite the lack of crazy shenanigans, it was a glorious few days with great friends, great food, and great sights. Saying goodbye was difficult, but that just goes to show how much fun the trip had been. But I had comfort in knowing I’d be seeing them soon back in Canada. My next stop would be Vienna, where I’d spend my last days catching up with friends and seeing the sights that I had failed to see when I was living there previously. It’s easy to procrastinate with stuff when you live in the city itself. Hell, how many of you Edmonton folk have seen everything Edmonton has to offer? And how long have you lived there? My point exactly. Thankfully, one of my Viennese friends offered me his place to crash at so I wouldn’t have to drop mad dolla billz on hostels, or try to have the perfect week with the ladies and take advantage of post coitus spooning. You’re the best, and I owe you accommodations and beers the next time you’re in Canada! My friends and I spent our last day at some of our favorite locations: hitting up Vapiano’s for dinner, followed by another raunchy night at our favorite drinking hole the Travel Shack. By ending in Vienna, my trip had come full circle, and I couldn’t imagine a better way to end it.
Travel Playlist 2014
1.) Leaving Edmonton: American Authors – Best Day of My Life
2.) Vienna: Billy Joel – Vienna
3.) Linz: City and Colour – The Lonely Life
4.) Graz: Closure in Moscow – Night at the Spleen
5.) Prague: New Politics – Fall Into These Arms
6.) Füssen: Biffy Clyro – Mountains
7.) Reflections and Ramblings: Bastille – Laughter Lines
8.) Zell am See: The Menzingers – Gates
9.) Vienna II: A Day to Remember – City of Ocala
10.) Amsterdam: Less Than Jake – Good Enough
11.) Brugges: Seether – Tonight
12.) Brussels: Frank Turner – Four Simple Words
13.) Stockholm: John Newman – Love Me Again
14.) Uppsala: Philip Philips – Gone, Gone, Gone
15.) Lisbon: Switchfoot – Saltwater Heart
16.) Lagos: Florence + the Machine – Shake it Out
17.) Budapest: All Time Low – Weightless
18.) Goodbye, Vienna: Good Charlotte – Counting the Days
19.) Copenhagen: Anberlin – Stranger Ways
20.) Berlin: Nothing More – I’ll Be OK
21.) Athens: Black Light Burns – Cruel Melody
22.) Santorini: Birds of Tokyo – Lanterns
23.) Milan: Angels & Airwaves – The Adventure
24.) Monterrosso: Babysitters Circus – Everythings Gonna Be Alright
25.) Florence: Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten
26.) Rome: Young Guns – I Was Born, I Have Lived, I Will Surely Die
27.) Marseille: Royal Blood – Out of the Black
28.) Avignon: No Devotion – Stay
29.) Paris: Starset – Halo
30.) Barcelona: Heartist – Skeletons
31.) Pamplona: Chevelle – Hats off to the Bull
32.) Bilbao: Foster the People – I Would Do Anything For You
33.) Vienna: Breaking Benjamin – Without You
34.) Going Home: Super Happy Fun Club – Way Back (The Conflict)