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¡Gora San Fermín! Spain’s bull-running fiesta returns after pandemic pause

A red-and-white sea of revellers erupted in celebration Wednesday, dousing each other with wine in a packed Pamplona square as Spain's most famous bull-running festival returned after a two-year absence due to the pandemic.

SPAIN-BULLRUNNING-FESTIVAL-SAN FERMIN
"Gora San Fermín", meaning 'arriba' or long live San Fermín, is what Pamplona's mayor and participants shout as celebrations in the city get underway. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP)

The launch of a firecracker known as the “chupinazo” from the balcony of the northern city’s town hall at noon (1000 GMT) marked the official start of the nine-day San Fermín festival, kicking off the bedlam.

Thousands of party-goers from around the world — most dressed in the traditional all-white outfit with a red scarf — responded ecstatically, screaming “Viva San Fermín!” and spraying each other with wine.

Despite a light rain falling, the throng cheered wildly as they waved their red scarves in the air and passed giant yellow inflatable balls over their heads as scores looked on from crowded apartment balconies.

“The rain doesn’t matter. Seeing the square full again is terrific,” said Saioa Guembe Peña, 54-year-old civil servant whose white shirt was stained pink with wine.

The annual festival, made famous by Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises”, was last held in 2019.

Participants celebrate as the “Pamplonesa” municipal music band performs during the “Chupinazo” (start rocket) opening ceremony to mark the kick-off of the San Fermín Festival outside the Town Hall of Pamplona in northern Spain on July 6, 2022. (Photo by Ander GILLENEA / AFP)

Local officials called off the hugely popular event in 2020 and the following year because of the Covid-19 pandemic — the first time the festival was cancelled since Spain’s civil war in the 1930s.

Many revellers started drinking early, sitting at outdoor patios or wandering Pamplona’s narrow, cobbled streets with large bottles of sangria hours before the “chupinazo”.

The festival, which dates back to medieval times, features concerts, religious processions, folk dancing and round-the-clock drinking.

But the highlight is the bracing daily test of courage against a thundering pack of half-tonne, sharp-horned bulls.

Revellers celebrate during the “Chupinazo” (start rocket) opening ceremony, with a banner calling for the return of ETA terrorists to prisons in the region (Navarre and the Basque Country) seen in the background. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP)

Every day at 8:00 am, hundreds of daredevils race with six fighting bulls along an 850-metre (2,800-foot) course from a holding pen to Pamplona’s bull ring, which this year marks its 100th anniversary.

The bravest — or most foolhardy — run as close as possible to the bulls’ horns, preferably without being gored.

The first bull run, which traditionally draws the largest number of participants, is on Thursday.

Dozens of people are hurt every year, although most injuries are caused by runners falling or being trampled by the bulls.

The last death was in 2009 when a bull gored a 27-year-old Spaniard in the neck, heart and lungs.

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TRAVEL

TRAVEL: Tourists in Spain will also be eligible for free train tickets

In welcome news for tourists and travellers in Spain, holidaymakers will be eligible to take advantage of Spain's 100% discounts on train travel later in the year.

TRAVEL: Tourists in Spain will also be eligible for free train tickets

Tourists will be eligible for Spain’s free train ticket scheme that will be phased in later on this year, as confirmed to the Spanish press by sources in Spain’s Ministry of Transport this week.

“If a foreign tourist is a frequent user of the [train] network, he can make use of this subscription. If they want to complete the trips, they will not be asked for any type of card,” the source said.

Additionally, in further news of particular interest for British and American travellers, no differentiation will be made between tourists nor between EU and non-EU nationals for the discounts. Free train travel will be available to all tourists, regardless of where they’re from.

It is hoped that the free train travel will entice more visitors to Spain and continue the sector’s post-pandemic recovery, which for the first six months of the year exceeded pre-pandemic (2019) levels by 1.1 percent, according to figures from the association of Spanish tourism companies, Exceltur.

Tourism experts expect Spain to surpass the number of foreign visitors in the last four months of 2019 – over 20 million tourists – despite upwards inflationary pressures on the cost of flights and accommodation.

But like everything in life, there are terms and conditions. You won’t be able to waltz on any train in Spain for free, and it isn’t year-round.

When?

This eye-catching travel discount will be available from September 1st to December 31st 2022, during which multi-journey train tickets on the trains outlined below will be free.

Free train travel

The 100 percent discount scheme, which will cost public coffers a reported €200 million, will only be valid on certain lines and comes amid a series of measures put in place by the government to try and ease the pain of rising inflation and prices, but also to lower pressures on fuel following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and ensuing energy crisis. 

READ ALSO: How much can you save on public transport in Spain with the new state discount?

“The government will subsidise 100 percent of the public service of commuter trains operated by Renfe. We hope that the autonomous communities can complement this enormous effort made by the Spanish government,” Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said when announcing the scheme in the Spanish Congress.

But which trains will be free, when, and how can you take advantage of them?

Which trains are free?

Unfortunately, the Spanish government has not given everyone in Spain free train travel on every route and on every type of train.

There are rules.

Simply put, local and commuter trains will be free. Cercanías, Rodalies (Catalonia), and Media Distance (local and medium-distance journeys) will be 100 percent free of charge.

The policy is aimed at encouraging the use of trains as opposed to other fossil fuel intensive forms of transport, and it’s valid for journeys up to 300km.

That in mind, trips on long-distance or high-speed trains, such as AVE and Alvia, are not included in the plan.

Neither will the routes in Avlo, the low-cost AVE option established in 2021, nor the medium and high-speed Avants.

Avlo and Avants will instead have a 50 percent discount on the original price, as outlined by the government in June.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer free train trips: when, where and how?

The Spanish government are yet to announce in detail how exactly the discounts will work, or how to apply for them.

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