day 15 :
sunday, 25 september
It's Sunday morning, a bit before 9AM, and we're in the city of Logroño, wine capital of the Rioja. It's the tail-end of the annual wine harvest festival here, and we're here to see a bullfight. We have no idea where it is, but we park after seeing huge crowds of Spaniards all heading in the same direction. We start following the crowds, and notice that many young people already have a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other - we don't know if they're starting early, or still going from the night before! After a few minutes we arrive at the aptly-named Plaza de Torro (bullfighter plaza), and walk in for the free "amateur" bullfight. What ensued was a good deal of chaos - thousands of Spaniards cheering, smoking, and yelling from the circular arena, while a couple of dozen would-be bullfighters from the town stood around the sand-covered ring, trying to show their prowess while not getting trampled by a bull. Throughout the next hour or so, five bulls were let into the ring in succession, each one with its own personality and desire to impale the young men. The typical scene was a man trying to get the attention of the bull and when he succeeded, immediately fleeing and flinging himself over the crowd barrier. We noticed that the tips of the bull horns were blunted or covered with something to protect anyone from getting completely impaled. The event was fascinating, but we were glad that it was only the free amateur event that didn't really involve fighting instead of the professional one in the evening which included the tradition of killing the bull - something that neither of us felt that we could quite stomach.
As part of the festival today, the city had food and wine tastings, a parade, concerts, and many other events. After the bullfight, we lined up for chocolate con bizcocha (sponge cake, sort of like a ladyfinger, that you dipped into an incredibly rich cup of hot chocolate), and later sampled chorizo y pancetta toasts served with a mini-bottle of Rioja wine for a mere two euros. The wine tasting booths were packed with festival-goers sampling wine before lunch.
We'd been touring non-stop for a few days now, so decided to take it easy this afternoon and caught up on our reading. During the trip, we both managed to read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, The Kite Runner, and Freakonomics, all of which we enjoyed.
The inn we stayed at, the Posada Mayor de Migueloa, is part of a bodega that produces its own wine, so the hotel guests are entitled to a tour of their wine cave, which is located just below the hotel. To get to the cave from street level, you walk down nearly two stories of ancient-looking stairs carved straight out of the earth, and find yourself in a wonderfully musty-smelling cavern filled with aging wine barrels. From what we've heard, almost all of Laguardia is built on top of wine caves like this. If only we could have explored more caves - they were so fascinating!