Hoofing It in Pamplona

By Scott Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 7, 2007

Q. My wife and other family members think I'm crazy, but I've always wanted to run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Can you recommend a tour company to arrange this adventure?

Tom Stout, Glenwood

A. Ryan King put it better than we ever could: "Men need to get in touch with their inner stupidity." King, who incidentally believes that our "safety-driven culture" has spawned the emergence of "something primal, mostly for men," has been leading tours to Pamplona every July since 2004 (888-825-4720, His excursions are a combination of bull-running and bicycling, the latter involving rides through Spain's picturesque and wine-rich Rioja Valley.

The tours climax at the Festival of San Fermin, which is held each year on the same days -- July 6-14 -- with the bulls running every morning at 8 starting on the second day. "A lot of people think you have to pay to run, but you don't," he says. "Another misconception is that people should stay at hotels in town." King suggests you hang your hat in Pamplona's outskirts, in part, he says, because brass bands begin waking up the townsfolk at the unseemly hour of 5:30 a.m. "You don't want to have a brass band under your window at that hour."

Still, King's charges want to experience those same images of chaos most of us see only on the nightly news, and for that he rents a large wraparound balcony "which overlooks the dangerous 90-degree turn from Calle Mercaderes onto Calle Estafeta." Some end up running; others chicken out ("they suddenly discover they have knee injuries"); but all would agree with you that it's an incomparable sight.

"Take the New York City Marathon," King says, "cram it into an alleyway that's 20 feet wide and then run 12 bulls into it." And let the inner stupidity begin!

My wife and I would like to go on a six-day trip to Sweden next summer. Can you recommend a plan for seeing the country and other parts of Scandinavia?

Jim Killian, Leesburg

Even after more than 20 years of offering advice, Annika Benjes of VisitSweden (the country's official tourism site, at answers questions like yours with the utmost precision. "First of all, you are going to be arriving in the morning. Take the speed train to [Stockholm]; it takes 20 minutes. The first hours: Relax, take a shower, eat breakfast." But after lunch you need to get down to business. Spend two or three days exploring Stockholm, and then "take an excursion out to the archipelago."

Benjes highly recommends the tiny island of Grinda. "You can go by boat. . . . It's nothing fancy-schmancy, but the food is absolutely excellent," as are the canoeing and kayaking. The 10th-century town of Sigtuna is also on Benjes's short list. "It's just a 30- or 40-minute car ride but really beautiful, right by the lake [Malaren], with really just one main street."

Another suggestion: Board the speedy SJ train (011-46-771-757575, for Sweden's second- (Goteborg) or third- (Malmo) largest city; the former is famous for its cuisine ( And of course if you've any time left over on this short trip, you can consider excursions to Denmark or Finland. Copenhagen is just one hour away by plane; Scandinavian Airlines (800-221-2350, allows U.S. passengers to fly to one Scandinavian city and return from another without paying a penalty, Benjes says.

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