February 13, 2014 by Caroline Leland
The Setting of the Story
Now that the exciting newness of everything I’m doing is slowing down, I want to take a moment to give a decent description of where I am. Here’s the backdrop for all these blog posts:
I live on the fifth floor of a seven-story apartment building on one of the town’s main roads, which is called Pio XII (pronounced pee-yo dough-say). My bedroom window faces the windows of the neighbors across the building’s inner courtyard, so usually I keep the thin curtains drawn so as to not be on display when changing clothes and such. My bedroom is a refuge for me; it’s a quiet space I can retreat to at any time without worries of intrusion (even though the door has no lock). I’ve started a collection of maps on two of my walls; there are now 11 maps ranging from a tiny black-and-white representation of my university campus to a giant boldly-colored guide to Valencia.
The giant window in the apartment’s main common room faces the east, so in the morning sunlight pours in and fills the whole room. We have a tiny balcony from which you have a clear view of the edge of town (not far at all) and Pamplona’s mountainous backdrop. Even when on the street, the mountains can almost always be seen on the horizon. It’s a lovely context.
The campus is a six-minute walk from my apartment, and then it’s about six more minutes to the communications building where all my classes are. The FCOM building, as it’s called here, is awful: it’s designed in stark, heavy blocks of concrete that gives it the atmosphere of a prison. On Mondays, when I have class 9-5, I take every chance I have to leave the building and walk around campus (if it’s not raining too hard) or do homework in the economics building next door.
The university campus is surprisingly spacious, with lots of wide green spaces and rows of trees lining the paths. Pamplona itself is surprisingly compact, something you realize when you’re near the edge of town and suddenly see fields instead of urban blocks. If you walk six minutes from my apartment in the opposite direction of the university, you’ll find yourself at a central park called the Ciudadela, where ruins from an old castle have been turned into a common green space. People are always jogging, strolling with baby carriages and walking their dogs in and around the Ciudadela — even in the rain. It has been my favored running route as well.
Walk straight through the Ciudadela and a couple of blocks later you’ll find yourself in Casco Viejo, or Old Town. This is where most of Pamplona’s bars and interesting restaurants and cafes are, as well as all kinds of retail stores. The opposite edge of Casco Viejo is bordered by the old city wall, built in the 1500s to protect Pamplona and the frontier behind it from the French. Below the wall is a river and beyond the river is a swath of residential buildings. Hemming it all in, of course, are the ever-visible mountains that circle Pamplona.