Café Iruna, Pamplona, where Ernest Hemingway drank and other iconic spots overrun with tourists

"Do you want to see the Hemingway statue?"

The American voice booms across the dining room, easily loud enough for the tour group to hear. Chairs scrape and clothes rustle as they all get up and shuffle across to the life-sized likeness of Pamplona's most famous tourist and start posing for photos.

Ernest Hemingway used to drink here. There can't be many visitors to Pamplona who miss the significance of Café Iruna, the bar and restaurant that featured so heavily in The Sun Also Rises, and was a favourite hang-out for that seminal novel's author during his many trips to the city for the festival of San Fermin.

Hemingway drank at Café Iruna, and so now, almost 100 years later, tourists flock to Plaza del Castillo to have the same experience. Except, of course, they're not having the same experience, mostly because of all the other tourists.

The statue the American tour guide is talking about is in the bar adjoining the café, where a bronze Ernest is there propping up the counter on a permanent basis. People take turns throughout the morning to leave their plates of churros and their milky coffees and go in there to take a snap.

Was it a good idea for me to come here? There's a popular theory that you should never meet your heroes, that they'll never live up to expectations, that it's better to just have them as fantasy and never have to face up to their inevitable flaws. That goes for people but it might just go for tourist attractions as well: maybe it's best not to visit these places, to just allow them to exist in your mind, free from the letdown of reality.

Visit a place that has featured heavily in popular culture, that have been made famous in books or songs or TV shows or movies, and you'll often find that the very things that made them famous have been trampled under the countless feet of the tourist hordes.

You might come to Café Iruna with delusions of originality, but then you arrive here and see that everyone else had the same idea, that the tables are filled with Japanese hikers dressed in leisure chic, with Americans yelling at each other, with French people taking selfies. And while some of the world's pop-culture attractions play it cool and let their famous associations speak for themselves, others, apparently, have a life-sized statue of their former patron stuck in the corner of the room.

Everyone is here at Café Iruna today for Hemingway. Not for the food or the décor or the lovely views of the plaza; Hemingway. There are selfie-takers posing with the statue, gawkers staring at the room, and other writerly types scribbling notes in pads or tapping away on laptops, clearly doing as I'm doing, trying to harness a slice of the talent of the writer who once drank his hangovers away here.


Café Iruna is very touristy, but I'm happy I came here. I'm happy I've seen it and experienced it. I'm happy to have this faint brush with literary history. I'm happy that I get to write a column in the same place Ernest Hemingway once scribbled out his own words.

This trip isn't my first time visiting pop-culture icons, or even my first Hemingway experience. I've been to El Floridita, the Havana cocktail bar where Ernest once took his daiquiris. It was fairly charmless, thanks to the dense crowd of fellow literary dorks, but still, an interesting piece of history.

I've stayed a night at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, seeking a connection with Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan and John Lennon and about a million other pop-culture legends who've stayed there.

<i>Chateau Marmont - good for celeb-spotting</i>

Chateau Marmont Photo: Alamy

I've eaten dinner at the Woody Creek Tavern near Aspen in Colorado because that's where Hunter S. Thompson used to hang out (and set off smokes bombs and get banned and come crawling back with letters of apology).

I've even stood on the corner of Stuart Street and Telegraph Avenue in Berkley because I really like the Green Day song Stuart and the Ave and I'm kind of a nerd. These days there's a store there that sells muffins. And a yoga studio. Rock 'n' roll.

I've visited "Juliet's balcony" in Verona, too, though that was only because I was working for a tour company and it was a thing we had to do. The balcony, obviously, doesn't actually feature in Shakespeare's famous play because it was built about 300 years after he penned it, which makes it a fairly baffling tourist attraction that I would not recommend to anyone.

<i>Juliet's Balcony in Verona, Italy</i>

Juliet's Balcony in Verona, Italy Photo: Alamy

Still, the balcony aside, I'm here to tell you that you should meet your heroes; or at least the places your heroes once hung out. You just need to go in to these places with low expectations. You won't feel like Hemingway when you visit. You won't feel like Jon Bonham or Hunter S. Thompson or anyone famous, really. You'll feel like a tourist.

But as long as you're ready for that – and feel no shame at posing for a selfie with a giant bronze statue of your idol – then join the crowd.

Have you visited any icons from popular culture? Was it disappointing? Or were you impressed?



See also: Nine things I do not miss about Australia

See also: Five places you'll never want to return to

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