Who hasn’t heard of “The Rock”? We aren’t talking of the erstwhile star of The Mummy here; not you Dwayne…. We were, once again toodling along the Spanish freeways, which we love; with the exception of the exorbitant tolls, on the way to Gibraltar. In hindsight we should have used the “no toll road” setting on the Here.com mapping program, which both avoids tolls and lets you travel more slowly via small villages and roads. Although to be fair, after our trip to Granada perhaps sticking to the freeways was a good idea.
Gibraltar is a fabled land of the indomitable British will pitted against the might of, well, basically everybody else. A small pocket of determination, wrested from the Spanish in 1704 and held throughout every major conflict, including WW2. A bit of a “Boy’s Own” myth which we had been dying to see. In Ian’s case, since he had read all of those WW2 comic books glorifying war, in his youth.
We came down out of the mountains, through the Parc de Nacional and the somewhat parched lakes. The map shows them in a more fulsome light, however it appears that Global Warming may be here, alive and well in Espańa. Algeciras is an industrial city, not particularly attractive and overshadowed, as it is, by The Rock, it melts into the background. As we approached Gibraltar, the rock appeared to grow in stature, until it was the entire focus. We were staying in La Linea de la Concepcion, known as the gateway to Gibraltar, which is close enough to enable one to live cheaply and yet within walking distance of that fabled place.
We couldn’t wait. No sooner had we checked into the Ohtels Campo de Gibraltar hotel, than we were hoofing it down the quay, passports in pockets, eager to finally see the Rock. Border Control, it has to be said, are a relaxed outfit. The British are eager for your patronage, the Spanish are happy to welcome you back. Walk in, flash your passport at a disinterested guard and you are away. It’s a bit disconcerting to walk across the runway which separates the township from the mainland, but once the isthmus is negotiated, you are IN!
How to describe Gibraltar? It is at once an English seaside town, but at the same time, one with the architecture of a tired Spanish village and much better weather. The old town, in many places, doesn’t appear to have had too much thought put into renovation for a hundred years or so, whereas the marina village is straight out of Marbella, but with a little more elan. Crowds throng the streets, blocking traffic, seemingly more interested in lumbering along in sympathy with so many of those English towns we have seen on our travels. It could be the High Street in Newmarket, or Padstowe. Whereas the Spanish tend to be quick, alert, mostly fit, or at least pretending to be, here the mode is more a waddle, a limp, a cane. A nod to the national health, which has kept us alive past our use by date, so that we are able, just barely to limp around one of the UK’s last overseas dominions.
We applied our now standard travel rule of heading back from the main street at least 2 streets to find a lunch spot and were delighted to stumble down a small cobbled alley and find the tiny Aragon Bar. Luckily they have a few tables out the front as the pub itself appeared full, with all 3 patrons at the bar. We ordered and enjoyed a traditional English lunch each, a pint of lager, Fish and Chips and Shepherds pie with Veg. Sated, we were off to explore a bit more of this curious land, neither Spanish nor British but Spanglish.
As battle hardened walkers, we strode through the crowds, heads held high, supercilious, self confident, arrogant in our superior abilities to cope with the uneven, pebbled surfaces, the ability to walk unaided for hours, kilometres, laughing at the need for buses or taxis. It was all good until the time came to head back to La Linea and the groin started to ache. Aah, we are all growing old after all (well one of us is). Gibraltar is like that. It reeks of ….old age. On that first afternoon we saw the old. We didn’t realise just what else was on offer.
As evening came, we wandered back from La Linea, to a deserted town, such a stark contrast from the massive throng during the day. We called into The Royal Calpe, hoping to find a pint and dinner but found that at 8pm we were a little late for dinner, so enjoyed a tinto verano in the beer garden before heading for the pizza shop, Pizzeria Plaza. If you happen to be in Gibraltar and need a pizza fix, this is the place for you. They have very large pizzas, great crusty base and a reasonable red wine, all for a pretty good price. Hint: you will only need a regular size, the large could feed an invading army.
Needing to walk off the pizza, we headed to the waterfront for a closer look at the marina and Ocean Village. Chalk and cheese, to put it in the vernacular. It is like stepping onto a movie set. Here the glamour is around some very nice yachts and of course the floating hotel/casino, “The Sunborn” which would be the perfect place to stay if your budget is a lot larger than ours. Throw in a dozen or more flashy restaurants, a sprinkling of bars, walls of high rise apartments and of course the view out over the harbour. A word of warning though, don’t have the cocktails at O’Reilly’s Irish Bar , they were expensive, made with some sort of flavouring and just generally yuck! We captured a beautiful sunset there (hint: sneak past the gate located near the Cuban bar) and would very much have liked to capture a yacht for sale too, Crazy Horse from White City. Alas, we retired sans the yacht.
Our second day was a little cooler than our first day had been. We awoke early and stirred ourselves to get down to the breakfast room. After all we had paid for breakfast and it was incumbent on us to eat as much as possible. We have slipped into an easy rhythm of large breakfasts, (well let’s be honest, in the great tradition of Hobbits, first AND second breakfasts) and then going without lunch, finally eating a late dinner around 9:30 – 10:00, as is the Spanish custom. It has enabled us to spend a large part of the day exploring and has proven to be quite effective. We feasted and then returned to our room, organised ourselves and then headed off to climb the rock. With the aid of the cable car, of course.
Gibraltar was once again chock full of the human equivalent of arteriosclerosis. We navigated our way around the crowds and finally arrived at the cable car departure lounge, where we tried to cool off before embarking on the journey up the hill. We were loaded on, like so many sardines in a can. No sitting room. Cath snapped photos furiously, Ian gazed fixedly at the peak, willing our arrival, before some disaster befell us. Surprisingly, to Ian, we arrived with no drama and disembarked on the peak. It was absolutely stunning! Far, far below us, the city clung to the edge of the rock, before it plunged into the harbour, whilst on the other side, the cliff fell away dramatically, as the gulls wheeled about and the sea mist rushed up the cliffside, spewing into the upper atmosphere. It was a huge adrenalin rush to be there.
We took the obligatory snaps, dangled over the edge and admired the famous Barbary Macaques bravado in sitting nonchalantly on a railing with a 400 metre drop beneath, then decided to enjoy a coffee in the cafe before strolling down the hill. Watch out for these greedy little monkeys though, one enterprising fellow kept sneaking into the cafe to pinch some food and on one occasion managed to steal someone’s lunch before being chased out, with the aid of a stick!.
We climbed down the stairs and began our descent along a bitumen roadway, bordered with a solid stone wall. There are a number of walks down the Rock, which are colour coded and range from easy to adventurous. We went with the middle of the road, or so we thought. All very easy, except for the numerous vans which bring people who are unable to climb or insufficiently cashed up for the cable car. Having previously experienced a hair raising ride up a very steep road in Chefchaouen, we demurred when offered the van option. About a third of the way down we arrived at St Michael’s cave which is quite a remarkable auditorium within a colourfully lit cave. We remain unsure what the management were thinking by playing Hotel California though, “you can never leave”, not really words anyone is keen to hear in a cave, we would think. A pity there was not a concert on during our stay, it would be an awesome event. Out the back door and on down the hill, we tried a couple of options, one of which led us back up and over a narrow suspension bridge. You may have read previously about Cath’s aversion to walking over bridges! As it turned out we had to backtrack across the bridge again to continue our downward journey. The view is of course amazing all the way down and we took several snaps as we progressed, before finally arriving at the uppermost parts of the township, where we met the worst stairway ever made, it may very well have been put there in 1452!
It goes without saying that we had walked up a fine thirst and the first port of call on our return to the base of the rock was, the Angry Friar , which we both agreed was a much better name for a Fish and Chippery than a pub, nevertheless they serve a fine, cold lager and we were happy to watch the cruise shippers while we recovered from our down hill hike. We were happy to get the bus back to the border this time as siesta was calling in preparation for the International Food Festival, Calentita. It promised to be a big Saturday night at the Rock.
Unbeknownst to us we had arrived on a big night in the social calendar of Gibraltar, Calentita. It is a multicultural food festival, with music, dancing, multiple food and beverage stalls set up in the main square, just inside the town walls. It seems the entire population had turned out and we were treated to some great food. Naturally we sampled a number of dishes; how else is one to judge the quality of such festivals? The Indonesian noodles were a stand out, as was the ever present Tinto Verano. The music on the other hand, well it might be best to follow mum’s advice, “if you have nothing nice to say…..”. So it was that we wandered off into the night, back across the border to prepare for the next leg of our journey.