4.1.11

Gibraltar

‘Drive across the runway but remember to give right of way to aircraft.’

We’d decided to drive down to Gibraltar for a few days break, and these were the directions for crossing over to the Rock from Spain. We certainly weren’t going to argue with a 747. Caught in a traffic jam it took us an hour before we reached customs and they just waved us through. Where all the cars went after that I’ve no idea as it really is a quiet little town with narrow streets, and very much one foot in the past.

The name Gibraltar comes from the Arabs who invaded Spain in the VIII century. As Tarik was the leader of the invading army, the rock has been known as Gibel Tarik - the mountain of Tarik, ever since. Over the years the name has changed to become Gibraltar. It became a British garrison in 1830 during the War of the Spanish Succession. Spain made two attempts during the 18th century to recapture it, without success. The first was in 1727. Another attempt was made during the American Revolution when Spain joined forces with France in the war to take the Rock. The Great Siege lasted nearly 4 years from 1779 to 1783, defended by a force of 7,000 commanded by the Governor, General Sir George Eliott. Maybe there's an idea for a novel in there somewhere.



As Gibraltar remains in British hands to this day, it is very much a place with an identity crisis: Spanish houses with their pretty iron balconies abutting Palladian architecture. A Victorian police station, red telephone boxes, the Royal Mail, and policemen in English uniforms speaking Spanish.


Irish pubs, Macdonalds and Pizza Hut, tapas bars and smart marina restaurants. M & S, Next and Dorothy Perkins opposite Moroccan silk shops and expensive Spanish jewellers. It’s all here, just take your pick. And whatever you buy can be paid for in euros or sterling.





I have to say the weather was not good. In what might be termed our taste of Britain weekend we weren’t banking on the rain too, but yes, it absolutely threw it down all Friday and much of Saturday. Undaunted we had a great time.






On New Year’s Eve we ate at 14 On the Quay, a smart restaurant on Queensway Quay. I had melon followed by rib eye steak while David had prawns then beef strogonoff. The food was excellent and reasonably priced. We might have stayed on for desert and cava but an unnecessarily loud disco started up next door, so we bailed out. We returned to our hotel in time to watch a selection of magnificent firework display from our balcony, all going on at once from different roof tops as well as the waterfront, as if vying with each other for excellence. Most impressive.

New Year’s Day, a Saturday, was closed. Yes, all shops and tourist attractions on Gibraltar were closed due to holidays. This happens throughout the year apparently, so if you visit please do avoid Sundays and bank holidays. We did manage to bribe a taxi driver to take us up the Rock, (426 metres high) and saw the apes, remembering not to feed them or go too near. There are several family groups, 300 animals in all, who are free to roam over the entire Rock.




There are siege tunnels, and underground shelters which were used during the war, guns, a cave and various other tourist sites to be seen, when open.



And the views are panoramic over southern Spain. Absolutely magnificent.

There’s the naval base, of course, now much depleted, sailing trips out to see the dolphins diving; the Trafalgar war cemetery and I believe some beaches on the far side which we didn’t explore. And if you do get rain there are cinemas and a museum for indoor entertainment. But there isn’t much to do here, so a short break is probably all it deserves. Everyone should go to Gibraltar once in a lifetime. It’s a fun experience, if only for those old red telephone boxes. But if you drive across, do watch out for Easyjet.

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