We hadn’t seen enough of Portugal but definitely wanted to visit Gibraltar before heading back to England for a huge family celebration.
So we found ourselves bidding a premature “farewell” to Portugal, crossing into Spain and heading straight for the Spanish border town (with Gibraltar) of La Linea de la Concepción.
On the way we stopped to sleep the night outside Seville and promised ourselves we would be back to get to know this interesting city famous, among other things, for being the birthplace of Flamenco dancing and the fact that the famous explorer Christopher Columbus is buried there.
By late morning the following day, we had arrived in La Linea and were parked in a massive car park next to a marina just a stone’s throw from Gibraltar.
From our parking spot we had an amazing view of the famous Rock of Gibraltar although it was totally shrouded in mist when we first arrived.
Regardless of the weather we were keen to cross into Gibraltar as soon as possible. A few minutes walk and we were at the border where we were able to walk through the customs post and just show our passports before arriving on the other side.
We were amazed to find that before entering into the metropolis of Gibraltar we had to walk across the airport’s one and only runway! That was a first for us (in how many other countries can you get anywhere near the airport runway, let alone cross it?) and really took us by surprise.
The first thing we noticed once we had crossed the runway was that the mist that had shrouded the famous rock was gradually dissipating (thank goodness!) and the second was how English Gibraltar was!
Within minutes of entering the country (all under 7 square kilometres of it) we had seen a British telephone box, two red post boxes, several notices in English and the very British street name of “Winston Churchill Avenue”. “Good grief”, “I say”, “how very jolly” we chorused in our best English accents!
We decided to head first for harbour (the lure of boats is always hard for us to resist) and on the way encountered many historical remains, particularly from the early 18th Century when Spain tried to regain the territory from the British who had been given control by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, after the Anglo-Dutch victory in the War of Spanish Succession.
During the 18th Century Gibraltar was besieged and heavily bombarded during three wars by Spain but the attacks were repulsed on each occasion.
By the end of the last siege, in the late 18th century, poor Gibraltar had faced fourteen sieges in 500 years. It was just fascinating to see the various historical remains in grey stone rubbing shoulders with the stark modern concrete and glass skyscrapers.
We eventually found the marina area with restaurants at the water’s edge. It was pretty but we felt uncomfortable – it seemed to be full of ex-pats who were there to be “seen” rather than to enjoy a meal.
A little disappointed, we moved on towards the centre of the “old town” where there were plenty of dining options – many of them English style pubs with typical English fare including fish and chips,bangers and mash and steak pie.
In the historic old town we came across various interesting sights – including a Statue of Lord Nelson. Apparently his body was brought to Gibraltar in his badly damaged battleship HMS Victory- after his death in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. He was eventually buried at St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Further on we saw the remains of the 16th Century Southport Wall and it’s three gates – one built in 1552, one in 1883 and the latest in 1967. The wall fortifications were first built following an attack by Barbary Pirates.
Later, close to the Southport Wall and gates, we stumbled across the small but absolutely beautifully tranquil Trafalgar Cemetery where the remains of some who had died from wounds after the Battle of Trafalgar (and other sea battles) are buried.
Another peaceful and lovely spot was La Alameda Botanic Gardens which was full of palms and other plants from many parts of the world (including a Silk Oak from Australia).
Above the botanic gardens we could see the historic Rock Hotel in all its Art Deco glory. We thought it would have been an ideal setting for an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery!
It was too late to travel to the top of “The Rock” by the time we had found the location of the cable car so we decided to head back to the van and return the following day. As we walked back in the twilight we were anticipating with excitement our trip “up the rock” the following day.
Well I have to say, we were not disappointed. The whole thing was an extremely memorable experience from the cable car ride to the top of the Rock, 426m above sea level, to meeting the Barbary Macaques, and from walking the precarious paths to seeing a glimpse of Africa over the 14.3 km (8.9 mile strait).
I can’t explain why but seeing Africa loom out from the clouds on the horizon thrilled me to the core. Maybe because I was born in Algeria and felt my birthplace calling? Perhaps just the vast range of travel possibilities were beyond that gorgeous strip of blue? Who knows, all I do know is that it was a visceral experience.
I took so many photos that I have found it almost impossible to choose which ones to include in this blog.
As we only had the morning to explore we decided to spend our time up there walking the trail around the Rock rather than spend time going round the famous St Michael’s Caves, a network of limestone caves located within the Upper Rock Nature Reserve that have been used throughout history for military purposes.
At the very top of the Rock where the views were stunning, we found O’Hara’s Battery completed in 1890 and continued in active use during World War II.
There was a little museum in the underground area where the gun and engine rooms and shell storage were located. An atmospheric tunnel carved out of the rock led from the engine room to the gun.
Apart from the view of Africa, the highlight of our morning on the Rock was observing the very cheeky Barbary Macaques – the only wild monkey population on the European continent.
Although they receive plenty of fresh food every day they will still steal from tourists given half a chance. We witnessed a daring attack while waiting to board the cable car back down to the bottom.
An adult Macaque spied someone eating snack food in the cable car gondola coming up the hill . Before the cable car had even stopped the Macaque made an enormous leap right into the cable car and with one agile and swift movement whipped the bag out of the person’s hand and was out again.
There were several nervous tourists who started screaming which stirred up some of the other rascals and then there was mayhem. Snacks were flying monkeys and people were shrieking, there was panic in the air.
One of the monkeys jumped on the back of a diminutive tourist who was beside herself with fear and just stood there yelling, squawking and cowering which of course made the monkey bolder and absolutely certain that the lady was hiding food. So it kept jumping back on her back each time someone drove it back. Eventually peace was restored but everyone was left feeling a little rattled.
Despite the dramatic end to our morning we had thoroughly enjoyed our walk on this iconic and historic landmark.
Gibraltar You Rock!