Gibraltar – A Tale of Two Cities
(Sorry no pictures yet. Poor wi-fi connection)
Well obviously not two cities but definitely two halves. The Rock and the Town.
The walk from the marina to the border crossing, all of ten minutes, was interesting. Around 10am on a Friday morning and the double queue of cars to go through stretched way past the marina itself, almost as far as the eye could see along the sea front. On foot was definitely the quicker way to cross. Quite a few drivers obviously feel that hanging on the horn will make the queue move quicker. Has this ever worked?
We bought our visitor ticket from the Spanish side of the border which gave us a bus transfer from the border to the cable car going up the west side of the Rock and entrance to most of the historical attractions on the Rock itself.
The cable car ride was fun and as we approached ‘Top Rock’ the Barbary Macaques (here after to be known as ‘monkeys’) made their presence known straight away. Three of them were waiting on the bars of the cable car ‘parking’ spot. I read some signs which said that one of the monkeys was partially adept at picking pockets, opening zips on bags and did so on the stairwells when people were concentrating on moving up or down the stairs. The monkeys are obviously drawn to where the people are and not necessarily for food. It is an offence to feed them with large fines if caught. We were warned not to eat food in front of them or take a plastic bag out of another bag or pocket as they associate this with food and will make a grab for it. We saw two younger monkeys chasing with a plastic bag, one trying to get if away from the other. A chap had lost his hat when a monkey grabbed it and was having difficulty getting it back. We don’t know if he did or not. When we were having a drink in the cafe, 3 were trying to get in through the door, one jumping for the handle while the two at the bottom pushed the door. Quite a few of them were nursing mothers with tiny babies that barely looked a few weeks old. They looked even more human without much hair and particularly when sucking their thumb or one had fallen asleep whilst feeding and it’s head had fallen back into it’s mothers arms. Bless. It is hard to remember they are wild and there were signs to remind us. Quite a few were happy to climb on a shoulder or be stroked, usually the younger/smaller looking ones and they were quick to let people know if they weren’t happy to be touched or got bored (they growled and showed their teeth). However, I never felt scared of them. I hadn’t been trying to touch them and when one briefly jumped on my shoulder from a car, we missed the photo opportunity.
Enough of the monkeys, though they are iconic to Gibraltar of course and made more famous by the quote from Winston Churchill about Gibraltar remaining under British rule as long as the macaques remain.
We then walked to St Michaels Cave which was amazing. It was a hot day for walking, one of the few days on Gib where it reached 30º. Back to the monkeys, while we sat and had a coffee, the girl behind the bar quickly put down her phone and raced to shoo away a mother with a baby who was at the other end of the bar trying to open the counter with the sandwiches. They have special monkey proof bins to try to stop them scavenging. Anyway, the cave. As I said, amazing. Inside they have lighting which really gives depth to the shadows between the stalagmites/stalactites and they hold music concerts in there too. Which is probably why the lighting is there really. They had a cross section of a huge stalactite that had fallen, possibly thousands of years ago, and explained what the different colours of the rings meant. It had been forming during two ice ages.
It was quite a walk from the cave along the west side of the Rock to the Great Siege Tunnels. Again, fantastic. Started in the 1700’s and extended during WW2, there are over 30 miles of tunnels in the rock and the public are not allowed in most of it. However, we did walk from one side of the Rock to the other and overlooked the Mediterranean. Views from the side vaults with the cannon across the large cemetery (which includes Commonwealth War Graves) and runway looking into Spain were awesome. The walk inside is a couple of km and there are many exhibits inside explaining what you are looking at and the history.
Although quite tired and hot it was now downhill. We passed the WW2 tunnels but it was not part of our ticket and was a 45minute guided tour. Something we have saved if we pass this way again. The Moorish Castle,, which we can see quite clearly from the boat, was in our ticket and we walked down. Although it has its Moorish shape on the outside, inside is just a metal stairway to the top and as we had been “viewed out”, didn’t go right up. The walk down the Castle Steps to the town was interesting as it weaved down between some of the older dwellings. Hard on the knees though. Then Main Street, blessedly flat. We stopped at a cashpoint to get some sterling (funny Gib notes that are not legal tender in the UK) as we had been stuffed on the rate using Euros to buy our earlier drinks. We then went to The Star Bar, the oldest pub in Gibraltar, well so it says. We saw Nigel and Tracy from Relentless who joined us for a drink then we stayed and had English style fish, ‘hand cut’ chips and peas. I have to say it was delicious. Then we walked back to the boat in Spain. Walking across a live runway was a first. There are signs telling you to get a move on and not to dawdle. We were far too tired to do the town the same day and by the time we got down from the Rock, most of the shops were closing so town, or the 2nd city, was another day.
Gibraltar Town – the 2nd City
We went into Gib again the following Monday. Not the best time to go as two cruise ships were in and the place was heaving with people wearing sticky labels on their t-shirts and getting extra discounts from the already tax free stores. I did have in mind that I wanted to go to Marks & Spencer and find the shop that sold yarn. These turned out to be almost next door to each other. The yarn shop was disappointing as it sold mostly materials not yarn and M&S, although small compared to the usual UK ones, had a tiny food hall and sold Percy Pigs (jelly sweets).
It was strange to be “abroad” but on a familiar looking high street with a BHS (closing down), Next, Monsoon, Holland & Barratt, Peacocks to name but a few. In fact when the clothes store of BHS shuts there will be two sizeable empty shops as BHS also had a separate home store which had already closed. They could do with a Boots and a Debenhams.
For perfume, drink, cigarettes and jewellery at tax free prices the choice of shops is almost endless. It turns out though that most of them are owned by the same people. The jewellery shop I got my Pandora from is one of 6 under the same company along the same street. Same with the perfume. One store had Jo Malone, another Mac, all had the usual perfumes and virtually all the same company.
The main supermarket is a Morrisons. This surprised me. Gibraltar struck me as more of a Waitrose place or at the least a Sainsbury’s sort of place. You can buy Waitress products from the Euroski supermarket which is just inside the border in Gib, not all Waitrose products but a good selection. It was very odd, but I liked it, shopping in familiar aisles. On my list was Branston Pickle, Malt Vinegar, Rib Eye steaks (thick cut), bacon and sausages. The only thing I didn’t manage to find that was on my list was a lemon flavoured olive oil. I also picked up two UK magazines. Good Housekeeping (my digital subscription has expired) and Country Life. I would of liked The Lady but I guess Morrisons isn’t a ‘The Lady” type of supermarket. Waitrose in the UK sell it but I don’t think I’ve seen it in a Morrisons in the UK although I didn’t shop often at Morrisons.
Neil can’t understand why I like Country Life. Its a magazine that I’ve always enjoyed and just because I can’t have a bespoke handmade, painted with love, traditional country kitchen doesn’t mean I can’t look. In fact, having a magazine like this and GH is so unusual now that I even read all the adverts. Sad isn’t it but should you need an easy to wear sarong for your holidays, or a trouser slip, I can point you in the right direction.
Apart from the shops, we did walk up to Trafalgar Cemetery at the other end of Main Street where there are a few graves for those who died from wounds shortly after the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. We had a late lunch at the Star Bar – a fabulous burger (a Star Burger to be precise) along with the hand cut chips. As an aside, if I cook chips they are hand cut. Neil had bought me a Nomination “charm” bracelet for my birthday and I bought the bead with an anchor on it which I thought an appropriate symbol of our trip. Tax free, I saved £2 on UK prices. I got Neil into a shoe shop to try on some new flip flops for him as his Crocs are now smooth on the bottom. There were a number of styles, all in the sale, but he couldn’t decide. Grrr. It was another long day and we did a lot of walking. Morrison is out of town towards the cruise ship dock. I think Neil thought that was the last he’d seen of Gib town, he wasn’t impressed with the number of people, the shops or all the high rise buildings and traffic. He’s glad to of seen it but the town does nothing for him.
We were however, to visit again. I needed a further shopping fix and Neil had the chance to go to the chandlery shops. We had to wait at the runway as a flight was coming in and one heading out. A barrier closes the footpath and road and a policeman stands at each one to ensure no idiots think they can outrun a 747. They also throw stingers across the road to ensure that a car can’t speed across. I’ve never been so close to a plane taking off, that I haven’t actually been in, and it was quite thrilling. We have watched them taking off from the boat and they never seem to be going fast enough to lift off and never seem to give themselves enough runway to stop. They have however been 100% accurate I’m pleased to say. I had priced some items from the UK Force 4 Chandlery catalogue as a benchmark for pricing. We know that Chandlers in marinas are expensive but thought being tax free it may be a bit cheaper. No such luck. I will probably end up ordering our new lifejackets and harnesses from the UK and having them shipped and it will still be cheaper.
Anyway after ‘boy’ shopping we headed back to town and Neil managed to choose a pair of shoes. Mainly pushed by the fact that similar styles were twice the price in La Linea so he could see it was a real saving (and the fact he does need a pair). I treated myself to some Jo Malone cologne in Orange Blossom and debated over a travel candle but didn’t get it. We stopped at the Euroski supermarket for some bits for lunch and tea and then crossed the border back into Spain.
My last trip to Gibraltar was this morning (Saturday). I went over on my own while Neil prepped the boat ready for our departure on Sunday. I had my list – Percy Pigs (stock up while I can), a new Pandora bracelet of the right length, a Jo Malone travel candle (decided I did want one) and a few supermarket bits. The lady at Essardas jewellers was really helpful. I had taken both my existing bracelets, 1 too long and 1 too short, along with all my original Pandora beads and tried a new bracelet then combinations of wearing my two bracelets together with the beads threaded differently. Using my own bracelets and beads we managed to get the bracelet to sit well. Not too tight and not too long. I felt bad as I had planned to buy a bracelet and now I wasn’t buying anything. The lady was really nice and said not to worry she had been happy to help me and had also cleaned my bracelets. I bought a new clip – pretty pink flowers and cheaper than a new bracelet. Well look it, I saved some money! Not only did I not buy the new bracelet, the clip was cheaper than in the UK too. Loadsa money saved.
Frustratingly, all the large perfume shops (Seruya) were shut. I asked in M&S if they were due to open later and the chap said no. As they were owned by a Jewish family they were shut on Saturdays, the Jewish sabbath. Saved me a few quid as I may well of been tempted with a large and small candle or more perfume. A shop in Euroski on the way back and I was back on the boat 3 hours later. I had enjoyed my pootle back into Gib and wander up main street.
Pat and Duncan on Samji (they were in Lagos and have been in the Med for the summer) came into La Linea marina on Friday. They are here for the music festival next weekend and then will be sailing back up to Cartagena for the winter. Ah ha – potential shoppers. I have left them with a note of the Jo Malone candle I’d like and the money in sterling. I may yet get the candle after all but only the one thereby still saving money that I might of spent if the store had been open (womens logic).
We are due to leave tomorrow morning (Sunday) and we are planning a direct sail to Almerimar although if we are feeling OK and conditions are good, we may head direct to Cartagena. This could be a 3/4 day sail depending on what we do. I’m slightly nervous but looking forward to heading to our winter home, Cartagena.
Gibraltar has been fun and I’ve enjoyed our time here but ready to “go home” now and get settled. Neil needs a base to write and to start the winter jobs. His plan of writing in the summer to publish in the winter hasn’t worked and needs the stability of being settled to be able to relax. We also have a list of winter jobs that the sooner started the better and will possibly arrange for Gleda to be hauled out of the water for maintenance. When settled in Cartagena, we will sit down and plan our thoughts for next year, our winter jobs, prioritise our need/wish list and reassess our financial position. Cartagena (Spain not Columbia) here we come.
PS: On my trip to Gibraltar today I notice the old BHS Home store has new hoardings in the windows – “Debenhams Home coming soon” – they obviously heard my thoughts.
PPS: I’ve barely mentioned La Linea town. It’s labyrinth like, loads of shoe shops and bizarrely smelly in places, literally smelly. Despite the smell, nothing to dislike about it.