We saw The Rock from the motorway, sticking up like a giant shark fin, as we drove valiantly towards it. Peter at the guest house advised us to park the car in Spain and walk over the border, but the promise of half price tax free petrol was irresistible.
We joined a 20 minute queue, flashed our passports and crossed over from Spain into British territory. We emerged from the underground car park into British Home Stores, with all price tags in pounds. English pubs were advertising steak and kidney pies, fish and chips and nice cups of tea, and English bobbies strolled the crowded high street wearing their traditional high black helmets.
Gibraltar is a little England, complete with English holiday makers and a few gowned and veiled African women, and men in smart suits rushing from bank to business. Such a contrast to the more exotic and less ordered Spanish markets. Our tour guide was a native born Gibraltarian, speaking both English and Spanish, looking like a Spaniard but being British.
It is a real mix of people – A Church of England clergy man hailed us as we dithered outside the museum, a South African builder gave up his table for us at the Irish pub, then brought his Kiwi mate over to meet us. The mate comes from Taranaki, works as a carpenter in Gibraltar earning up to 2000pounds a week, but he lives in Spain with his wife and child. We read that the average wage is 300 pounds a week-a very profitable arrangement for him.
What to do in Gibraltar apart from buy a pair of lighter jeans and some sandals as it is so much hotter than I expected? The museum told the story of Gibraltar in an informative video, chronicling the separation of the continents, the discovery of’ ‘Gibraltar woman’ just before the more famous discovery of Neanderthal man, the arrival of Vandals, Visigoths, the Moors, the Christians and finally, with the Battle of Trafalgar, the indomitable British.
Another stranger arrival was the Barbary ape, 300 of which now occupy the higher parts of the Rock, the massive steep outcrop which marks the end of Europe, and was one of the mythological Pillars of Hercules. These cute little monkeys live in three distinct family packs and lurk hopefully at the tourist stop off points, always ready for a handout and a photo opportunity. Our guide had a big stick ready to beat off overfriendly adults, as he encouraged us to feed a baby.
Local legend says when the monkeys go, the English will leave the Rock.’ no sign of that happening, as recent elections recorded a vote of 12138 to 44 in favour of British rule.
The cave where ‘Gibraltar woman’ was found , is actually a spiralling labyrinth of chambers, with graceful stalagtites reaching down to tall stalagmites, as beautifully etched as the alabaster columns I had seen at Cordoba.
Each chamber was subtly lit with red or blue, the effect was of ethereal lightness, even though we were walking in the centre of ancient and very solid rock. One massive chamber is used as a concert venue, with steps and platforms and technical areas.
Further up the rock were more chambers, for soldiers looking out over the Mediterranean, with 6 cannons at the ready. These lookouts date from the Siege of Gibraltar, in 1779-83.A heavy military history, right up to the present.
Good to visit, good to leave, in a long hot queue back through border control, back to Spain, even if it is to a British owned holiday flat in an ’urbanizacion’ on the Costa del Sol, Spain’s Sunshine Coast.
Note 1 Do leave your car in Spain, walk over the border and take the local bus
Note 2 Do take a minibus tour rather than the cable car, as the walk down is hot and strenuous.
Note 3 Do expect to pay twice as much for food which is definitely only half as good as that in Spain
Rosemary adds: I could not resist a steak and kidney pie at the pub for old times sake, but i am with Ceridwyn here, the food in Spain is heaps better.