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krisek Gibraltar - A travel report by Krys
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Gibraltar,  Gibraltar - flag Gibraltar
5744 readers

krisek's travel reports

A rock where time seems to have stopped in 1955.

  9 votes
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Gibraltar, stubbornly clinging to its special status within the Commonwealth, is an odd territory on the Iberian peninsula. Although it feels Spanish from the climate point of view and a curious architectural fusion, it is more British than London.


The rock southern side
The rock southern side
The first time I passed by Gibraltar was in 1996, when I embarked on big discovery of the world. It was my first trip to a place more exotic than the Balearic Island, Morocco. I thought of stopping there, but for a number of reasons, this did not work out. Gibraltar had to wait. It waited quite a long time, actually. It was over ten years before I mobilised resourced to go there.

Having heard many stories about the Rock, my head was full of expectations and even preconceptions. My office in London was dangerously near the seat of the Gibraltar's Government and I kept passing by their window at least twice daily. Having too many expectations is not too good. Not in my case, anyway. So, I was a little worried that the country might disappoint me a little. Luckily it was late summer, so at least weather was going to be nice, which always helps to stay outdoors and maintain the discovery mode on.

I took a flight by easyJet from London Gatwick and landed in the morning. I waited about 15 minutes for the city bus to take me to the centre without realising that it would have taken me much quicker just to leg it. But since I did not know exactly where I was going, I thought it might just as well start exploring by looking through windows of the public transport. The trip was very short, but I got a glimpse of how to navigate around the country and what to see.

And... there is not that much to see. Gibraltar is more of a curious case, an intriguing pretext for an argument between the two kingdoms, Spain and Great Britain & Northern Ireland. The struggle over the 'ownership' of Gibraltar has been dragging for almost 300 years due to its strategic military position. And so, the majority of sights in the country are about defense mechanisms, like forts, barracks and super guns.

The UK stated that it would honour the will of the Gibraltarians whatever they wanted to do with their status - join Spain or full sovereignty. So far, the citizens choose to remain the crown dependency.

Favourite spots:
Main street
Main street
The must-do attraction of Gibraltar, the top of the Rock, became my favourite spot. It was a great fun to go on the cable car and then play with the apes at the top with a view over the strait all the way to the Rif Mountains in Africa. And inside the almost barren Iberian Peninsula!

The vast majority of the upper parts of Gibraltar is dedicated to a nature reserve, which has been occupied by over 230 Barbary Macaques, the only wild monkeys found in Europe. They might be wild but they are also very well habituated. They often come down to the city in the lower parts getting into trouble. In fact, recently they have got to so much trouble that the authorities consider a cull.

Anyway, the top of the Rock looked magnificent. It was complete with ruins of an observation post, which added this extra quality of the place. Unfortunately, the facilities by the cable car station were embarrassingly poor. The 'bar' served horrible food and the building was terribly neglected.

What's really great:
Fortress
Fortress
Gibraltar's proximity to the Spanish and Moroccan cultures created a unique combination of architectural styles. The unmistakably British Victorian and Georgian styles were blended with the typical Mediterranean and Moorish elements and forms. I was easily stricken with Spanish window shutters on a Georgian house covered in Moroccan terracotta tiles. Several times over. It was great indeed. Gibraltar was very laid back. Natives' attitude was extremely British, the one that the UK might have enjoyed in the 1950s perhaps. The service in the pubs and restaurants was definitely more personal and one could order the doubtful meaty pies and warm ales. Paellas were nowhere to find!

I wanted to say that Gibraltar might have been the only UK dependency, where natives switch from English to another language seamlessly. But of course there are others, like Jersey or Sark. What I can definitely say is that it is the one with the best climate! For sure.

Sights:
Grand Casemates Square
Grand Casemates Square
The few interesting sights on the Rock, so widely advertised, were: the 100 Ton Gun; Parsons Lodge (a battery fortress); Siege Tunnels; The WWII Tunnels; City Under Siege Exhibition; the Lime Kiln; Saint Michael's Cave; and, my favourite, the Moorish Castle.

The majority were either war, defense or military related. The Lime Kiln was one of the more interesting. It was an oven used to bake lime for whitewashing, writing purposes or to sprinkle bodies of those who died of plague. The other non-military sight was the Saint Michael Cave. Not that spectacular, but at least not connected to war or fighting.

The Moorish Castle, which actually was a complex of buildings, gates and towers, one of which, the Tower of Homage, stood in a great strategic position on the slope of the Rock, so greatly visible from many points in the country. The Moorish occupation of Gibraltar was the longest in its history - 710 years in total. Little is known about the history of the castle itself...

Accommodations:
Cable car
Cable car
Gibraltar was very poor for places to sleep. There were few hotels, the vast majority of which were only for those, who had no problem spending over £150 for a few hours in bed. Many hotel search engines spit results for hotels across the border in La Linea, in Spain.

I stayed in the Queen's Hotel, near the cable car station. It was really old fashioned and it looked like it had not been redecorated since 1967! My room was very smelly. It was stale almost as if it had never been ventilated since the time the hotel construction. I had to keep the window open for my entire stay on the Rock. The room was small and the shower room was minute. It claimed to be the only budget hotel in the country, but they still charged over £60 for a single, and over £70 for a twin. Very poor value indeed. The hotel's main quality was its central location on the peninsula and therefore its proximity to both the centre, the new Marina and the cable car. But, perhaps better deals could be found in Spain.

Nightlife:
One of a few pubs
One of a few pubs
There are not many places to go out at night in Gibraltar. Nightlife concentrated around pubs, which did not stay open too late. Apparently, all the fun was in Spain, where the young Gibraltarians partied. I was really hoping to experience a southern British way of partying on the Rock and there was so little of it. I browsed through the entire country and really found nothing special. The pubs were alright, but they closed fairly early and the clientelle was hmm... I don't want to say.

Hangouts:
New Marina
New Marina
The Rock had a new Marina on its north-western side. Parts of it were still under construction. The Marina combine fine lodging, yacht stations, restaurants, bars, cafes and a couple of pubs. The pubs were really basic and looked like extensions of people's living rooms. It reminded me of Africa, actually. The Marina was one of the nicer places to hang out in the country. But there were other spots as well. One of them was the top of the mountain, the other was the Casamates Square surrounded by shops, restaurants, cafes, and a hotel with a huge car park. In the south, towards the Europe Point with the lighthouse, by the Parsons Lodge, a fortress on the western side of the peninsula, there was a complex of swimming pools with limited facilities, but otherwise a nice spot to linger.

Restaurants:
English Pub
English Pub
There was no chance for a paella in Gibraltar, and the restaurants' names, such as Smith's Fish & Chips or Lord Nelson Bar Brasserie gave away what kind of fare one could expect for lunch or dinner. The usual British pub grub of thick chips, meaty pies, deep fried scampi with sauce, sometimes lamb chops, were all scattered around the country, and along the Main Street.

The best places for seafood, were at the new Marina Bay. The Da Paolo served Mediterranean-style fish and fruits of the sea, which were superb and for a very reasonable price. Also, at the Marina Bay, The Charlie's Tavern on the Port was less fluent in preparing nice seafood dishes, and a few steps away the Admiral Collingwood had good looking menu.

The Lord Nelson Bar Brasserie at the Casamates Square was good with traditional British dishes, but the service was rather slow. Yet, the position on the square was perfect for people watching.

Other recommendations:
Ape on the Signal Hill
Ape on the Signal Hill
Gibraltar has become more accessible for short trips as the relations with Spain improved slightly and the local authorities of the adjacent communes relaxed immigration, trade and air traffic control regulations regarding the Rock. Also, easyJet decided to open direct flights from London, joining British Airways and Monarch Airlines already serving the peculiar airport of Gibraltar, and their often offer very good fares.

The local currency, the Gibraltar Pound, is pegged to the UK's sterling at parity. Whilst the banknotes are completely different to those used in the kingdom (with slightly prettier picture of the Queen), coins look almost exactly the same. However, unless shop assistants do not pay particular attention, one would not be able to use them in Britain. The banknotes will definitely not work at all. So, it is better to spend everything or ask for change in euro or sterling. In Gibraltar, they accept the UK's currency, and business would happily oblige.

Published on Wednesday February 4th, 2009


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Tue, Feb 10 2009 - 10:02 AM rating by kwongmei

Another place i havent heard of, but you were there ;-)!

Thu, Feb 05 2009 - 02:04 PM rating by frenchfrog

HKrys, this a brillant report (as always!). Thanks for sharing your experience. I love your Monkey pic!

Thu, Feb 05 2009 - 01:21 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Personally, being Spanish, I do not like this colony in our territory, but.... your report is wonderful.

Thu, Feb 05 2009 - 07:38 AM rating by basia

Krys, the report contains a lot important advices for persons locomotive severally. Me, fortunately, avoided troubles with the seek of night′s lodgings and meals , because I was in Gibraltar with the excursion and all was earlier settled and well-fitting to us. Pleased to me St Michael′s Cave, and monkeys were polite, because earlier fed.

Wed, Feb 04 2009 - 11:08 PM rating by jacko1

A good report with a lot depth and detail, I learn from you constantly.

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