After we left Ojen we headed South toward Gibraltar for about an hour and a half. The center of Spain is a high plateau, which falls into rolling mountains/hills which roll into flat lands near the coast. So we were surprised when we finally came around the bend and spied this baby from the freeway.
What the heck? This thing is HUGE. Everything around is really flat and then, BAM! The Rock of Gibraltar. No wonder everyone wanted it as a military stronghold back in the day.
Spaniards don’t like the fact that the United Kingdom owns a piece of land that they think should be theirs (after all, it is connected to their country). So when you’re driving on the freeway it’s as if Gibraltar doesn’t exist – they never list any signs or freeway exits for it until you’re right there. Instead you have to follow signs to La Linea, which is right above Gibraltar’s border. It’s a run-down little town with tons of traffic. Most likely because everybody there is heading straight towards Gibraltar and not stopping to spend their tourist dollars in La Linea.
We finally got down to the dock it was lovely, with lots of sailboats parked there. We parked on the side of the street in a paid meter and walked to the border crossing. The Rock just got bigger and bigger as we walked towards it.
Once through customs we hopped in a guided taxi tour van with two other couples. Our guide drove us all over the city, and showed us sections of original wall that the Moors built when they settled here. Originally everything beyond this wall was water – but it has since been filled in with dirt to expand their usable land. Gibraltar also used to be an island, but they have filled in a strip of land between the Rock and Spain so that now you can walk across it instead of taking a boat. It also allowed them to get an airport in there.
Everything about the city is very English. Even the cute little phone booths make you feel like you’re in England.
Our tourguide drove us up to an overlook where we could look out over the water. The port of Gibraltar is a very busy port. I guess it’s a major stop along an oil route (which is another reason the Spanish want their land back -- $$$), so there are always lots of ships coming and going.
From here we could see all the way to Africa, which is only 14 miles away! In this view, Africa is on the left, the tip of Spain is on the right, the Atlantic Ocean is in the distance and the Mediterranean Sea is below us in the forefront. What an amazing view! The only place in the world where you can see two continents and two seas is right from this spot! Amazing.
Next our tour driver took us up to St. Michael’s cave. It’s a natural cave inside the rock with stalactites and stalagmites. They hold concerts inside regularly because of the great acoustics. It was very neat.
Right outside the cave were clusters of monkeys who come to where the tourists are for food, of course. The monkeys are not native to Gibraltar – they were brought here in the 700’s by the Moors who kept them as pets. There are over 300 monkeys living on the Rock from 5 different families, and their population is thriving.
The monkeys will walk right up to you and take food from your hands. They’ll let you get very close and take pictures with them, but if you try to touch them they don’t like it and they can actually bite. But they were very cute and playful. They even recognized some of the regular tour guides and would come up to them and jump onto their shoulders, etc.
The next few pictures are from the very peak of the Rock, where there is a little “playground” of sorts built for the monkeys, so lots of them congregate here.
The roads up Gibraltar were steep and winding. It was a little bit unnerving! I’m glad we parked our car and walked across the border rather than trying to navigate these scary roads ourselves.
The monkey playground covered in orange peels – their favorite treat. Look at that monkey swinging, ha ha! He was having a great time.
Here is a view of the Gibraltar airport, which is located on the piece of land between the Rock and Spain that was filled in with dirt. Notice how it is very flat. This is actually ranked as the second most dangerous airport in the world (second only to the one in St. Martin that we saw two years ago). The runway is VERY short. We watched a plane take off and it was crazy. They go and go and go and you see the water’s edge coming up and you think, oh my gosh, they’re going to drive straight into the water, and then BAM, the nose lifts off the ground and they take flight just in time. It was amazing! But I never, ever want to fly in or out of that airport, for the record.
The airport runway.
This picture of the airport was taken from the tunnels at the very peak of the Rock. During WWII, the British military built over 33 miles of tunnels inside the Rock. The tunnels housed over 30,000 troops inside during the war, complete with food, ammo, a hospital, etc. It’s hard to believe anyone could ever take control of Gibraltar with defenses like they have. (Which is probably why the British still own it even though it was attacked 10 times within a span of 10 years in the 1940’s.)
We were able to walk through some big sections of tunnel and see the canons they shot out through windows in the tunnels, etc. Some of the rooms inside were surprisingly huge.
One thing that really struck me about the difference between the US and Europe occurred inside these tunnels. They had some guided explanations inside the tunnels where you could press a button and hear a spiel in one six different languages. Six! On our airplane from Paris to Madrid they gave the safety information in three different languages – French, English and Spanish. And I didn’t hear anybody complaining about it, they just do it because those are the languages their neighbors speak. It makes sense.
Here in the US, we get all up in arms when someone doesn’t speak our language. Especially in Utah, Arizona, California, etc where we are so close to the Mexican border. Doesn’t it just make sense that we should be courteous to our neighbors and/or attempt to learn their language? It was just one more reminder to me of how ignorant and rude we are in the United States. No wonder nobody in Europe likes Americans!
--->End soap box<--- br="">--->
Outside view of The Notch.
Inside view of The Notch. It was quite a big room.
Overall, everything up on the Rock was just so fascinating! And Chris and I loved having the chance to ask a native (our tour guide) whatever questions we wanted about life there for two hours. It was fascinating. And yes, everyone living there DOES speak with an English accent.
After the tour, our guide dropped us off on main street where all the shops are. The architecture is very British colonial. Very quaint!
It started to rain right as our tourguide dropped us off, so we found an outdoor café with an awning and ate fish & chips for lunch, because it just seemed like the right thing to do.
They use British pounds as the currency in Gibraltar. They even had some sort of an embassy or military building guarded by British soldiers in their traditional garb.
A view looking back at the Rock after we left their shopping district and headed back towards Spain. (Notice the old wall there – built by the Moors! Fascinating. That used to be the edge of water.)
We walked across the airport runway to get to customs and back to Spain. Doesn’t it just seem dangerous to be letting all these tourists walk across the runway willy nilly? I suppose it’s not a super busy airport, and they probably block the walkways when a plane comes or goes, but still. That would never fly in a US airport.
One last view looking back at the Rock of Gibraltar before we left British soil.
This was just one of the coolest places we visited on this trip! (Although you’re probably going to hear me say that a lot…) It was just so fascinating and so different than anything we’d ever seen before. If you’re ever anywhere near Gibraltar, you need to go! We only wished we’d had an extra day to take a ferry across to Africa (Morocco) for a day. Such a bummer to be SO close to Africa and not go there. But what an amazing experience in Gibraltar.
After we got back to our car and all of our luggage was still inside (phew!) we hopped in and headed North towards Granada for the night. To be continued in Granada & The Alhambra Palace…