It’s Gibraltar week here at the blog. We’ve already covered the world’s most beautiful woman who just happens to be Gibraltarian. Read more here http://photito.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/miss-world-gibs-gem/
We’ve decided that a small nation like Gibraltar deserves a bit of limelight once in a while, and we are ashamed to admit that because Gibraltar is literally on our doorstep, we tend to ignore it as far as travelling is concerned. Travelling always means moving as far away from Gibraltar as possible… now it’s time to shed some light on a place called home.
Every year, thousands upon thousands of tourists go to Gibraltar to experience the essence of this piece of Britain under the sun. There are double deckers, Union Jacks (more than I’ve ever seen in England!), bobbies – and there are of course apes.
Sir Winston Churchill, the former British Prime Minister, was particularly fond of Gibraltar and its status as a British Overseas Territory. (Colony sounds so old fashioned…) He went as far as to say that as long as there are apes on the Rock, Gibraltar will remain British. So what did he do? During the Second World War, when the ape population was dwindling, he simply imported more animals from neighbouring Morocco.
However, Gibraltar is much more than old legends and odd traces of the motherland. Gibraltar is a place where five religions live side by side, pretty much squeezed into seven square kilometers. Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Jews and Muslims manage to co-exist beautifully, each with their own place of worship. This is, in my eyes, the most interesting feature in Gibraltar today.
Visually Gibraltar is not particularly pleasing to the eye. The population of roughly thirty thousand is rising, and as a small peninsula with a very large Rock in the middle, land is scarce. They reclaim land from the sea – almost continuously – in order to construct tall tower blocks, and in spite of short distances, the Gibraltarians are fond of their vehicles. Too much traffic and a lot of ugly high risers are not my favourite two things in the world, but if you manage to see beyond this, Gibraltar actually has a lot going for it.
FIVE THINGS I ALWAYS DO IN GIBRALTAR
When I take people to Gibraltar who’ve never been before we always start by driving around the whole Rock so that they can get their bearings. It takes fifteen minutes, depending on the traffic on Line Wall Road that stretches through the town centre. We also allow time to stretch our legs at Europa Point where a beautiful mosque sits on solid foundations only meters from the furious Straits of Gibraltar.
Taking in the majestic views of Africa on the horizon always send my thoughts back in time to when the vessels of the Ancient World believed that the two pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar and the Djebel Musa in northern Morocco) indicated the end of the world.
Then we get cracking with our sightseeing itinery:
1 - Take the cable car to the top of the Rock. Not for the faint at heart, the seven minute ride will challenge your vertigo nerve, but it’s fun for the kids and a great way of reaching the top of the Rock without getting stuck in time consuming traffic jams. The cable car ticket also includes the entrance fee to St Michael’s Cave where you can see stunning stalagmites and stalactites.
2 - Monkey business. When in Gibraltar, you have to experience the apes (not monkeys because they have no tails). There are five packs of apes currently residing on the Rock, one of them hang out near the cable car station where they are happy to share some time with you. The apes are wild, and choose to interact with us. Some tourists (I didn’t say Americans) tend to think that the apes are some sort of theme park attraction and deal with them as if they were tamed. This is not the case, and although the apes are properly cared for with vaccines and daily feedings, one should always remember that these are wild animals that need to be handled with a lot of respect. I, for one, am an absolute chicken shit around the apes, because I have seen the damage they have done when they have made it into people’s cars. I have also been the unfortunate (and very silly) owner of a banana which the pack of apes caught sight of collectively… I wouldn’t be surprised if that banana ended up in Africa judging by the force with which I threw it as far into the Straits as I possibly could…
3 - Catalan Bay is a small fishing village on the Eastern side of the Rock. Few tourists venture here, so what you find is as genuinely Gibraltarian as it gets. The people here originated mostly from Genoa in Italy, and speak a slightly different dialect to the rest of Gib. It’s a brilliant little place for a lunch time pint and a seafood salad in the typically British pub “The Seawave”.
4 - Main Street and beyond. EVERY single tourist that comes to Gibraltar ends up in Main Street it seems. This is the shopping artery which is a pedestrianized area full of tax free shops, pubs and people. I don’t consider it a must, but I do understand that people end up here. It’s a condensed and very handy place to shop, and I must admit that it’s quite cute to see British brands like Topshop, Bhs, Marks and Spencer’s, Next, Early Learning Center and Mothercare all lined up as if we were in Bournemouth. However, as soon as you’ve had your fix, venture in to the old part of town which stretches from Main street and up towards the Rock. I like to start out by Casemates square (where they used to hang people in the olden days) and head for the old Moorish Castle upon which the Union Jack dances proudly in the Mediterranean breeze.
5 - Depending on what kind of people I am with, I will either show them Rosia Bay where admiral Nelson was brought in after the Battle of Trafalgar. If I am with male company this is usually a big hit, as we can also go and see the nearby hundred ton gun. If I am with girlfriends we will head to the beach instead. Eastern Beach to be precise where the traces of latino blood are sizzling with a spectacular display of sixpacks and bikiniwear. Baywatch eat your heart out! There are cars with blasting stereos, there are dolled up girls and pumped up boys. There are beach bars selling bucket loads of slush puppy and tinto de verano. This is the Mediterranean summer in its purest form. No tourists, only locals doing what they do best.