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Gibraltar – Totally Different than Expected

Gibraltar, Gibraltar - Saturday, April 16th, 2016

The Maritime Explorer Score:
9/10
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The last four posts on our spur of the moment trip to the Spanish province of Andalusia have focused on the area around the small and very nice town of Nerja on the eastern end of the Costa del Sol. Now it’s time to move on, but to where? I’m poring over the map of southern Spain, checking the internet and reading Rick Steves’ Spain 2016 for ideas. Rick thinks most of the rest of the Costa del Sol is so touristy that’s it not worth bothering with. Ok, Rick so what is? How about Gibraltar? I’ve never even really thought about visiting Gibraltar, but it’s certainly off the beaten tourist path and something quite different – a colony or more correctly, a British Overseas Territory. How many of those are still around? So after a little digging on TripAdvisor we are off to Gibraltar, more specifically the Rock Hotel.

Getting to Gibraltar

It just under 200 kms. (125 miles) and we take the A-7 from Nerja to Malaga and the toll AP-7 the rest of the way

I’ve mentioned in previous posts just how good the roads are in Spain and the AP-7 is no exception. The coastline from Malaga to Gibraltar is extremely rugged with mountain ridges that extend down to the Mediterranean interspersed with valleys in between. The AP-7 simply goes straight over the valleys with bridges that are hundreds of feet above the ground below and straight through the mountains via wide well lit tunnels. It’s a blast to drive in our little blue VW Polo which has lots of pep.

On the way to Gibraltar
Our VW Polo

Most people are aware that the status of Gibraltar and its famous rock have been disputed between Spain and Britain since the Brits captured it from Spain in 1704. That might explain the reason that you won’t find a single sign on the AP-7 indicating that Gibraltar even exists. That’s a bit hypocritical of Spain because they still maintain two enclaves in Morocco, Cueta and Melilla. I do know that the city of Algeciras is just past Gibraltar so I follow the roads signs for it until, coming over a mountain pass, the Rock of Gibraltar is suddenly right there. Incredibly, in the far distance I can see the shores of Africa. These are the legendary Pillars of Hercules which at one time marked the end of the known world to ancient Greek and Phoenician mariners.

Gibraltar as seen from Spain
The Rock of Gibraltar from Spain

Man, I’m psyched by seeing this and can’t wait to get there. So is Alison.

Rock of Gibraltar
Alison and the Rock of Gibraltar

Now that anyone can see the Rock of Gibraltar and it’s hard to pretend it doesn’t exist, Spain gives up and there is a sign to La Linea, the Spanish city on the border with Gibraltar and at the very last minute a sign for Gibraltar. Even though Britain and Spain are both EU countries and technically there’s not supposed to be any border crossings between them, there is in fact a manned check point. I hold out our passports to the customs officer and he just waves us through. Too bad, I was hoping to get a Gibraltar stamp.

I’m a bit apprehensive about what lies ahead as the city of La Linea looks like a run down dump and I can see a modern huge duty free shopping complex just over the border. I’ve seen these before in Andorra and hope that there’s more to Gibraltar than just bloody shopping. I needn’t have worried as Gibraltar throws its first interesting curveball. In order to get to the older part of the colony you have to drive over the runway on the tarmac of the airport. Much like stopping for a passing train, everything comes to a halt when a plane lands or takes off. Also, when I write ‘the older part of the colony’, I mean that literally, for most of the land the airport is on and dozens of modern high rise apartment buildings I did not expect to see in Gibraltar, are on reclaimed land. Gibraltar is getting bigger every year.

The Rock Hotel

Once across the tarmac, the roads narrow considerably and skirt the main street of the city which is largely pedestrian only. The Rock of Gibraltar looms over everything and soon the Rock Hotel, clinging to the base of the rock almost right beside the cable car, comes into view.

The Rock Hotel in Gibraltar
Rock Hotel

Many former British colonies have famous hotels which were frequented by the upper class and military – think Raffles in Singapore or Shepheard in Cairo. These were places of intrigue and mystery where plots were hatched or squelched depending on whose side you were on. I’m thinking that the Rock Hotel fits that bill for Gibraltar and that’s confirmed the moment we walk in –  pictures of everybody who is anybody line the walls, and they’ve all been guests. That includes, of course, my old buddies Winston Churchill and Ernest Hemingway. Any place that’s good enough for them is good enough for me.

Guests of the Rock Hotel in Gibraltar
Former guests, Rock Hotel

As a young woman with a very thick Scottish accent asks for my name, I almost blurt out “Bond. James Bond”, but manage to return to the real world long enough to stammer “Dunlop. er Dale Dunlop”.

Every room at the Rock Hotel has a balcony and a fantastic view. Here is the scene from room 216. You can see the modern apartment buildings on reclaimed land to the right and the many ships in the very busy harbour. This was another surprise to me. Far from being an almost forgotten historical footnote of no real modern strategic value, today’s Gibraltar is the very definition of bustling, on both land and sea. It has a feeling of vibrancy and optimism that frankly caught me off guard.

Gibraltar - view from the Rock Hotel
View from Room 216, Rock Hotel

Although not visible in this photograph, to the left several warships were berthed at the very large British naval base, which was in tune with what I was expecting to see in Gibraltar.

After getting settled in it was time for a bite to eat and we headed down the hill toward the main part of the city. We stopped at the Picadilly Garden Bar which had a nice outdoor patio and decent looking menu. How could I resist ordering a plateful of fried baby octopus? Actually I couldn’t, and although I probably should have felt like a shit for eating all those babies, I didn’t.

Fried octopus, Gibraltar
Fried baby octopus, Picadilly Garden Bar, Gibraltar

By now the sun was getting low and we returned to the hotel for this view of the sun setting over the end of the Mediterranean.

Gibraltar Sunset from the Rock Hotel
Sunset over the Straits of Gibraltar from the Rock Hotel, Gibraltar

Won’t you join as as we go on to explore the city of Gibraltar and then go to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar?


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The Maritime Explorer Score:
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