It is hard to imagine how Gibraltar residents would have dealt with their isolation during the Franco regime when the border with Spain was closed. It must have been expensive to depend on motherland UK to take care of their needs. Happily, the border crossing today is a trifle and you are just waved through. The change came about in 1982 when Spain was inducted into the EU and the opening of the border was one of the conditions. In recent times, the UK has been quite willing to give up the territory to Spain, but the residents of the territory opted to keep their British citizenship (and passports!) and so it remains part of the UK.
On the north side of the border is the Spanish town of La Linea de la Concepcion, a quiet, unexceptional gateway to Gibraltar. The Rock of Gibraltar loomed large over the horizon as we approached the town of Algeciras by bus from Seville. La Linea is just a short 20 km ride west of Algeciras. Our onward Moroccan journey would be by ferry from the port of Algeciras, but the lure of the Rock drew us on to La Linea.
It is a lot cheaper to stay, eat and park at La Linea and explore Gibraltar as a day trip rather than doing so in the UK where the prices are likely to be the same, albeit heavier by the pound (ok, bad pun, but let it pass for now). The residents of Gibraltar speak a curious mix of English and Spanish easily flowing between the two. The British pound and the Gibraltar pound are interchangeable. Euros are also accepted everywhere.
A 10 minute walk from our hotel in La Linea brought us to the border post where we were waved across (as expected). On the other side is one of the modern world's unique pedestrian experiences. Walking across a live runway in a unique form of level crossing. The Gibraltar airport is across the street. The runway runs perpendicular to the main road that leads into Gibraltar. Once past this strange experience (we were hoping to see the EasyJet aircraft parked at the gate depart, but did not have any idea how long that would be), one can explore Gibraltar's nature reserve and town.
It was strange to see names like Winston Churchill Street, Irish Town, Queens Way, Cooperage Lane etc. after the Kuchasis, Poghots, Caddesis, Avingudas and Avenidas that we had encountered the past few months. After a kilometre of walking, we were in the city's main plaza (sorry old chap, Square!), Grand Casemates Square. British food in the form of Fish & Chips and other delights are on offer from establishments with names like The Angry Friar. And there is a statue of Nelson for those still hungering for images from their rainy island up north. This statue surely must have made Her Majesty's enemies tremble in their undershorts.
The massive Rock stretches north-south, dominating much of the town with just a small town beneath adjacent to the Bay of Gibraltar on the western side. On the east side, the sheer walls of the Rock rise almost vertically from the Mediterranean Sea with just room for a couple of hotels and a beach. All of Gibraltar can be covered on foot for those with the heart and stamina for it. But there are several buses plying a few routes for those who overestimated their walking capacity.
An easy way to explore the Nature Reserve (which is most of the Rock barring off limit military installations) is to take the cable car up and walk down. Several tour companies accost you outside the cable car station (and on both sides of the border) and offer tours. We chose to ride the cable car up and were on top of the Rock somewhere in the middle section. Sweeping views of southern Spain (Algeciras, La Linea and a few other towns), the eastern horizon of the Mediterranean, the mountains of northern Africa to the south and the Strait of Gibraltar to the west are the rewards for getting here. The Herculean legend has it that the Rock and Jebel Musa in Morocco where the Two Pillars split by Hercules during his Twelve Labours. The two great rocks marked the edge of the ancient world.
A free audio guide provides the visitor some geographical orientation and historical perspective. Naturally, the narrative included tales of heroic efforts by individuals to keep Gibraltar in British hands despite various attempts by Spain and other powers in times past. A family of Barbary Macaques usually hang out near the cable car station ready to snatch food and bags from tourists. They are aggressive and we saw someone who had a bloody wound on her arm after being attacked by one. Visitors are warned about these apes that have made their home all over the Rock and the town. We wondered why they were not to be seen in Spain. Perhaps the runway crossing is a bit daunting for these otherwise aggressive animals. It has been prophesized that the British will leave Gibraltar when these apes chose to do so. Perhaps it is for this reason that they feed them in designated Ape dens on the Rock. Visitors are strictly cautioned not to feed them.
Video from the top of the Rock
We opted to hike down the so called Mediterranean steps - a mix of stairs and hiking trail that took us down the eastern face of the Rock. Part of the walk required some ascent and it was a strange feeling to be perspiring in our shirts after a few cold weeks with temperatures in the single digits.
We got some culinary relief in La Linea with the presence of a south Asian eateries offering falafel wraps. The Bangladeshi owner of one such made curry rice for us and offered free beverages - "free for Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis" for us. Amazing how identities get shaped in people's minds.
Video viewing the Rock from La Linea
What an accident of history ....
By the way, the one place you still haven't written about in the "catch up posts" is Granada. Please don't miss the photos and your words on Alhambra. When you are roaming around Africa, perhaps take a moment to write this up. From , on Jan 6, 2013 at 03:39AM
@Ramesh - Finally caught up on Granada and Seville posts. From, on Jan 25, 2013 at 08:27PM