Europe 2014 – Gibraltar: One Big Rock and a Lot of Duty Free

Timeline: June 26th

The drive went smoothly down to Gibraltar and the car GPS, despite its minor faults compared to our experience with the bike GPS, guided us faithfully to Las Campanas.  The Steve’s guide had suggested that there was limited street parking and when we pulled up in front of the hostal, a spot marked in yellow was open, but not for us to park there.  This was a narrow street so we did as we’d been observing for a month or more, that is, double-park or something like it, until you transact your business.

An older gentleman was at the reception counter, slightly stooped, possibly the father of the owner and we efficiently conducted the business of checking in, after a brief delay while he looked for the reservation.  He then pointed at our car and communicated to me that we could park in the yellow zone if we wanted.  He gave me the hotel’s business card and indicated to put it on the dash, which we did and left the car there for our two-night stay.  What a score!  It saved us something like 16 Euro per night.

hostalrestaurantelacampana_447987

Our room, actually a triple, was spacious but very plain and a little worn at the edges, but for 42 Euro a night we suitably adjusted our expectations.  We relaxed a bit and then set out to survey the immediate area and grab a bite to eat.  The restaurant at the hostal was highly recommended in the Steve’s guide, but for our two nights there did not serve any food.

We walked the square outside of Las Campanas, noting that even at 8pm the post office was still open.  It’s those Spanish hours, and the late nights they keep.  After some walking and discussion we landed at at the Al Usam Kebap Shop, a small place on the corner and settled on a falafel wrap and one order of Chicken Tikka Masala with a large beer.  Portions were large and the falafel wrap was an interesting twist on a familiar dish, wrapped in a tortilla and very wet, with a lot of secret sauce, really quite good.  Total for the tab was 13.50 Euro, not bad given the portion sizes and the touristy location.

We returned to our room and spent the rest of the evening enjoying being indoors, sipping on a bottle of wine, and watching Home and Garden TV (HGTV) on the very small flat panel TV mounted high up on the wall across from our bed.  We sat through a number of episodes of a show we’ve seen in the States, Property Brothers, where two siblings, one a realtor and the other a contactor help a couple select a run down property that they will then develop into a dream home.

Beyond the familiar rhythm of watching a program as if we were at home, it was fascinating to watch it dubbed in Spanish over the English dialogue, which would seep through from time to time.  Throughout the show, when the wife saw something that amazed her, her response was “Dios Mio”.  It became a refrain we’d play with for a day or so, a running joke for us.

The Rock

The Rock

The next morning we enjoyed a couple of coffee con leche’s downstairs before heading out, which came with an order of toast apiece.  Not sure how we got the toast, a trick we could not figure out how to repeat the next day.  From Las Campanas it was just a fifteen minute walk to the border and with little fanfare we entered Britain, hopping on a bus that took us up to the Grand Casement Gates, a lower plaza that gave us access to a couple of the main streets that ran up through lower Gibraltar towards our destination, the aerial tram station.

Most of us think of Gibraltar as this majestic chunk of rock that guards the entrance to the Mediterranean, under British control for centuries and made manifest in a number of iconic war movies.  But for the bulk of today’s tourists, it is a duty free shopping wonderland.  Indeed, the nearly one mile long Main Street is lined with shop after shop selling those items where duty free makes a difference, liquor, watches, jewelry, cosmetics, etc.

Main Street

Main Street

If you like crowds, this was your type of place and we made our way slowly up the street until we finally reached the Cable Car (aerial tram) station, purchased our tickets and rode up to the top.  For the rest of the afternoon we’d walk five or so miles back down to town, seeing the 4-5 significant historical sights of the rock.

Tram

The first is the station at the top, with its breathtaking views and, of course, the famous Barbary Apes, which are actually Macaques monkeys.  As we prepared to begin the descent we heard the sounds of a small child wailing, obviously in distress.  Oblivious to the dozens of warning signs about not getting close to the apes with packages a British family had ignored, an ape had grabbed a plastic bag from them (they know it usually contains food).  In this case, as the child wailed and the ape pawed through the bag, it became apparent that the contents consisted of the kid’s potty training chair.  A bit of diversion rescued the seat.  Not sure about any of its contents.

International Monkey Incident

International Monkey Incident

We left the scene relieved to know that the small child might be spared long term traumatization, and walked a bit of distance down to St. Michael’s Cave.  This is not a pristine well preserved cave, but rather one that has been heavily doctored with lights and other atmospheric enhancements.  This is not in and of itself a bad thing, just different and in this case, quite impressive.  They piped in music and the largest section of the cave had a tiered seating platform where it appeared they staged musical events.

St. Michael's Cave

St. Michael’s Cave

We exited the cave and stopped at the small café/bar nearby for a quick bite, a beer and a steak and kidney pie, quite good.  From there we continued our descent down hill, quite steep at times and a trek we would pay for dearly the next day with very tired and sore calf and quad muscles.  We entered and spent quite a bit of time touring the Siege tunnels, originally excavated between 1779 and 1783, then extended even further prior to World War II.

The Niche - The Siege Tunnels Original Gun Emplacement

The Niche – The Siege Tunnels Original Gun Emplacement

It was all very reminiscent of a number of forts and castles we’d visited over time, seemingly impregnable when built but just one new technology from being completely obsolete.  We left the tunnels and wound our way down to town, hot, tired and ready for a break.  We found it in a small lane, at the Aragon, a proper enough British pub yet with drinkable Spanish beer (my bias against English ales showing here).  We sat outside and enjoyed a pint or so, glad to be off our feet, enjoying the shade and the sound of English being spoken around us.

A Welcome Break at the Aragon

A Welcome Break at the Aragon

We finished up and walked the streets a bit more, then settled in for dinner at a Steve’s recommendation, The Clipper where I had a very nice order of fish and chips and Joanna enjoyed a delectable lamb dish prepared Thai style.

We then made our way back out to the bus stop, spending a few moments trying to figure out how to spend the 5 pounds 20 I still had left.  I finally stumbled upon a market that had a half pint of vodka for exactly that amount.  For worldly travelers, this is the mother load, that is, getting rid of the last of your foreign currency for something of value with nothing left over.  Later posts will report on the outcome of that vodka, but for us, it was a fitting cap to a very fine day.

Tip of the Rock

Tip of the Rock

Links:

Property Brothers: http://www.hgtv.com/property-brothers/show/index.html

Barbary Apes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbary_macaques_in_Gibraltar

St. Michael’s Cave: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Michael’s_Cave

Siege Tunnels: http://www.visitgibraltar.gi/upper-rock-great-siege-tunnels

The Clipper: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187510-d1463511-Reviews-The_Clipper-Gibraltar.html

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