There are not many places where you find an aeroplane on the road in front of you. But here we are waiting for a British Airways plane to go by so that we can cross the road.
Our day trip to Gibraltar was a little like entering a parrallel universe. It is England (well, a British Overseas territory to be exact), but not as we know it. We park in Spain and walk across the peninsula as it is both faster and easier this way.
As we wait for the plane to cross the road we pop into Waitrose! How exciting to find a duty free Waitrose right on the border. Sad to admit, but we (only Clive, actually) have been missing a few home comforts (Marmite and English tea bags, since you ask).
Gibraltar is a great place to look around by foot. It does not take us long to see a red telephone box and old style red pillarbox (post box), neither of which are that common any longer in England. We feel duty bound to pop into Marks and Spencer’s and although it looks very old fashioned they are doing a roaring trade in underwear and greetings cards, all served by middle aged, over made up, British ladies, who call people “love” and “dear”. We almost feel that we have to stock up on undies too, but we are able to resist. A giant Morrisons supermarket lures us in, just for look. I don’t know what happened to us upon entering Gibraltar, but it seems like the Englishness in us is exaggerated to a degree that we cannot understand. We do not get lured in to supermarkets in England! Having said that the Morrisons supermarket cafe looks really inviting and also has a bar, with wine and beer on tap to have with your jacket potato / fish and chips / sandwich. We are impressed.
Back to the attractions of Gibraltar, it is known as The Rock, and yes, it is certainly a big rock upon which the territory is built. The country covers just over 2.6square miles and is essentially one city of around 30,000 people. Strategically it was important for naval control of the Mediterranean Sea, as the shipping entrance/exit for the Meditterean is only eight miles wide here and therefore easy to control. (Spain want the territory back, but at each referendum in Gibraltar, residents are overwhelmingly against this). On top of the rock live a large colony of wild monkeys, known locally as the Apes. We did not have the energy in this heat to climb up to see them, perhaps the only tourists not to.
Instead of visiting the monkeys we walk to see the Marina, sparkling in the sunshine. On the way we see many hospitals, and given the number of residents here, calculate that there must be almost a hospital bed per resident here. After doing a little research I find out why medical care is such big business: It is in part down to the fact that not all only residents, but all British citizens (and all EU nationals with a Health Insurance card) are entitled to free-of-charge treatment here on presentation of a valid passport. That’s a lot of people.
The other big businesses here are financial services (it is a tax free centre) and gambling. What an odd mix : Casinos and Financial Advice. I hope there is not a lot of job hopping between the two.
A little while later as we are walking along a Moroccan man approaches me and asks in English for directions. I don’t know what came over me, as I reply back in Spanish. It is only after he has left I realize what I have done. It is the first time I have naturally responded in Spanish without thinking and to someone who would have preferred English!
The cafes have homemade pies and pinafores on the elderly waitresses. A little gem of information is passed to us – did we know that Gibraltar is where John Lennon and Yoko Oni got married? So perhaps once this area led the way and was fashionable, nowadays the word might be quaint.
After a surreal day, we buy as many Waitrose T-bags as we can carry as a nice surprise at the house for Aunty Sue and head off home.
The Arab ladies in front of us at the border have so much duty free shopping it takes some time for them to get through. It must be an English thing, having lots of Tea Bags, that we are waved by with barely a glance.
Getting to Gibraltar
It is an easy day trip by car from any of the main cities in Andalucia. We drove from Malaga province.
The drive here took us through the (not so authentically Spanish) area of Marbella, home of glitz, glamour, golf, gangsters, expensive restaurants, yachts and a hot destination for many a C-lister/reality show celebrity/hen weekend; at least if you believe the news columns. (Remember the phrase “no carbs before marbs”?).
If you fancy a weekend of contrasts, Marbella and Gibraltar would do it. From Marbella, it is probably as easy to catch a bus to see Gibraltar.
On the way, look out for the heavily overloaded vehicles with both people and packages. They are heading to/from Tangiers using the ferry not far from here. We were not sure if people were emigrating or trading between Africa and Europe (Morocco and Spain), but there were a lot of comically full minibuses and estate cars. Sadly I have no photos to show of this.