April 18, 2015: Gibraltar

We had talked about trying to make it to Gibraltar yesterday but decided that that was an unreasonable thing to attempt.  So instead we targeted getting up this morning and getting straight out of the door and onto the road.  It is only just over a three hour drive to Gibraltar so not a horrible way to kick off the day.

The family was all packed and ready to go this morning and we were able to get up fairly early and get onto the road.  It was a bright and clear morning, good for a long day of driving.

From Cáñar the drive is west to the A44 then south to Motri and along the coast to Malaga.  This is our first time going this full route since we came into Malaga on the AVE from Madrid almost a month ago.  Our first time seeing this section of highway in the daylight!

We drove the entire Costa del Sol, Spain’s most famous stretch of water front.  Also the infamously overdeveloped and Anglicized section, which we were to discover.  The drive was fine, some light traffic.

What we found is that the section from Malaga, closer to Marbella, and on down to Gibraltar is ridiculously overdeveloped and everything is in English.  Nothing looks like Spain at all.  It was horrible.  It looks more like Florida.  It is clearly a trashy retirement community.  So sad that such wonderfully gorgeous Spanish coastline is effectively ruined.  It isn’t just a small stretch, it was a really large area.  Very depressing.  It doesn’t just ruin the area, it even ruins just driving through.  Everything that was special about Spain has been ruined there and it is just an imitation of the worst parts of the U.S.

We got to La Linea, just north of Gibraltar without too much effort.  As you near the peninsula there you suddenly see this mountain in the distance and realize that it is the Rock of Gibraltar with clouds around it. So cool.  It really is an isolated “rock” just stuck in the ground.  It truly looks like a giant rock.

It actually takes quite a long time, from once you have seen the “rock” until you are actually at Gibraltar and traffic there, caused by the delay of people entering the enclave, is pretty intense.  The Spanish traffic around La Linea was not bad at all except for the confusing disruption of the massive, non-moving line of cars going through immigration services.

Gibraltar is a British Crown Colony, so effectively it is its own country, but not exactly.  It is tough to know if Gibraltar should count as a new country that we have visited or not.  It is not a part of the UK, but not exactly its own country either.  But I think that it counts.  It issues its own passports.

We parked the car in La Linea and walked over to Gibraltar going through the customs line on foot.  This is well documented as the easiest way to deal with the colony, which has been a British possession since an Anglo-Dutch force took the port in the War of Spanish Succession on the behalf of the Hapsburg pretender in 1704.  So Gibraltar, as a British possession, significantly predates the existence of the United States as an entity by seventy two years! On our walk to Gibraltar we passed a large playground and, of course, that was all that the girls could think about all day long.

Getting into Gibraltar was super easy.  Coming in from the EU and carrying American passports meant that customs was as simple as having the passports ready and showing them.  They basically waved us right in.  The fastest entrance system that I have ever seen.  So much easier than the US into Canada or vice versa.  Of course, the only reason that the UK and Gibraltar by extension are not a part of the Schengen is a logical concern due to the English Channel and not because of a desire not to participate together.  So they appear to do their best to work together here.

We got in and realized that it was very warm.  We had planned to walk from La Linea to the city of Gibraltar but once we felt the warmth as we approached the airport we saw a bus that would take us to the city center and we just hopped on that instead.  Once it drove us all of the way in we realized that it was farther than we had anticipated and we were very happy for having chosen the public transportation.

We got off at the city center and headed up the steps and through the first plaza to “main street”.  It was pretty crowded and we were hungry.  Dominica was on the hunt for a good fish and chips.  We walked a few blocks, not wanting to stop at the very first place that we came too and pretty quickly found a nice looking place with outdoor seats open on a not so busy side street.  We ducked in there and got fish and chips for both Dominica and me and an order of fish fingers for the girls to split.

They had brown sauce (made by Heinz for the Americans who are not “in the know.”)  Dominica wanted to know what it was and when to use it.  I looked at the ingredients and determined that it was something akin to barbecue sauce except based on apple puree instead of on a tomato base.  Dominica asked our waitress and the waitress said it was awful, but popular, and that Dominica should just try some on chips and see what she thought.  So she did and I was right, it is a slight alteration on American barbecue sauce.  Dominica loved it.  Great, now she is addicted to another food we can rarely find.  At least there is a bottle of it in the house.

After lunch we made our way to main street and started walking in the direction that everything seemed to be.  We quickly came upon a very friendly little toy shop and stopped in.  They had tons of Playmobile and Lego stuff and the girls loved checking out the selection. Dominica has been wanting to get a few new things for the girls anyway, so this worked out well.

While the three girls checked out the toy store, I walked ahead a little while and scoped out the “how to get a tour to the top of the rock” situation.  I did not have to go far before I came across the minivan tours that take you up to the top.  Not going to be cheap, though. Gibraltar is a very expensive destination.

We did some toy shopping and ended up with one toy for each of the girls and one toy for them to share.  We talked to the girls running the shop and determined that it would be better if we took the cable car up to the top of the rock rather than taking the minivan thing.  Cheaper to take the cable car by a lot and just a bit more walking.

So we walked all of the way through town, which was a nice walk.  We got to go through the old city arch and past Trafalgar Cemetery which was small but very attractive.  It was a bit of a walk and very warm and we had to climb uphill for a bit at the end but we finally got to the cable cars taking people up the mountain.

As it turned out, the pricing had completely changed and not the cable cars were run by the minivan company and were exactly the same price.  Argh.  But since we were there we decided to do the cable car anyway.  Less chance of getting car sick for sure.

And, of course, the bulk of what there is to do up on the rock was closed and very expensive anyway and required tons and tons of walking.  So we decided to bail on all of that.  The ticket lady was nice and let Liesl go in for free even though she technically was just over the “free” age limit.  So that saves us a bit of money.  Luciana was already free.  They would not have been free in the minivan.  Skipping stuff meant that we would not be up there for very long and would spend less, which was good.

The line was not too long and the ride up in the cable car was nice and all of the staff was very nice and tried to help Luciana get a view as we climbed the rock, although Luciana got scared and could not look out the window for very long.  The views as you ascend were very cool.  On the way up we could already make out the hazy mountains in Morocco! This is our first time definitely looking at Africa itself.  So cool.

Getting off of the cable car we were immediately greeted by one of the Gibraltar apes.  The cable car operator told us to put the toys that we had bought, which were in a plastic bag, under a coat as the apes are very aggressive and assume that anything in a plastic bag is food and will take it from you.  In general they are safe but they will take your stuff and are quite aggressive about that.  So we had to put Dominica’s jacket over it and carry it very awkwardly for a while.

The first ape was just hanging out on a low wall and we were able to walk right by it and lots of people were posing with it for pictures.  The whole apes on the rock of Gibraltar thing is very strange.

We went up and checked out the north viewing area first, which had great views of La Linea where we had just come from and of Gibraltar itself.  The rock was very high and the views were really clear.  We could also see the Costa del Sol for a very long way, which was neat as we had just driven down the section that we could see from there.  And we had a descent view across the bay to where we were planning to head in just a little while.

Then we went to the south viewing area where the girls were able to run around as there was open space and they just did not care about the views at all.  Dominica and I were able to check out the views of Africa quite clearly from there.  So cool.  We cannot wait to be in Morocco!

That was it, nothing else to actually do on the Rock of Gibraltar.  I guess I am glad that we did it, but it is really a let down.  There was a gift shop there with insanely high priced items.  But Dominica really wanted to get stuff from there for some reason so each of the girls picked out a stuffed monkey toy (yes, stuffed moneys but the apes of Gibraltar, I know) and got a few random things like a colouring book and some pins.  It was about fifty or sixty dollars!

On the way back to the cable car we got to see the ape from earlier and one of the baby apes playing with each other and grooming.  That was cute. I have never gotten to be able to be so close to real apes before.  So at least that was something unique.

Down again via cable car and then walking back the way that we had come.  Gibraltar is long and skinny so there is little opportunity to vary the walking path.  On the way back we stopped in Gibraltar Cemetery and explored that, which was ten minutes at most.  Such a quaint cemetery, though.  Very cool.  Nearly all of the graves were from right around 1800.  Beautifully kept.

Nothing else to do in Gibraltar.  We did not even have phone service all day as phone and data agreements do not exist with the rest of Europe so you have to pay a fortune to make calls or get data while there which makes it pretty awful to try to spend time there as you lack the normal resources you would have anywhere else or need to just shell out money like mad.

We got back on the bus, having purchased a round trip ticket when we first arrived, and went back to the north side of the airport and walked ourselves back over the border into Spain.  Going through customs north bound was really silly.  We just held up our passports and the Spanish customs officials maybe looked to see that we had passports or maybe they didn’t, but they just waved us through without us even stopping walking.  So that was that!

So there we have it.  We have been to Gibraltar.  As a Crown Colony I guess we can say that we have been to yet another country now.  It was a pretty minor item on my list of things to do, but I did have some desire to see the rock but it was a major issue on Dominica’s bucket list and now it is checked off and thankfully we will have no need to ever do it again.  The entire colony feels like nothing more than a tourist trap and while it is a generally nice place around the city, it is wall to wall tourists and the trappings that go with them and not at all interesting other than some history and views.  And, in reality, the only view that really matters is the view of the rock rather than the view from it, as we would learn in about two hours.

The girls had wanted to do none of that today and all that they cared about was getting to the playground that we had seen.  It was a huge playground with easily more than a hundred kids on it!  We must have put in a good hour there, but the girls really needed it and it was a free, healthy activity that would wear them out for more car travel today.  Not really a bad combination.  This playground had a lot of cool stuff for them to climb and spin on.  Although they had a bit of a problem being so little and not speaking Spanish in a playground loaded with so many non-English speaking, mostly bigger kids.  The girls would get stuck on things that they had climbed or find the weight of bigger kids making things swing in scary ways that they were not able to handle.

We coaxed the girls off of the playground with the promise of ice cream which we were only able to fulfill by going to the McDonald’s across from the playground.  For some reason no one else wanted to sell ice cream in this hot, ice cream craving location.

We got back to the car and I drove us out of La Linea and north till we got to the Dia Maxi (supermarket) that we had seen no our way in.  It is so hard for us to get to a large grocery store that even when we are far away across the country we take the chance to do some shopping if we see one.

Dominica ran in and shopped while I sat in the car with the girls.  It was half an hour at least and maybe closer to an hour.  Dominica came out at one point but realized that she had forgotten things and so went back in because it would be so awful to need to make another run to find a grocery store at some point.

Once we were all in the car it was time to leave the Costa del Sol and switch to the Costa de la Luz and begin the drive to Cádiz.  In theory the fastest way to get over to Cádiz was to cut across the peninsula but I was much more interested in going along the coast and Dominica looked on her GPS on her phone and determined that it would only take an extra fifteen minutes or something similar and so thought that it would be okay to do that.

So we hugged the coast starting at Algeciras, the big Spain city in the area, and working our way down to Tarifa, the southern most tip of Spain.  We actually went right to Tarifa.  On the way down to that point the views of Africa were mind blowing.  It was right there, so much bigger and so much clearer than on Gibraltar.  This is where the view is.  We could see the entire northern Moroccan coast and even make out the Spanish enclave in Africa.  So cool.  We could not take our eyes off of “Mount Moses” as we drove.  It was probably an hour that it was visible to us!  One of the most amazing things that I have ever seen.

We worked our way up the coast which was truly amazing as it was so empty, but the wind surfers really were everywhere which we had heard about.  The wind farms too, were mind boggling.  They just went and went.  I have never seen anything like it.  There are a lot of wind farms back home in New York and all over Spain but this might have been more wind mills than I have seen in my entire life combined!

The countryside and coast leading up to Cádiz were very neat and completely different from what we have seen in other parts of Spain.  It was extremely interesting getting to explore this part of the country too.

We got into Cádiz, which is a fairly large city that is very similar to San Francisco in how it lies to the west of the country on a peninsula with the city at the tip.  And there is even an “Oakland equivalent” across the bay!

I had to drive through the old city which was pretty hectic.  Our parking was in the Plaza de San Antonio which is the heart of the old city and crazy to be driving around.  We got in and around okay, though, and got the car parked and set out to look for our apartment.

The Apple Maps sent us the wrong direction and we wound up walking thrice or more as far as necessary.  The apartment was right off of the plaza but we ended up going all over the place before finding it.

The apartment ended up being in the most ideal of locations.  Really awesome.  Dominica’s streak of finding great places continues unabated.  Dan was there to show us around the quirky, old city apartment.  This was super interesting to see what a “modern” apartment built into one of these ancient buildings was like.  It was all strangely shaped.  You had to go up two flights of ancient marble stairs that were all uneven and heavily worn.  Then the door was impossible to work.  Once inside nearly all of the light came from these frosted glass windows all over the place that opened into tiny interior courtyards just there to let light down.  The living room was the first room and a good size.  It had a tiny terrace that looked down onto the street that we had just come from.  Then there was the “girl’s room” which had a tiny window looking into the living room, but with curtains up, and two twin beds so perfect for the girls.  Then the next room was a boy’s room and completely loaded with toys!  Then a very long hallway and the master bedroom at the end of it.  Across from the girls’ room was the kitchen which had no oven, no microwave, no toaster oven and instead of a dish washer it had a washing machine, but no dryer!  So weird.  And then beyond the kitchen was a bathroom that only had a bizarre and only marginally functional plastic accordion door.  The shower seemed like it would be good (but proved to be marginal as well as the wall piece that was supposed to hold the shower head was broken so getting the shower to spray you instead of the wall was a bit of a challenge.)

We got in and got set up.  Then, nearly right away, I was sent to the car to get our stuff.  Then sent out again pretty much right away to scout out food.  I did and the family decided that pizza was the way to go.  There was a Telepizza, which I believe that we had in Madrid in 2012 when we were in our hotel there, on the plaza where we were parked so I just went there and ordered two large pizzas, one cheese and one spinach, to bring back and eat in the apartment.

After we ate Dominica and the girls got ready for bed.  I set off with my phone to explore the city.  My late night walks are amount my absolute favourite things and I would hate to miss an opportunity to explore the city.  It is also very important that I do these things because this is how I find where things are around the city so that tomorrow, when we have the girls, we can actually get to things rather than attempting to figure out where things are when we have the girls in tow.

I walked for several hours and really got a great bit of exploration it.  It was awesome.  This was one of my better city walks.  I immediately set out to do a big loop of the city.  I started by going to the Alemeda right by our apartment.  We could see the ocean through the alley when we got to the apartment and it was, indeed, just two blocks away.  The park or mall running along the ocean there was gorgeous.  So I turned right and headed through the park which eventually turned into the old fortress wall with the canon still intact.  I took the wall as far as I could and then descended down into the old city.

All through the mall and along the wall I was shocked to find, even very late at night, tons of teens and twenty somethings hanging out on benches, in shadows and or just walking around.  Clearly many were on dates and had nowhere else to go.  Many were just hanging out.  It was a busy place.

Once down in the old city I immediately found the Plaza de España with the massive monument to the 1812 constitution.  That was really neat and a great plaza.   And from there I went to the ocean on the other side and then along it for a way, then back into the city again and wound my way through ancient streets and plazas and stumbled upon the giant market there which was super cool.  But it was closed so I had to walk around it rather than getting to explore it.  But noted as something to check out tomorrow.

From the market straight through some truly ancient streets and back out to the ocean.  There were clouds tonight with no moon and no stars.  The ocean was pitch black.  I could see nothing at all.

I continued the walk around the city perimeter and even took the long walk out into the ocean to the castle that sits in the harbour.  That was long and lonely but pretty cool.  There were people fishing here and there.

I came back and continued the entire rest of the way around the outside of the city. It was a great walk.  Several miles and about two hours and gave me a really good overview of the city.  I am ready for tomorrow.  I really enjoyed this walk.  I got to see several important monuments, plazas, city defenses and historical sights plus some modern stuff that the city has done as well.  I really like this city.

When I got home Liesl was still awake and waiting for me by the door.  She informed me that Luciana had stolen my spot in the master bed.  So I moved my CPAP from that room into Liesl’s room and I slept on the one twin bed and Liesl slept on the one that she had been sitting on to watch shows on her iPad all evening.  Dominica and Luciana had been fast asleep for some time.  I was asleep long before Liesl turned in.  I have no idea how late our Liesl stayed up using her iPad.

Some blisters on my right foot from all of the walking, but otherwise feel very good.