Xavid (kihou) wrote,
Xavid
kihou

Gibraltar

This past (bank holiday) weekend was Gibraltar! I admit that it's not the most obvious place to visit, but I got into it (after seeing the Rick Steves episode) because of climbing and tunnels and the ability to day-trip to Morocco. I mean, sekkaku de Europe ni kita kara, might as well hop over to Africa, right?

Luton is probably my least favorite of the London airports I've been to: it's a bit annoying to get to (National Rail plus a shuttle bus). It also does the thing I'm not used to where you don't get to wait by the gate; the gate's not announced until it's time for boarding, which is less relaxing. But it was fine.

Gibraltar, for those not in the know, is this tiny British colony on and around a ginormous rock connected by a thin strip of land to Spain. It doesn't really have room for an airport, so what it has is a single runway that was built by the British Air Force on the water on either side of the land bridge. Which means that to get between Gibraltar and Spain, everyone has to go across the runway. So it's logically like a drawbridge for planes instead of boats, which is pretty cool. And being able to see the Rock of Gibraltar, which is pretty impressively huge, from the air was neat.

The AirBNB wasn't great; the location was not as given and the host had a lot of house rules that weren't indicated up front that ended up making it not the most comfortable place to stay. But since we basically just went there to sleep, it wasn't the end of the world.

Friday we went wandering a bit looking for a place to eat and also exploring a fair amount, and ended up at a fish place at the waterfront that was very good if not cheap.

Saturday we went to Tangiers. We'd originally tried to arrange a private tour so we'd be able to set our own itinerary while still having a guide, but the guides in Tangiers were really hard to coordinate with and transportation from Gibraltar to Tarifa, where the ferry left, was pretty complicated, so we ended up going with a Gibraltar tour company, which I think was the right call given the situation. We got to visit the tip of Morocco at the border of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, the other Pillar of Hercules (the counterpart of the Rock of Gibraltar), which was cool. I took a camel ride, we went through the fish and vegetable marketplaces (albiet quickly), we had a great Moroccan lunch, and we went through the old town visiting some shops. The shop setup was a bit dorky in that it was to shops that had a pre-arrangement with the tour company, which wasn't so bad for the first one, which was a carpet shop with a brief overview of the types of carpets and also an attached handicrafts shop; however, the second shop, herbs and herbal medicines, got a bit infomercial-y. And we didn't have enough time for any free exploration, which was disappointing. But there was lots of cool architecture and decoration and narrow alleys, and it was a cool experience to have. I would've liked to be able to explore more, visit a more actual spice shop and maybe see other crafts like mosaics, which I really like, but this way of doing things let us fit Tangiers into the trip, and it was solid as a compact whirlwind.

Afterwards, we had the tour bus drop us off at La Línea de la Concepción, the Spanish town on the other side of the border, and quested in search for tapas. Unfortunately, it was too early in the evening for the highly-rated tapas places to be open, so we ended up at a place that was less fancy but I still really enjoyed. It was also very reasonably priced, much less priced for tourists than many of the restaurants in Gibraltar. And there was an adorable sparrow that kept trying to steal our food.

Saturday we went on a dolphin cruise. It was pretty cool, we followed a small pod of youngsters around and got to see some jump flips and tail flaps and such. I think our experience in Maui of seeing hundreds of tiny dolphins on a whale watch spoiled us a little for dolphin cruises, though. ^_^

Then, we went up the Rock! There's a cable car we took up, which I found amazing and Sarah found terrifying. And at the top, monkeys! Gibraltar has the only monkeys in Europe, and they were quite fun to watch. The views from up top were amazing, too, being able to see to Spain and Morocco, including the point we'd been to the previous day.

We visited St. Michael's Cave, a large natural cave. They have concerts in it sometimes, but not while we were there. It was pretty cool, although the rainbow disco light effect (which is apparently common in Europe) was a bit of a weird touch. Definitely not spelunking, and more damaged than other caves I've been to, but large and open and plenty of cool stuff to see. They had a fallen stalagmite that was cut open and polished to show its rings, like the rings of a tree, which was really cool to see.

Then we walked gradually down the rock, seeing more monkeys, lots of cool plants and lizards, and doing some geocaching. Gibraltar is basically entirely comprised of various eras of fortresses, and ruins of that were in evidence all over. (Down below the rock, too, there are still lots of walls and bastions, now with shops, homes, or recreation centers built on or in them.) We hiked down a staircase that led into a more off-the-beaten-path residential area, which reminded me a little of Belize or Hana, albiet very dense, in contrast to the flatter, more recent construction touristy areas. In general, I like London and Gibraltar's plethora of narrow pedestrian alleys and paths a lot. We ate at the Gibraltar Arms, which distracted me thoroughly with the various heraldic devices on the walls.

Monday we went to a glassblowing studio, which had a quite impressive live demonstration, and then the botanical gardens. The gardens were open to the public, very expansive, and very quiet, and seemed like they must be lovely to live nearby. We did a little meditation, and they'd also be great for picnicing or just reading. After that, we took the bus down to Europa Point, the tip of the island, to look at the views from sea level. Like Land's End, very windy. ^_^ And then we popped into Spain to do a geocache and get our Spain souvenir (there's no souvenir for Gibraltar, alas) before getting on the plane and heading back to London.
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