One of the reasons I chose this Holland America cruise was because Gibraltar was a port of call on the itinerary and I was eager to visit the Rock. I wished we’d be in port longer than 7 hours but as it turned out, that was only one of the challenges.
First, a little historical context: In 711 AD Muslim General Tarik-ibn-Ziyad invaded the Rock taking it from the Visigoths. The Rock came to be called Jebel Tarik (Mountain of Tarik) which evolved to Gibraltar. The Moors were finally expelled from Spain in 1492 by Ferdinand and Isabella and in 1501 Queen Isabella decreed that Gibraltar would henceforth be part of Spain. Over 200 years later, the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 ceded Gibraltar to Britain and today, 300 years later, it remains a territory of Britain in spite of Spain’s desire to have it back. Citizens of Gibraltar have voted overwhelmingly to remain in the UK but following the recent successful Brexit vote, Spain promises to reopen the issue.
Today around 30,000 residents occupy Gibraltar and an estimated 6000 people cross the border each day for work. Interestingly, the busiest road in Gibraltar crosses the border and also crosses the only runway at the airport so the road has to be closed whenever a plane lands. You can see it on the map below. (I’m not sure I’d want to fly into this airport!) The climate is temperate which attracts tourists along with its robust gambling industry. Other top tourist attractions include the views from the Rock, the Barbary macaques, the 32 miles of tunnels running through the Rock, the Mediterranean Steps, and St. Michael’s Cave.
Our ship arrived at 7 am on Sunday, May 1. The following day was a bank holiday so I’m not sure whether businesses were closed because it was Sunday or because the next day was a bank holiday but lots of shops, other than souvenir shops were closed. Since we didn’t have a lot of time, we headed straight to the cable car, an aerial tram, to take us up to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve at the top of the Rock. They begin operation at 9:30 am and we were in the first car of the day.
The views on the 6-minute ride to the top were mostly obscured by fog. We could see little below us but nothing above. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the iconic view of the Rock of Gibraltar through the clouds at the top nor did we catch a glimpse of it all day. As you can see on the map above, the craggy view would be best from the northeast and especially from Eastern Beach but our ship was docked in the harbor to the west.
The Barbary apes (macaques) greeted us as we exited the cable car, mitigating our disappointment over the foggy views. Admittedly, this was my favorite experience in Gibraltar and I took lots of pictures but you only have to scroll through some of my favorites.
We tried to wait out the fog in the Top of the Rock Cafe but the fog outlasted us.
There is no definitive answer as to how the Barbary apes came to inhabit Gibraltar but theories include a tunnel under the Strait of Gibraltar to Morrocco and escaping apes owned by sailors visiting the port. Now there are some 230 apes living here but the population declined to just 7 during WWII. Legend has it that Britain will control Gibraltar as long as the macaques remain and consequently, Winston Churchill ordered the population restored. Today the ape population is managed by the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society.
We decided to walk down from the top of the Rock in hopes that the fog would lift to provide us with views.
Originally, we planned to visit the Great Siege Tunnels which were the opposite direction from St. Michael’s Cave and the Mediterranean Steps. In retrospect, I may have switched that. When we arrived at the tunnels, we realized we didn’t have enough time for the tour and continued down the Rock. We had nice views of the Moorish Castle dating from the 8th century AD but a trip down the Mediterranean Steps which were restored in 2007 may have been an even better experience.
Once we reached the bottom, a pub stop was in order, since we were, after all, in British territory with a powerful thirst after our hike.
Gibraltar definitely has that quintessential British feel and a couple Anglophiles like Lori and me enthusiastically soaked up the charm.
As we made our way back to the ship, we discovered May Day celebrations beginning in Casemate Square. Had we the time, we’d have stuck around longer to enjoy the show.
When we arrived back at the ship, we learned the second largest private yacht in the world, owned by a Russian tycoon, was in the harbor so, of course, I got a photo. Fuel is reputedly cheap in Gibraltar so they stopped by to fill up. (You can also spot the yacht it in an earlier photo of the harbor.)
As we sailed away, that cloud continued to hover above Gibraltar, like an old friend unable to bid us farewell.
I believe a return to Gibraltar may well be in my future since I have some unfinished business, namely a view and a photo that look like this:
Based on events of May 2016.