GIBRALTAR: LITTLE ENGLAND INSIDE SPAIN… AND RAD
My life is so ridiculous (humblebrag) that I fly across the world with no plans, head to a random place like Morocco just because it’s there (after all, we are Mallorys, and George Leigh Mallory had that famous Everest quote), and while in Morocco, realize I don’t have a hotel booked for the next night…so as we’re heading back to Spain on the ferry, I’m wondering what to do.
Enter my buddy Orth (shoutout Aussies mate). I was chatting with him online during the trip since he’s the biggest travel guru I know and he, very offhandedly, mentioned that he’d heard Gibraltar was cool. I mentioned this to Caitlin, who looked it up and saw we’d be super close when we got off the ferry and it was settled: We were going to Gibraltar.
WHAT THE #$%^& IS GIBRALTAR?
I’d heard of the Strait of Gibraltar and the Rock of Gibraltar but I honestly didn’t know anything more. But since it was a 45-minute drive from the ferry, and it was on the way back to Malaga, we figured we’d check it out, even if just for a few minutes. Plus, we read they stamp passports, and that’s always cool, so why not?
I’m not going to go in depth on the history of Gibraltar (mainly because I can’t but also because Wikipedia is a thing) but it’s basically little England (not like in Arrested Development, unfortunately) in the middle of Spain. Seriously. It’s super bizarre but it’s this little city in Spain and everything is English and it’s part of the UK. I guess it’s like the US Virgin Islands (I think). They use Sterling Pounds and have all these cool English shops and it’s just like being in Britain but the weather isn’t awful. Pretty rad!
PARKING IN GIBRALTAR… OR IN SPAIN?
I’m not expanding when I say we were literally planning this trip on the go. Like, on the ferry and then as I was driving, Caitlin was figuring out a game plan. We didn’t have a hotel yet, but we read it was heaps cheaper to stay outside Gibraltar in Spain (it was), so we decided we’d do that later. For now, we were almost done with the drive and needed to know if we needed a car inside Gibraltar or what to do. Hint: You don’t need a car inside Gibraltar. We read that everything is more expensive there, like parking, and honestly once you’re there, it’s not a super appealing place to drive. Very narrow streets and very few places to park that we saw. So just before you get to the border, there’s a bunch of paid parking lots. I don’t know if it’s different pricing, but ours was only about a 10-minute walk from the border and was something like €15 for the whole day. So yeah, park outside the city/state/whatever Gibraltar is if you can.
THE ROCK OF GIBRALTAR IS VERY COOL
I had no idea what the Rock of Gibraltar actually was, and just assumed it was a famous rock…which it is. But it’s more of a mountain. And it’s pretty amazing to be driving on flat Spanish ground and then just see this massive cliff mountain thing just seemingly out of nowhere. It was really a cool experience because I hadn’t done any research so I was not expecting it to be so huge. Very very cool. And naturally, being a Mallory (the Everest thing…get it?) I wanted to go to the top of the rock but it looked very steep and very foreboding and possibly very cold and I had no idea if that was even possible. Luckily…
THE GIBRALTAR CARD: DO IT AND DON’T THINK TWICE
I can’t stress enough: We had no idea what we were doing. I basically just wanted to wander around inside this city and see what it even was. I had no expectations, which made what happened there even better. It absolutely became one of the coolest places we’ve ever been and is one of my favorite days we’ve ever had.
As usual, this begins with my brilliant wife. She found this pass that got you into a bunch of stuff there for something like €25 each (website is gibraltarinfo.gi, FYI) and it seemed to be cool and a good deal. Plus, I saw we got to go on top of the Rock, which is really all I wanted to do. Sold! And it was so bloody worth it I would absolutely do it again. We chose the cable car and nature reserve ticket just so we wouldn’t miss anything and I think it was a great choice. (I would, if I were to do it again, hit up a grocery store before heading up the cable car, because it’s a really long walk down and we were bloody hungry by the time we finished even though we thought we had more than enough snacks).
THE CABLE CAR UP THE ROCK
Pretty much as soon as you get through the border and passport control (we read that the lines can get crazy, especially for cars, but we were through in about 15 minutes on foot), you get your physical Gibraltar cards and tickets at a kiosk and the adventure begins. There’s a million buses and shuttles right there (another reason you don’t need a car), and they pointed us to the right shuttle and we headed for the cable car entrance. If we had to, we probably could have even walked, but it was a bit dreary (bloody England!) and windy and we were happy to take the bus. As we traveled, it was cool to see what felt like a merging of old and new worlds and civilizations there.
…THIS PLACE IS A ZOO
We were a few minutes early for the next car up so we just walked around reading about all the monkeys we were supposedly going to see. We even found out the alpha was named Gregory and I vowed to fight him and take over the mountain for myself. There were all sorts of warnings about the monkeys and what to do and what not to do and whatever, but I still don’t think I was fully prepared for the zoo that awaited us at the top.
The cable car up is rad, just seeing the city become smaller and smaller and having a sweet view of the ocean with tons of ships everywhere and then looking the other way and seeing the rock getting closer. It was totally rad. But man…at the top…the monkeys! Oh the monkeys!
NO REALLY THESE MONKEYS ARE CRAZY
The cable car hadn’t even stopped yet when the shenanigans started. We could see a bunch of monkeys (Barbary macaques if you must know) pretty much as soon as we got close to the summit, and I was surprised how many there were. For some reason (maybe because I had 0 knowledge going in) I thought it was the type of place where you might be lucky to see one or two. Uh…no.
So the cable car is approaching the top and this little monkey runs from near the cabin, flings itself in, twirls on the bars of the cable car like a gymnast, and is suddenly trying to get inside this lady’s purse…all as the car is still coming to a stop. That was hilarious, especially since it wasn’t me the monkey was bothering.
And seriously, they are EVERYWHERE! It seems like as we got closer to the base there were less, but at the top it’s just nuts. Of course you had stupid tourists letting them climb on their heads for photos and giving them food, but for the most part it was cool to just be among them but they did their own thing. There were tons of babies which were ugly and cute at the same time and some huge dude ones and at one point there were two or three males fighting around the path we were trying to take. That was actually a bit scary because we had no idea if they would freak out if we tried to walk by so we just stopped, waited, put money on the fight, and once they finished brawling we walked peacefully by.
So yeah, just being among so many monkeys made the trip worth it to me already. It was cool to feel like we were in an outdoor zoo (refraining from making any sort of Caitlin joke here) and since the monkeys mostly left us alone, it was rad. They warned everyone that if you had food you needed to hide it, and at one point we were so hungry but I was terrified to get out the Pringles so we legitimately huddled up and crammed food down our gullets as one of us stayed on lookout as the other ate. Fun times.
I didn’t even know this until like 5 seconds ago when I looked it up to make sure it didn’t have some fancy name, but the Gibraltar Skywalk was apparently dedicated by Luke Skywalker aka whatever his name is. Cool, I guess. This was included in the nature reserve fee part of the tickets, and it’s pretty sweet. I once saw some famous swimming pool in Thailand with clear glass on a high-rise and I wanted to do something like that, and this is as close as I’ve been. It’s amazing how your brain starts to freak out when you look down through the clear glass and your brain is convinced you’re going to die since you’re something like 1,000 feet in the air. Like, even holding onto the railings and everything, if you put your face where you can’t see anything but the clear glass (and ground below), it feels like you’re about to die. It’s awesome! It had really pretty views from up there as well, just cool views of the sea and the city and the rock and everything else. Totally worth doing.
ST. MICHAEL’S CAVE
From the skywalk, it’s a whole lotta walking, but there’s heaps of monkeys and stuff to keep you entertained. It was lots of walking and our legs were tired by the end because it’s quite a steep decline, but it wasn’t unbearable or anything. Our next stop was St. Michael’s Cave, which, as usual, I knew nothing about. In a way, I wonder if part of why I love traveling is because I do so little research that I rarely have any expectations, so anything remotely cool blows me away because I was expecting literally nothing. Anyways, I’ve seen caves before, so whatever, thought I. There’s a bunch of toilets here, which is nice, and a little café and gift shop where there were an insane number of monkeys eating everything that wasn’t nailed down. I didn’t think the cave would be anything special but man…I was wrong.
The cave itself is pretty impressive. I mean, typical cave with stalactites and stalagmites (don’t ask me which is which), but the way they present it there is dope! It’s got all these sweet lights that change color so it’s almost like a massive creepy echo-y nightclub, and I mean that in a great way. There’s an amphitheater inside and I think seeing a concert there might be the coolest thing anyone could ever accomplish.
There’s a bunch of signs to read as you walk around, and it’s nice to be able to chill on the chairs and rest after so much walking. There’s also some pools of water to look at, and it’s just a cool place. Maybe it doesn’t sound cool but I’m not great at describing things…you should still go.
WINDSOR SUSPENSION BRIDGE
I ain’t gonna spend too much time on this because, you know, Google and Wikipedia, but suspension bridges are cool and terrifying and kinda amazing all at once. We did one in Australia among the treetops and, naturally, you have to jump on it to scare your wife, which my friend and I successfully did. And on this one it was no different, jumping and bouncing and basically doing everything the signs say not to do. But, dear reader, know this: It was only to bother my wife, which makes it ok. As with everything else on the Rock, it’s got sweet views and is absolutely beautiful. We were in Gibraltar on a very non-crowded day which was cool because it was just us on the bridge. Just don’t look down!
At the end of the trail down, you get to go into the Moorish Castle. Now, (humblebrag), we’ve been in quite a few castles in our day, so it wasn’t the most exciting thing we’ve ever done, but from the outside, this one is just cool looking. It just looks like an oldschool castle, if that makes sense. It doesn’t? Whatever. You get to walk around inside, and honestly, the outside is cooler than the inside in my opinion, but it’s just a rad view and since it’s already on your way, totally something worth doing.
By the way, the Ape’s Den is supposed to be a highlight on the trail down, but there were barricades blocking off the trail that went in…so I have no idea what it even is. There were enough apes around (Ok, macaques, but whatever) that I wasn’t crushed that we didn’t see it, but maybe it was cool? Dunno.
BACK INTO TOWN SQUARE
By the time we got through the Moorish Castle, we were pretty spent. It was lots of walking and we definitely hadn’t brought enough food, so we were thirsty and hungry and, in the case of Caitlin, hangry. From the castle, there’s just a ton of stairs that you walk down that take you into the heart of the city center in Gibraltar. At this point, I was ready to be done walking, but we didn’t see any buses or anything so I kept pumping my stubby little legs. The area is amazing, it’s got all these cool houses and neighborhoods built right around this public walkway, some of which have some cool art on the walls and stuff. I kept trying to rack my brain and figure out who lives in these places and how could I pull it off? Still no idea, but I did hear some Irish accents from the tenants.
FISH AND CHIPS AND BACK TO SPAIN
Once you get down the long path and stairs into town, you’re right in the heart of Gibraltar’s city center. There are narrow streets without cars with bunches of cool shops and tourists. We did some window shopping and I bought about 12 drinks while we staggered around looking for something to devour.
I’ve probably already posted this like 1,000 times, but I dislike seafood. A lot. And Caitlin loves seafood. A lot. So Thailand was great because I ate nonstop pad thai and Caitlin personally consumed 1/3 of the ocean floor. But I do like fish and chips, mainly because it doesn’t taste like fish. So naturally we looked around Little Britain, aka Gibraltar, for some good fish and chips, and we happened upon Rock Fish and Chip Shop.
Now, nothing will ever compare to the greasy and probably unsanitary fish and chips found on every street corner in New Zealand. Second would be the Fish and Chips Waginn in Reykjavik. And eating fish and chips in a pub in Dublin on Grafton Street was cool. But Rock Fish and Chips were decent, not life-changing, but good. The only thing I really dislike about UK fish is they leave the scales on. I just don’t like biting into my fish and having it shine like a dime, but whatever, I guess that means Gibraltar’s fish and chips are as authentic as London’s.
By this point, we had found and booked our hotel (the Holiday Inn Express just outside Gibraltar) and it was about 20 minutes to drive there. Gibraltar had absolutely ruled and I could not have asked for a more enjoyable day in a place I didn’t even know existed.