A Pedacito of A Day In Gibraltar
One sunny July day in southern Spain, we decided to walk to the UK, just for the day. Don’t get the wrong idea though; I’m no superhuman. How might one achieve this unspeakable feat, you ask? Via Gibraltar, of course. Kidding aside, Gibraltar might be one of the strangest 2.6 square miles I’ve yet encountered.
While staying in a small beach town on the Costa Del Sol in the south of Spain, Casares, we had decided to take a series of day trips to various spots nearby. As beautiful as it is, with the exception of the stellar beachfront restaurant, there was little to do other than the usual beach stuff. And the best part was, you could usually do both if you started early enough.
And I have to take a moment to say; this beachfront restaurant really was spectacular. My American sensibility tells me to be wary of any open-air restaurant actually on the beach, especially when it‘s the only one. In my experience, they are either far too expensive, terrible, or both. This is not the case in Spain. I could go on, but this is a different story.
A peninsula jutting out from the southern tip of Spain, essentially making a gateway to the Mediterranean, the history of Gibraltar is a strange one. Since about 70 years before the Declaration of Independence, Gibraltar has been a part of the UK. I won‘t get into the dense history, but this was the result of war and despite Spain making claims to the territory, the population consistently voted to remain a part of the United Kingdom.
I have officially crossed two international borders by foot in my lifetime. One was from Tijuana (and we definitely don’t need to talk about that) the other was on this day, from Spain into the UK.
Before this brief visit, I knew very little about Gibraltar. Well, I knew two things: 1. there was a substantial rock there of some fame and 2.citizens of the Uk could visit without a passport, this much I knew from an autobiography of a double agent British spy. Not a lot. So here’s some of what I didn’t know then.
Humans have been living in and around Gibraltar since at least neolithic times. There are plentiful caves and, sure enough, at one time, cavemen lived in them. Add in just about every seafaring group that we know of in the Mediterranean and they’ve had a presence in Gibraltar.
The name, like much of southern Spain, comes from a bastardization of an Arabic name. “Jabal Tariq” meaning either “mountain of Tariq”, a Moorish general from the 8th century, or “Mountain on the way” on the way from Africa to Iberia, that is. In fact, the Moors, as far as is known, were the first group to make a permanent settlement there around the 10th century AD, and the castle they built still stands.
After about an hour’s drive, ⅓ of which you could actually see the Rock of Gibraltar in the distance, we had arrived. So it goes like this: You pull into a parking lot, park your car (you can drive in, but it would simply be to pull in and park in another country) you walk across the street into a small building, and have your passport ready.
Other than myself, the group consisted of all EU travelers. Thus we were briefly separated because of my American passport. Since this time, Gibraltar has left the European Union along with the rest of the United Kingdom, so I imagine this process would be a little different today. Anyhow, The extremely bored seeming passport controllers let us right through with no issue and boom, we were in the UK.
Directly at the border, there are mostly gas stations and shops, but after a brief walk, you find yourself on a harbor, all pedestrian. It seemed like some sort of festival was happening, there was a stage with a band playing.
Though very few people were even around to listen - it was still early in the day. My immediate feeling was that it felt a bit like Disneyland. In fact, the whole area had the vibe. It’s hard to describe, but something I have never experienced across the border in Spain. It’s like an area designated only for tourists. There’s no real culture, only what they’re serving up for the tourists passing through. Always nice to be on a harbor, though.
All this crossing of borders had made some of us hungry, so we grabbed a table at a pizza joint. Having been in Spain for some time, I expected automatically to be speaking Spanish once our server arrived.
I was wrong, dead wrong. She was British to the core. It definitely took me by surprise. And I would continue to be surprised by this. After finishing our extremely mediocre pizza, we continued on. To be fair, I had wanted to search for better food options, knowing that offerings near entrances are usually dismal, but the rest of the group was too hungry, so pizza it was.
Our next destination was the shopping district. Gibraltar is a destination for big shoppers as they do not charge any sales tax. This area is something to see; high-end jewelry shops seemed to be most prevalent, as were art galleries, as well as almost any shop you can imagine catering to people with lots of money who don’t want to spend it on tax.
There was also a strange prevalence of boutique electronic shops that seemed to cater to a different crowd. The group split up for a little bit, and I headed straight for a sunglasses shop. My current shades were falling apart, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. At this time of the day, I was the only patron in the shop, and both employees helped me try them on. This might have been the most unique part of my shopping experience.
Both of these female employees were by far the most glamorous sunglasses shop employees I‘ve ever seen. They looked like two runway models taking a break to sell some sunglasses on the side. They were also both exceptionally engaged in finding the perfect pair for me, and yes, it felt great.