Gibraltar is a Weird Place

Update:  As this post has received more views than normal, I wanted to clarify that we loved Gibraltar and had a great experience there.  Everyone we encountered was friendly and welcoming.  The story below is more of a commentary on our experience traveling with two  youngsters than a reflection on Gibraltar.  However, Gibraltar is quite unique.  An anomaly for sure.  And it’s just the type of place we love to visit.  Thank you Gibraltarians for sharing your little peninsula with us.  

As part of our Spanish vacation, we spent a day in Gibraltar.  Gibraltar is tiny British territory (2.6 square miles) on the tip of southern Spain where Europe and Africa nearly meet.  It’s really just a giant rock with a cutesy British-esque town at the bottom and a bunch of monkeys at the top.

I was thinking:

Gibraltar fun1

Matt was thinking:


The reality was more like this:

gibraltar actual2

First, due to long car queues, we were advised to park in Spain and walk across the border.  Sure enough, when we got there, cars were queued up for about a mile waiting to drive in.  Feeling pretty clever, we went straight for the street parking on the Spanish side.  But then, realizing we didn’t have any Euros yet, we went in search of an ATM to withdraw money.  Once successful, we had to find a store to buy something so that we could use the change to pay our meter.  And then we realized our parking spot was so far away that it was free.  And then we realized we needed British Pounds (not Euros) to buy anything in Gibraltar.

After you cross the border, there’s only one way in, and that is across the Gibraltar airport’s runway.  I’ll have to say, It feels oh-so-wrong to walk across an airport’s landing strip.  You feel so teeeny tiny and exposed on that giant tarmac.  You also feel like you’re about to get squashed by an airplane.  Or arrested by TSA.  It’s a dangerous confluence of emotions that may impair your judgement.  For me, it manifested the urge to turn on my pretend light wands and make fake air traffic signals, but I thought better of it.  You’re welcome, Matt.

This is Matt, Carolyn and William in the Stephenson’s version of Abbey Road. Instead of Golden Slumbers, we sang a rousing version of, “The Wheels on the Bus.” In a British accent. Since technically we were in Britain.

Gibraltar does not mess around with its Britishness.  Just across the tarmac, we spotted red phone booths, flags, bobbies, and “property of the Queen” galore.  And as it turns out, Spain is always gunning for possession of Gibraltar (or whining about it), so I guess it makes sense that Gibraltarians flaunt their British roots.

Once we finally made it into town, we were duly rewarded for our long journey.  Matt got his British beer.  I watched an interesting assortment of tourists and locals mingle in the square while William munched on pomegranate seeds and Carolyn stuffed her mouth with french fries.  Pretty much bliss all around for about 30 minutes.

We bowed to Carolyn’s french fry craving after the journey into Gibraltar.

And that’s when I discovered that Matt wanted to just hang out here:

Around the same time, Matt discovered that I wanted to go up there:

Huh?  It never occurred to me that Matt wouldn’t want to go to the top of the rock.  After all, the rock is the main attraction.  And who doesn’t want to go to the top of something?  I see something tall and I want to get up it.  Six years into marriage and I’m finally learning that Matt does not possess that urge.  It explains a lot.  Like that time in Switzerland when he didn’t want to climb the large hill near our hotel.  And that time in the desert when he didn’t want to climb the sand dunes.  And that time he almost made it to the top of Mt. Toubkal.

As marital disagreements tend to go, we agreed to check out the cable car and see if it was even possible with our giant stroller and the kids.  It was.  But not after waiting in a long line with, at times, two crying squirming babies.  And just when I was about to cry uncle, we were suddenly ushered to the cable car and whisked up the mountain to play and dance with the monkeys.

Well, sortof.  The monkeys, while highly entertaining, were incredibly aggressive.  Within minutes, one was trying to take Matt’s camera bag.  They got into a tug of war match until Matt won by blowing in his face.  Another lady was carrying a plastic bag that contained food.  A monkey quickly took it.  She went after him and grabbed it back.  The monkey retaliated by jumping on her back and scratching her.  While we were watching these antics, a second lady interrupted us to indicate that monkeys had gotten into our unattended stroller and had carried off William’s coat.  Sheesh!  A man recovered the jacket before we could intervene ourselves.

Back down at sea level, we shopped around and bathed ourselves in Britishness.

Reaching the point of exhaustion.

When we’d had enough, we headed back for the border, expecting to walk across to our car.  But there were throngs of people waiting to get out.  Throngs.

This is maybe 1/5 of the line.  Everyone was taking photos of the line, so I felt compelled.  I even caught a police officer filming with his phone.  So yeah, it was epic.

Confused, we struck up a conversation with some local Gibraltarians and they explained that disagreements between Spain and Britain had escalated.  To retaliate, the Spanish were slowing down border crossings.  According to our friends in line, this was the worst they had ever seen it.  Once I got home and researched it a bit, I learned that a standoff had occurred between the British Navy and the Spanish just days before.

Matt assessing the line and wondering how long we can hold the kids off.

But we got through the line quicker than expected.  And the kids held it together.  Once across the border, we hobbled back to our car, drove to our hotel and collapsed, thinking what an odd experience we had in Gibraltar.  Such an anomaly.  Such a strange place.  The end.