Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Day Trip {Gibraltar}

Last weekend we took a trip to Gibraltar.  Most people know Gibraltar because of their famous rock or the Strait of Gibraltar.  Gibraltar is actually not a part of Spain -- it is a British Overseas Territory.  The history of Gibraltar is a little complicated, but because of its strategic location -- where the Atlantic and the Mediterranean meet -- it was is a well sought after piece of land.  Gibraltar has been a part of the United Kingdom since 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht (at the end of the War of Spanish Succession, I believe).  Gibraltar was also used as a fortress during World War II.  Spain has been trying to take over Gibraltar pretty much since 1713 and has not been successful -- Gibraltarians have voted twice (1967 and 2002) to stay a part of the UK while still running most of their own day-to-day government.  In more recent history, like a month ago -- with the Brexit happening, Spain is again trying to regain control of Gibraltar.  It sure is an interesting time to be living in Europe!

Now that you've had your insanely simplified history lesson let's chat about our day trip!  We live about an hour and a half/two hours away from Gibraltar.  You can take the shorter, inland route or the slightly longer, coastal route.  We choose to park in Spain and walk into Gibraltar (this is the best way to do it if you aren't spending the night because it can take forever to cross the border) -- remember your passport because you are leaving Spain.  It was very weird to literally be hearing Spanish one minute and English the next!  Customs were very easy and for those wanting to know -- no stamp in the passport.  I would've asked but the customs agent didn't even really have a desk and had no stamp anywhere near him.  I was bummed!

But anyways, once you enter Gibraltar you can catch a bus into the main part of town or you can walk.  We choose to walk which was easy and probably only about 15 minutes -- which included walking across the Gibraltar airport tarmac.  It also gave you really good views of the rock which seems to just appear out of no where -- everything is flat, then BAM! the rock!

Just a little note -- given the location of Gibraltar, it is typically very windy there.  Gibraltar is a small (only 2.6 square miles) piece of land and is surrounded by water on three sides.  It can also be really hot and humid, so just come prepared!

We made our way through town, window shopping at all the British stores and looking at the menus for various pubs but we knew we'd be back -- we wanted to get to the Rock.  The Rock of Gibraltar is HUGE and there are many ways to tour the rock.  We chose to take the cable car up to the top of the Rock -- it takes you 412 meters in 6 minutes (this is higher than the Eiffel Tower)!  The views on the way up were gorgeous -- you looked over over the populated areas of Gibraltar and across the bay to Algeciras, Spain.  Serafina loved the ride and yelled out "wow" as we went up the rock; it was adorable!

When you get to the top, you are dropped off at an observation area complete with a little cafe and gift shop.  And you will immediately see the monkeys -- another thing Gibraltar is famous for.  The monkeys are of the Barbary macaques species and there are many of them living in the upper rock nature reserve.  They are tailless and vary in size (the largest one we saw was the size of a medium dog, smallest was a pretty small baby).

The monkeys are very cool but can also be scary!  They are used to people and will take anything you have -- backpacks, cameras, food, etc.  They will go after anyone that they think has something in their pockets or has food.  One of the larger ones thought I had something in my pocket (did not) and it came at me and attempted to climb up me while I was holding Serafina.  Gave me quite the scare and I kept my distance after that.  We also watched many of the monkeys climb up people, especially if they got too close to them.  We also saw one lady who just happened to be standing in the wrong spot get a large gash in her arm because a monkey jumped off her to get up on a higher ledge.  Our dilemma was that Serafina loves monkeys -- anytime anyone says monkey she will make the sound they make and put her hands to her armpits like a monkey.  Therefore, when she realized that the animals she was seeing were in fact monkeys, girlfriend just about lost her cool.  Many were her size but she could have cared less, if we had let her, she would have run right up to them!  (Getting a picture with her was impossible because she wanted those monkeys).

The views at the top are gorgeous -- you can see all the way to Morocco!  We didn't go on a super clear day so the pictures don't show Morocco, but we could still see it.  The rock also dips a little in the middle and the wind/clouds whipping over that part of the rock was so cool.  Sadly, again, the pictures don't quite show exactly what is looked like so just trust me when I say it was gorgeous.

We made our way back to the town and ate lunch at an okay pub.  Serafina was asleep in the stroller so we picked the first place we found so that we could eat while she slept!  Next time, I'd pay a little more attention to menus and crowds but we took a peaceful lunch with a sleeping babe over food quality!  #keepingitreal

We also didn't do too much actual shopping since everything was pretty expensive and the exchange rate wasn't great.  OH -- Gibraltar uses the Gibraltar pound and not the euro.  While we didn't pay cash for anything, we were told that shops would except euro, you may just get pounds in return.  We wandered around a little more after lunch before walking back into Spain and heading home.

Gibraltar is very touristy but we all still enjoyed ourselves.  We couldn't quite figure out how to describe Gibraltar when we were chatting on the way home.  While it was obvious that it was trying very hard to be British, it still had a lot of Spanish qualities -- it was a very bizarre cultural experience to listen to the locals speak a crazy mixture of Spanish and English.  And it was a large melting pot of cultures among the locals and tourists.  We heard so many different languages, it did not feel like we were in a tiny country!  It was a very fun experience and one I'd recommend with some cautions....

Tips for Gibraltar:
If you are traveling with little kids, I'd recommend the van tours which you can find all over as you are walking around in town -- it'll allow you to see more while also letting the tiny ones stay in the van with an adult if needed.  We will for sure do a van tour next time we go to Gibraltar.  Bring as little with you as possible, especially to the top of the Rock.  The monkeys are vicious and if you have a kid with you, it is hard to protect the kid and your stuff at the same time.  Wear your babe/toddler on your front.  It made both myself and Trevor feel so much better knowing Peanut was right next to me.  I would have been too nervous with her on my back because I couldn't see her as easily.  I think Gibraltar is a great place to visit but I'd say active toddler age is probably not the best time to go.  Not walking babe (who can be easily worn and happy) or older toddler/preschooler (who will listen to you) are both better ages -- there was no way we were putting Serafina down near the monkeys because she wanted to touch them and she was the same size as most of them.  Enjoy the top of the Rock but be cautious of the monkeys.  Go to Gibraltar and don't forget your passport!

UPDATED 12/10/17
We recently went to Gibraltar again for their Christmas Market -- and well, it sucked.  It was eight stalls and nothing to write home about.  We had heard they have a fairly large one so maybe we went on the wrong day, but just be warned that it may be a little underwhelming.  However, we had a wonderful lunch at Corks Pub -- it had a great menu and were super accommodating to Serafina. 

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