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Published: June 26th 2017
Gibraltar is only 193 nautical miles from Casablanca. The length of time we will have in port is from 09:00 to 14:00. All on board by 13:30. Roisin and I are booked on 'the best of Gibraltar' tour. A trip to the ‘Rock' wouldn't be complete without going up it!! We had looked at alternatives but due to the short time we have ashore, decided that an official excursion would be the best option.
The cabin steward places a daily programme in your cabin in the evening. This has the time and place that all official tours are required to meet. It came as a shock a few days ago when we learned of the early start for our Casablanca trip last thing at night so, not to be caught again, we passed by the excursion desk before our evening meal to learn of our fate. ‘The Best of Gibraltar'
excursion meets in the Strand Theatre on deck 6 at 11:15!! It is a 2-hour tour and we are expected to be all aboard at 13:30. This doesn't give us any time for wandering in the town. For this reason we decided to get off the ship as soon as
it docked at 09:00 for a wander.
Gibraltar looms over the Southern Point of Spain and guards the entrance to the Mediterranean. It is 426m (1396ft) high with most of the settlement being on the western side. It is known as one of the Pillars of Hercules; the other being the mountains on the African side of the straits in Morocco. The straits of Gibraltar separate Europe from Africa by 9 miles at its shortest point. This, however, is not from Gibraltar. The shortest point across to Africa is from the Spanish peninsular south of Gibraltar called Tarifa. Gibraltar is approximately 14 miles from the African coast.
The population of Gibraltar is about 30,000 and is made up from a diverse number of ethnic groups.
My first act on crossing the road was to nearly get run over!!
Gibraltar is a British dependency. Therefore drive on the same side as the UK. "Since when did Gibraltar start driving on the right?"
I asked a local shop assistant. “Since ever!!'
Came the reply!!
It turns out that years ago, Gibraltar did start driving on the left but was too confusing when crossing from the
Spanish border so they changed back. Has anyone thought about telling the textbooks!!!
It was only about a 15-minute walk in to the town of Gibraltar passing such landmarks as the Custom House and the Cock and Pullet!! (No sniggering at the back!!) I was relieved to be informed that a pullet is a chicken less than a year old!! I'm not sure that is what I wanted to hear. I much prefer to leave this sort of name to ones imagination as to its origins!
25 minutes, 400 silk cut, a litre of JD and a litre of Disaronno Amoretto later we arrived in Casemates Square. This is the start of Main Street that stretches for a mile or so, down to Southport Square.
We took a wander down Main Street. This is the focal point for all day-trippers. It is a pedestrians thoroughfare with shops, shops more shops…. and McDonalds!! Conscious of the time it wasn't long before we headed back to the ship in time for our tour up the rock.
The MSC literature states that if alcohol is bought on board in the duty free or ashore, it will be taken from
you and returned up on final disembarkation. We have no problem with that. We understand they don't want people supping their own ‘happy juice'. The MSC bar staff have to justify their existence some how. Speaking of which, I was walking past one of the lifts with Roisin and commented that the noise is not the usual ‘bing bong'.
She agreed and said that it is a much weaker sound. It is more of a ‘tinkle'.
To which I replied, ‘You mean a ‘Ting Tong'
At this point, one of the Indonesian bar staff whom we were walking behind turned around and said, “Yes sir! Can I get you a drink!!”
At the entrance to the ship, there is a security scanner in which all bags and personal items are placed. On approaching the security guard, I held out the bottles of spirits, handed them to him and said: “I have bottles of spirits”.
I couldn't have said this more clearly. He looked at me as if to say: ‘…and your point is…?!!' He took one look in the carrier bag, put them though the scanner. We collected them the other side and were on our merry
way! Either, this instruction hasn't been filtered down to the work face or this rule has been relaxed.
Our ‘Best of Gibraltar tour' set off on time. There was no guide aboard this 20 seater mini bus. The driver doubled up as our tour guide. Roisin rode shotgun in the front while I sat behind studying the route. The tour guide had a lapel mic, and started with ‘Good day ladies and gentlemen. We have a busy schedule to get back to the ship by 1:30. I haven't missed a ship yet!!
To which I replied: “If you do, I hope you know the way to Valencia!!”
I thought this was ‘ad lib'
at its best. I must still have to work on my timing because my comment provoked no reaction just a very serious. ‘It won't come to that. You will be back on the ship in time.”
The first port of call was Europa Point. This is the most southern tip of Gibraltar and is dominated by a lighthouse that is the only one outside of the UK that is still regulated by Trinity House. A small shop claims to be the last shop in
Europe. I'm surprised they are still in business as there can't be much passing trade these days. Mind you, if the lighthouse ever goes on the blink and your boat happens to run a ground, this shop could be quite handy for those little essentials that were lost at sea!!!
The next stop was the highlight of the trip. A visit to the famous Barbary apes. The route up the rock took us in to the Upper rock nature reserve. The road was steep and narrow. Luckily it is one way up – one way down. (OK! 2 ways down if you drive too close to the edge!!). As we entered the Upper rock nature reserve the marina glistened in the midday sunshine. We stopped at a viewing platform only to be greeted by 2 monkeys preening each other. They nonchalantly looked up as they probably thought, “Quick, they're coming. Action stations!!
I think these 2 were the distraction while all the other monkeys took up their positions. They were obviously used to packs of tourists as they just sat there waiting for their photos to be taken. I was half waiting for the hand to go out
and a voice from within the monkey suit say, ‘That will be 12 euros please!!'
The correct name for these monkeys is Macaca Sylvanus.
Nobody knows where they came from. They somehow came across from Africa. Where they brought over by the Moors or did they hitch a lift on the back of Dolphins?? In reality the best theory is that they were brought over by the British in the earliest days of the Garrison and kept as pets. Some escaped and it was easy to thrive in the wild. Today there are about 300 apes on the Rock split in to about 5 packs.
As we were getting back on to the minibus, the apes were getting a little more animated. Roisin turned to face the bus and a baby monkey (I think it was a baby. Are there such thing as dwarves in the monkey kingdom??!) leapt from a wall and used her back as a spring board before leaping on to the roof of the vehicle. A few other primates decided to play tag…on the windscreen of our bus.!!
All aboard, the driver started the engine only to be greeted by a knock on
his window, he opened it a few inches and the Charles Atlas of the monkey world prised open the rest of the window and grabbed the steering wheel!! We were under attack. I felt like Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes!! The driver, obviously used to this sort of behaviour, said something to the monkey and gave it a peanut as we drove off. As the monkey took the food, it must have let its guard down because it just fell away from the minibus. Did he jump or was he pushed?? The drivers parting words were: “Say hello to your mum and dad for me!!'
We passed the cable car overhead. It looked quite a steep incline. The view, albeit spectacular would have been not much more different from what we were witnessing including the modern area of Gibraltar that was built up from land reclaimed from the sea.
We were next taken to the upper galleries (a.k.a. the Great Siege Tunnels.) The tunnels were excavated during the Great Siege of 1779 by the forerunner to the Royal Engineers. As ventilation holes were blasted in to the rock, the Commander at the time, George Elliot decided
these would make good gun placements. The canons were installed facing north toward those pesky Spanish and to ensure the impregnability of the Rock. The dank and dampness certainly gave an insight in to living condition during these hard times.
The Royal Engineers of 1779 didn't however have a tube of Pringles to fall back up on. After our brief but informative visit to these tunnels, we sat down near one of the 24-pounder canons that were used to defend this bastion, to tuck in to our snack.
They must have heard that all too familiar pop of the plastic lid. Perhaps it was the release of pressure as the airtight film was peeled back. What ever it was, a family of monkeys were slowing making their way through the throng of people admiring the view. We quickly realised the dire situation and threw the Pringles back in to our rucksack. This appeased the situation and a mugging was definitely averted!!
From the viewpoint at the Great Siege Tunnels, Gibraltar international airport is clearly visible. There are daily flights to and from Heathrow, Gatwick and even Manchester. The runway is over 2km long and crosses over one
of the main roads leading to Gibraltar's modern quarter. I am unclear how this road is controlled, as I couldn't see a barrier or traffic lights. It could just be a case of: ‘Look left, look up, look right, look up, look left and up again and if all is clear proceed with caution!!'
It was nearing the end of our tour. The driver meandered the bus through the very narrow streets of the town, passing the Islamic looking Anglican church built on the site of a Moorish mosque and the Governors residence that used to be a convent.
Gibraltar certainly has a lot to offer for such a small enclave and a trip up the Rock certainly didn't disappoint. My final photo of a profile of the Rock revealed something quite extrordinary. Can you also see it??
We arrived back on board just in time for the quiz. This was advertised in the daily programme as an Opera quiz. Yesterday's quiz was a bit sneaky as all the questions were about MSC so today we weren't taking any chances, I read up about the MSC Opera only to find out the questions were about Verdi, Puccini
et al. A Tenor and Soprano took turns in singing lines from operatic arias and the questions were about which opera it came from or what city was this opera set in or which character from a certain opera sang this aria.
Despite my knowledge of the MSC Opera not being called for we (Roisin to be exact) still managed 5 out of 10. Unfortunately this wasn't the winning score. On the plus side, if we ever get a quiz about the MSC Opera, I'll be ready!!!
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