In early December 2017 Mrs Reggie and I fancied a short trip away to a warmer climate. For as long as I can remember I’ve had a desire to visit as many British Overseas Territories as I can and Gibraltar is perhaps the most accessible from the UK, being only a 2 ½ hour flight away.
Our local airport, Bristol, had flights 3 days a week and we booked from early Sunday morning to late Thursday evening.
When it comes to places to stay Gibraltar isn’t exactly spoilt for choice. The Sunborn hotel (a 5-star ship permanently moored in the marina) looked fantastic but at £200+ a night it was way above our budget. The Rock Hotel looked the next best bet and was considerably cheaper so we booked that.
I had been to Gibraltar once before on a golf trip to Spain. After landing at the airport we walked to the border with Spain and that was it. This time was going to be different.
The flight from Bristol departed on time with the aircraft being only partially full. The approach to the airport is ‘interesting’. The aircraft gets lower and lower over the sea and just when you think the pilot is going to land on water the runway appears and the brakes are applied hard. The runway isn’t exactly long and in windy weather the pilots are allowed two attempts at landing before diverting to Malaga. It has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous places to land an aircraft in the world. The airport is owned and run by the MOD and officially is known as RAF Gibraltar.
Gibraltar airport is also famous for having a main road going across the middle of it. A tunnel at the eastern end of the runway is still in construction which would divert traffic around and under the runway without the need to close it to allow traffic to cross. It was supposed to have opened in 2018 but seems to have hit further delays. The taxi driver said it had been the subject of considerable delays and budget increases (sounds familiar…..).
Gibraltar airport is quite impressive for such a small place, not massive but better than some I’ve been to. We walked out of the airport and took a taxi to the Rock Hotel (I wanted to walk there as it wasn’t that far but Mrs Reggie put her foot down and I relented in the name of marital harmony). As we arrived early in the day our room wasn’t ready so we left our luggage there and went for a nose around.
In front of the Rock Hotel (so-called because it’s literally built on the side of ‘The Rock’) is the Alameda Wildlife Park. I can’t recall seeing any animals (other than a few birds in the trees) but the gardens were nice and we enjoyed the relative warmth of the sun (a steady 17c all the time we were there). We then headed towards Main Street and had a look in various shops before deciding it was time for some lunch. The Royale Calpe pub was doing Sunday roasts and we headed inside and took a table in the dining area at the back. The food was pretty good, the usual choice of meats and veg, at a reasonable price. After lunch we headed further along Main Street, taking in the various jewellery shops along the way (more about this later).
After an hour or so we headed back to the Rock Hotel and checked in. The room had a small balcony with 2 chairs and a table and a view which overlooked the harbour and Bay of Gibraltar. Plenty of ships and boats going to and fro to watch.
That evening we ate in the hotel restaurant and I have to say the food was pretty good. We also had a number of meals in the bar area and for me they were better than the offerings in the restaurant, which could be a bit ‘fancy’. The bar meals were very good value for money too.
Having had a nightcap or two we headed up to our room to get some sleep – some hope. If there’s one thing that really annoys me it is noisy neighbours and the room next to ours had their TV on so loud you could hear every word being spoken. After 5 minutes I called down to reception and they sent someone up to deal with the noise pollution. The poor chap was hammering on the door for ages and got no response. Finally, the room the other side opened their door and a lady in her 60s explained that it was most likely her elderly mother who had hearing problems and she had probably fallen asleep with the TV on max. A key to the room was obtained and the TV turned off. Silence at last. The walls of the hotel rooms must have been paper thin because every night and morning you could hear even the quietest sound – my only complaint about the hotel.
The Rock Hotel has a number of celebrity photos hanging on the wall, presumably all of whom have stayed there. I noted that Dennis Waterman and Amanda Redman were among them and recalled and episode of New Tricks being filmed in Gibraltar, shots of which included parts of what I now know is the Rock Hotel.
One other memorable event occurred at the Rock Hotel. One afternoon Mrs Reggie decided she wanted a nap so I decided to sit on the balcony and read a book. After a time a large ape landed on the railings of the balcony right next to where I was sitting. I don’t think I’ve moved so quickly for many years. The ape picked up a packet of sweets from the table and proceeded to unwrap them before popping them into it’s mouth. Having eaten the lot he jumped to the balcony next door. I heard a scream and a door slam. I ventured outside again and looked across to see the ape eating our neighbour’s bar of chocolate.
We made several trips down Main Street and Mrs Reggie pointed out some expensive jewellery she was interested in for our 25th wedding anniversary. This was duly purchased (saving the VAT and a bit more). I mentioned to Mrs Reggie that the boxes the jewellery came in would have to be thrown away just in case Revenue and Customs searched us on our return to Bristol. She as having none of it so I devised a cunning plan which involved the purchase of a suitably sized jiffy bag and a trip to the Post Office, where the boxes were sent back to my work address.
At the end of Main Street is Casemates Square. A grubby collection of shops and pubs and bars, none of which appealed to us. There is an excellent glass blowing place which makes some nice items and I was close to buying a set of nice tumblers but decided against it in the end.
The marina area is quite nice and a bit more of an upmarket feel to it. Plenty of restaurants and places to drink.
One of the best parts of our visit was a trip to the tunnels in the rock. They are extensive and only parts of them open to the public (the MOD still own and use them). We were told the story of how many of them were built and extensively extended in WWII by Canadians amongst others. At one point the tunnel comes out to a small alcove which overlooks the runway. A very impressive view indeed and you can see how small the area really is. Be warned, there are apes everywhere and they are expert pickpockets.
Gibraltar has a fascinating history and it’s really worth spending the time looking at the defences and cemeteries there which tell the story of how Gibraltar has been taken over by invaders time and time again. The whole place really is a melting pot of different cultures.
In total we spent almost 5 full days there. If I were to go again I would say 3 days would be sufficient. My lasting impression of Gibraltar is that they are very proud to be called British and are generally a pretty friendly bunch.
Pictures and text © Reggie’s Mind Of Evil 2020
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file