Trip To Gibraltar
Back in 2011, I had a chance to visit the mesmerizing Gibraltar, when my father gifted me with a trip to Gibraltar. It was also the first time I travelled alone. He was hesitant at first to allow his only daughter but, I was able to prove to him that I can go through it alone and be successful at it. I am 24 and I wanted to explore my total independence on this 7 day tour. Travelling solo and being a single woman can be frightening, but the rewards were so worth it!
My big solo adventure started when I boarded a 28 hour American Airlines flight from New York to Gibraltar International Airport. I could see the imposing Rock of Gibraltar in the background the minute I landed. I was warmly welcomed by the tour operator, and then he led me to a shuttle bus with 5 other foreigners. Our tour started on a hiking trail of the Mediterranean Steps. It was an exhausting experience to walk up The Rock and down the steps. The journey starts from the Bird Watcher’s Hut with a footpath leading from the Jew’s Gate. Many plant species can be seen along the way, WW II gun emplacements and some monkeys. There were single ropes to guide hikers to stay on the steep path. When we reached The Rock of Gibraltar, the views were amazing, with an awesome sight of Morocco and Spain in the distance. It was fascinating to watch the busy Gibraltar Strait with the African continent in the background. From the viewing balconies I took many pictures and a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and the Costa del Sol. I checked out the Military Heritage Center and the Great Siege Tunnels. The Moorish Castle100 ton gun signifies many memories from the WW II. The Tower of Homage is an expansive tower that seems to watch over the city. This tour finishes at the O’Hara’s Battery just above St. Michael’s Cave.
On the way down I checked out the Apes Den near the Charles V Wall. I saw a Barbary Macaque at closer range. They are wild tailless monkeys freely roaming around. Feeding them is not allowed because they have large teeth and can nip a finger; plus it comes with a £ 500 fine. Caution is to be observed around the monkeys. I found them comical with their antics, cute and fluffy; they looked adorable but a little dangerous. I was taking out a baguette from my bag and seconds later there was a monkey chasing me! I snapped more pictures and just laughed back at those imps. The younger ones and the babies were so much fun. A guide explained to us why they need to protect them and be left in their habitat; he said the Gibraltar Veterinary Clinic and the British Army are the ones in charge of their safety. I saw one monkey jump over a woman and started “grooming” her hair, some jump on our tourist bus and kept hanging on the side mirrors. As we went down further we checked out St. Michael’s Cave, It is a natural rock water cave under the Rock of Gibraltar. The cave was beautifully lit for an enhanced visual experience. I was impressed to find a section of it made into a concert and theater hall. At the hall is a very old stalagmite lying on its side to show the beauty of limestone rock formations. I spent the rest of the day watching a singing group perform in this auditorium.
The next day I went to the Rock of Gibraltar again, but this time I took the opportunity to take the 8 minute Top of the Rock Cable Car Tour for 12 Euros. I did not pass the chance to appreciate the magnificent views of Gibraltar and at the same time enjoy the thrill of riding a cable car. Once at the top, I could see both sides of the rock and even see the mountains of Africa. It is the best way to easily get to the Top of the Rock. I also got to enjoy a meal at the Top of the Rock self service restaurant. I bought shirts for Mom and Dad and a mug for me at their unique gift shop. The views from the top were great!
Past through the cable car stations just across the car park, I visited the Gibraltar Botanical Garden at Red Sands Road. It’s a small garden that houses plants all the way from South Africa. This garden has an open air theater, a mini zoo, a special garden for wedding events, and some interesting garden areas to explore. There was a shop near the entrance that sells souvenirs. Our tour group had a small picnic under the shades. It was also a good time to get myself acquainted with the other tourists in our group. I enjoyed the slow walk around the park as I admired the big trees and plants along the steep slopes. I noticed a lot of love and care was put into making this garden such a worthwhile attraction for locals and foreigners. I strolled aimlessly along the gardens and walked over pretty little bridges over streams and waterfalls. I felt like a kid walking through a rainforest! I had the best afternoon relaxation being one with nature.
By night, I decided to explore The Town/ Main Street. It is a main street where most shops and cafes are located. The attraction starts at the Casemates Square all the way to Southport gate. There are a variety of shops and eating places. There’s a long shopping street to buy duty free goods like cigarettes and alcohol. There were perfume shops too, and most of the restaurants serve British food. I shopped at Morrison’s which had a great selection of everything I fancy. Topshop, Mango, Mothercare and Tommy Hilfiger were just some of the famous branded shops I saw there. The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity was closed when we passed by. Our tour group then headed out to the Grand Casemates Square to experience the Gibraltar Nightlife. There was a range of café and restaurants to choose from. We also checked out a glass blowing factory within the square. There was also a crafts and arts store where they actually create pieces from glass. It was so beautiful to see all their creations, but kind of expensive. I had the best fish and chips, plus some light beer to wash it down. The place is a nice contrast of white buildings and the green on the rock! At the end of the street I toured The Southport Gate, a small fortress that was built during the war to defend Gibraltar from foreign invasions. Everything inside was well preserved; even the coat of arms remains untouched.
My last day was a visit to the Gibraltar Museum and Trafalgar Cemetery. We were welcomed by a lovely lady at the museum who served as our tour guide. She let us watch a 15 minute film that she made about the geology and history of Gibraltar, very informative! There were lots of amazing artifacts including Moorish Baths (Hammams) in the basement. Everything was well sign posted and there is a small gift shop within the premises. The replica of Gibraltar was very well done and showed how it looked 150 years ago. Tucked away at the end of the Main Street, we spent an hour at the Trafalgar Cemetery. All the graves were old but still well tended. Sailors who died in the historic Battle of Trafalgar were buried here. A huge anchor can be found at the center of the cemetery, serving as a monument for the bravery of the young soldiers. It is a peaceful place for quiet contemplation and a slice of interesting history.
Travelling to Gibraltar made me feel more empowered. I learned so much about bravery, honor and history. The experience of going up a steep rock by foot is one that I would always savor remembering.