March 3, 2022. 62°F/17°C
Yikes! I opened the curtains this morning to see a ship and crew THIS close to our balcony. Apparently we were bunkering (taking on fuel) from a tanker ship this morning in Gibraltar.
One of the largest private yachts in the world, the Yaz (thank you to the fellow passengers who identified it for me), summered in Cádiz this year, and apparently followed us to Gibraltar. It is owned by Hamdan bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and is based on the hull of a navy frigate. Holy kazoly.
Our unmanned window washer did its rounds of the exterior windows on Deck 7 while I enjoyed a delicious Norwegian waffle.
Our very short tour took place just after lunch. We both thought there wouldn’t be a great deal to see here, but every port teaches us something new, and our excellent guide taught is many new things!
We refer to it as the Rock of Gibraltar. Sounds bleak. So why would almost 34000 people want to call this rock home? In the words of our Cruise Director Damien, “Location location location”. Gibraltar is strategically set as both a defensive outpost and an important port on the sea route connecting the UK to the Suez Canal. The British captured Gibraltar in 1704, and The UK was reaffirmed in the latest referendum in 2002, but Spain continues to lay claim to parts of the territory. It is, after all, part of the Iberian peninsula. Its territory covers only 6.7 square kilometres (2.6 sq mi), and it shares a 1.2-kilometre (0.75 mi) land border with Spain.
Our guide today told us that in the earlier referendum in the 1960’s, only 44 votes out of over 18000 eligible voted to become Spanish, and those were wealthy Spanish businessmen. If our guide was to be believed, the feisty Gibraltarians channeled their “British hooliganism” and burned the businesses belonging to those people. There was a period during which Spain retaliated by closing the land border, which resulted in Gibraltar bringing in Moroccan workers by ferry to replace those from Spain.
We drove the perimeter of Gibraltar, turning around within metres of the Customs station at the border, where 16000 workers cross into Gibraltar from Spain daily!
We learned that the rock is Jurassic limestone, and that any sand on the southern beaches blew here from the Sahara.
During the time of the Napoleonic Wars, Gibraltar was designated one of Britain’s four “imperial fortresses” (the others were Halifax Nova Scotia, Bermuda, and Malta), and it is probably most famous for being the site of the Battle of Trafalgar, in which Admiral Horatio Nelson lost his life. We didn’t get down to Rosia Beach, where his ship Victory was lost, but we did hear all about how his body was transported back to England “preserved” in a cask of brandy.
We started out on Winston Churchill Avenue, which crosses the Gilbraltar Royal Air Force runway. If an RAF plane needs to take off or land, traffic on this major artery simply stops long enough for that to happen.
We drove through some of the 55km/35 miles of tunnels that traverse this tiny country peninsula, many of which are still only for military use, and saw the tunnel in which Churchill, Eisenhower, and Montgomery planned their African campaign.
We stopped in Catalan Bay, a small fishing village that is also home to incredibly expensive homes overlooking it; 1.7 to 2.5 million pounds for one of those colourful townhomes!
We stopped at Europe Point, home to the Trinity Lighthouse, the memorial to General Sikorski whose B-24 crashed here in 1943, Harding’s Battery (a restored 38 ton cannon), and the King Fahad bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud Mosque. Wikipedia says the mosque was built at a cost of around 5 million Pounds Sterling, but Gilbraltar popular legend tells of a prolonged negotiation that eventually funded the country’s economy for 3 years.
We also visited the Napier of Magdala Battery (below) home to the huge 100 ton artillery gun, built between 1878 and 1884, and never fired in anger. It must have been quite a deterrent to invaders though!
It’s been a while since we’ve been in an English-speaking country, or had free time to do a bit of shopping (since we tend to book excursions that are jam-packed with history and architecture) so after our tour we took advantage of that fact to look for a beard trimmer to replace Ted’s, which is faltering, and some more anti-nausea for me. It’s easiest to buy those kinds of things when we’re confident about reading the labels. I was successful, Ted was not. All the small electronics here are only 220V, not the dual voltage we’re able to get in Canada. Nonetheless, it was a lovely stroll through the pedestrian high street shopping area.
There was a huge seafood extravaganza on the pool deck at dinner hour tonight but, since Ted cannot eat shellfish, we opted for a quiet dinner in the World Cafe instead. He’d be absolutely fine with me taking part on my own, but since we don’t spend our days attached at the hip – even on excursions – I prefer to have dinner together.
We ended the evening with coffees and digestifs in the Explorer’s Lounge listening to King’s guitar and visiting with friends. We have an early start and a long day tomorrow.