Gibraltar, United Kingdom – December 25, 2011
We spent our Christmas day, in part, on the road. We were on the way by about 07:00. We decided we would head to Gibraltar today. We made it to Gibraltar shortly before 09:00. The original plan was to park and then walk across the border. Work colleagues told me that the best strategy to avoid the hours-long wait in the car to go through border control. With the combination of Christmas day and an early hour, we drove right into Gibraltar with ease.
I am glad our trip worked out like that. We saw zero taxis operating, so if we had walked, we would have been very restricted in what we could see and do.
As we drove across the border, the Spanish National Police stopped our vehicle. The officer wanted to look at our passports. He quickly motioned us through. I said, “Feliz Navidad,” and drove away. In about 20 meters (65 feet), we stopped for another officer. I was not paying close attention. I greeted him with “Feliz Navidad.” He answered me back in English with a British accent! I said, “Oh, I guess we crossed the border.” He joked with me that the change in uniforms and the different flag should have been a clue! I switched to “Merry Christmas.” He smiled, thanked me, and then cleared us to enter Gibraltar.
The Rock of Gibraltar is massive. At its tallest point, it is 426 meters (1,398 feet) tall. The village is at its base and partway up the side of the slope.
The first oddity we noticed is that we drove directly across the runway of the Gibraltar International Airport to get into the city. When the runway is active, barriers drop down to keep cars from interfering with the air traffic. After driving about one kilometer, it dawned on me that I was driving on the right side of the road. Luckily, so was everyone else! It may be a British possession, but they do not operate on the left side.
We drove to the south end of Gibraltar, known as Europa Point. It was incredibly windy there. It was sunny, but it was very, very gusty. The sun was in contrast to our early morning drive. As has become the custom during this trip, we drove through the fog this morning. Also, it was windy during our journey too. At one point, in the mist, our TomTom took us on a road that was very obviously not on the main track. In the fog, we could see many strobe lights going on and off. I thought they were on power lines. As it turned out, they were on wind turbines. That was an odd part of the trip.
Anyway, back to Gibraltar. At Europa Point, there is a lighthouse and a mosque. The lighthouse is known as Trinity House. It was not open to the public. On the opposite end of the parking lot was the mosque. The sign on the mosque read:
Mosque of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques
King Fahad Bin Abdul Aziz al Saud
From the point, we decided to go to the town center. Once again, TomTom took us on a challenging route. Initially, we drove by St. Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church. It was not open, but I did take a few photos. From there, the road was steeply descending and became very narrow. At some points, the mirrors on the 4Runner were within an inch or two of either side.
When we got back down near sea level, I stopped at a gas station for a “pit stop.” While I was parked waiting for everyone to come out, I noticed gasoline was £1.169 per liter; that equals US$6.94 per gallon! I did not buy any!
We found a place to park and began walking around town. We decided we would go to church to celebrate the birth of our Savior. We first walked by the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Gibraltar. The sign read The Cathedral Church of the Anglican Diocese in Europe. We passed by that church. A few blocks later, we found King’s Chapel (1560). We noticed the service was due to start at 10:30, in about five minutes. It was a Church of England. We went inside.
Just outside the chapel, we saw a framed story about the chapel. I thought it was interesting, so I have included it here.
- This ancient chapel was built c. 1533 so completing the friary established here in c. 1480 by the Franciscan Order.
- In 1704 Gibraltar was captured by a British force and this chapel became a Church of England place of worship, and the convent itself a residence for the governor.
- The sieges which followed the capture caused damage until, finally, during the Great Siege (1779 – 1783) a large part of the nave had to be pulled down.
- In the restoration (1783 – 1788) that part of the nave was permanently excluded from the chapel and it remains in this shortened form to this day.
- The chapel was closed in 1833 upon the completion of a new garrison church (now the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity); it was re-opened in 1843.
- Alterations were made in 1843 and 1877, an east window was added. In 1887 the organ was installed after alterations had been made to accommodate it.
- Major repairs were carried out in 1888 when the nave roof was renewed. Minor alterations and further repairs were made in 1924.
- On 27 April 1951, the ammunition ship Bedenham blew up in the harbor and once again the Kings Chapel sustained heavy damage.
- In restoring it alterations and improvements have been made, details of which may be found in guide books and pamphlets available in the chapel.
- Open daily for quiet, rest and prayer.
We found ourselves in a tiny chapel. Including us, the pastor, his wife, and his son, there were 27 of us there for the service. Listening to the service with the pastor’s British accent put a different touch on the service.
We left the church and walked around for a few minutes. We quickly decided to go since nothing was open. We drove back into Spain. Once again, we were the only car crossing the border.
It was about 12:30, so we decided to try to find something to eat. Just across the border, we stumbled upon La Braseron Asador de Carnes. When we entered, an employee told us we were about 30 minutes too early for lunch. So we sat in the bar and had a vino tinto, of course.
Right on cue, the waiter took us to our table. To start, we had Patatas Bravas, a type of diced, fried potatoes covered in a red sauce, served warm. We could hardly stop ourselves from eating them all.
For the main course, the kids had grilled chicken breast, and the adults each had a half chicken from a wood-fired oven. I have to say; it was the best chicken I can ever remember eating. For dessert, the kids had Tarta de Chocolate. Leslie and I had coffee. Soon after bringing our coffee, the waiter returned with some wrapped sweets for Leslie and I. He said they were traditional Spanish Christmas sweets. They were as follows:
- Polvoron – ** (very crumbly, shortbread biscuit)
- Mantecado de Cacao – * (Cream of Cocoa)
- Mantecado de Canela – *** (Cream of Cinnamon)
The stars reflect our ranking of each one. The total for lunch came to 71.85€ (US$88); oh, small towns!! We left the restaurant and began our drive back to Rota.
Just outside of the town of Jerez de la Frontera, we drove by the Cartuja de Santa Maria de la Defension (Monastery of St. Mary of Defense). It was not completely open, but we were able to find out it dated from the late 1400s. Too bad we could not have gone to Christmas mass there!
Monastery of the Sisters of Bethlehem.
Another unusual sight on the way back was the cactus fences. They looked like prickly pear cactus, but much more substantial. They stand about six feet tall and are in place of barriers on several of the farms we passed.
We arrived back at the Lodge at about 16:00.