On Friday, we decided to head to Gibraltar. We got off to a very late start, and the bus schedule we’d been given seemed to be suggestive as opposed to authoritative. The helpful man in the tourist office had said a bus left for Algeciras every half hour, so we headed off to the bus station somewhat optimistically about 11:30. According to the schedule, there was a bus at 11 and another at 12:30, but we only waited 15 minutes and caught one at 11:45.
We had followed his advice and bought a card at the tobacconists. It cost 1.50 euros and we were told that this was a deposit. We put 20 euros on the card. Each ticket would normally cost 2 euros, but with the card we received a discount so that 5 tickets cost 6 euros. We had to change buses in Algeciras, and the tickets for the second leg of the journey were the same price, so overall the card worked out really well. You have to put money on the card at a bus station or tobacconists, and then you use it to buy tickets as you’re boarding a bus.
The bus wound through the rocky hills of Southern Spain. It was a hazy morning with high thin clouds, and the Mediterranean sparkling below–a green and silver morning. We passed groves of eucalyptus, olive, and lemon trees and lines of windmills turning lazily.
Algeciras is a good sized town and that’s about all I can tell you about it, since I only saw bits of it from the bus. We changed buses at the station and then were off to Gibraltar, the giant rock of which is easily visible along most of the route. The bus goes to La Linea de la Concepción on the border, and it’s quite a short walk to passport control. The crossing goes across a live runway, and on the way back we had to wait for an EasyJet to roar past in landing before walking across ourselves.
We really weren’t sure what all to do. There’s the taxi-driven guided tour of all the main sights, but that cost $150 for our family–a bit beyond budget! We hadn’t really researched it. We just sort of wandered in the direction of the city center, and found ourselves crossing the LandPort (I think that was the name–why didn‘t I take notes?), which for centuries was the only way to walk onto Gibraltar, through a short rocky tunnel. It comes out into a large square called Casements, which is lined with shops and galleries and is filled with tables and chairs corresponding to various establishments (including, to our children’s delight, a Burger King. No we didn’t eat there!) We settled ourselves there, enjoying the alternating sun and shade, and enjoyed some proper British fish and chips with malt vinegar.
Afterwards, we just wandered through the main shopping area. We have since talked to others and found out all that we missed, but honestly I was wearing entirely the wrong sort of shoes to hike that giant rock, the sight of the first Moorish invasion onto mainland Europe. We missed the monkeys. The museum wouldn’t take our euros or our credit card. So we mostly wandered in and out of shops and churches. Since our biggest goal was buying lots of British foods, the day was a success, but I’d like to go back sometime to get more food and also to do this tiny territory properly.
What did we buy? Marmite, HP sauce, Branston pickle, Turkish Delight, Crunchie bars and Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut (the real kind, not the American wax-chocolate version), Dolly Mix and Demerara sugar, Patak’s curry paste and Illy coffee (which is French but oh well! It‘s delicious). In Marks and Spencers we bought tea bags and bakewell tarts and, of all things, cranberry sauce–made from real American cranberries! I was thrilled. My biggest disappointment was not finding a bookstore, but honestly we missed the majority of the city. Next time.
We staggered back with fingers aching from the weight of plastic bags cutting into them and waited for the bus back to Algeciras. We ended up having to spend an hour and a half in the Algeciras bus station, freezing, because we’d assumed that we’d be able to catch one of those elusive every half hour buses, although I feel that they are urban myths.
I actually took my boots off on the bus. My only pair of boots were bought in Morocco, and they have leather soles–that is, only a thin piece of leather makes up the sole. There is no padding, no rubber grip, nothing to cushion the foot from feeling every little rock in the pavement. On top of that, these boots have three-inch heels. Yes they are really cute, but they are not ideal walking shoes, and I’m rather proud that I have walked so extensively in them.
Once back in Tarifa, we deposited all our goodies and headed out to find dinner. By this time it was about 10 p.m. and we were hungry. We ended up ordering several different tapas and sharing them in a warm, charming restaurant.
We got another free concert as well. In the apartment above the restaurant, a group was practicing. As people entered the square below, they would shout encouragement and join in the singing, so we were surrounded by music.
The next day, Saturday, was similar, only this time we headed to Carrefour, to get some things we can‘t find in Morocco. We had to catch two buses again, as Carrefour is located in Los Barrios, north of Algeciras. Buses don’t run as frequently on Saturdays, and we spent a lot of time sitting in various stations. (Carrefour is sort of like Target, only with a large grocery section. For you Northwesterners, it’s like Fred Meyer’s.)
That evening, we headed out for supper about 8. We went back to the same little Tex-Mex place we’d eaten at the first night, as Elliot had ordered nachos con chile con carne that were so good Donn and I wanted our own. We arrived about 8:15. The door was open and tables and chairs set up, but the light wasn’t on yet. Were they open? Donn asked, and the guy looked at the clock and shrugged. Yes, it was about time to open up, although we were obviously early. We sat down anyway, and he turned on the outside lights, brought out a warmer, and hung up a mask over the door, part of the décor. Welcome to Spain, where lunch time is 3 and supper is between 9 and 10. Apparently when we went out to eat at 7:30 the other night, we were getting in on the end of snack time. (We don’t have an equivalent in America; goûter in France and teatime in England. I did learn the Spanish word but I don’t remember it).
That night, Donn and I went out for dessert, and we discovered that many places we’d assumed were closed for the season are actually still open–at 11 p.m. that is. We found crepe restaurants and little stands selling Belgian waffles covered with chocolate doing a roaring trade. When in Spain, I told Donn, as I tucked into something called an Argentinian pastry, served with ice-cream.