Gibraltar

Monday, November 16

There were more painters on our balcony this morning.  It looks like they are going to do a lot of painting today so it is a good day for us to be away.  We are going to visit Gibraltar so we drive near to the bus station and catch the ‘La Liena’ bus which takes us to the border between Gibraltar and Spain. Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory so this will be the fourth country we visit this trip: Spain, Portugal, Morocco and now a territory of England. We walk across the border into Gibraltar and then spend some time trying to figure out the best way to see the sights.  Although we did do internet research before we arrived it turns out it wasn’t really much help.  We finally decide to take a taxi tour which includes the four main tourist sights.  It is a bit expensive, 80€ for 1 1/2 hours but we realize we don’t have enough time or energy to take the cable car and then walk 7 km down the rock which is what we would have to do to see the sights. That wasn’t mentioned in any of our internet research! Yesterday we only paid 120€ which included our bus and ferry rides, lunch and the 6 hour guided tour of Tangier. We drive up the winding roads of the Rock of Gibraltar and stop at a viewpoint where we can see the Spanish coast and the city of Algeciras where we are staying.imageWe then visit St. Michaels Cave, where we are treated to a sound and light show in a huge cavern with many smaller side chambers and great rock formations.  I’m not sure if I like all the bright colours on the rocks as they are quite spectacular on their own. See this link for more information about the caves.  They have a rather interesting history, http://www.gibraltar.com/sightseeing/st-michaels-cave-gibraltar.html
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There is a stalactite that has been cut in half which was very interesting as it has growth rings much like a tree does.imageWe drive to a high point on the rock and we have great views of the Sea of Gibraltar and the Atlantic Ocean as the rock is very narrow here, but even more interesting than the ocean views are the monkeys.  The monkeys of Gibraltar are tailless Macaque Monkeys.  No one knows how they got on the rock but they are now one of Gibraltar’s big tourist attractions. They are managed and taken care of and they are the only monkeys living outside of captivity anywhere in Europe. There is also a feeding station which has improved their health and helped to stop attacks on tourists for food, although nearby residents are still careful not to leave their windows open, or they will find monkeys in their kitchens looking for food! I love the mothers and their babies. They appear quite tame but they are still wild animals and they do have rather large teeth…

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Next stop, the Great Seige Tunnels.  This is the only part of the tour that was a bit rushed. The tunnels are quite extensive and we almost had to run to get to the end and back again in the time we had.  Too bad, but at least we got to see them.  Here is more info if you are interested.https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Siege_Tunnels

imageI took this photo of Gibraltar’s airport runway from one of the tunnel openings.  Do you notice anything unusual about it?imageOur tour ends in the older part of town and we have tea and lunch before slowly making our way back to the border checking out the streets and shops along the way. Many of the buildings have balconies with plants but I thought these two were particularly pretty.imageIn this picture of the rock you can quite clearly see the tunnel holes where the cannons were placed.  There is also a flag right at the top that is at half mast in memory of those who died in the Paris attacks.image

Now, doesn’t this look like I should be in England?

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There were many big fancy shops but then there were also the smaller not so fancy ones.image

Now, do you remember that picture of the runway?  Well here I am walking across it!  Yes, the road and sidewalks go right across the runway, and just after we begin to walk across the sirens start blaring and they close the road right behind us.  We are the last pedestrians to cross, and as we stop to take this picture an announcement is made for all pedestrians to clear the runway!  They meant us!imageAs we wait for the plane to take off, the one you can see behind me in the picture above, we have a great view of the Rock of Gibraltar.  image

There goes the plane, right where we were standing just a short time before. It was quite something to see.image

On the bus home we are treated to a pretty sunset.image

 

Tangier, Morocco, Africa

Sunday, November 15

I am behind on my blog, as you already know. I really wanted to keep it current but it hasn’t been possible. I will just continue to post when I can and I will finish blogging about our holiday after we get home if need be.

We are still in shock over the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday.  I spent a month in Paris last fall and it holds a special place in my heart.  ‘My’ neighbourhood was just north of where the Bataclan Theatre is located.  Having a connection, even one as remote as this, makes these attacks seem a little bit closer than they may have been otherwise.  It is scary and I can’t help but wonder where it will all end. We check the internet for updates and try to figure out the Spanish news on TV.

Today we have a day trip booked for Morocco so we catch a 10:00 bus to take us to the ferry at Tarifa on the southern corner of Spain. This is Tarifa looking out from the ferry.image

Before long we are in Morocco! This is the third time we have been to Africa.   We have traveled from the East to the West coast of South Africa on a train called the Shongololo Express and we have spent a couple weeks in Egypt.  Bob really wanted to go to Morocco, I wasn’t so sure. Egypt was quite challenging and we had lots of difficulties and I wonder if Morocco will be a similar situation. This is our first glimpse of the city of Tangier, Morocco from the ferry.imageThe tour we booked is excellent.  There are only five of us in our group and we have a guide and a driver.  We first drive through the city to get an idea of what Tangier is like and we are surprised by how beautiful the city is.  It is clean and it has lots of trees and flowers planted along the roads.  We are shown an area with palaces for Kings from Morocco and royalty from several other countries.  Then we drive along the ocean to Cap Spartel, which is Africa’s most north westerly promontory, and see the place where the Atlantic and the Mediterranean Oceans meet. There are street vendors here but they are no where near as aggresive as the ones we had encountered in Egypt.image

Our next stop was an unexpected surprise. For just 2€ we have a camel ride!  When we were in Egypt I wanted to ride a camel but it never worked out.  Today I get my camel ride!image

Next stop, the Caves of Hercules. These were several really big caverns and if you look closely you can make out where round disks were cut from the rock to be used as mill stones.  There is also an opening in one of the caves that is the shape of the continent of Africa in reverse.imageOn the way back into town we were almost in a car accident.  A car came within inches of crashing into the side of our van right where I was sitting. I think that the driver’s wife was in labour, she looked very pregnant and very scared and her husband was driving like a crazy man! We were very lucky that he managed to stop before hitting us.  Once back in the town, we spend a couple hours on a walking tour through the medina in the old town of Tangier. The streets are narrow and twist and turn in all directions. Our guide also shows us a couple places that were used as sets in the Bourne Ultimatum movie and the new James Bond movie.image

Without a guide we would have been hopelessly lost.  One area’s buildings were all painted a bright blue colour.image

We stop in a Spice shop where a young man, who tells us he is a trained massage therapist, convinces us to buy a special oil that is good for aches and pains.  Bob gets a hand massage to try it out.image

While we have our lunch at a local restaurant these musicians provide the background music.imageAfter our meal we check out the local veggie and fruit markets.  The ladies in the interesting costumes and hats are from the hill towns outside Tangier.  They dress in their traditional costumes to come to market twice a week. We buy the biggest pomegranate we have ever seen for 1€. I think it must be hard to make a living selling produce.  Some farmers just have a small table, or a cloth on the ground with a few items for sale.

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The shops are very tiny, sometimes just a few feet square and we see a couple shops that bake bread for the locals in wood fired ovens for a few cents a loaf.

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We also visit a fabric shop and I buy a shawl.  I am sure I paid too much for it as I am not a very good bargainer!image

Finally, we visit the once grand Continental Hotel.  Many famous people and movie stars have stayed here but it does not appear to be doing all that well now.  We sit on the balcony just to the right of the red flag in the picture below, overlooking the Mediterranean sea and have mint tea and chat with our guide and one of the other fellows on the tour.  He doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Italian but we both managed to communicate in French and our guide speaks to us in English and to our new Italian friend in Spanish! We talk about life in Morocco and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Flags in Tangier are flying at half mast because of this.image

It is a long day by the time we get back to Tafira and then we still have a bus ride back to our car in Algacires. We don’t get home until almost ten, but we were both quite impressed by Tangier and I think I would be willing to spend more time in Morocco some day.

The Pueblo Blanco of Ronda

Friday, November 13

It is our grandson’s seventh birthday today!  I do miss not being home to celebrate it with him.

I forgot to mention the surprise we had yesterday morning.  We were still in bed, with our balcony door open to enjoy the ocean breezes and the view, when we were shocked to see workmen standing on our balcony!  Remember, we are in a penthouse apartment on the seventh floor!  Turns out they are painting the building.  There was a bit of paint smell yesterday but we thought they would be finished and we could put up with it for one day. Well, today we discover they are putting up more scaffolding, for more painting….

imageWe contact the owner to see what is going on and plan a day trip to Ronda.  The apartment is very nice otherwise.imageRonda is one of the Pueblos Blanco, or White Villages that is located about an hour from our Airbnb apartment in Algeciras.   The white villages are fortified hilltop towns and villages that are whitewashed in the Moorish tradition. Ronda sits on a massive rocky cliff and it straddles a deep limestone gorge.  Because it was so heavily fortified and difficult to attack it was one of the last Moorish towns to fall to the Christians in 1485. It is still hard to realize that all this was happening before Columbus even set sail to discover the Americas! There is just so much history here.imageRonda’s bullring is one of the oldest and most important bullrings in Spain, built in 1785.  The dream of every matador is to fight here at Ronda.image

We sit and have our lunch near the bullring, overlooking this valley below the town.image

Then we wander along the cliff top and stop at a view point to take a few photos.
imageA bit further along at another viewpoint I am a bit horrified to realize we were standing on a balcony like affair hanging out over the gorge.  Look closely and you will see this liitle balcony. It doesn’t look very sturdy to me!imageThe Puente Neuvo, or the New Bridge, was built in the 18th Century, and connects the newer part of town to the oldest area of town.  We walk across it, and of course stop for even more photos. It is an amazing bridge, 120 meters above the river below.

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There is a stone staircase of 231 steps down to the river in the Gorge.  I was trying to convince Bob that we should walk down but once we saw this sign we changed our minds.imageInstead we walk through the old town, popping in and out of the shops to see what we might discover and then head out to find the Puente Viego, or the Old Bridge which was built in 1616.  Today it is a pedestrian bridge and I stop to sit on “The Moor’s Armchair” right in the crook of the hairpin turn on the road to the bridge.

imageThis Old Bridge spans the same gorge as the New Bridge, just in a different place. imageAfter crossing the bridge we head up a path towards some terraced viewing platforms and garden areas.imageAnother view of the Old Bridge and the country side beyond the town, and the terraced gardens.imageThis is the New Bridge from the terraced gardens below. Notice the white houses tucked into the cliffs in the shadow of the bridge.imageWe wander through more of the Old Town, and I marvel at some of the places we find cars parked.imageOn the drive home the air is very misty and there is this great example of arial perspective. Check out this link if you aren’t sure what arial perspective is all about. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerial_perspective
imageMy camera has been giving me problems this entire trip.  There is dust inside it that causes the spot visible in the sky in this picture and sometimes the settings just start jumping around and changing all on their own! One time it started taking every picture in triplicate! I am hoping it will keep working until the end of this trip.  Any suggestions for a good camera?  I think I will need to buy myself one for Christmas when I get home.