Gibraltar: The Key to Exclusivity!
Frontiers form a big part of my life. From the outset the bridges between Wales and England over the rivers Wye and the Severn cast an indelible symbol of escapism. Likewise in China when living in Shenzhen and staring across to the lesser known vistas of northern Hong Kong. I have crossed many borders on foot including China/HK.
Switzerland into France is another one that comes to mind and now Spain into Gibraltar; walking into little Britain with considerable ease! Living here on the other hand may prove a bit more taxing. The Gibraltar logo features a key but you’d be hard pushed to find anything on a budget in this rich man’s wardrobe.
It has taken me six months to reach the rock and this one is unusual because literally right after the border is an airport and a first, crossing a live runway – also on foot! Gibraltar is bigger than thought and it’s Hong Kong that comes closest to mind.
A densely populated mass of levels and lanes, stairways and escalators which reveal themselves only after time spent, and also after six months in Spain everything is British again. One of the major differences is that they drive on the right. Though it’s only non-British twin town to date is in Kingston, Jamaica.
STARS OF CCTV
However, what it shares in common with many of the smaller countries (why bother with territories?) HK, Singapore, Monaco, Andorra, Luxembourg and so on is exclusivity! In other words, no riff raff. It’s heavily policed and must have one of the highest amounts of CCTV coverage anywhere on the planet.
‘Everyone is a sleeping policeman in Gibraltar’ I’m informed. It is in short not far off being a police state, still, if you’re one of the lucky ones to have ‘funds’ then Gibraltar will be a lot more agreeable.
It isn’t long before a fellow Brit is telling me it’s more expensive to live here than Jersey and that I’d need to be here at least 10 years to get any sort of benefits. He also says it can be very unwelcoming. The former seems a daunting challenge and a very sobering thought, the latter is equally correct.
Yet I am loving this quaint and very British experience. Red phone boxes and plenty of visual clues to its past; Winston Churchill Avenue, a portrait of Queen Elizabeth for starters, UK currency and wall plugs (well, mostly, some use the European two pin variety). The Irish don’t go unnoticed either, with the street known as Irish Town shaded green on the cities official map.
Backing up a touch lies one of Gibraltar’s biggest problems. Ultimately it’s exclusively trading on its heritage and connection to the UK. GIB itself is a country devoid of an identity and a soul. A country afraid to step out of the shadows of its past.
All in all nothing more than a theme park with an obsequious affection for all things Britannia. While I initially love it, the novelty soon wears thin. Here’s another red phone box, here’s another pub and yes there’s a Marks and Spencer’s store too. No end of tourists stream past in awe as if it’s the Taj Mahal!
YOU GOTTA HAVE FAITH
For its size GIB as it’s known locally packs it all in; Mosques, a Hindu temple and a Synagogue are all nestled in the mix. There’s also a neat Scottish church (St Andrew’s) tucked behind the main street near the Eliott Hotel.
Gibraltar welcomes all faiths, anyone that is except the homeless. Swept under the carpet like a disease no one wants to discuss or a problem no one, not even the church, wants to solve. There is no money in being broke and there are luxury flats and cars to be had, and more importantly the wealthy to buy them.
WEDGED BETWEEN WORLDS
Arriving on a long weekend, I’m keen to explore the rock and see what fate will bring. On the map, Gibraltar looks like Singapore, a spec on the edge of a peninsular but geography is the great deceiver. It can take two hours to walk from the airport to Europa Point which has a magnificent mosque, a lovely shrine (Our Lady of Europe), the university and most impressive of all, a transcontinental view – across to Morocco and the beginnings of Africa.
Only nine nautical miles separate the Anglophone from the Arabic world. Again the similarities to Hong Kong are more than prominent itself bridging British, Chinese and the Portuguese influences in Macau. Gibraltar wedges a geographical spanner in the works between Spanish and Arabic flavours. It is what makes the mosaic of the world so fascinating.
TENSIONS IN THE AIR
The Spanish are not entirely happy and have spent years making things difficult for Gibraltar and themselves. The border only opened to foreign visitors in 1985. Even today the jets seem to fly outward into the Mediterranean Sea (seemingly blocked from Spanish airspace). Though the tensions are an unfortunate reality, there are plenty of Spaniards working in construction and hospitality for example.
At McDonald’s I am so used to speaking English it’s almost a shock to have to speak Spanish (I recall the same at 7-11 in Hong Kong when Chinese was required). Interestingly my order number was 007 and in Gibraltarian history the original James Bond Sean Connery married here two times, You Only Live Twice indeed!
And staying on things ‘British’ you can enjoy a scone and tea as well as fish and chips at the Morrisons store, not far from McD’s. There is no TESCO or Sainsbury’s though the smaller Eroski stocks some Waitrose goods.
GIBRALTAR – THE CITY
I never make it to the top of the rock, the sky walk or see the famed monkeys which is in some ways a shame but it was never my main interest, exploring the city was alongside that view of Morocco – being able to physically see the next step of the jigsaw puzzle ahead of me was incredible and cost nothing.
Speaking of the city, there are great vantage points from high up toward the nature reserve or from the Eliott Hotel’s eighth floor bar. Unfortunately it’s not a particularly pretty city. You’re ok if you look at the harbour but other than that it’s a higgledy-piggledy kind of place, where buildings huddle together which sums up Gibraltar – either you’ve been here a while and are thick as thieves or you’re new and a stranger. Some folk will be kind but it will take a while to fit in.
The new build high rises are changing the skyline some for the better, some not but even they can’t erase the displaced masonry and other assorted rubbish (call it flotsam and jetsam) collected on rooftops or the steep stairways that in places accrue so much pigeon poo they resemble Pollock paintings.
Then there’s the ugly refinery across the way (in Spain) which would, if flying in, cast similar imagery to landing in Venice or perhaps the harbour approach to the old Kai Tak.
The Gibraltar tourist board certainly milk what they have with the cable car (and nature reserve) costing a small fortune! And well, they have to, there are literally jobs on the line. And if you’re thinking of living here, the apartments aren’t cheap either.
The title of this blog is not for nothing. It’s nice but it’s one of those places vying for perfection. Key to the kingdom? If an Englishman’s home is his castle then this Welsh one has a steep drawbridge to climb and an even wider moat to cross!
The wifi is stronger at McDonald’s than the library.
If you are Welsh go and check out Susie’s at Ocean Village (you will see the Welsh flag). She is from Merthyr, a bit old school (no email, website) but super friendly!
How to get to Gibraltar:
Flights are at the time of writing limited to the UK (London, Manchester and Bristol) and to Morocco (Casablanca with a pit stop in Tangier).
No Coach services in the way of Flixbus or Eurolines from Midtown (pictures above), only tour operators.
By Car or on foot from nearby La Linea.
PLAYLIST AND CREDITS
Meanwhile, stay tuned with things here at Kulture Kiosk via THE ATLAS or on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world.
Sandriam – Perry Blake
A Hotel Light – Cock Robin
Trick of the Light – The Triffids
You Only Live Twice – Nancy Sinatra
Saved – Black Room
Healing Hands – Go West
Photo Credits: Images by KH May-June 2019. James Bond images from amazon.