ALWAYS in the news, controversial and jam-packed with history, Gibraltar is often chosen as a fascinating place to visit by holiday makers here on the Costa del Sol.
But getting on and off the rock is now a painfully frustrating experience. Elaine and I used to ‘go in’ frequently to shop at the only supermarket, Morrisons, but there is now an abundance of similar outlets and huge superstores in easy reach on the coast.
From our house near Fuengirola we could cover the 60km to the border in about 1 hour 15 minutes. Today you have to join the queue of traffic for up to two hours.
Previously we took the A7 Autopista toll road, but now with the underpass in San Pedro finally finished after six years it’s as quick to use the coast road and saves up to £13 in tolls. Shortly after passing Sotogrande, the stunning, almost strange 356 metre limestone rock mountain comes into view.
Most visiting tourists join the throng of strolling round cruise liner passengers and head for Main Street to soak up the tax free shops, UK branded stores, take trips to the upper rock to be entertained by the resident apes or visit some of the 140 caves with their 30 miles of tunnels.
For those living in Gibraltar they will agree some aspects are more expensive overall than in Spain like eating out, but it’s compensated by a buoyant economy that has hardly been affected by the current crisis facing much of Europe. The Rock’s financial stability is generated by financial services, tourism, shipping and internet gaming.
Luckily we have some friends on The Rock – or OTR for short – and have added some interesting observations about life on the peninsular with its 30,000 inhabitants.
When we asked our friends who live and work OTR what were the best and worst aspects of living there, they said:
BEST: marvellous climate and views; friendly, family oriented people; cheap public transport; British Bobbies, pubs, food, post boxes and newspapers. Also a sense of living somewhere exotic and never getting lost! There is also a genuine feeling of safety with virtually no crime or violence. Even Saturday nights when forces service ships dock in port there is a benign buzzing atmosphere with everyone chatting and laughing. The behaviour of revellers is exemplary.
WORST: “Gibraltar can feel claustrophobic at times with a feeling of being confined to a small area (2.6 sq miles); annoying and dangerous mopeds which weave in and out of the busy traffic; lack of parking spaces and limited places to walk or cycle; nearby shipping can occasionally make a racket with running engines, clanking winches and those un-announced fog horns! They often get unpredictable mists, sometimes called Levanter fog which can descend in five minutes without warning. Also having a pet can be really challenging for the vast majority of people who live in apartments.
The history of Gibraltar is complex, long and varied. Presently it is a British overseas territory on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula and has a northern border with Andalucia.
The first recorded inhabitants were the Phoenicians, around 950 BC. There have been many invasions of this militarily strategic outcrop.
Latterly an Anglo-Dutch force invaded the rock in 1704 resulting in the city, castle, port and defences being subsequently ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.
Sovereignty is a major point of contention in Anglo-Spanish relations as Spain wants to ‘re-claim its territory’.
There have been several referendums over the past 40 years, the last in 2006 when Gibraltarians voted overwhelmingly – 30,000 to just four votes – to remain British.
Our sources tell us: “We know who the four are! And with Spain holding on to Ceuta in North Africa and Melilla, it’s a bit hypocritical.”
Here on mainland Spain a recent survey indicated that over half of Spaniards claim the dispute with Gibraltar is not important despite the heightened tensions over fishing rights around waters of The Rock.
Several issues on the border have created chaos for those trying to get out, causing queues of up to six hours.
The most recent hold-ups were caused by a bomb scare when an unattended bag was found and had to be blown up in a controlled explosion.
Cars are now rigorously searched, mostly for cigarette smuggling. Guardia Civil Officers regularly go through every other vehicle, causing massive frustration and arguments. Lots of people are now parking outside and walk or catch a bus in.
The cigarette allowance was one carton of 200 per person, but the Spanish Government has decided to limit the quantity that ‘Campo Frontier workers’ can take back to Spain.
From January 1 next year those living within a 15km radius of Gibraltar can only bring four packets per week per person. This reduction to 80 cigarettes per week will be a massive blow to dozens who had set up a lucrative business of going back and forth all day carrying cartons for sale in Spain and abroad.
Women wearing long robes are banned as they were smuggling vast amounts and could not be searched on grounds of religion.
Perhaps ironically, from October 1 smoking was banned in all bars, restaurants and enclosed public places. It’s the third time they have tried to implement it.
OTR there is no VAT, car tax or TV licences. Car fuel is very cheap!
Gibraltar has only one electricity provider which is called Gibelectric.
Our friends used to pay around £285 per month in the UK for gas and electricity plus £70 for water. Now they pay £70 to £120 for all, including Calor gas.
John Lennon, Sean Connery and Sir John Mills plus loads more famous people got married in Gibraltar.
Many ex-pats undertake the Registry Office ceremony with a couple of witnesses then return to Spain for the big family and friends celebrations.
The list of things to do in Gibraltar is endless and it is worth a visit ... if you are prepared to queue to get in and out.