It felt strange visiting Gibraltar on Remembrance Day recently, it was a weekday, but everything stopped while the canon went off, and prayers were said. Remembrance Day is celebrated around the world on 11th November, and 2021 found us ashore in Gibraltar from our cruise ship. It was quite interesting to see how it was commemorated in this tiny 28,000 populated rock off Spain at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea.
The ships dock a pleasant half hour walk away from Casement Square, the main entrance to the long high street. Minibus taxis are also available, previous visits this has been £5 per person one way, quite expensive when you bear in mind that the maximum capacity is eight passengers plus driver. We were the first ship in 2021 with these transfers, and the price was a more reasonable £2 per person each way. Gibraltar has three currencies, the English pound, the Gibraltar pound, or Euro. When you leave be careful not to get stuck with the local currency, because it’s not accepted anywhere else. The weather was sunny, we were in shorts, and paused to look inside shops now and again.
This might be a place where duty free abound, but be careful what you buy. The shops cater for the tourist, not locals, they shop elsewhere, especially for food. The high street has a lot of cafes, jewellery, perfume, clothing, souvenir, the quality is mainly high. Pam and her friend Jean looked at a particular skin cream, but ultimately didn‘t buy because they could have bought at home at a comparable price. They used to sell daily newspapers, but stopped because the plane ceased flying them in. You walk up a hill, not that noticeable because you are strolling and window shopping, the end is the lift to the top of the Rock where the ubiquitous apes dwell. You need eyes in the back of your head with them around. We always like to stop for coffee between shops, an excellent choice, this time quite close to the location of the Remembrance service, and opposite the main Church. This is also just before Marks and Spencer.
The service is held in a square that fronts the main thoroughfare, it was fascinating to see the dignitaries, local business community, and officiants of all demonisations as well as service personnel walk to the square. A good hundred were in attendance, no-one looking anything but immaculate. The service was interdenominational, lasting under half an hour. What made this unique for me was the fact that at precisely 11am a real gun was fired. This was on a carriage, fired by service personnel. If a gun like that went off in the UK for whatever reason three busloads of armed police would soon be in attendance. I did not actually witness the firing, as by this time we were starting our coffees. The noise was sufficient to startle resting birds, no café patrons spilled their drinks that I could see.
Gibraltar is a unique area that has somehow managed to exist independently despite the best efforts of various politicians, monarchy, and dictators in connected Spain. A lot of people live on the mainland and come to work there. English is the predominant tongue, most are b-lingual. Soccer is contested in a limited league, because there are not that many pitches. Policemen in uniform dating from a bygone era patrol, not that there is much crime. UK telephone and post boxes are there for practical as well as photographic reasons, stroll away from the main street and you will find a myriad of narrow side alleys that rarely see direct sunlight for more than half an hour a day. Aircraft come in over the sea from the west, sharing the runway with vehicles coming to the Rock. Traffic lights always give planes priority. The economy relies on tourism, which is why the Covid pandemic affected them so severely.
Cruise ships are returning, albeit in small numbers. January 2022 saw only two, the Iona and Queen Elizabeth, only three in February. This is from a peak of 257 in 2017, it will take a long time before the economy is thriving again. However, you can always go for a short break, flying in, you can be sure of a warm welcome in a little area of civilisation. As long as the runway traffic lights are working okay.