Saturday, 13 April 2013

Gibraltar - a day in England

On the last day before the last homecoming we made a day trip to England. Well, to Gibraltar anyway. The journey there made me want to burst out singing Jerusalem. The scenery was so reminiscent of England's pleasant pastures and clouded hills where the divine countenance shines. It made me want to go set up a picnic on the rolling hills. Under a white lace parasol. With some strawberries and cream. "More tea, vicar?"

Gibraltar is located a couple of hours drive away at the southernmost tip of Spain. Its weird currency, red phone boxes and bobbies patrolling the streets show that the glorious days of Empire's colonialism are not quite over yet.

The situation in Argentina (with the issue of Falklands) is a lot more trying though. Recent referendum clearly showed the people's will (only three people voted against belonging to UK) but that hasn't stopped the president's crusade. She was one of the statesmen to make and official visit to see the new pope and used the opportunity to call for him to use his influence and power to reach a solution in the "Malvinas conflict". It would seem Señora Presidente is the only one with a conflict...

The relationship between Spain and this mystic fortress guarding its peninsula has been strained too. The locals have refused Spanish sovereignty in two referendums already. According to The Gentleman the border was only opened after Spain joined EU. Prior to to that the only way to get here was on a ferry.

These days it's possible to drive here from the continent but up until a couple of years back there were no signs stating the directions. Even now they only appear a couple of kilometres from arriving at The Rock.

Tax haven courtesy of offshore banking Gibraltar has air of prosperity that marks a strong contrast with the Spanish border town of La Línea. This apparently too has served to keep the tensions going between Spain and England. The main street is full of jewellers, each shop window more magnificent than the next. The bling is enough to blind Stevie Wonder. But equipped with admirable British stoicism The Gentleman was naturally immune to all this and we left the place with...nothing. My left hand is still depressingly bare.

Gibraltar is also home to a small but persistent Jewish community and this is the only place in Spain I've ever seen yarmulkes on the streets. The community has a reputation of being very insular which, without a doubt, has allowed them to maintain the Orthodox culture so successfully. Despite the fact there are only 700 Jews here, this tiny place boasts 4 synagogues! Even the local Morrison's has a kosher section. 

Gibraltar is famous for its monkeys. The tours (some priced just ridiculously) of the place especially at the top give one a chance to meet them up close and occasionally very personal. Having encountered some obnoxiously intrusive specimen on my trip to India, we decided to give it a miss and instead focused on culture. Ok, make that the English high street. And English lunch at an English pub (and let's face it: that's a pretty good way to observe poorly behaving primates in their natural habitat, too...)

There are many opinions out there on the quality of English food, but in mine there's a place and a time for a good, traditional pub lunch. Unfortunately that just wasn't today. Or here.

We walked as far away  from the centre as is possible in a miniature world like that (the walk from one end of the main street to the other takes less than 10 minutes) and settled for the most traditional looking drinking hole. The plastic flowers, condiments presented in a plastic baskets and the cutlery, served in disposable wrappers all kept my expectations high... until the food arrived.

The Gentleman's steak and kidney pie was "dull ready-made crap" though he did like the gravy (every bit as industrial I say). My fish and chips were easily the worst I've ever had. Fish was dry and overcooked to texture and appearance of cardboard. It didn't even come with minty peas, my favourite!

Well, one can't win every time... For afters we popped into a kosher cafe at the end of the main street. I took my disappointment out on an apple-custard slice. The Gentleman, too, was feeling brave and had... a Snickers.

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