Day 27, Sunday 8 May 2016 – Torremolinos to Seville via Gibraltar

May 8 - Torremolinos to Seville

Today it is Mother’s Day in Australia. We wished each other a Happy Mother’s Day at breakfast and when we had finished eating we went back to our room to collect our gear. We also rang Janelle (niece and god-daughter) as we knew that Mum Cox would be with her for Matthew (nephew and Janelle’s brother) and Loz’s engagement and housewarming party in Geelong (metropolitan Melbourne).

Mum was very happy to hear from us as we wished her all the best, and then she and Russ got a bit teary as it is the first really happy family event – the engagement party – since Dad died. Mum said she would shortly be driven to the station to catch her train back to Benalla (in central Victoria), so we bid her goodbye, collected our gear, and went down to the coach.

We are at the Costa del Sol, but today it is grey, very overcast, and raining. It is also apparently raining in Gibraltar (where the sun always shines) and also in sunny Seville so we are all prepared to be walking in the rain for most of the morning at least.

Although very wet, at least it is not cold, and the wind is not blowing like it was the day we arrived. It is also Sunday, and many of the shops do not open on Sundays. This also applies to Gibraltar so we are not quite sure what to expect when we get there.

There is still fierce competition between the Spanish and the English when it comes to Gibraltar. The island is autonomous, but Britain, in the form of the Ministry of Defence, still plays a major role for the local population. The island is home to two patrol craft for the navy, and would be able to quickly respond to any military situation that might arise. It also has one helicopter. It measures about 3 square kilometres.

It is strategically located between the continents of Europe and Africa, and on a clear day (which we didn’t get) you can easily see the shores of Morocco. It has the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Mediterranean Sea on the other.

One of the sticking points, politically speaking, comes from the fact that Britain and Gibraltarians have reclaimed land from the sea over the years, which the Spanish claim is actually part of their domain. The airport lies on a section of reclaimed land, and the main road crosses the landing strip. It is amusing (but must be very frustrating for the locals) that when a plane is about to land or take off from the strip, the lights turn red and the traffic stops for however long is required. It does create a bit of a traffic snarl.

When we arrived at Gibraltar it was raining fairly moderately. Some had wet weather gear, some had umbrellas, some thought they had wet weather gear only to find out is was not waterproof, and some, like Russ, left their wet weather gear packed in their suitcases – very helpful.

Trafalgar (possibly other tour operators as well) no longer take their coaches across the border with their passengers as the border guards started getting all the cases unloaded and inspected before allowing the tour to continue. This created much anguish among the passengers, and lost heaps of time for the tour director who had other obligations to meet in other parts of Spain.

So now passengers are dropped off on the Spanish side. We had to have our passports in our hands as we approached the Spanish border, and again as we approached the British border. Most of us were waved straight through but the Spanish guard spent a bit of time checking out our two South Korean passengers, and the people from Mumbai in India.

The British also spent a bit of time checking the South Korean paperwork, waved us through as soon as we said Good Morning in broad Australian, but the Indian family had to fill out paperwork with Tania as their guide before they were allowed to enter Gibraltar. It was just a little bit time consuming, to say the least, and it continued that way for the rest of the day.

We walked through the customs area and went to the airport terminal to use the facilities, and were supposed to be met by two mini buses to take us on our guided tour of the peninsular. They were late because the trip they accepted before us was Japanese people who were running 30 minutes late.

Not all of us were going on the Optional Experience of the tour of the country, and we were supposed to be a group of 24 which would have fitted into one of the mini buses. As the weather was so foul some others had decided it would be easier to join us and have shelter from the elements for a period of time, instead of trying to find a place to park themselves until it was time to rejoin the coach. This meant our number rose to 31 people and would require two buses. The employees of said company were not amused.

Apparently the companies who run the mini buses regularly get greedy and take on more jobs than they can carry out within the time frames.

Anyway, the buses took us to the local drop off point and the group not continuing with the tour left in the rain with Tania so she could give them all the information required for them to navigate safely through the main part of town and still get back to the pick-up point later.

Our driver was Robert, who was very knowledgeable, and sounded like Prince Charles talking fast, along with his mumbles. He was actually quite amusing and knew his stuff. However, because of our late start he also hurried us through everything so we didn’t get to spend as much time as we were supposed to have to see all the sights.

The roads are narrow and he was a very good driver, thank heavens. We first went through a few tunnels and the old military barracks area to arrive at the lighthouse, the cannon, and the mosque – the most southern location of a mosque in Europe.

We took the requisite photos, and Robert grabbed a coffee, and the rain continued to fall. Our next stop was further up the rock at St Michael’s caves. It also had the requisite souvenir shop, but due to the hurry up we got most who visited the caves didn’t get a chance to even look inside it.

The caves themselves are very interesting with lots of chambers filled with both stalagmites and stalactites which have been cleverly lighted to display them better. It is a lovely show to watch, and then the lights pause so you get a chance to take a shot in natural lighting mode. We probably should have spent quite a bit more time there, and we would have enjoyed it – even more so because we were out of the rain.

On the way back up the road to board our minibus we got to see two of the monkeys. Robert said they usually only grab plastic bags when you come out of the souvenir shop because they think it is food. Needless to say I didn’t have any plastic bags and they seemed quite happy to sit and stare at us, and to let us take our photos. There is no mention of the monkeys during Spanish rule of Gibraltar, and history only mentions them once the English were ruling the country, which seems to indicate that they were brought in from Morocco where they are native.

Robert explained that there is an old fable which states that when the monkeys leave Gibraltar the British will leave the place. He further added that some were superstitious during the second world war, and there were only three monkeys on the island.

The British ordered someone to go to their home place in the mountains of Morocco and get some more, and to look after them, which happened. The locals now feed them on top of the rock twice daily (it is illegal for tourists to feed them) and so, they do not venture down into town. There are about 200 of them now.

Once we left the top Robert took us to another place where the monkeys like to be as some on the bus missed the photo opportunity at the caves. There was a car sitting on the side of the road and a monkey was calmly seated on top of the roof. There were two others in a tree – a baby was one of them. They all seem more than happy to pose for the cameras.

From this vantage point we were able to watch the gondola going up the rock. It takes six minutes to climb from the reclaimed flat land up to the summit of the rock where the minibuses are not allowed to go. We could also see the reclaimed land used for the airport from here as the rain was not falling so heavily.

Back on the bus and we headed back to town. Robert dropped us off and said we were to be back for pickup at 1:30pm. It was still raining and all most of us wanted to do was get out of the elements and find a place to have lunch and a cuppa.

We found a little Irish Pub which had a great menu out the front and was open. Rex and Kathy were with us. It was only once we were seated and had ordered our drinks that the lady told us she didn’t serve meals on Sundays. Bugger! And Russ had ordered a beer!

Needless to say she made us very welcoming and let us hang our dripping jackets on the back of some chairs while we had our drinks. We were also able to use the restrooms before we had to uproot ourselves away from the cosy place and find somewhere to eat.

Apparently the other driver, Tony, had recommended Roy’s place for the best fish and chips so we went across the town square in the drizzle, and promptly ordered hamburgers and chips, although Russ did order the fish and chips. The helpings were quite large, and they tasted great. Once we paid our bill we headed to the pickup point.

Tania was quite upset when we got there as they had only sent one minibus for all of us (they had accepted another job in the meantime and were running late). I believe she had a few choice words to say to them while we were waiting.

We finally got the last minibus and boarded for our ride back to the airport. By this time, we were running quite late as Luis had expected all of us back on board at 1:45pm, and we were well past that designated time.

It was a fair hike from the drop off point to the customs centre but we finally made it with very little attention from either the British or Spanish customs officers. When we got outside we were re-joined by the rest of our motley crew who had been left waiting for our arrival before anyone could head for the coach. That was another bit of a hike, and when we arrived at the place the coach was parked there was no Luis. At least it had stopped raining and we only had a few spits of rain to deal with.

Tania explained that the mobile coverage in the spot was quite sporadic, so she left us for a few minutes and went to beg the use of a landline. Luis arrived shortly after that and the coach was opened. Poor Tania was looking quite fraught and tired by this point.

Tania explained that we would be another hour and a half before we reached Seville so informed us of our times for tomorrow morning. We will be doing the Optional Excursion to the Royal Palace first thing, and then those who are not doing this trip will join us later and we will walk around with our local guide. So, we get a bit of a sleep in and don’t have to be ready to leave on the coach until 8:30am. Tomorrow afternoon will be at our own leisure.

However, after the next day we lose Luis for the rest of the trip. We will still be using the same coach, but we will have a new driver for the last road trip to Madrid, and our exploration of the city on the following day. Our journey is almost complete and we will soon be home.

We are staying the next two nights in Seville at the La Casas de la Juderia. It is located in a neighbourhood of Seville which has managed to preserve the true aesthetic of the Spanish Golden Century, largely due to conservation work by the Duke of Segorbe over the last 30 years.

During that time, he has added noble and popular houses to the core of the hotel with a focus in standardizing the comfort of each of the 134 rooms, and in accordance with the original objective of maintaining and restoring the vast architectural legacy of the city.

The hotel flows through 40 patios, through gardens, through terraces and tunnels and courtyards, each one unique in and of itself. You are actually invited to explore the place at your leisure, to find the roman decorated tunnels, the swimming pool on the rooftop with views of the Giralda, and we breakfast in the ancient cooler rooms which the old inhabitants of these houses (joined together to make the hotel) used to conserve their perishable goods.

I look forward to taking lots of photos over the next day or two.