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Cunard Queen Victoria 2014
Christmas Cruises - Part 2
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The Rock of Gibraltar is one of the two Pillars of Hercules; the other is in Morocco, just opposite. Peaking at 425 metres, Gibraltar measures less than 3 square miles and is home to about 30,000 people.The strategic strait it controls links the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and is only 8 miles wide at its narrowest point. The territory has always been disputed. The British seized it from the Spanish in 1704 and there was a famous siege by a French-Spanish expedition from 1779 to 1783. During this time an extensive network of defensive galleries were hewn by hand, and these are open for visits.
This was our fourth visit to Gibraltar and again we only had a short visit. The Queen Victoria arrived outside the port on time, then waited for the Queen Elizabeth to depart so we could occupy her berth. Just before 1300 there was motion in the water and the stern thrusters began to move the QE from the quay. Her departure was very slow and graceful, and we became impatient because the later she left the later we would arrive, and the shorter would be our visit. A we passed there was much blowing of the whistles on the two ships and waving of the little flags that had been issued to passengers.
There is not a lot to see in Gibraltar - the main attraction is normally the trip up the 'Rock' by cablecar or minibus. We did the trip by minibus the first time we came because the cablecar had long lines from the ship tours. It was very interesting and we visited the Upper Rock Nature Reserve, took photos across the straits and continued to St Michael's Cave which is 300 metres above sea level with an excellent display of stalagmites and stalactites as well as an enormous natural auditorium which is used for concerts. The highlight is meeting the famous monkeys, there are two colonies of this tail-less Barbary Macaques on Gibraltar. One group lives on the rock face - the other group live at the Apes Den near the top of the cable car. We also walked through the Great Siege Tunnels which were excavated during the Great Siege of 1779-1783 and form a most impressive defensive system. Leaving the tunnels there are spectacular views. We have added some pictures from that visit for completeness.
It is also quite a long walk in from the ships mooring to the edge of town so there are shuttle buses available at a price but the lines were very long even if had wanted to use them. We walked towards town, passing a useful supermarket we had looked into on the previous visit. There is also a Morrison's, which has replaced the old Safeway. The Food Market was quiet and there were only a few craft stalls in Casemates Square which is just inside the walls. The Tourist Information explained how to walk up to the Moorish castle, but the multiple entry ticket was £10 and was only valid for the day. It was too late to visit all the sites, and too far to climb just for the view. We looked into the Gibraltar Crystal Glass factory, then strolled down the main shopping street, passing lots of shops selling duty free cigarettes, drinks, and souvenirs. There were camera and electronics shops, and some clothes shops including BhS and M&S.
Main Street has the important public and religious buildings, most open to visit – John Mackintosh Hall, the Catholic Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned, the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, the King's Chapel, the Supreme Court, and the Convent which is the official residence of the Governor.
One important building we had not visited was the Garrison Library, in Governors Street and signposted from the Catholic cathedral. It was part of the Gibraltar International Literary Festival which took place in November, and their brochure explained the history of Gibraltar, and the links with literary festivals in Oxford and Blenheim, and Blackwell's Bookshop. The Garrison Library was founded in 1793 for officers who had endured the Great Siege of 1779-1783. Previously books had been kept in the library in the Convent. It was opened by the Governor in 1804 and has mainly survived intact from those days. The gardens include several orange and lemon trees, which were grown during the siege in order to provide fresh fruit. A large dragon tree shades the front, and makes it very difficult to get photos. It is a research library, not a lending library, and rooms upstairs are used for lectures and conferences.
We finally reached the Trafalgar Cemetery, named after the casualties of the Battle of Trafalgar who were buried there; it is just outside the Southport Gates. Last time a family of the famous Barbary Macaques had escaped from the Rock and were running over the Gates, pursued by two local environmental police with what appeared to be firecrackers who were trying to move them away from the city - this time all was peaceful. It is only a short distance to the Cable Car station and we tossed up whether to go up but the time constraints meant we would not be able to walk round the top from the cable car or have the time for a minibus trip so we retraced our steps visiting the remaining churches we had missed and taking a few diversions into the squares.
Last time we had been fortunate enough to be able to watch a rare re-enactment of the ceremony of the keys, which only takes place twice each year. We watched the bagpipe band of the Sea Scouts joining up with a small group dressed as old-fashioned soldiers with red jackets and carrying muskets, and with an enormous union flag. This procession marched down to Casemates Square where the leader of the soldiers went to the gate and returned shaking a large bunch of keys. The following pictures showing the ceremony were taken in December 2013.
We last visited Malaga in 2013 on the Queen Victoria and again arrived at dawn. It was quite cold and we decided to wait until 1100 when the sun would be higher in the sky. There were shuttle buses into the Plaza de Marina, $4.50 each way, or a little blue tourist train to the port gate at 3 euros. We decided to walk. In 2013 we had walked up to the Gibralfaro Castle, on the top of the hill overlooking Malaga. It is a pleasant steady climb up a wide twisting path with a number of view points where we took some pictures back towards the harbour and ship. There had been a lot more to see than we expected including a small museum area with a history of the fort. We walked all round the main ramparts, which have a narrow path with lots of steps up and down. The views were excellent in all directions and the day clear and blue so it was well worth the trip up.
We were very tempted to repeat the walk because the weather was so good. Instead we went directly to the Roman Theatre at the foot of the Alcazaba, to see how their excavations were progressing. The interpretation ‘portacabin’ showed a video about the development of early theatre, and contained a small museum of pieces found on the site. It was free and there was limited access to the theatre and the workings on a boardwalk. The wide street led on, past the tunnels de la Alcazaba to the Plaza de la Merced. Here there is a market hall, not very interesting now, and there used to be a small supermarket but we could not find it. The birthplace of Picasso, now the home of the Picasso Foundation, was on the corner. We had explored the town on the last visit so we had a good walk round.
We then spent a while in the Church of Santiago where Picasso was baptised which is very richly decorated in the Spanish style with all the statues dressed in sumptuous robes as part of the celebration of Christmas. It must count as one of the most beautiful churches we have been in. The narrow streets are very pleasant to stroll along, and we were looking for a small supermarket to buy some extra coffee for the rest of the week. We had been told that Starbucks, who do the best decaffeinated espresso coffee we have found, has a shop near the El Cortes Ingles department store, but that was quite a long walk so we hoped to find a smaller shop. We did not find any coffee but did find another beautiful church - the church of the Martires Ciriaco and Paula, which we had plenty of time to admire before it was closed for lunch at 1330.
Everything seems to stop around 1300 or 1400 for the afternoon siesta. Walking back towards the Plaza de Marina there was a sign towards the Atarazanas Market. We had not been there before and were pleased to find a traditional metal framed market hall with meat, fish, cheese, bakeries and bars/cafes. It was very hard to walk around and not buy the spanish hams, but we are dining with the Staff Chief Engineer this evening and to also have a pre-dinner snack of spanish cheese and smoked ham would be excessive.
The centre of town has Christmas decorations, mainly silver, and the Plaza de la Constitution area was again the most impressive with a large conical artificial Christmas tree. This year there was a row of tall silver arches the length of the Calle Marques de Larios , which made the entire street resemble a cathedral.
Finally we turned away from the port towards the cathedral and the bishop's palace. The Cathedral is one of the standard tourist destinations, with good reason and it justifies a visit the first time you go to Malaga. The cathedral site was originally an old mosque, and building of the cathedral began in 1538 and it was partially consecrated in 1588. There was an earthquake in 1688 which destroyed part of it and building recommenced in 1718. It is in Spanish Renaissance style.
We walked back to the ship along the Paseo del Parque. It is an area of substantial public buildings including the Bank of Spain and the City Hall. A demonstration by local workers was in progress, with rhythmic whistles to encourage passing cars to blow their horns in support. Pedestrian access to the cruise terminal was then by the marina and the lighthouse, and in contrast to 2013 there was sunshine and there were people strolling along the edge of the sea and some were in the water.
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