I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Rock around the clock

Wrote this earlier today on my laptop, just cut and pasting it in before collapsing into bed. It's been a 22 hour day!

As I type this I'm sat in the "Victoria Lounge" in Gibraltar Airport. The thing about that is, this isn't really an airport: it's RAF Gibraltar. And this isn't a lounge, it's a shitty bar upstairs in what passes for a departure terminal. Although I shouldn't call it shitty, as the drinks are cheaper than in Gibraltar town and the bottled beer is especially cheap (only 1.50!).

Mind you I'm not on alcohol right now. I'm fucked. I've had 1 glass of champagne (I couldn't resist it on the plane over this morning -- they explicitly announced that everything was free in economy class except for champagne, which was 4 quid a glass; it was free in business, where I was sat, so I thought it was rude not to, innit. Besides, I'm on holiday, and when else do I get served champagne at just gone 8am?) and 3 pints of lager and I'm a knackered wreck. The weather has been mental -- bastard hot as I crossed the runway this morning, then cloudy but humid as I went to the top of the rock, then really really REALLY bastard hot ever since.

Gibraltar is fantastic. It's like a little bit of Surrey, or maybe Kent actually, 1000 miles from England and attached to the arse end of Spain. The airport is just over the border but not quite on the rock itself, actually being in a kind of no-mans-land where the signs are still in both Spanish and English. But wander 500 yards that way and everything becomes English except for the side of the road you drive on.

But hold up, I should rewind, for the benefit of anyone who gives a monkeys about these things. My flight this morning wasn't at the proper gate, we all had to get a coach out to fuck knows where. At the end of the coach journey we were kept waiting for 10 minutes while a couple of bigger planes went past (get out and I fear the heat and noise would have killed us all), and there was a flight of stairs from the tarmac to climb -- at the back of the plane. It's debatable whether there's more kudos in getting on at the front (as per usual) and finding your seat straight away, or getting on at the back and walking beyond all the economy class seats, but anyway. I think we were all on at 0650, the time it was due to leave, but we didn't actually taxi to the runway until 0715, and didn't make it off the ground until 0739 :-( Apparently one of the taxiways was fucked, which makes the queue of 8 planes behind us a bit more understandable I guess.

Cruised at 33,000 feet for a bit, 35,000 feet for a bit, landed at 1105. No drink at the start of the journey and economy class food service started before business class despite there only being 3 rows of us, ffhs! I hope their food was SHIT. Ours was nice: English breakfast (2 rashers of bacon, 1 sausage, some potato cube things, tomato stuff, and scrambled egg), fruit salad, choice of bread, the aforementioned champagne (or any other drink, ...). Didn't get offered another drink throughout the flight which the snob in me thinks is a shocking state of affairs, the regular bloke in me thinks is pretty rough since I got offered a second drink to and from Germany in economy class twice this summer, on shorter flights. I think something was a bit off this morning, basically, but who knows. It was my first ever business class flight inside Europe so I can't judge whether it was normal or not, I can only assume it was.

Read my copy of Uncut magazine while onboard; I really must buy the Pierrepoint DVD.

So, yes, landed at 1105. Gibraltar has the shortest runway of any airport in the world, and it was both scary and fun to look out of the window to see nothing but sea until about 3 seconds before we actually touched down. Come outside and the road you walk along to get into town actually crosses the runway, and has a level crossing apparatus to stop cars and pedestrians while a plane is doing its thing. Haven't seen that yet but there are 2 flights due to arrive before my one leaves so maybe I'll get a video of it, I can see the level crossing from where I'm sat typing this.

Beyond there I just played it by ear. Well, by eye, really, 'cos like I said everything is English. I could have got a bus or cab but there was really no point, because as it happened within 20 minutes of leaving the airport I had walked all the way through the main shopping and drinking districts and found the cable car, which was the only item I really had on my agenda. 8 quid got me up to the the top of the rock and it was fucking superb!

First things first, the apes. There are free-roaming apes on Gibraltar, the only ones in Europe IIRC, and they live in two places: halfway up, and at the top of, the Rock. I went all the way to the top and eschewed the multimedia tour because the second I got out of the cable car I was mesmerised. I thought the apes were in a little sanctuary or summat, somewhere you could go walk around, not that THEY walked around where WE were. But they do -- they just do their own thang in and amongst the humans who come to gawp at them and the scenery. There were hefty grumpy old fuckers and ones that looked like they dropped yesterday, and every one of them was entertaining. I took a bunch of videos which I'll put on youtube and link here, and the photos will all be on flickr.

That wasn't all the top of the rock had to offer though. There were pretty good views of Gibraltar and the nearest bit of Spain, but what was most entertaining is that there was a cloud. A cloud that enveloped half of the rock, splitting it in two. I walked _through_ the cloud and took a photo of its very edge. From the east terrace the view was a terrifyingly eerie plain white, nothing but the cloud. From the west, a sunny and picturesque city- and seascape. MENTAL. Again, photos and videos on flickr.

The apes were definitely the highlight though. I took a corking video which demonstrates both their propensity to steal food from humans *and* their fantastic parenting/community skills. The way a whole bunch of them look after the little 'un is wonderful.

All in all though I was only up the top for about 25 minutes, half hour. There's not a lot to do, especially 'cos I bought the cheap ticket (for more I could have, err, walked down half way, through some gardens or something, and seen some more apes). The bar wasn't open and I didn't want to buy any tat or have a proper meal, and besides it wasn't even midday Gibraltar time (ie not even 11am UK!).
So I wandered back into town. Sexy Beast came to mind. It's hot. It's fucking hot. Fuck it's hot. I had to get into some aircon and sharpish. First thing I did was a bit of clothes shopping, just a new shirt (which, because I munt so much after wandering around in the heat all day with a bag on me shoulder, I've already changed into), and then I went to the pub.

While wandering the streets en route to the cable cars I'd realised that in Gibraltar, booze is pretty damn cheap. And by "pretty damn", I mean "very very". The prices of the bottles of spirits were terrifying. Well, in the pub, something else terrified me: the legal drinking age over (t)here is *16*! I can only imagine what the boozers are like of a weekend evening, sheesh.

Pint of Stella was 2.50 and, well, tasted like Stella. I wrote a few notes (from which I'm writing this) and after a while left.. to go to another pub.

People in Gibraltar are weird. Everyone's accent seemed to be either London or scouse, *but* they also all spoke perfect Spanish (I assume). On numerous occasions I heard (bar) staff chatting away in both languages to different people and flicking between them as if it weren't no thang. Most confusing, and impressive. The second pub I went into was a proper case in point because a mixture of Spanish and English(/Gibraltarians/Americans) came in while I had a very slow pint and the staff had no trouble whatsoever.

I was going to eat there, but can't remember why I didn't. I ended up eating in the town square outside a place called Latino's, where I had fish and chips. Pretty nice it was 'n all. It could have been anywhere though: Gibraltar is fucking FULL of boozers. I sense a trip or two here in the future (handily enough I _have_ to come back anyway!).

September 10th is Gibraltar National Day. Because of this the residents are displaying their loyalty in much the same way as we did during the World Cup: there are flags EVERYWHERE, in shopfronts and pubs and hanging out of people's windows (but not on cars). All English or Union Flags too, innit. Take that, Spaniards!Heh.

Right. My flight leaves in a little over two hours, which means I should be able to go and check in now. I picked up my tickets for the main trip as soon as I got off the flight and they're a huge thick bunch of paper tickets the likes of which I have never seen before. Accordingly I am going to go and try to use the very first one so I can get back to Surbiton tonight, but more important, get into the lounge and on the Internet so I can actually publish all this writing.

Hmm, I'm in the lounge now, but no internet. Not to worry. I'm such a terrorist! I failed to take ANY of the metal out of my pockets when coming through, probably still in a bit of a daze after the check-in woman raised her eyebrows so much at me claiming to be travelling in business class. Well I am, so fuck off.

So this is the "Peninsula Lounge". It's empty. I'm the only person here. I've got myself a beer out of the fridge and some biscuits and my laptop on a table while watching BBC news 24 on the TV. There are announcements going on outside but I'm ignoring them. The flight is ALREADY delayed by 20 minutes O I'm going to be here for 2 hours or so. This place is probably horrible when full but right now it's bloody awesome. My own private living room. Maybe I should start knocking back the spirits 'n all.

Few more people here now. I'm getting bored of not being on the Internet. Time to read the local Gibraltar rag, hope it's got a decent letters page.

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