We got up and drove to Estebona, just over a half-hour down the coast, and found convenient parking just opposite the bus stop. We met a couple from Newcastle in the UK, Pat and Nick, who were also on our tour of Gibraltar. The bus was slightly delayed by an accident, we learned, but picked us up about 20 minutes later than scheduled, then we continued down the coast to The Rock. We had to go through passport control twice going in, once for leaving Spain and once for entering the UK. Then our Bus pulled into a parking garage and we transferred to mini-buses that could actually handle the roads. We drove up to very near the top where we went into St. Michael’s Cave. This is not an extensive cave system, but quite lovely, and there is a formation that does resemble an Archangel with wings. After leaving the Cave, we started back down the Rock to see the monkeys. There are 350 macaques on Gibraltar, all living on the Rock, and they get food and medical care to keep them away from the settled area down below. Winston Churchill brought in a few more when the population looked like it was collapsing because there is a saying/belief that when the monkeys leave, the British will also leave.
Gibraltar is one of those historical oddities. It is only 2.6 square miles in extent, and was seized by Anglo-Dutch forces in 1704 during the War of Spanish Succession. The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 gave it to Britain in perpetuity, and it has been British ever since. But Spain has never been happy about this, and has asserted a claim that Gibraltar is and should be part of Spain. But a couple of referenda have found that the 33,000 inhabitants are quite happy to remain part of the UK rather than be part of Spain. But Franco cut off Gibraltar from using Spanish utilities and supplies, so they now get all of their water from desalination, and for a period had a deal with Morocco to get their food from there in return for providing Moroccans with jobs.
Gibraltar is literally between two seas. To the West it faces the Atlantic Ocean, and to the east the Mediterranean Sea. And fitting 33,000 people into this small area means it is densely packed. And with all of the tourists like us who visit each day, it is pretty crowded. They do have an airport, but the single runway is built on a pier extending out into the harbor on the Atlantic side. Nowadays the border with Spain is a bit easier to cross, as there are Spanish tour buses every day coming here, though frequently bringing British tourists along since the Costa del Sol is a favorite vacationing spot for the British. When Britain was part of the EU it was even easier, and many British seniors retired to live in Spain, Portugal and the south of France. They were still British citizens, though, and eligible to vote. I heard that a number of them voted in favor of Brexit, and then were greatly dismayed to be told that they could no longer live there since they were now not part the European Community. Be careful what you ask for.
Back down in the town we walked to see the statue honoring Lord Nelson. Trafalgar is not far from here, and after the battle his fleet sailed to the harbor here. Nelson himself didn’t live long enough to reach Gibraltar. His body was placed in brandy as a preservative, and there is a nice statue of him in Gibraltar. Then we walked back into the downtown and found a nice outdoor table at a cafe, where I had a bowl of gazpacho and Cheryl had a drink. Then we walked back to the bus. We went through passport control and customs for Spain (the UK didn’t seem to care if we were leaving), and we were back in Estebona just a little after 5pm. All in all it was a very nice day trip for us.
We were a little more leisurely this morning before driving into Malaga. Our plan was the visit the Picasso Museum, which didn’t open until 10am, but unfortunately we were a little too leisurely and our preferred parking garage was full when we got there, We drove around and found another a few blocks away, though, so no real harm done. It is just that the underground structure at Plaza de la Marina is nicer. We walked to the Picasso Museum, and when we arrived there was a line, and we stood for 20-25 minutes before getting in.
The Picasso Museum here has works from his entire life, and they are arranged in chronological order so you can see his development as an artist. He is most famous of course for his Cubist paintings, but we both preferred the more exhuberant works from his later years. He said “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” One of the series I liked was the Minotaur series, which was juxtaposed with a criticism of Franco.
After leaving the museum we found a nice cafe with an outside table, and again I had gazpacho and a plate of Manchego cheese, and Cheryl had a drink and ratatouille. This time the gazpacho came in a glass, which was new for me, but apparently common here. I like gazpacho, and decided I should try it at each opportunity.
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Today it is Cordoba and the famous Great Mosque. We parked at Plaza de la Marina, and walked to the pickup point a few blocks away. But we didn’t get on a coach this time; we were picked up by Paco in a minivan, and it turned out we were his only guests today. So in effect this was having a private guide. It turned out Paco was born in Cordoba, so we would have some expert local knowledge on the way. Paco explained that his name was actually Francisco, but that in Spain this was often turned into the nickname Paco. The derivation was supposedly from St. Francis of Assisi, who founded, and thus was the “father” of, the Franciscan order, and in Spanish this would be Padre de Comunidad, and thus Paco.
On the way he showed us sights as we drove, and practiced his English. He was not yet ready to be a full tour guide inside places like the Mosque or the Alhambra, but he was studying to improve his opportunities. Obviously tourism is very big here, and that provides a lot of local employment. On the way to Cordobs, he pulled off in Lucena, a town where his parents live, for a surprise. He drove us up to the top of a either a very tall hill or a small mountain to see a magnificent shrine the to the Virgin. He told us that the next day, Sunday, a statue of the Virgin would be carried down this mountain by strong men into the town below, where it would stay until the first week of June. It would be a big deal, with many people coming to watch.
Then we were back on the highway to Cordoba, and arrived a little after 11am. After parking, we walked to the bridge over the Guadalquiver River, and he told us that National Geographic had called it one of 15 bridges you had to visit and cross. The Bridge took us into the old town of Cordoba, and almost immediately to the Mosque. There we were handed over to Vasil, who would be our guide inside the Mosque.
The Mosque is immense. The Muslims here had declared themselves a Caliphate, meaning that they were independent of, and of equal stature to, Damascus and Baghdad. And Cordoba was the capital of this Caliphate, so it had to have a mosque suitable to its stature. The Mosque was extended and added to many times, and ultimately could hold about 40-50,000 people. It was started in the 8th century shortly after the Muslim conquest of the Iberian peninsula, and expansions continued until the late 10th century. But in the early 11th century the Umayyad Caliphate collapsed and Cordoba began to decline. In 1236 the Catholic King of Castile, Ferdinand III, conquered Cordoba, and the Great Mosque was converted into a Cathedral. Thankfully, they didn’t tear down the Mosque and start over, but preserved the Mosque, building the Cathedral inside of it. Even the Minaret tower was preserved, they just built a bell tower around it.
After our tour we went walking around the Old Town, which was quite full of tourists. we tried a number restaurants looking for gazpacho, but it seemed like the dish didn’t exist in Cordoba. We finally found a very lovely place, a cafeteria inside a courtyard with outside tables, not too many people, and music playing. They had gazpacho listed on the menu, but when I ordered it I was told they didn’t have it, and on the advice of the waiter I tried instead an Ajo Blanco, which was made of Garlic, Almonds, Apple, and probably many other things. It was nothing like I have had before, but that is part of the attraction of visiting new countries and experiencing new cultures. After that, we rejoined Paco for the trip back to Malaga, and he kindly dropped us off at our parking spot.
Sunday in Mijas. We have had three days of activity in a row, so we opted for rest and relaxation. We slept a bit later, had a leisurely breakfast, and then threw in what laundry we had to the washer and hung it up to dry. Then we went for a walk, and took along a couple of shopping bags, but the markets were all closed because it is Sunday. Still, we got a nice walk and some exercise. The winds were very strong however. When we got back, we just relaxed.