Gibraltar Monkeys, Cambridge daytrip, Queen Funeral flight delays. Sept 2022

Tracy,

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Gibraltar, final day in London and Cambridge. Sept 2022

Hey, here I am writing my final trip update sooner than one month after returning home. This is maybe a record? It sure seems that, if I don’t type up my blatherings about my final days on the plane home, then it takes awhile for me to face it. But here I am, getting it done now. Woohoo!

Hello Gibraltar. Visually dramatic flight landing (apparently they shut down the road by the airport when planes land…if there’s an incident, they might overshoot onto the highway!). Deplane on the tarmac, turn around, and yup. There’s THE ROCK! Just big and impressive right behind our plane. Thinking of World War II movies and James Bond (Shout out to The Living Daylights!). Lining up for the two people working passport control. Erin exclaims, “Yay! We get a stamp.” The immigration officer laments that, “sadly, it’s not as pretty as it used to be.” Ha! Still exciting, as the UK no longer stamps US passports. Waiting at baggage claim (there’s just the one carousel for the whole airport) and MORE GOLF CLUB BAGS than I have ever seen in my life keep coming down the ramp. There must be some great courses just across the way in Spain, because I stopped counting after 20 (twenty!) bags circled around. Unexpected.

Mediterranean sunshine. Friendly taxi driver. Cute hotel. We drop our bags and head up to the rooftop pool! After a swim, Erin let’s me know she found one lounge chair in a small patch of shade (hooray for me). Nice relaxing and reading time. Then it’s time for dinner.

We’re off to wander through town. It’s very walkable. Lots of shops and outdoor dining. Ever business we pass has a sign in their window about Queen Elizabeth’s death. (It’s a British Territory. They take both pounds and euros, but you get a better exchange rate with pounds). From small handwritten signs to professionally printed posters. It’s strange.

Many announcing they’ll be closed on Mon for the funeral. Find a waterfront spot with some gf options. AND there are three people dining with their dogs nearby, so I’m spoiled with critters to watch. 🙂

Lazy morning, then walking through town. Some cool churches. Make our way to the cable car that takes you to the top of the rock (The signs all brag “412 meters in 6 minutes”). It’s only 2 more Euro to get the return ticket. That had always been my plan, but Erin’s saying we should walk, hike, climb down. From what I’d seen online, most says it’s 3-4 hours down and can be hot and tough. So I’m skeptical. But excited to go see MONKEYS! The Barbary Apes (actually, macaque monkeys, not apes) live wild atop the rock. And can be quite a menace to the tourists who aren’t following the rules. Lots of signs at the cable car stop offering advice for safety. Don’t bring food. (If you do, definitely don’t try to eat it anywhere near the monkeys). Signs imploring you to keep your distance. Signs explaining monkey behaviors and how to notice signs of stress and fear. The cable car operator gives a final notice at the top, “Those of you wearing backpacks, put them on your front! Otherwise the monkeys might jump on your back to try to go through your bag. Don’t open your bags around the monkeys. They associate those sounds with food.” We disembark (deplane is a word. Is there a similar term for cable cars?). Turn the corner, and there’s this gorgeous monkey just posing for the new batch of tourists. Preening under the flag (at half-mast for the Queen) with a gorgeous view behind. Everyone stops for photos (including several people getting way too close to take selfies. Sheesh).

There are some staircases and skinnier walkways, and it’s fascinating (and a tiny bit unnerving) to watch the monkeys utilize these chokepoints for maximum mayhem. Convinced they enjoy the screaming and laughter. Saw one monkey jump onto a guy’s backpack (which he was still wearing on his back).

It’s a bit intense, but mostly very cool. And Erin and I do our best to stay respectful primate visitors. But definitely throughout our explorations of the paths, we’ll see a monkey just chilling, and then tourists get too close and it starts clearly saying “You’re making me uncomfortable” and then someone gets even closer for a selfie and the monkey screeches or lashes out. We didn’t see anyone get bit, thank goodness (later I saw a woman in a bathroom cleaning up a bloody knee, but hoping it’s just from falling down and not a monkey attack). But we definitely came across a few more chokepoints in the trail (especiall once the mini-van tours come by. Three or four mini-vans block the path (which only has a foot of clearance on each side) and disgorge 7 tourists each. There isn’t a way for us to walk past, plus the monkeys are all surrounding the vans and packs potentially full of food. So Erin and I hang back, watching the madness but deciding we’ll just wait until things empty out a bit. At one point (near a new elevator that takes people to one of the newer fancy glass walkways/stairs built in a few spots), there’s a man feeding the monkeys. He’s clearly staff and clearly on good terms with them (as he’s asking for high fives in exchange for treats). It’s not an ideal situation (as tourists and guides over the years feeding the monkeys has led to this state where they associate any pack with food). But it’s also clearly the path of least resistance to help keep the elevator doors clear/usable, as he’ll lure away the monkeys with food when someone wants the elevator. Huh. (We decided to skip those stairs/glass walkway based upon the human screeches from monkey interactions above us).

After walking for a bit, we hadn’t seen any non-human primates for awhile, so I think it’s safe to open my purse to re-apply sunscreen (Mediterranean mid-day sunshine). No sooner have I made that un-zip noise than two macaques pop up over the wall beside me. Eek! Never mind. I’ll risk the sunburn. And I don’t bother re-zipping my bag. Ha!

Eventually we make it to St Michael’s Cave and get to go explore. It’s impressive, but everything is lit up in these intense pinks and bright colors. While cool, not what I expect in a cave.

Turns out it’s a 7 minute cycle of light show. And happily some of the lights are just regular, so we got some of that traditional cave stalactite action. And they’ve done a cool job with the light to highlight and reveal shapes within the cave formations.

As we exit we see a monkey eating an ice cream bar. D’oh. But we felt more confident walking past, as this guy had a snack already. The Rock has some very cool bunkers and older structures from 200+ years of military uses. Some of our walking paths are intensely steeply raked. Most are paved (yay) but they are way steeper than I prefer. We make our way to the Ape Den. Which is decidely absent of apes. But Erin climbed up some of the structures and said it smelled like a zoo! So they definitely do spend time here, just not under the mid-day sun. As we keep walking along the pathways, we have a decision point. We’ve already climbed an hour or so down the paths. Do we climb back up for an hour to ride the cable car back down. Or do we keep climbing down? I agree to the hike (for those less dramatic about steep hills, they might call it a walk) and we keep heading down, passing warning signs about snakes, reapplying sunscreen, drinking my water.

Explore the Devil’s Gap Battery structures from 1902. Now we leave the paved paths to more loose gravel and old crumbling stairways. Lots of them. My face is not pleased. But I trudge and sweat along the way. Exciting when we start hitting parts of town, as some of these hillside stairways and alleys are in better shape (some even had a handrail!!).

Back to the hotel for more rooftop pool time. Erin enjoying the sunshine, myself hiding in shadows or under the water in the pool. So, our usual sunshine dynamic. It works for us!

We eventually get changed and head out to explore the Botanical Gardens. They’re nice. Lots of native plants and things that will grow well in these warm climes. And there’s an ampitheatre doing a soundcheck for a concert that evening. So we get to hear Kerria performing and talking with her sound techs. (Hadn’t heard of her before, but Shazam was able to identify, and then Erin got a glimpse of the stage video screen to confirm). I bet it’s a fun stop on a music tour.

A lot of Gibraltar is reclaimed land. Which is how we’re walking along “Wellington Front” and other 1850’s walls but see lots of high rise building between these walls and the water. Because back then, that wall was the city limits, but they’ve dumped enough material to “reclaim” more land from the sea. Hmmmm. There are also So Many Cannons all over town. So many. Like, they didn’t know what to do with all of them. They’re just plunked all over, with a plaque. Including 4 captured from Russia during the Crimea War and then gifted to Gibraltar. Others extolling a significant advance in cannon technology. Or some other historical Cannon battle.

Dinner included a starter of Iberico Ham (when Spain is Right There, how can you not?). I had braised pork cheeks for dinner (Carrillada), which continued my celebration of Spanish pig. Melt in your mouth delicious.

That evening, back at the hotel, we’re getting news alerts about flight delays and cancelations because of the Queen’s funeral. Eek! Our flight might be affected (we leave during the funeral and there’s talk of lots of cancelations to keep the skies silent). There’s nothing we can do about it, except keep checking with Virgin Atlantic to see if we’ll be canceled. Ugh. Texting pals about the potential issues and they respond with the proper level of snark. It is my love language.

Final morning, while getting breakfast, a group of school kids parade through town as part of “Clean Up the World” environmental event, which is cool. Our flight back to London isn’t until 5pm, so we take a taxi to the southern tip of the country, to the Europa lighthouse.

We get a lovely view of Morroco and Tangiers across the waters. AND there’s little kid sports teams practicing at the playfield nearby. Initially thinking it’s football (the kind played with feet, not the american sport). But even better, it’s little kid Rugby. And I mean Little kids. Like 8 and under. This is extra delightful, because Erin is a big follower of Rugby. (I personally always think it looks like “Calvin Ball” meaning there are absolutely no rules and just make-em-ups happening on the field. I quite enjoy watching a game. But now imagine 6 year olds are trying to play it: pure chaos. It’s such a joy). Plus, as an enjoyer of unique warning signs, I enjoyed that the “Warning: Cricket balls might come this way” sign was still out, even though there was no cricket being played at the moment.

I also quite enjoyed watching a family with their off leash black lab wandering around the lighthouse, and then freaking out and screaming trying to stop their dog from peeing on the war memorial. “Ruby! Ruby stop! No. Ah ah ah!” (Pro tip: keep your dog on a leash)

The Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque at Europa Point was cool to see. And Nun’s Well in the area is thought to be over 700 years old, and a way to artifically supply drinking water to this arid area. We start our 6km jaunt back to town. Weather is lovely (I mean, hotter than I’d like, but not unbearable). Following Google Maps to a pathway climbing down to a beach access point. However, when we reach said path, we find Google is a liar. Unless they truly intended us to jump over the highway wall, walk across some building rooftops and then jump off the cliff. Seems unlikely. But we can spy the waterfall from our location, at least. We keep walking towards the other beach area. As we’re getting closer, I worry that Google is again lying to us. Erin very smartly switches to satellite view, and sure enough, the suggested “path” requires the power of flight to complete. But we’re able to find an alternate pathway, following some other roads and swooping back towards the water. This is how I got to go wading in the Stait of Gibraltar. Cold but lovely. Always nice to add a new body of water to list of places where I’ve dipped my toes!!

Even better, there’s a small snack building, so I got to get a pack of “prawn cocktail” potato chips, which always feels like the thing one must do when in the UK (or a UK territory, at least). Back in town and we grab a nice lunch with tables by the Marina. Lovely. Then off to the airport. Where they have an outdoor terrace overlooking the runway. Lovely place to wait for boarding call, and fun to watch a plane take off from the runway, with that dramatic Rock in the background.

Back at Heathrow for our airport hotel. And the trend of attractive front desk guys continues. Not mad about it. *smile* We’ve got one full day (Sunday 18th) before our flight home. Original plan had been to explore Windsor. Erin’s bf John is from Dublin and swears the world’s best Fudge shop is in Windsor. I’m not a fudge enthusiast, but I was down with exploring the town and the castle. However, because of the Queen’s death, basically the whole town is closed. But Erin learns this fudge place has 4 locations, and one of them is in Cambridge. I’ve never been before, so we decide that’s where we’ll explore. The next morning, we take the 1 hr train from Heathrow to London. Erin decides we should go join the crowds at Buckingham Palace to at least glimpse the Mourning Madness and see the difference from when we’d wandered past before her death. It is INTENSE!

Very impressed at the country’s installation of massive infrastructure, from fencing to signage to tons and tons of employees and volunteers and porta potties and medical and media tents. We head over to Green Park where people can leave their flowers and drawings and cards. My inner anthropologist is loving it. While I’m not a fan of the monarchy, nor am I personally upset that a 96 yr old trillionare passed away, I am touched observing other people having big emotions about it. And the handmade arts and crafts are very sweet.

After about 15 minutes, Erin is done with the crowds, which is okay. We have only made it to the outer edges of the flower/offering piles, but we’ve gotten the general idea already. She is also fine splitting up if I wanted to see more, but I’d rather stay together in this madness. As we start walking the other way, following the giant light up signs and safety vest wearing security and portable toilets and fencing and crowds, I remark that “it’s like Coachella.” “Absolutely not,” Erin responds. Everyone is wearing way too many clothes.” Ha! I didn’t mean the flavor of the crowds. I meant the infrastructure and crowds being steered through fenced corrals. *laughs*

Now we’re in the line to Buckingham Palace, and it’s intense. Much squishier than the flowers line. And these tall solid temporary fences block side views. We slowly trudge along. And once we get there, it’s such a dissapointment. We are let out still far from the palace and told to continue marching away from the Palace and one long block later, we could cross the road and then turn to march back to get a better view. Meh. We decide we don’t care (as decides most of the crowd). And we’re funneled past more fencing and more security and more employees (I was tempted to ask them their pay rate, but didn’t). We encounter some fancy foreign dignitaries, but not sure who. But motorcade police are clearing intersections, people in important suits with ear pieces and binders, black SUVs with tinted windows go by. So, that was probably somebody important for the funeral tomorrow.

Then it’s trying to find a cup of coffee and a toilet. Which we eventually do. Hooray! And now off to the train station to take the 1 hr ride to Cambridge. And there’s an adorable pitbull on our train, so I’m quite pleased. Less excited by the ominous grey clouds in the sky. It specifically said No Rain, so neither of us packed a jacket. And while the grey skies are around for much of our Cambridge rambles, happily it never rained. Fun being in a college town and seeing the typical college town things (excellent cheap international food places, bubble tea, etc. But in much more historic buildings than I’m used to. It’s a lovely town. Full of very impressive old buildings everywhere you look. I’m most excited to see the King’s College Chapel, but 1st stop is fudge shop as it closes 5:30pm (it’s getting close to 3pm after we finish lunch). Fudge obtained. Then we wander the cute farmer’s art market. And head to King’s College…but wait, it says “Closed.”

Darn. Maybe it’s closed on Sundays? Enter the gift shop across the street. As Erin makes a purchase, we’re asked if we visited the chapel today. “No, but can we?” “Not anymore. It closes at 3:45pm.” Darn. If only we’d known or thought to research. Totally didn’t expect it to close before 5pm. But since we’d be making 4 hour roundtrip train rides for this fudge, that truly was the more important task. Ah well. Didn’t want to see inside anyways. (Except I totally DID want to. Sad)

More wandering through town. A lady has a small dog riding on her shoulders! She’s in a queue for Jack’s Gelato. Which was fancy and delicious. (I quite enjoyed both the Japanese Whiskey gelato and the passionfruit sorbet). More wandering, and enjoying over 800 years of architectural styles. Seriously, the history here is impressive. And the sunshine has finally arrived, which has us considering doing one of the punting tours.

There are series of small canals going past all the different college buildings. And these punt boats give tours. There are so many companies competing for tourist business. We’re walking towards a specific business when an ambitious young man engages us in conversation. “Are you ladies students?” “Nope” “Would you like to be? I can give you 15 pounds off the price.” Ha! And that’s how we found ourselves floating by at golden hour.

Friggin lovely. Swans swimming past us. Sunlight glinting off the buildings as we’re professionally poled under bridges. Safety warning at beginning of the boat trip. “Keep your hands inside at all times. There are some companies that let people rent boats to pole and steer themselves. While this is fun, it does mean that we may be bumped into along our route and you want to protect your fingers.” He wasn’t kidding. Several times a panicked amateur would have trouble steering and ram (slowly) into our boat. Ha!

Stopped at Xing Fu Tang for a bubble tea, and then walked back to the train station, for the 1 hr ride to London, and then the 1 hr ride to our Heathrow hotel. Where we had to do our final packing. Boo! But honestly, it was a really lovely trip. We got to see and do so much and it wasn’t hyper-scheduled, so didn’t feel too exhausting. The next day at Heathrow airport was a trip. I knew most of England was closed for mourning/funeral but hadn’t realized that meant the airport itself, too. So much for buying some last minute overpriced airport souvenirs. The entire DUTY FREE was closed, too. Which was wild, because it’s not designed to ever close. They force you/funnel you through the endless displays of perfume and booze and designer sunglasses and giant Toblerone. So the airport has erected temporary construction fencing to block off all the duty free items. Most restaurants and stores and most everything is closed. We manage to buy a few snacks from one small store. Then we did get to enjoy Virgin Atlantic’s lounge, which also included some funky non-traditional seating options.

Waiting at the gate for boarding, and the beginning of the funeral and procession is on TV. It’s a truly strange and somber and strange vibe.

And we overhear the flight crew and gate agents Sweating the timing. Everyone needs to be boarded, bags placed overhead, and buckled into their seats Before the official two minutes of silence. And our plane was 10-15 min late arriving. So they’ve got an even tighter timeframe. But these folks rallied. They were intense in their energy, but got this entire giant plane boarded in record time (we overheard). And then the captain made his announcement and we all sat in our seats in silence for two minutes. It was strange and awkward. Then we got the news that, because of all the funeral stuff and two minute silence delays at air traffic control, our departure will be about an hour late. Ugh. But at least we’re on the plane and our plane is still taking off today (several of the afternoon flights were entirely canceled). As we take off, we flew over Windsor Castle and we could see throngs of people lining the road, waiting for the procession that would be happening later.

A pleasant enough flight, and then home, finally! Erin has global entry, so while she offered to keep me company in the longer general public line, I waved her off. Go, be free! *laughs* But seriously, I should probably look into that for myself at some point. Great trip!

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