There are few rock formations more recognizable than the Rock of Gibraltar, a towering white and green peak jutting out from Spain and up from the Mediterranean. Its location, so close to the Strait of Gibraltar and within sight of North Africa, has been a key defensive position for centuries.
A British Overseas Territory for 300 years, it's now mostly a relic of wars and times past.
Its history, though, is unmistakable, and much of it you can tour. So I did.
The first thing you learn when trying to get to the Rock is, well, you can't get there from here. Sure there's an airport, but the flights are very expensive. Spain, not surprisingly, never bothered to connect rail lines to an area it's not too pleased is still British.
So instead, if you don't have a car, you take the train to Algeciras, and a bus to La Linea de la Concepción. From there, you can walk across the border. Not a lot of places you can walk onto British territory (save for Ireland, of course).
One of the most fascinating aspects of Gibraltar is the airport. The runway is bisected by the only road in and out of the Territory. All vehicle and pedestrian gets held on either side during takeoffs and landings. It's quite a sight. Because after the planes pass...you just walk across the runway. It's pretty cool.
The whole while, the Rock is right there.
The other Rock: Gibraltar's tunnels, Bond movie locations and more (pictures)See all photos
The town itself is definitely British, a noticeable difference from the southern Spain adjacent to it. Most people take a bus to the gondola, ride to the top, and walk down. Others pay one of the dozens of Rock of Gibraltar van tours to drive them up.
Not me: I hiked up. Narrow stairs weave between houses. Steep streets curve and connect with more steep streets. It reminded me of cities like Monte Carlo and Hong Kong that are similarly pressed in between sea and mountains. Except there's none of the wealth (former) or frenetic energy (latter) of those cities. It feels like a sleepy seaside British town.
The top of the Rock is mostly a nature preserve, and you have to pay for entry. Just to walk is 50p (about 80 cents), but to tour the WWII tunnels and Moorish castle, you need to pay about 36 times more. The castle, to be honest, isn't much. It's pretty much just a tower now, and while the view is cool, if you're going up, it's a lot better at the top.
A few more strenuous strides get you to the entrance of the WWII tunnels. These extend deep, and in some cases, through the Rock. Check out the slideshow for the story on these.
At the end of the tour of the WWII tunnels you're about halfway up.
Further uphill you can enter even older tunnels, from when the British first held the peninsula. Old spiked cannon sit and watch over the sea.
I had prepared for the rain promised in the forecast, not the clearing skies and warm Mediterranean sun. There's not a lot of shade to shield you as you continue the ascent. There's less traffic, just the occasional tour minivan.
The opening of the 1987 James Bond film "The Living Daylights" was shot here, mostly on inaccessible military roads. I happened upon a spot, however, where a British soldier entered a gate and then latched it behind him. As I turned to see where he was going, I recognized the gate. The growth was different (obviously), but it was definitely the spot where 007 gets shot with a paintball gun, pushes the guard, and jumps on the Land Rover in this scene:
More sun and steep roads, then I was finally at the top. The gondola complex has a (very) welcome snack bar, and the viewing platforms offer tremendous views. The October sun was setting, so even though the lighting was gorgeous, it meant I was going to miss a few of the attractions on the south part of the island.
I made it as far as the "saddle" in the middle, and made friends with a few of the wild macaque monkeys.
I took many, many photos of the sun as it slipped behind the clouds, and then behind the mountains on the far side of Algeciras. Then in the twilight I descended to the city below.
The main street and runway carried few people and cars as I crossed the border, taking one last shot of the Rock before I entered Spain and returned, weary, to my hotel.
As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, epic 10,000 mile road trips, and more. Check out Tech Treks for all his tours and adventures.