Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Glorious Gibraltar and Marvellous Morocco ~ Part One

Current mood: busy
We set out bright and early last Sunday (meaning I finally got to see an episode of "Captain Flamingo" while we ate our breakfast - but that's not what this blog is about!), reaching Gatwick two hours ahead of our flight.
We parked in the long term car park known as "summer special", which I thought was pretty funny considering the rain which was currently pouring down on us.  We caught a bus to the airport, and awaited our flight while Mum got increasingly nervous...
She was extremely steamed up by the time the message rang across the terminal that it was time to board the plane.  It seemed we had to walk MILES across the airport, while they played quiet background music and happy chirping bird sounds.  Mum started moaning about how they were playing it to calm us all down before they "sent us to our deaths".
Once we finally reached the queue to board, Mum began screaching and wailing about how small the plane looked.  "It's the kind that always crashes!  It's even smaller than the Iceland one, isn't it?!  WELL, ISN'T IT?!?!?!"  Everyone was looking at us in the queue which was really embarrassing.  As we boarded the plane, Mum asked all the staff in turn, "Is this a SAFE plane?"  Of course, they assured her that it was.  And all the way to Gibraltar they kept coming and asking her if she was all right.  I tried my hardest to ignore them and pretend I wasn't with the screaming woman sitting next to me, gazing out of the window, snapping photos of clouds...being the avid nephologist that I am, of course!

Mum refused to look out of the window, although there were some gorgeous views of Gibraltar as we flew in.

We arrived at about 4pm, I guess, which was a pretty stupid time in anybody's book.  Too late to do anything, but too early to go to bed!  Still, we all felt very welcome...

We were collected by a very short man who was far stronger than one might guess by looking at his size.  He lifted our cases into his small white minibus as though they were mere feathers and set off on the short drive to our hotel.
And my goodness, what a swanky hotel it was!  Maybe I'm just too used to Grottsville and the occasional UK break at Travel Inn, but The Rock Hotel seemed very fine indeed!  Our room was huge...well, I should probably say roomS, considering we have a living area as well as the usual bedroom.  Hopefully, the photos explain better than my jumbled words.

Of course, Mum still found reason to complain.  She had been looking forward to having a bath (something she never does when she's on holiday!), and they had only provided us with a shower.  Her mood worsened when David reported back from his room that HE had a bath.   He told us we were welcome to walk up there and make use of the facility, but we didn't really fancy that, especially considering his room was about a mile up a long corridor.

Oh, and it was too DARK.  But I thought she liked it to be dark now that her eyes are so light sensitive?  It was far brighter than it is in our lounge here in Grottsville anyway.
Mum did have good reason to be in such a bad mood though.  The air pressure on the plane had turned her deaf in her one good ear, so not only could she not see, but she couldn't hear anything either!
She fell in love with the keyring the hotel had attached to all its room keys - a little plush ape - and was really upset that we couldn't bring it back with us.  I noticed in the hotel book that you could buy the apes at reception though, and told her we could ask how much they cost the next day.  Oh, but it wouldn't be this one.  Well, the next best thing was to take a photograph of her with the thing - lying in the posh bed in the posh room, striking a fake posh pose, wearing her scruffy jumper with a scruffy plush ape in her hand.  Hmm, doesn't sound quite right, does it?

But hey, at least she didn't look as bad as I did!  Now I'm starting to understand why she thought it was so dark in there!

I soon discovered the posh TV we had in our posh bedroom.  There were over eighty channels, including a whole load of the ones I'm desperate to have here, but we can't get because we can't have a man in past all the mess to fix our cable box.  So I finally got the chance to listen to shows like "Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy" which I never thought I'd get the chance to hear.  We even had Hallmark!  So I bet you can guess who was setting her alarm clock for 4 o'clock each morning to watch "Intelligence".  So much for a relaxing holiday!  But it was worth it to finally see a couple of episodes of the series on TV rather than on my rather small and grubby computer screen.
One thing the hotel was sadly lacking was spare pillows, it appeared.  Hence, I had to prop myself up on the two shower robes they had provided when I got up for my "moonlight TV viewing".
The next day we weren't being picked up for our tour until 1pm, so we decided to spend the morning walking into town...after breakfast, of course.
Oh my, I am just not used to posh hotels.
They sat the three of us at a table, and asked whether we would like tea or coffee.  They seemed shocked that Mum and I wanted neither.  David ordered himself a huge cooked breakfast, but we just helped ourselves to some cereal from the buffet table in the corner.
The waiter stood right behind us the entire time, watching us like we were about to steal the cutlery or something...I'm not sure why they thought we'd want to though.  Posh hotel or not, my spoon was still covered in someone else's cereal from the previous morning!  And I couldn't even wipe it with them watching over us like that.  Mum made the mistake of putting her spoon down halfway through eating her bowl of cornflakes, which the waiter took to mean she'd finished...so he bent over and gathered up ALL of our bowls and carried them away.
David had to go to the loo, and Mum told me to "get something to nick for later".  How the heck was I supposed to get something in a bag without them noticing?  Still, I reluctantly brought her two chocolate muffins and two croissants.  Then it seemed to occur to her that the waiters were watching over us, so she asked David to get the stuff in a bag.  But to be honest I really didn't feel like eating anything he'd touched when his hands were still greasy from picking up bits of his cooked meat with his fingers (Yeah - as you can hear, he was really wearing the recommended bow tie and cufflinks for the hotel restaurant, wasn't he?!).
"What am I supposed to do with these things?" I kept whispering at her.  To which she kept responding, "What?", "Pardon?", "Excuse me?" and the like.  I swear she was doing it for effect in the end, even if she had gone deaf on the plane the day before.
Eventually, I agreed to wrap the stolen food in my serviette, and put it in Mum's mouldy carrier bag "handbag".  I waited until the waiters had walked to another table...and grabbed my chance.
Suddenly, out of the blue, a DIFFERENT waiter appeared.  He gave me a very odd look when he saw the serviette lying on the table with the muffins and croissants on top of it.   And then served us each with two boiled eggs...
Um...where did those come from?!  We didn't order them, that's for sure.  By this point, Mum was moaning about feeling sick. >.<   So when David returned she started swearing loudly about the "bl**dy eggs".  He told her she should have told the waiter she hadn't ordered them...to which she responded, "I couldn't do that.  He might have brought them to be nice to us!"  "Uh?" David asked, obviously not really listening.  "I SAID, 'I couldn't f***ing do that.  He might have brought them to be f***ing nice to us!'" Mum shouted in the middle of the posh restaurant, and then started moaning about how it was too late for her to visit these places anyway, now that she couldn't see or hear anything.  I pointed out to her that the waiters were right behind us again, and lead her back to the hotel room, rather embarrassed.
"I AM NEVER GOING BACK IN THAT PLACE AGAIN." Mum stated when we got back to our room, like it was me who'd been shouting and swearing or something.  I sighed, and went and got ready to go out.
When David finally finished his huge breakfast, we walked down the enormous hills into town to Gibraltar's main shopping street.  Things are supposed to be cheap there, since everything is tax free...but the fact that everything has to be imported means it's actually more expensive than here in the UK!  So we didn't buy much really.  In fact, we hardly went in any of the shops.  Then David saw a philatelic shop, and simply HAD to go inside.  Of course, the fact that he gave up collecting stamps when he started buying silly romantic stories is neither here nor there; He simply HAD to waste time during our holiday.   I think he was attracted to the woman who worked in there or something.  He kept taking a certain packet of stamps with a soldier on the front up to the counter, debating buying them, and putting them back on the shelf.  Perhaps he thought she'd lower the price for him.  God only knows.

We waited for half an hour for him to come out of the shop so that we could continue up the street.  We didn't have much time left to get back to the hotel so as to catch the minibus for our tour though, so we only went in a toy shop (where there were very few overpriced ponies!), and in a small scruffy shopping mall, where there was a pet shop with puppies in the window.  I felt so sorry for the little things.
There were guinea pigs in another window - two boys who were obviously too old to be living together, and kept biting each other.  I wished I could rescue them, but even if I were allowed to have pets again, how could I have got them back to England?
I managed to quickly snap a few photos of two rides outside a burger bar in the big square at the end of the street, while David went in the Tourist Information Centre, where nobody knew anything about dolphin boat trips - one of the main attractions in Gibraltar.  So what a pointless Information Centre that was!

Seeing the little horse made me sad; I remember one like that in Southend-on-Sea when I was about five years old, and we took my grandma there for the day.  It would have been her 82nd birthday on Friday, so this kind of brought a tear to my eye.
Then we had to dash back up the slopes and steep hills to the hotel.  Well, I say dash.  I think Mum's pace could be more truthfully called a very slow limp...

(Sorry, I just had to include all four of those photos for the laughs )
We only had to wait a short while for the bus to arrive, and then we went for our tour of The Rock.  We hadn't even started our ascent when we saw our first barbary ape - a young one rushed across the road, causing us to screach to a halt.  Unfortunately, I couldn't get a very good photo of him through the window, but you get the idea anyway.

We stopped off at St. Michael's Caves, where Mum moaned non-stop that she thinks "all caves look the same as each other" and asking, "why go all the way to another country to go in another boring cave?"
I couldn't really take any pictures in the cave, as I was still figuring out the new camera, and the flash just wouldn't work for some reason.  They were really pretty caves though.
When we got outside, the place was FULL of apes.  I mean, they were just wandering around everywhere.  There were nine or ten of them just playing on the roof of the gift shop.  Another was sitting outside the shop, hoping someone would feed him...although that's actually illegal, and you can receive a hefty fine for doing so.  I did feel sorry for the poor little thing though.  Apparently, when he was young he chewed through a cable and gave himself a massive electric shock so that now he can't walk in a straight line.  The other apes have rejected him, so that's why he now lives at the gift shop looking for treats.

Just then another bigger ape approached us....

The tour guide introduced us to her as "Slapper", and proceeded to show us where she had got the name.  Holding out his hand, she casually gave him a high five...once, twice, three times.  She received no treat for doing so, nor did she seem to partcularly enjoy the exercise.  She almost seemed to do it in a trance...  I wish I'd got a photo of her slapping his hand, because it really was pretty funny.
We tried to get back to the bus, but apparantly I was followed the entire way by a young ape who kept reaching up for my bag!  Of course, I didn't see him behind, but both my parents were supposedly laughing at him keep reaching up and trying to snatch the bag from me.  I wonder if they would have laughed so much had he run off with the camera, binoculars and money inside because of them not telling me to beware?!
Next to the "Ape's Den", although I thought that name could very well apply to the whole Rock really!  Despite the fact tourists aren't really supposed to feed the apes, the tour guide picked me out to do exactly that.  Plus he kindly offered to take a photo of me doing so.  I'm surprised he managed to get such a clear picture from the rubbish camera that I had been failing so dismally with!  All right, so I look awful, but that's not the guide's fault, is it?

Mum then got jealous that the "kind Scottish guide (she's always liked the Scottish)" had taken my photo and not hers - despite the fact she was in the photo too.  So on the long walk to the next cave I was ordered to take some photos of her with the apes.  They could have looked quite nice...if only she would have stood nearer to them and stopped pulling that silly grin!

David enjoyed the other cave as it doubled as a kind of military museum.  Mum and I spent the time looking for bats, which we knew supposedly lived there.  We never saw any though. 
Our next stop was supposed to be Moorish Castle, but the oldies on our trip decided they didn't want to go, so we got taken straight back to the hotel.  David was angry because he had specifically wanted to see the castle...but then why hadn't he spoken up when the guide had asked us all if we wanted to go and have a look at it?  It was only about 4.30pm, and Mum was annoyed that we were wasting our holiday.  I tried to calm her down by offering to take her photo on one of our two posh balconies, overlooking the Mediterranean.  In return, she offered to take my photo.

She knows how much I hate it...and yet I won't get rid of it because I doubt I'll ever get the opportunity to have that picture taken again.  So right now she's taunting me about my "slitty eyes" and the way "I'm sticking my chest out like a tart" (I was actually - unsuccessfully - trying to hold my stomach in so that it looked flatter.  Thank you, mother.)  But lo and behold, what's this?  Does this really look that much better?

HA HA HA!  I just had to show that photo on here.  Serves you right for putting ME down, Mum!
Determined that we weren't going to waste our holiday stuck indoors, we wandered into town again, partly to look for something to eat and partly to visit the Trafalgar Cemetery.  It was very dark by the time we got there, and yet David would not leave.  I think he was determined to get us locked in that place!  He kept getting me to take photos of graves (home from home, eh?), even though he knew the camera flash wasn't working properly, so none of them came out very well.
One benefit of going in the cemetery though was that we finally got to see the bats.  They were swooping around the trees, chasing small birds!  Yep, they were really that big!  We don't know what kind they were though...  There were also blackbirds in the cemetery with black legs.  Our blackbirds have yellow legs so we were pretty surprised by that.

Luckily, Mum and I were able to watch the wildlife from the gate (although I had to keep dashing off to take photos, as I already mentioned) so she was able to make sure that we didn't get locked in.  However, by the time we got to the shops, we were unable to get anything to eat, as all the restaurants were closing.
It took ages to get back to the hotel too, as David decided to get a bus...and waited at the wrong stop.   When we finally did get back, we had to order two cheese sandwiches through room service.  They cost £16!!!!  Oh, and this is what they looked like.

Just got to love that carnation, haven't you?  We kept it by our beds for the rest of our stay.  Just as we were eating the sandwiches, a note got shoved under our door from "A Blands Travel Representative".  Blands Travel were the Gibraltar branch of the holiday company we booked under. Basically, it told us that the trip to Spain the following day had been cancelled due to lack of clients.  Mum went mad, screaching about how she was going to be locked up in the hotel for yet another day.  She'd "come on holiday and permanently damaged her ear just to sit in a cream coloured room.  Oh, and doesn't cream and white look bl**dy awful together?"
David refused to kick up too much fuss with "Dennis" (who turned out to be our Blands Travel Representative) because it wasn't his personal fault.  However, with a lot of pushing from Mum, he did make a complaint, and manage to get them to pay for a boat trip for us to see the dolphins from the bay of Gibraltar instead of the trip to Spain.
The next day (Tuesday 11th) there was another huge kafuffle with Mum telling me to wear my coat which I really didn't want to wear, having worn it three winters and all this summer too.  It's filthy, it smells...and it's just so big and old lady-ish anyway!  So I argued I could just wear my horse printed hoodie.  Anyway, Mum won and I got into the taxi dressed in my smelly, old lady's coat.
Once we reached the marina I took it off though, really not wanting to be seen in it.  I was pleasantly surprised to find it was a lovely warm day, even by the water!  I called Mum over to look at the huge fish that were swimming around in the bay while we waited for the boat.  They were the size of the big koi carp you see in decorative ponds except these were wild and green and purple coloured.  Again, I've no idea what they were.  Any fish experts here?
Mum ignored me while I continued to call her, even though I could tell she could hear me.  Then she looked at me, saw I wasn't wearing my coat, and started telling David that I was "sulking, and not talking to her".  Um, excuse me?  Even David, who usually siezes any opportunity to pick on me, had to ask her what she was talking about.  I'm still confused on that one.
Anyways, I shan't linger on that subject, as Mum didn't in real life, seeing as it was going nowhere.  She had to move on to something else.  Dennis had been lying to us and had sent us to an untrustworthy company!  "Look at the boat - doesn't it looks small and unsafe?" "We're all going to drown and there's not even any lifejackets on board!"

Yeah, you get the picture.  Fortunately, she was wrong on all of that, and it turned out to be a really nice journey.  We were three of only six people on the trip.  A Japanese couple, and a German man made up the rest of our group.  Our guide was an English man who had only moved to Gibraltar six years ago, but already thought this was "a cold day".  COLD?  It's November, and I'm sitting on a boat, wearing just a t-shirt and loving every minute of it.  That's not what I call cold!
It wasn't long before we saw a small pod of common dolphins.  They didn't stick around for long, and were pretty unfriendly, so we moved on.  This company were very good and tried their hardest not to disturb for tourism reasons.
We needn't have worried anyway.  Soon we were in dolphin paradise with 50-60 striped dolphins swimming all round the boat, nosily watching us.  One little baby kept jumping out of the water to satisfy his curiosity!  Since there was only a small group, we were all allowed to go up to the front of the boat, and got some spectacular views of these gorgeous animals.
They were pretty hard to photograph (I kept just catching their tails as they disappeared back beneath the waves!), so here's just a taster picture of a couple of them for you.

My best pictures are definitely movies which I shall upload to Youtube if we ever move house and get broadband.  And that's a promise!  Believe me, these films are something to watch.  I simply couldn't believe how close we were to these creatures in their natural habitat!  Who would want to go and watch ill-treated, performing animals when you can go and see them so close in the wild?
I got angry seeing a different dolphin boat driving straight into the pod.  I really don't know why they had to do that.  If they had just sat still, the dolphins would have come to them.
With the other boat hounding the poor creatures, we decided to leave them alone and go back to dry land.  It was still only about 1pm so we had around six hours until everything shut.  It was just a matter of figuring out what to do with the time.
We walked back to the tourist information centre, where Mum couldn't read the board of attractions, and made me read it out several times, claiming she couldn't hear me.   We couldn't decide what to do, so went outside and bought some cheese sandwiches - David bought two between all of us, saying that we could share one!  Even he realised he was being mean in the end though, so we got some chips for lunch and decided to save these for tea.  Roy, the man who owned the chip shop, sat out at the table next to us and practically told us his life story, while we struggled to eat the chips.  They were LOVELY chips, but there were so many of them, and they were COATED in salt!  David drenched his in vinegar too.  Ew...  Mum and I did manage to get through ours as well, it just took us longer...and a little sneaky help from a sparrow under the table!  That gave Roy even longer to tell us about when he had moved to Gibraltar and how he had moved there to marry his Spanish wife, having met her there so many years before and...  You get the picture!
Oh, and just in case you can't get a picture of the cafe in your head, here's a little photo with The Rock in the background, to give you a bit of an idea!

Eventually we left Roy to tell other customers about his life, having decided to go to the Alameda Botanic Gardens and Wildlife Park...but first we had to go back to the philatelic shop "to see if the girl in the shop had brought the stamps he hadn't been able to get the previous day".  And so another thirty minutes were wasted standing outside the shop, watching David take the same book of stamps up to the counter, before returning them to the shelf several times.  Meanwhile, we saw people walking past with bags of interesting-looking stuff.  Better still, the bag was labelled as coming from a cheap shop - exactly Mum's kind of place!  So how come we hadn't seen the shop while walking up and down the main street?
David went back in the philatelic shop to ask his girlfriend where this shop might be, and she sent us down a little side road... I swear the shop she sent us to wasn't the right branch though, as there was nothing very interesting there at all.  There were a few Spanish Disney Princess bits which I thought about getting for Abigale...but they cost so much, and there was nothing there that we could have got for the other three kids.
On the way back to the main street, we saw two things of interest; 1. A lost ape, who jumped off of a wall, and began chasing some young children, trying to snatch biscuits out of their hands (!), and 2. A charity shop.  It was a TINY little shop though, and there were no ponies inside, at least as far as I could see from the doorway.  David had gone blundering on as ever, so we didn't have time to go inside...and I fear we would have got talked into buying a piece of rubbish if we had!
Finally, we reached the bottom of the big hill up to our hotel.  It was just now that we discovered the Botanical Gardens were quite nearby, and we could walk right through them to the hotel!  We went in a little shop on the way to get some Lucozade for Mum and some milk for myself.  They didn't have any proper milk, so we had to get long-life stuff.  No problems with me though.  One of the highlights of any holiday as far as I'm concerned are those little pots of long-life milk that you get to pour in your tea.  Don't try making yourself a cup of tea or coffee if you're staying in a hotel room with me!  Those little pots just never hang around for long.  I think 43 of them, er, "disappeared", while we were in Gibraltar.
Anyways, the long-life milk was much appreciated.  And since we had a nice fridge back at the hotel I could keep it for the rest of our holiday.  It came in handy when I kept getting up in the middle of the night to watch TV, I must say!
There was also a video rental shop within the little milk-selling shop.  They had a 80s MLP video for hire there, which was in such an appalling state that I think it had been rented to a different family almost every week of its life.  Still, it was interesting to note, as I'd seen no other sign of G1 MLP life in Gibraltar.
When we finally reached the Botanical Gardens, it was closing time, and so the shop, cafe and Wildlife Park were shut.  The place was still filled with wildlife though - mainly birds which are common in this country.  We saw a robin though, which apparently is quite rare there.  So does that count as having seen a rare bird?
Mum didn't appreciate the long climb to get into the gardens after her long day...

It was such a beautiful place though.  I don't know how anyone could really complain.  There were monarch butterflies everywhere, which I have only ever seen in butterfly houses in the past, as they're not native to this country.  David reckons he saw some rare, huge orange butterfly as well.  But then he would, wouldn't he?  He has to try to make everyone jealous.
I saw some enormous white butterflies, but I've got no idea what they were.  And yet more of the big bird-chasing bats...  All too soon, they announced that they were locking the gates, so we had to make our way back to the hotel for another night.

I have just discovered I'd actually written too much about our trip to go in one blog, so I shall have to submit this one and add part two tomorrow, when these ridiculously large photographs will have hopefully uploaded.
Speak to you all soon!

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