Crossing an airstrip for a Guinness in Gibraltar

Since the Rock of Gibraltar is a stone’s throw away from Algeciras, my travel companion and I thought it would be a cool idea to cross the border and quench our thirst with a Guinness. Gibraltar is a narrow peninsula that is located at the edge of the Mediterranean and is best known for its massive shield of rock. Believe it or not, you need a passport to cross into Gibraltar, as it is a British colony and you are no longer in Spain!  A little taste of jolly old England where you can indulge in British ale, dine on fish and chips and ride the red double-decker buses. The British pound is the currency that is accepted so leave your Euros at home.   Where else in the world are you able to scoot across a live airstrip in order to enter another country?


Yes, you heard that correctly. You have to dash across an airstrip in order to get into Gibraltar. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes and hesitantly placed my pink-sneakered foot on the paved runway, I wouldn’t have believed it either! The airstrip is closed several times a day in order to accommodate airplanes that either take off or land on the runway. Uniquely shared by both pedestrians and by aircraft, this landing strip is definitely one of a kind!

Yikes!!  Exiting the bus in the Spanish border town of La Linea, about a 45 minute journey from Algeciras, I came face to face with the white lettered sign strategically placed at the front of the runway, advising pedestrians to “please cross quickly”.   Needless to say, I was both intrigued and intimidated by the red plaque, warning unsuspecting pedestrians to be on the lookout for airplanes.

AIRFIELD AHEAD .  You are now crossing a live runway. Pedestrians are to keep within the white lines. Please cross quickly.


Trying to outrun the incessant rain in Barcelona, Alicante and Algeciras and escape the wrath of my attached to the hip unwelcome stalker aka “the rain in Spain falls mainly on the Plain”, I now faced the challenge of having to also dodge oncoming aircraft. Like really? Could it get any worse? Yup, it could and it did, as the second that I stepped off the bus, tempestuous wind and cascading rain successfully succeeded in their mission of drenching me from head to toe.  Yup, nothing like being blasted by hurling hail, driving sleet and gale-force winds day after miserable day.

 Two weeks of steady unintermittent rain can make any sane person lose their marbles and say and do things that are completely out of character.  Needless to say, I was no longer the cool, calm and collected Nora but an inconsolable rain-soaked cranky shell of a once lively, content and cheerful person. My travel buddy was close to disowning me as a friend, possibly plotting to leave Spain without me and seek refuge in the pubs of Gibraltar and celebrate his freedom by indulging in the numerous British ales that were readily available.

Umbrella in hand, scanning the open runway for oncoming aircraft, I practically broke the sound barrier as I hightailed across the pavement, lingering only long enough to get my passport stamped at the border.

Whew!! Safe from possible wind shear from oncoming planes, my mood brightened as I scanned the multitude of pubs, fish and chip stands and shops that lined the streets. I could feel my heart rate accelerate as I spotted the various British goods for sale in the shop windows. Look...there’s Marks & Spencer’s and the ever so trendy Top Shop, a favourite haunt of newly royal Kate Middleton.  By crossing over into this British colony, I had now saved myself a ton on airfare, as I didn’t have to jet to London to indulge in my shopping addiction, as these labels were readily available to me right here and now.

Amazing how the allure of a new, limited-edition designer handbag can elevate one’s mood and transform one from an ogre to a most agreeable and fabulous travel companion. Here’s to enjoying that Guinness and spending every last sterling pound!!

Come skedaddle across the runway to Gibraltar with me and discover a taste of Britain in the rain-soaked Mediterranean...


Pink Sneakered Facts about Gibraltar:

The 1713 Treaty of Utrecht handed Gibraltar over to the British, giving this Spanish territory monarchist allegiance to the Queen.

 This narrow peninsula is less than 4 square miles and is best-known as the Rock.

The massive Rock jutting out of the Strait of Gibraltar is an impressive 1400 feet high.

 Spain and Gibraltar have a somewhat uneasy alliance as this uniquely British colony is situated on the edge of the Mediterranean and is surrounded by Spanish territory on all sides.

The Rock is home to the famous tail-less Barbary apes and according to legend, as long as the apes inhabit the Rock, so will the Brits.

We were advised not to feed the apes and to watch our belongings as the apes loved to snatch tourist’s sunglasses, purses and anything that they could get their grubby big hands on. It was good to know that I wasn’t the only one who had a handbag hoarding issue!

If planning to stay overnight, be wise to bring British three-pronged electrical appliances, as your Spanish European two-pronged ones will be useless and will not work.

Exchange your Euros for British Sterling and Pounds.

Bring your passport with you, as it is required in order to cross the border into Gibraltar.

This British colony is a VAT and tax-free shopping mecca, indulgently catering to your inner shopaholic wants!

Last but not least and most importantly....don’t shuffle or leisurely saunter when crossing the airstrip!!

Not sipping tea in Casablanca

Algeciras is an industrial port town, linking southern Spain with Africa, via a 70 minute ferry crossing to Tangier, Morocco. One of the reasons that we had decided to spend a few days in this Moorish enclave was because of its proximity to Morocco, allowing us to experience a bit of Arab culture and tradition in a uniquely Spanish setting. The allure of a day trip to Tangier offered us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in Muslim culture and catch a glimpse of the exotic, mysterious, and often misunderstood, world of Arabian society.

 Having been plagued by torrential rain for the past couple of weeks, we were delighted when the sun peeked through a cloud and playfully teased us for two glorious sun-drenched days. What a treat it was to bask in the sunshine and soak up the long-awaited Mediterranean warmth. Casting sightseeing aside, we scrambled to set up camp at the hotel pool, our sun-starved Canadian flesh luxuriously melting in the sun’s golden ray embrace.  Confident that the sunshine would linger for at least another day, we scheduled a ferry crossing to Morocco for the following morning.  We couldn’t contain our excitement of finally being able to experience for ourselves the seductive allure of this Muslim corner of the world.  But alas (and yes, I’m going to get dramatic now), the fates had other plans for us, which didn’t include a magical carpet ride to Casablanca.

Rising early in order to catch the 8:00am ferry to Tangier, we awoke to the now all too familiar grey skies and drizzling rain. The sun had formally bid adieu and scurried to hide behind a rain cloud, giving full reign to the storm Gods to wreck havoc upon our impending ferry crossing. Our enchanting camel ride into the land of the Arabian nights was clearly not meant to be. After all, there was absolutely no way that I was going to embark on a ferry crossing through stormy waters, piercing cold and howling winds. Envisioning the worst, I had already pictured the tiny vessel desperately rollicking through the waves, eventually capsizing and flinging my pink sneakered self into the dark and frigid waters. Sipping tea in Casablanca would have to wait.

My mantra “the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain” had clearly not failed me and had faithfully followed me from Barcelona to Alicante and now to Algeciras.  Having squandered the first couple of days luxuriously basking in the sunshine, sightseeing was definitely on the agenda for the remainder of the day. I would be lying if I said that the city was breathtakingly beautiful, which it was not, it was a gritty and often-times ugly town, its appeal characterized by the hard-working migrant labourers who journeyed through this vibrant port.  A blend of local Spaniards, hijab attired Moroccans and backpacking tourists provided a melange of old and new world cultures that contributed to the uniqueness of Algeciras.

 Palm-tree lined Plaza Alta, the city’s main square, showcasing its colourful mosaic tiled benches, impressive fountain and magnificent street lamps was a surprising highlight, as was the tiny 18th century Church of Senora de la Palma.

There is only so much sightseeing one is able to do in the pouring rain and so we devoted the remainder of the day to darting in and out of the multitude of Moroccan tea shops, cafes, tapas bars and fabric shops that littered the laneways.

Had I known better, I would have thought that I had magically placed my pink sneakered foot in a bustling Moroccan market, as my senses were invaded by the tantalizing aroma of falafel, shawarma and mint tea. Shops displayed both Arabic and Spanish signs.  Moroccans attired in flowing jallabahs conversing in Spanish with the locals were not an unusual sight in this culturally diverse town.  Shopkeepers graciously welcomed us, openheartedly inviting us into their shops, urging us to linger and stay a while and seek refuge from the elements.

The warmth and hospitality of everyone that we encountered on that gloomy day more than made up for the dismal weather and perhaps it was meant to be that we discover a little bit of Morocco right here in Algeciras.

 A fitting way in which to spend our last evening in this Arabian inspired corner of the world, as we did not yet know what adventures lay ahead in our journey out of Algeciras.

It would have been awesome to have been able to see that camel, though...

To be continued....

Come enjoy the mystique of Morocco in Algeciras with me....

Midnight train to Algeciras

Standing in line at the railway station in Alicante, I wasn’t looking forward to having to spend the next 12 hours sequestered in a train. We were scheduled to depart at 8:00pm, arriving in Alcazar at 10:23pm, where we would have to change trains. The downside was that we had about a two and a half hour wait for the connecting train, which was leaving at 12:47am. The upside was that we had upgraded and had paid extra for a private compartment with couchettes, allowing us the luxury of stretching out and sleeping comfortably for the remainder of the journey. Time of arrival in Algeciras was 9:30am in the morning, allowing us to check into our hotel, un-pack and devote the rest of the day to sightseeing and exploring this southern tip of Spain.  Little did we know then what adventures awaited us on the “Estrella” night train.

Since both Alicante and Algeciras are situated along the Mediterranean coast, my travel companion and I were envisioning a leisurely rail journey, the beautiful sandy white beaches of Costa Blanca and Costa del Sol playfully beckoning us to stay and linger a little bit longer. Map of Spain spread out on the table, we meticulously plotted and planned every inch of our itinerary, from where to stay to how to get there. Drawing a florescent marker line along the edge of the sun-drenched Spanish coastline, we mapped out our prospective train ride.

 Map, tourist guide book and Eurail pass in hand, we had our European train travel covered or so we thought.  Little did we know that our idealistic vision was just that, a vision and the vision was about to de-rail. We also did not know that our selected train route was one that did not take us along the sandy beached coastline but through the dry and arid plains of Spain instead. There was no direct train from Alicante to Algeciras and so it seemed quite illogical to us that we had to kind of backtrack and travel west to Alcazar, change trains and continue south to Algeciras. So much for our picturesque coastal journey!

This voyage took place a couple of years ago, and I can’t quite remember why we had chosen to take the overnight train, perhaps it was a lot cheaper than taking the Express train, am not certain as to the logistics behind that fateful decision. The one thing that remains imprinted in my memory was the cold and the dampness. The incessant rain seemed to have followed me all the way from Barcelona and wasn’t leaving my side anytime soon.               

Stepping off the train in Alcazar, I was greeted by a pelting, torrential downpour. Why was it that my phrase of the day seemed to be “the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain”?  We had about two and a half hours in which to spend time in this seemingly abandoned train station and all that I was able to focus on was trying to keep warm and dry.  Layered in tights, jeans, skirt, sweater, jean jacket and my travel buddy’s extra large fleece jacket, I now resembled a walking fashion disaster, a far cry from a chic fashionista wannabe.  Unable to stave off the bitter cold and shake the numbing dampness that had now permeated my every living cell, I was beyond miserable and on the edge of tears.

This was supposed to be sunny warm Spain, not damp and rain-soaked London or any Canadian city in late October, for that matter.  Why had my travel books failed me, as they had promised plenty of sunshine, minimal rainfall and seasonably pleasant weather?

Not a soul was to be found in this stark, bleak and desolate railway station, as no one in their right mind would be hanging out in the middle of nowhere on a frigid night, shivering uncontrollably, desperately trying to seek shelter from the driving rain. Only two sun-starved Canadians (that would be my travel buddy and I!) were either stupid or crazy enough to be on the platform, guzzling wine from plastic water bottles, miserably bickering with one another over whose brilliant idea it was to take the night train to Algeciras.

Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, we boarded the railroad car, grateful that we would be able to change out of our rain soaked clothing and warm up in our private compartment.

Hauling our bags onto the train, we searched for our vestibule and were surprised when we were greeted by a young couple that had already set up camp in our room. The promised two bunks were actually four bunks and the not so private two bunk cabin was tiny and crammed full with backpacks, suitcases, sleeping bags and four strangers who were forced to share a confined space for the next eight hours. This was obviously not first-class accommodation or even anything resembling budget conscious lodging!

Loudly declaring “Lights Out” a few minutes after my travel buddy and I stepped foot into the compartment, our new cabin mates promptly shut off the light, leaving us astounded by their odd behaviour.   Searching for our flannel pyjamas and sleeping bags in the dark, we were shocked that our bunk mates weren’t even gracious enough to give us a couple of minutes to exchange names, unpack and settle in.  Crawling into our separate bunks, we were further disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to break bread with our neighbours and share wine and travel stories, as we’ve done countless times in the past on our previous train travels around the world.  

Yikes!! This was not going to be a pleasant journey after all. These people were most definitely not cool!

Shivering in our bunks, we tossed and turned, unable to catch some shut-eye. The creaking and groaning of the old-fashioned caboose lumbering along the tracks wasn’t nearly as grating and irritating as was the sawing noise emanating from our snoring bunk-mates.

Feeling claustrophobic, cramped and squished, we abandoned the notion of a restful slumber and spent the remainder of the journey standing in the aisle, looking out of the window, counting the stops to Algeciras, all 14 of them.

To be continued....

 Come discover the allure of the not so exotic Spanish Siberian midnight train with me... come travel with me....

The rain in Spain...

It’s a dark, gloomy, rain-soaked day and my mind couldn’t help but wander back to the very first time that I travelled to Spain a couple of years ago in October, where it rained and rained and rained. My pink-sneakered feet were drenched as I jumped from puddle to puddle, seeking refuge from the elements.   It seemed like the sun was hiding behind the rain clouds and wasn’t budging anytime soon.  Nothing was going to rain on my parade and stop me from enjoying my vacation, and I was determined to explore the sights of beautiful sunny Spain (at least that’s what the picturesque travel books had promised).

One always has to be prepared and pack for all types of weather and once again, I had failed Packing 101 and had brought all of the wrong attire! Where were my chic Wellingtons, my all weather rain coat and my hat? Flip flops, shorts, tank tops and bikini were all that I was able to find in my over-stuffed suitcases. This is almost the reverse situation of when I travelled to Paris in April, attired in cold weather gear, only to be greeted by an unprecedented Parisian heat wave!

Needing to keep warm and dry, I was forced to purchase rain boots, a warm coat and an umbrella. My long-awaited European holiday was not going to be spoiled by a little bit of rain, so sporting my newly purchased rain gear I was now well equipped to battle this unseasonable weather.

Running up and down the rain-soaked cobble-stoned narrow pathways of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, my pink rain boots darted from shop to shop, seeking refuge from the torrential downpour. My travel buddy didn’t seem fazed by the rain, large golf umbrella in hand, standing outside of the shops, puffing on cigarette after cigarette. I, on the other hand, looked and felt like a drenched rat. Unable to concentrate and appreciate the architectural beauty of the medieval cathedrals, my only focus was on keeping warm and dry.

A long-forgotten phrase...the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain, churned incessantly in my mind, over and over and over again. I seriously thought that we would have to start building that ark sometime soon.

Neither shopping nor touring the numerous museums or cathedrals would suffice today. The only thing that would be able to satiate me at this point was some home-made chicken noodle soup. We were only a few blocks away from our rental apartment, so we just needed to stop at the market, pick up some key ingredients and start cooking!

The closest store was El Cortes Ingles, Spain’s largest department store, selling everything from high end designer fashions to gourmet and supermarket foodstuffs in their basement level. The food hall boasted an impressive collection of spices, olive oils, Iberian hams, salmon, cheese, Belgian chocolates and wine... just a few of the tantalizing choices of delectable goodies on display.

Had I not been so utterly rain-soaked, miserable and wet, I would have been in shopping nirvana, content to have spent the rest of my vacation wandering from floor to floor, gleefully sampling the exquisite gourmet delicacies, ending up amongst the Carolina Herrera,  Armani and Gucci collections located in the upper echelons of this magnificent Spanish store.

Craving some comfort food, I decided that I’d also prepare a tomato and grill-cheese sandwich to complement my steaming hot bowl of home-made chicken noodle soup. Reaching for a bright shiny orange-red tomato that I had purchased at the market the previous day, I noticed that it seemed slightly squashed and more fragile looking than a tomato should be. Thinking that it was just a unique Spanish version of my favourite fruit, I sliced into the red glistening tomato and observed that the texture, seeds and consistency were somewhat mushier and jelly-like than the Canadian ones that I was accustomed to devouring. Hmmm. Perhaps the Mediterranean sun (or lack of) had somehow genetically altered these European specimens. Biting into a mushy slice, my taste buds were surprised to be greeted by an intensely syrupy sweet mango apricot flavour instead. It was only when I travelled back to Canada and boasted to my friends about having sampled a uniquely sweet Spanish tomato, that I was informed that I had been dining on not so unique persimmons instead. Ouch!

Maybe I will have better luck with the chicken noodle soup. Tearing open the bright yellow cardboard container, I started to pour the soup into the pot. Where were the noodles? Where were the chicken pieces? This was clearly chicken broth, not chicken noodle soup! Yikes! Had I misread the label? Grabbing the box, I inspected it a little more closely. The label showed a smiling chicken (the cluck, cluck kind) and the word “POLLO” (chicken in Spanish) was clearly labelled on the package. Yup, I had successfully purchased Spanish chicken broth!

Pink Sneaker Tip when shopping for food in a foreign land
Don’t look for eggs, milk and yogurt products in the refrigerated section of a store, which is where you would find them in North America.  On my recent travels to Spain, I knew to look for eggs in the non-refrigerated section, as that is where I had found them on my previous travels, but I forgot and spent at least a half hour desperately searching for milk and yogurt in the refrigerated section only to realize that they are displayed elsewhere.

Purchase fresh food every day from the local market, bakery or butcher shop. You are guaranteed fresh and delectable cuisine. Only buy what you need that day as that is what the locals do.

Wake up early and stand in line at the bakery.  There is nothing like the melt in your mouth taste of freshly baked bread.  Most definitely worth waking up with the roosters! I have wonderful memories of standing in line waiting for the patisserie to open, trying to converse with the locals. Just a smile, a nod of the head, a collective anticipation of savouring that delicious first bite of a freshly baked croissant.

Visit the local markets. Every city has a weekly outdoor/indoor market which is open to the public on different days of the week.  This is an integral part of the Spanish/European shopping experience where one is able to purchase in season fruits, vegetables, meats and produce.

At least I know where to purchase the vino tinto!!

Come seek refuge from the rain with me...enjoy chicken broth and persimmons with me...come travel with me....