Our first sighting of land after 9 days at sea on a transatlantic crossing from Fort Lauderdale on a Princess Cruise. We sail in - in the morning darkness - a sliver of a moon shining above. As dawn breaks, we catch a glimpse of the "Rock" - impressive but not as high as I had expected.
We dock at a very industrial port - a quick breakfast and we're ready to disembark....but.....oh goodness - back to the room for umbrellas - a bit of fog and light rain. Hope it doesn't last too long.
After a short walk to town (1/2 mile perhaps)...vendors approach us selling tours and taxi cabs are eagerly awaiting their passengers. We heard that there were shuttle buses but we didn't see them. It's early - 8:15 AM - the shops not yet open. We take a local bus (12 pence round trip) to the cable car. We're just about first in line.
Cable car tickets are $18/per person and admission to Michael;s Cave and the tunnels is $15/per person. They sell a combo ticket including the ride - cave - apes den and tunnels for $30/per person. Tour operators in minivans were offering 1 1/2 hour trips of the "Rock" for $37/per person.
A quick 6 minute ride to the top takes you to an area that overlooks Morocco and Spain - the views are usually incredible - not so today because of the clouds - but still spectacular with a rainbow appearing now and then. A small snack/gift shop as you exit the tram, selling mostly "monkeys"...of course.....there are also a few viewing terraces to offer you good Kodak Moments.
We walk along a downhill road toward St. Michael's Cave - probably 15 minutes, but we stop along the way to enjoy the monkeys' antics - eating veggies and wild flowers, the little ones never wandering far from Mom's side - playing and jumping while others are trying to get into the tourist vans and sometimes jumping on someone's shoulder or stealing wiper blades and playing with antennas - cute but somewhat pesty is you encourage it.
Arriving at St. Michael's Cave you can spend a few minutes in the gift shop - the toilets are clean and a 1 Euro fee is collected unless you've purchased a combo pass at the cable car entrance. This 700 foot cave is quite amazing - cool, damp and dark - as expected. The steps are many and dimly lit - the hand rails are appreciated. The spectacular highlight of this cave is the large area that has been converted into a concert hall....classical music is playing...the acoustics are great and the lighting subdued - would be wonderful to attend a concert here.
Then....on we go for another downhill walk of 10 - 15 minutes to the "Apes Den", Again watch for the frolicking monkeys and have a few laughs. this is near the mid-way station of the cable car - we had planned on riding down to town from here, but it's already considered summertine (May) and it no longer stops here. OK well....we'll continue on down rather than attempt the uphill walk......On we go.....Oh NO......the shortcut path down is closed (reason unknown - we see a car backing up...let's not take the chance - we've already walked much too far.
So we continue to follow the road toward the The Great Siege Tunnels .....another 15 minutes or so. Very interesting to see - the lookouts, gun enplacements - scenes have been set up depicting their various activities, rations and even a jail cell....but once you've eplored the caves, you must walk back up hill to exit the war tunnels. Thank goodness it's only a short walk downhill from here to the city center.
City center basically consists of two street and a plaza lined with shops, outdoor cafes and pubs. We spent a few minutes browsing the shops but quickly ducked into a pub for shelter from the rain and a "reward" for our exercise - a couple of beers and snacks.
In hindsight, we should have taken the minibus tour due to the weather and the mid station being closed (we did not know that until we got to mid-station) We enjoy exploring on our own rather than with 50 or our new "best friends" from the cruise ship. The four of us had fun - no one whined - we slipped and slid and even fell down the hill....we did get to see the tunnels - had not planned to because the walk was going to be too long. And now it's a memory and great story to retell. All in all, it was a rather enjoyable experience - my pedometer said that we walked 7 miles that day.