I was there last summer.
To enter, we walked over the border where our passports received a cursory inspection from the British agents. Then we crossed the runway of the airport which cuts perpendicular across the rock. We were told we could cross at any time, just to watch out for landing passenger jets.
And then we were in, immediately confronted by guy with a barely controlled pit bull that was savaging a plastic road bollard, much to his amusement. Ah, a taste of England.
We were thirsty. We found the least objectionable bar beside the dock where the casino-hotel boat is permanently moored and navigated our way through the crowds of touts offering boat tours to see the dolphins. (The strait is a migratory route.)
And we sat and drank cheap beer and stared at a menu that without irony offered beans on toast and listened to the English news and the English football chatter and the quips of the English barman with his dour, self-deprecating humour and we could have closed our eyes and been on the Thames.
There are other pubs around the rock. They are cut-and-paste copies of the sort of beer stained, urine scented, dilapidated, lackadaisically tended drinking holes you'll find in the East of London except unencumbered by the attentive, enthusiastic staff that operate London pubs thanks to a healthy immigrant community. They serve beer, and chips, and scotch eggs.
The old town is a bit like a seaside village, except filled with jewellery shops, electronics goods stores and off-licenses. It's a huge shopping mecca, thanks to the tax breaks. We walked the town for a couple of hours and had seen it all by then.
I had to be there for an appointment later in the week so we decided to tour. You can tour best in the tiny buses that leave from one central point and take around twenty minutes to reach anywhere on the island.
There's one reasonable beach in the north, which serves a hotel. The water is greasy and laps at the shore with apathy. The view is of the shipping lanes. We got into a conversation with a couple who were planning to move there. He was in IT, she was a nurse. They cited the financial incentives, the weather, the smart money that had established financial trading businesses there. He pointed out that huge international gambling businesses operated out of Gibraltar. He was German, she was English. They seemed like a nice couple.
We like walking. We tried walking along the coast from the beach, despite various military notices warning us not to. After five minutes we found we'd reached the impassable tunnel that allows traffic through the north of the rock. There's no way for pedestrians to pass. We turned back.
We thought we should have high tea. We made our way to the colonial hotel, all painted white, perched overlooking the industrial docks. The interior was sumptuous, subdued, staffed by impeccably dressed elder waiters who treated us with the reverence one expects of an establishment found in 1930's india or any fading colonial outpost upheld by a misty-eyed reverence for the past. We had our high tea. Scones, tiny sandwiches, tea in a silver pot. We rounded it off with gin and tonics.
Then the rock. I'm sure you know the history and the military significance and so on. Perhaps you're aware of the modern business models that house financial trading hardware in parts of it. Archeologically it was the last stronghold of the Neanderthal. That's all interesting reading. We took the funicular to the top, in order to make the "breathtaking" descent down the "historically significant" walking paths and we came to know litter, drifting in the wind, catching in the branches of this purported UNESCO world heritage centre. We came to know the plastic bottles tossed beside the path, the piss-reeking military ruins, the unevocative suchness of the place.
And the apes. The poor apes, blinking at the tourists being shuttled up the narrow, switchback roads in taxis which didn't park but just sat, engines burbling, coughing out leaden fumes, as their passengers rolled out and took selfies, and offered the apes the lumps of food under the dozens of signs asking them not to. They're smart, apes. We watched a feckless couple park beside the road, open their trunk to take out a bit of picnic and offer it to the cute ape making eyes at them as several other, powerful members of the troupe concealed in the trees edged closer, sizing up the situation, stalking the open car.
Three days of this, as I waited for my meeting.
In the end, all done, we walked out, alongside the Spanish workers who commute in by foot every day to run the jewellery shops and staff the hotels, alongside the cars of tourists bringing back as much cheap alcohol as they can pack into the trunks of their cars, waved through by the Spanish border control who took more care examining our passports.
It was as if it had never happened. A strange dream of a capsule of the past. It's worth your visiting if only for someone to tell me I misapprehended the place.