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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a black belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©Can Sönmez

14 February 2016

Gibraltar & Estepona, February 2016

I'd been interested in heading to Gibraltar since watching a documentary a couple of years ago, as it has an unusual history. It's also intriguing from a cultural point of view, given its mixture of British and Spanish influences. From Bristol there are now direct easyjet flights, making it a convenient destination for winter sun (although it's also very windy, so you'll want to be able to switch from t-shirt and shorts to something warmer). The airport is at the top of Gibraltar, right by the border with Spain. You have to walk back across the runway to get into town, as that runway spreads right across the width of the peninsula. You therefore will have to wait occasionally when a plane is coming in, but it isn't that busy an airport.

Gibraltar is not a big place, with a fairly comprehensive bus system (but be careful, as they don't leave from all stops, even when it has the relevant number. We ended up sitting by one for around 40 minutes before we realise!). There is a good map from the tourist office which shows you all the routes. The signs are all in English and everyone speaks it fluently, but you'll mostly hear Spanish spoken as you wander around.

The big attraction in Gibraltar is the Rock, which dominates the skyline. It's a long walk, with the option of the vertiginous Mediterranean Steps (not recommended for fellow vertigo sufferers), or the less scenic but entirely non-scary road up the other side with the cars. Walkers only pay 50p to enter, it's rather more if you take the lazy option and drive up. Barbary macaques are a constant all over the Rock, who enjoy grabbing anything you might have that's loose, as well as nibbling at your clothes.

The Rock is honeycombed with a variety of natural caves and rather less natural tunnels. In the former group, St Michaels Cave is a gorgeous cathedral of nature, filled with incredible rock formations. It can get a little swamped by tour groups from cruise ships, but they aren't normally interested in staying long enough to look at anything in depth, so it's just a matter of waiting them out. There are some tacky lights that spoil the effect, but that's only in the entrance. The nearby cafe has WiFi, but watch out for apes. They stealthily creep into the cafe looking to grab food or anything else you don't have a tight grip on.

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In the latter group, the old siege tunnels are a massive 30+ miles, in which people could (and did) build entire communities. Not all of that is available to walk, of course, but a good chunk of it is. Construction started in 1782 during the Great Siege by Spanish and French forces trying to reclaim Gibraltar from the British, something the Spanish have never stopped trying since signing the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, which ceded Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity. I originally wrote this in halcyon pre-Brexit days: the future is much darker for Gibraltar since people made the idiotic decision to leave the EU (in Gibraltar itself, they were strongly in favour of the sensible option to Remain, as you'd expect given the consequences).

Work on the siege tunnels continued from the 18th century intermittently right up until April 1968, having been extensively developed during World War II. Interestingly, 18th Century methods had greater longevity, as they followed natural fault lines. In WWII, they drilled and blasted their way through, a less durable approach. The tunnels are well worth a visit, including lots and lots of detailed info boards too, in English and Spanish. There are also small exhibitions on both the Great Siege and World War II along the way.

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If you've haven't already had your fill of apes during your climb up the Rock, there is a specific 'Apes Den' further up. That will guarantee you see some, but I'd be surprised if you were able to avoid them. I saw plenty of them throughout my time in Gibraltar, with a number of them getting up close and personal. Bright clothing seems to attract them: one baby macaque was keen to try and chew on my hoody. They would no doubt have happily pulled it off and carried it away with them if I hadn't been wearing it, do take care of your stuff. ;)

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The Moorish castle on the Rock is fairly well preserved, it didn't take long to get round. You'll also pass by more modern installations, as Gibraltar remains a major British military base. Back down in the town, there is a decent museum, which is ok for the low price. You'll get an old DVD film with dated effects but good info, a variety of local paintings, models and geological info. There's also some prehistoric exhibits, with a laudable attempt to make the room look like a cave, plus details on the area's wildlife. A carefully preserved Moorish bathhouse is in the building too. That Moorish influence can still be felt today, with an impressive mosque down towards the coast facing Morocco itself.

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After Gibraltar, the holiday finished up with a package deal at a hotel in Estepona, not too far away over the border in Spain. Not only do the staff at the hotel have cool tattoos, they speak a ton of languages too. It had been so long since I'd been to a swish hotel (there was a good February offer for the H10 hotel, hence why Iw ent for it) that I'd forgotten they often do activities. At H10 they're actually pretty good activities, with Spanish lessons, salsa and both sangria and wine tasting. I later tried the morning yoga sessions too.

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Those activities led to the best night of sleep I had all holiday, thanks to two hours of dance class at the hotel. Well, not so much a class as "desperately try and follow a maelstrom of hips, feet, hands and shoulders." Either way, it was fun though: the teacher kept playing reggaeton, which I think is the first time I'd heard the genre. Definitely first time I've danced to it!

Fortunately for your eyes, I don't have any video, so instead I'll finish up this post with some of the awesome street art in Estepona . The fantastic large-scale trompe L'oil I put on Instagram is my favourite, but there's a whole street art tour you can do around the town. It is mostly modern, filled with holiday homes, but the older centre has some attractive buildings and kooky shops. I'm hoping to eventually spend winters in Spain to escape the British cold over December through to March, so I'm on the lookout for good options. It's a very long term plan, of course, but I think could be viable in a decade or so, hopefully. :)

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