One of the major selling points for my house sit in Spain was finding out that the home was only a short bus ride away from Gibraltar. Aside from some vague associations with a massive rock, I knew absolutely nothing about this former British colony – now officially known as a British Overseas Territory – so I was instantly curious.
Besides flying directly into the territory’s tiny airport, the only way to reach Gibraltar is from a Spanish town in Cádiz Province called La Linea de la Concepción. Brent and I did have to flash our passports, but otherwise entering Gibraltar was more akin to crossing a large police road block than crossing the border into a new country (although I suppose it’s not technically a country).
So what exactly can you expect from this mysterious patch of Britain perched on the edge of Spain?It’s Kind of Beautiful
While I’m pretty sure most North Americans couldn’t point out Gibraltar on a map, in Britain, I get the impression that Gibraltar has some not-so-flattering associations with older cruise ship day-trippers. As a common port of call for Mediterranean cruises, this reputation isn’t completely unfounded. Gibraltar’s main street was packed with the visor-and-fanny-pack-wearing crowd, but when we branched off into the quieter side streets, we started to see that this town has some serious charm.
The smaller alleys are lined with centuries-old buildings, many of which mix Mediterranean, Moorish, and British architecture, reflecting the many cultures that have impacted Gibraltar at various points throughout its history.
Then there’s the famous rock itself. Approaching La Linea by bus, you can see this massive limestone ridge towering 1,398 feet upwards and redefining the meaning of epic. It’s possible to take a cable car to the top, but far more rewarding to make the steep hike. The walk is best done early in the morning, not only to take advantage of cooler hiking temperatures, but because you can watch the sun come up over Morocco, Spain, and Gibraltar at the same time – and it’s insanely magical.
The upper portion of the rock is actually a nature reserve, best known for its Barbary macaque monkeys which are the only population of wild monkeys found in Europe. The monkeys are pretty accustomed to humans, so you’re almost guaranteed to catch a glimpse of a few at some point. Although it goes without saying that they’re wild animals, so feeding, touching, or generally treating them like pets is best avoided.It’s Really British
Initially, I couldn’t help but think that Gibraltar looked like a cartoon version of Britain with its red phone booths, police officers wearing old-fashioned helmets, and traditional fish-and-chips shops. Perhaps in part because of ongoing land disputes with Spain, Gibraltar seems hell-bent on distinguishing itself as British.
The streets are packed with British chains like Morrisons and Marks & Spencer, Union Jack flags fly everywhere, the walls are fitted with three-pronged electrical plugs, and the currency is pound sterling.
Interestingly, although Gibraltar looks like an exaggerated version of Britain on the surface, locals are fiercely proud of their heritage, separate from both Britain and Spain. English is the official language, but most residents are also fluent in Spanish, or speak a local dialect that blends the two languages. Gibraltar has its own flag, postage stamps, and media outlets, as well as a number of distinct local dishes that blend British and Mediterranean cuisine.It Might Be an Amazing Place to Live
A few of the homeowners’ family members live in Gibraltar, giving me a chance to ask exactly what life is like on the Rock.
They described Gibraltar as a tight-knit, self-sufficient community. In an effort to strong-arm Gibraltar into joining Spain, the Spanish border with Gibraltar was closed for almost 20 years beginning in the 1960s. As a result, this small community of 30,000 residents is used to fending for themselves and taking care of one another. The territory has extremely low rates of crime, most sports leagues and clubs are free to join, and students receive free tuition to any university in the UK, along with allowances for flights home each term.
Only 4 square miles in size, it’s possible to walk pretty much anywhere in Gibraltar. Combine that with more 300 days of sunshine every year, and a location less than 30 minutes away from Africa and a stroll away from the rest of Europe, and I sort of want to move to Gibraltar.
The Christmas lights are sparkling, the temperature has dropped and London town is starting feel oh so very festive.
While there are tons of “official” Christmas activities to partake in over the next few weeks, you’ll find that many (like the plethora of ice rinks that have popped up in all corners of the capital) don’t really fit with a Cheapo’s budget.
So here are some fool proof ways to embrace the festive spirit without frittering away your Christmas present budget!1. The London pub
A favorite retreat at all times of year, London’s traditional pubs come into their own at Christmas time. Serving up warming mugs of mulled wine and cider while offering some cozy relief from the bitter cold, make the pub your first port of call. Of particular note are the Water Poet in Shoreditch, which gets into the Christmas spirit with seasonal ales and food, while our round up of favorite London pubs is also a good place to start.2. Carolers are caroling
Belting out some carols to your heart’s content is a fun way to feel festive and there’s no better place to do it than round Trafalgar Square’s enormous Christmas Tree (an annual gift from Oslo to London). Four hours of carol singing takes place daily between 8 and 23 December from 4-8 pm on weekdays and 2-6 pm on weekends. It’s free to attend but charity donations are encouraged.
Whether you have children or not, a trip to Hamleys is a sure-fire way to get into the Christmas spirit. This wonderful toy store, the oldest in the world, buzzes with life and excitement every day of the week but never more so than at Christmas. It has been a Regent Street institution since 1881 but actually started life even earlier, back in 1760. Containing 50,000 toys across seven floors, after a mulled wine in the pub it’s another great pit stop to get some welcome respite from the cold.4. Light up London
Another free and festive activity is to take in London’s best illuminations and decorations, which you’ll find all over the city. Oxford Street and Regent Street have the biggest light displays, but nearby Carnaby and South Molten Streets, as well as St Christopher’s Place, always boast some truly magical creations. The Christmas tree and decorations in Covent Garden piazza are another must-see, while you can enjoy the fantastic window displays at classy shops like Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges without having to fork out any cash at all.5. Welcome to Winterville
Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland has been running for years and while it is a family favorite, it’s also known for overcrowding and hefty price tags. But this year sees the launch of its edgier, trendier little sister, Winterville. Open in Hackney’s Victoria Park until 1 January (closed on 25 and 26 December), this dream-like “town” comes complete with fairground, roller disco, Spielgeltent, street food stalls, a hot cider bar and a bustling marketplace. Plus, there’s a full program of pantomime, comedy and free club nights and gigs so you can carry that festive feeling well into the wee hours.
Taking a few days away from the everyday bustle is so worthwhile. That’s certainly how I felt after my getaway to lovely Port Washington, Wisconsin. With the turning of the seasons, I wanted to get out and explore somewhere new. A friend of mine suggested Port Washington, which is just 30 minutes north of Milwaukee. She’s been going there with her family for years. When I heard about the historic downtown, the lighthouse, and the beautiful scenery on Lake Michigan, I was hooked. From my first glimpse of the city, I was awestruck by how picturesque Port Washington is. It reminded me of a charming New England fishing village, yet there I was on the shores of Lake Michigan!Getaway to Lovely Port Washington Wisconsin
My first order of business was to check into the Port Hotel. This elegant bed and breakfast is in the perfect location for exploring the city. It features 10 unique and beautiful rooms, many with gorgeous views of the harbor. I can’t say enough about these wonderful accommodations. Between the fireplace and the whirlpool tub, I had everything I needed for a relaxing stay. The room service breakfast was superb. I can personally recommend the eggs benedict prime rib and the kailua pecan waffles, but I’m certain that anything they serve is delicious. After a big breakfast, it was time to get out for some exercise. Fortunately, the weather was amazing. I asked at the front desk about renting a bicycle, and was pointed in the direction of a local shop. After finding a rental bike for my size, I was off to explore the Ozaukee Interurban Trail. Riding along the 30 miles of the trail just might be the best way to get acquainted with Port Washington and neighboring communities. It’s fully paved, and offers some great opportunities for seeing birds and wildlife.
After a nice long ride, I was ready to explore on foot. I headed into Port Washington’s historic downtown. The shopping here is quaint and incredible. I love that all of the stores are housed in 19th century buildings. It really is a charming area for finding unique, one-of-a-kind shops. I included the harbor area in my explorations, and enjoyed seeing schools of fish, ducks, seagulls, and a few fish jumping. I stopped for a wonderful lunch at the Dockside Deli.
I was completely intrigued by this beautiful town, so I decided to spend some time looking into its history. A guided tour of the Judge Eghart House demonstrated how people lived in Port Washington during the Victorian era. I also wandered to the nearby town of Saukville to visit the fascinating Ozaukee County Pioneer Village. The village features 24 historic buildings from the area. With plenty of costumed re-enactors on hand, visiting here was a lot like stepping back in time. Whether I was cycling on the trails or walking the boardwalk, I encountered many friendly faces. Port Washington is very welcoming of visitors, and the people all have wonderful recommendations for things to do and places to go. I’m already planning a return trip so I can be there for one of the community festivals.