“English Only” – My Pueblo Ingles Adventure

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A typical trail near La Alberca

Last November I read a story in an airline magazine about an English language immersion program held at a resort in Spain. The program, “Pueblo Ingles,” takes place near La Alberca and is offered by Diverbo. The story stated that knowing Spanish wasn’t required for native English-speaking volunteers and that students from Spain were highly motivated to learn. Since I am presently living in Spain, I applied and was pleasantly surprised when I was offered the opportunity to participate in Pueblo Ingles number 1044. Recently, I met my colleagues and attended my first Pueblo Ingles! This post is about my adventure there.

Twenty-two adult students arrived for Pueblo Ingles from all over Spain. Motivated by a desire to learn, they were driven with an intense passion to improve their listening, comprehension, and expression in English. The improvement results that I observed were nothing less than amazing.

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Colin, in his 91st Pueblo Ingles, engages “Quique” in a One to One discussion about “tie up loose ends”

The eight-day Pueblo Ingles required perseverance by the students. It was similar to a “boot camp” facilitated by Diverbo’s superb, energetic on-site staff of two… Sabela and Jez. Every waking hour (often 15 or more) was orchestrated by the Diverbo team. Time was allotted to one to one sessions (between a student and an “Anglo” volunteer), specific subject group discussions, individual presentations, practicing teleconferences, mealtime conversation, theater skits, and evening social activities.

The Pueblo Ingles rule is that everyone is to speak only English during their entire stay. It was almost surreal that the moment that we stepped onto the bus in Madrid for the four hour trip to La Alberca, and until we returned at the end of the program, everyone’s utterances were only in English. Pueblo Ingles quickly became a multicultural experience for both students and volunteers. Not only did the students expanded their English skills at Pueblo Ingles but everyone also learned more about themselves and each other.

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Resort Mountain Villas were shared by a student and an Anglo

The twenty-three English-speaking volunteers came from all over the world. Joining me were native English speakers from several USA states, England, Ireland, Canada, Wales, and Malaysia.

“Anglo” volunteers paid for personal round-trip travel expenses to Madrid from / to “home.” In addition to their travel expenses, students (and sometimes their employers) also paid the Pueblo Ingles program fee.

The resort area is very attractive with snow-capped mountains and forests nearby. Walking trails with moss-lined stone walls retain their charm from centuries past. It was easy to envision medieval days with peasants tending to their animals and crops.

Superior Spanish-themed meals were provided at traditional eating times in Spain: 9:00 am, 2:00 pm and 9:00 pm. Pueblo Ingles lodging was in the resort’s rustic villas and almost all activities were held in the lodge and dining facility near them.

“Suckling pig” and baked potatoes were lunch in La Alberca

From the very beginning students and Anglos met as complete strangers and magic began. Both people listened to each other and communicated in English. The Anglos had the responsibility to ensure that he or she was understood and that the student’s words were correct in both context and pronunciation. It only took minutes and everyone moved beyond talking about their families, jobs and why they were at Pueblo Ingles. People soon were talking about everything… important and irrelevant, global and unique, dreams and fears, etc… Learning began to take place in the interactions between people who a few moments prior to meeting were complete strangers; and learning transcended English into learning about the value we have for each other. This value became visibly apparent with sad “good byes” at the close of our Pueblo Ingles experience.

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Phil and Fabiola in a One to One session

One to one, 50 minute interactions were at the heart of Pueblo Ingles and every Anglo volunteer was able to interact with each student so the students heard the diversity of the ways English is spoken. The one to one discussions began from a specific phrase or words.  The Anglo explained the meaning of phrases such as “wear out,” “wear down,” or “burn the candle at both ends” which have meaning other than the specific words when translated. Soon students began to “think in English” and comprehend rather than translate words and phrases literally. Phrases like “hold your horses” and “paint the town,” which otherwise would have a confusing translation, became meaningful. It was visible when the phrases were understood by the students.

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As the prince and two ugly sisters, actors David, Andres, and Tony reenact an abused scene from Cinderella (photo by Dee Wolk)

Phrases such as “break a leg” took on meaning for skits and theater performances by the students and Anglos. Enjoyed by everyone, they provided an entertaining way along with group problem solving activities to learn while acting, playing, and thinking in English. Student presentations will always be remembered each time someone hears something about “Drone Deliveries,” “MOOS” and many more. Each student prepared a presentation for an audience and honed it during several of their one to one sessions. Several Anglos also made presentations including topics such as: “London,” “Mindfulness” and BINGO.

Many students desired to learn how to better equip themselves to participate in teleconferences. I will never forget Azucena, one of the students, in the one in which I participated as a venture capitalist. I was stunned when she proposed (in crystal clear English) to obtain funding to “expand” her fictitious business for “hermetically sealed containers for use in submarines!”

At the end of each day everyone was exhausted from the learning experiences. The participation in the one to ones, discussions, presentations, skits, and conferences was more intense than I thought it would be, especially for the students. I don’t know where the students’ energy came from but the passionate desire to learn and develop was there everyday.

Following the 9:00 pm meal there were always social experiences. We participated in a Spanish tradition from the Galician region and drank the fire burnt “queimada” with the blue flame. Each group of people (the Spaniard students are pictured) sang a song (or two) chosen to represent their country of origin. Other than the Spaniards, we Americans were surprisingly the next largest group. We did a very good job singing a mashup of “American Pie” and “Yankee Doodle.”

One morning we walked together to the medieval town La Alberca to view the architecture, and enjoy Iberian ham (that is made only from black Iberian pigs), cheese, and wine at the Bodega. Symbols of the Knights Templar and the Spanish Inquisition appear on two buildings. This Spanish community is very different from others I have visited in Spain in its architecture as seen in the photos from that visit.

Wine, Cheese and Iberian Ham in the Bodega at La Alberca

In my blog entries, I often describe the beauty of the communities I have visited. However, for this post the real beauty is in the student perseverance and their accomplishments. My limited writing about the town of La Alberca is intentional to focus attention to what had been accomplished by the student participants.

Overall, Pueblo Ingles is a very challenging program for everyone but especially for the students who persevere without “free time” to do anything other than focus on their English listening, comprehension, and expression objectives. I certainly admire the students for their dedication, patience, and hard work toward achieving their English language goals.

Everyone will long remember our Pueblo Ingles, the work done there together, the joy and happiness, the sentiments, and the friendship bonds which the participants developed with each other.

Although I write my blog for myself, I also recognize that a growing number of people from all over the world are now following it. If you would like to receive my blogs in your email as I post them, please enter your address where indicated on the right side of this page. If you have a reply about my blog, please use the link at the top of this story to let me know.

My Cordoba

In the 1970’s actor Ricardo Montalban was not only famous for staring in the TV series “Fantasy Island” but also as Chrysler’s celebrity spokesperson for marketing the Cordoba automobile. Who can ever forget his rich voice saying “soft Corinthian leather” when describing the car’s interior? Cordoba was “my car” although I never owned one. I did have high expectations for my explorations of Cordoba, Spain, linked by name although it is uncertain if Chrysler intended it to be so. Huge by today’s standards, in the ’70’s the Cordoba automobile was actually a “junior size” Chrysler! My excursion, however, was not a junior size at all; it was huge as I experienced another aspect of the culturally rich country of Spain.

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Interior of the Grand Mosque

Through the ages Cordoba has been everything from a small Roman outpost to the seat of power during the periods of Muslim occupation. Evidence has been found of humans in the area between 42,000 and 35,000 BC! An interesting fact is that Cordoba is believed to have been the most populous city in the world in the 10th century! Today, Cordoba is a small modern metropolis of about 300,000 and is protective of its Roman, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian heritage. That heritage loudly screams throughout the city, particularly in the area surrounding its famous UNESCO World Heritage Site mezquita (mosque) landmark as well as the Roman Bridge dating from the first century!

The city has witnessed numerous changes through the centuries which were driven by religious-based conflicts involving Christians and Muslims. In 1236 King Ferdinand III secured the city during the Spanish Reconquista. Since then numerous mosques were converted to churches including the huge one where the sanctuary was created in the middle of the existing mosque. The Christian era also brought about a dark period of the Spanish Inquisition with Cordoba at the epicenter. During this period non-Christians were treated as second class citizens with Jews and Muslims often forced to renounce their faith, leave, or die.

Peaceful Park in Cordoba

Walking through the narrow ancient streets one can celebrate the heritage where today Christians, Jews and Muslims live together in peace among the past Roman remnants of a beautiful city.

There are numerous parks throughout Cordoba like the one pictured that are quiet where you can pause, reflect and enjoy the simple sounds of water bubbling in the fountain. As in the pictured park, ancient pillars stand reminiscent of Roman times. Other parks are significantly larger and city planners appear to have gone to great lengths to incorporate them among the very wide avenues surrounding the ancient city walls.

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Roman Bridge

Most of my time during my exploration of Cordoba was inside the old city walls and remnants of them. Outdoor cafes are plentiful on the cobblestone streets among ancient buildings created mostly in the last 500 years. I was in awe walking across the preserved Roman Bridge and the cathedral where the bell tower stands among the orange trees and was constructed surrounding the original minaret.

I found the food and drink to be different from other places I have visited in Spain. There was often a blend of creations that reflected the cultures that I mentioned previously. I didn’t care for the local wine and found the famous cold, thick, tomato-based salmocejo soup to not be to my taste either. Regardless, there are plenty of different foods and drinks that more than provided very enjoyable sustenance!

Cathedral Bell Tower

Just like the Cordoba automobile of my youth, the city of Cordoba in Spain holds a special charm… one which is much longer lasting.

Cordoba is a beautiful modern city surrounding an old city with an outstanding Roman, Christian, Jewish and Muslim heritage. It is easy to see why this ancient place is preserved as a World Heritage Site for us and future generations to enjoy.

Reflections as I Near the End of My Stay in Mijas, Spain

In the waning days here in the pueblo it dawned on me that I think of this as my town. I know the town doctor and the people at the Bella Vista know what I like to eat for breakfast. Alfredo, the butcher at the market knows me and shakes my hand as we meet on the street and asks me how I am. Brenda and Steve at The English Tea Room are always friendly and enjoyable to talk with. Of course, Joanne, David and Martin who rent the place I am staying, are very helpful. I even have a taxi driver and butane delivery contact in my phone!

Today I realized that I was very comfortable in the pueblo. I have answered tourist questions like I knew what I was talking about! But most IMG_0009important to me was that I have become fascinated by the tourists just as the local people are fascinated by them. I sat for a while in Constitution Plaza and watched them. As a cruise ship tour group from Japan was in town today I realized they were enjoying the very same things that have drawn me to Mijas… the beauty of the town on the mountain, the white exteriors of the buildings, the cobble stone streets, the horse-drawn carriages, the donkey taxis, the husband and wife making and selling churros, three for a Euro, at the Plaza near the bull ring and park with its old fountains

As the sun shown on the buildings, I reflected on the initial time I saw the pueblo and how lovely it is. The numerous orange trees still have oranges on them and the air wafts with the aroma of street vendors roasting nuts. Today I had my traditional pitufa con tomate breakfast as I gazed at the valley, the massiveIMG_2787 Mediterranean Sea, Fuengirola, and the beach below.

On my return to my apartment I stopped for bread just out of the oven. Like a local, I knew when it was ready and had my plastic bag ready to carry my items away, just like the local people do. In the final few days here in Mijas Pueblo I feel like I have become a local resident.

As I move to Krems, Austria in a couple of weeks I am certain to further reflect on my adventure in Mijas Pueblo on the Costa del Sol, the warm beach,, the mountains in Morocco that can be seen on a clear day, the beautiful sunsets, no snow, and many other things. It has been a wonderful place to stay.

Day Trip to Malaga

Malaga is the nearest community to Mijas Pueblo with a substantial population on the Costa del Sol in Andalusia, Spain. It is the capital of the Provence of Malaga. The city is one of the oldest in the world with a recorded history that dates into the 700’s BC. Phoenicians, Romans, and the Moors were all in Malaga at one time or another.

Malaga is a port for several cruise lines and many of the people on those cruises take day trips to Mijas Pueblo where I have been residing since October. The climate in Malaga is mild.

My day trip began with a bus ride down the mountain I live on to get to the train station in Fuengirola. Forty five minutes later I arrived in the heart of the small city of half million inhabitants.

Walking the streets of Malaga there is no doubt you are in a European city. The architecture is beautiful and the avenues are graced with old as well as newer sculptures and fountains. There are outdoor cafés everywhere and it seemed to me that if there was room for a small table, that was sufficient reason to have a place to drink some of the best coffee in the world or to stop for ice cream or chocolate.

Malaga is the birthplace of Picasso. I must admit that I find the curiosity surrounding him much more interesting than his art. That is just my taste. But Picasso is found everywhere including one of the Picasso museums that are in the area.

Some recommend that Malaga should be a destination for those wishing to avoid snow and winter. Although it is a nice city, my preference is to claim my spot on the side of the mountain overlooking  the Mediterranean Sea and the distant Atlas Mountains in Morocco.

Next week I plan to visit Mallorca, a Spanish island in the Mediterranean. I hope you will stop by my blog for one of my final entries before I move on to Austria on April 1.

For those who have asked, my hernia surgery took place three weeks ago and I am healing fine. It has taken a bit longer than I had anticipated but all is going well.

Mallorca – Winter Next Year?

As I approach the end of February I have been sorting what things I should take to the U.S. on my upcoming trip. I leave for the U.S. this Thursday and will be returning to Spain March 8/9. Before heading off to Krems, Austria for my two month holiday, I have decided to make a quick three-day trip to Playa de Palma on the Spanish island of Mallorca. (The above Mallorca picture is provided copyright of HM Hotels).

Mallorca is one of the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Pictured on the map, it is the large Spain-physical-mapisland on the right side. Why there you ask? Well, in Mijas I am only an hour and a half away and got a flight / hotel deal that is great. I have been watching the Winter weather there and it has been better than Mijas and I am thinking it might be a place to go to! So, I have it booked for March 10 – 12.

Following my trip there, I will write about it in the blog and let you know what I think about it as a possible destination. Meanwhile, I am determined to soon write about my day trip to Malaga. Malaga is Picasso’s birthplace.

My Day Trip Adventure to Ronda, Espana

A day trip to beautiful Ronda is a “must do” when in southern Spain!

While in southern Spain I have ventured to several nearby places. Previously I have mentioned my day trip to Gibraltar and in this post I am going to write about my journey to Ronda.

Ronda is only a short bus or train ride away and I went by bus on a small group tour. The town is high in the mountains and there are plenty of twists and turns to get there. Like so much of Spain, there is a great deal of history and different cultural communities associated with Ronda. It dates toWells prehistoric times and has seen settlement by the Celts, Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, Arabs, and Spanish. Today’s architecture reflects the influence of Arabs and Spanish.

Earnest Hemingway and Orson Wells lived portions of their lives in Ronda and Wells is buried there. Although these individuals are well known for their literary and theatrical contributions, the town of 35,000 and the country have been heavily influenced by bull fighting and is reported to be the home of the sport. Outside Ronda’s Plaza de Toros is a statue honoring the most famous matador, Pedro Romero Martinez, who allegedly fought 5558 bulls without IMG_0802being seriously injured!  Across Spain are 30 foot high monuments to bulls and the sport as seen in the photo.

Of the most famous of landmarks in Ronda, though, is the Puente Nuevo or the “New Bridge.” The name is misleading as the New Bridge construction began in 1751 and was completed in 1793. This massive structure is about 390 feet above the canyon floor and connects the two parts of Ronda. In the photo, can you see the people standing on top? The bridge not only connects the town but also was a part of the IMG_0882judicial system in Ronda where once found guilty of a capital offense, the guilty party was quickly tossed over the edge to his death.

Ronda is a beautiful town but does have a large number of tourists in it. I love Ronda, the sites and the food. There are places to eat everywhere and serve a variety of dishes from all over the world.

Update from Mijas Pueblo, Spain

Here’s an update on my adventure following retirement. Read about what’s happening and my plans for my next stop.

IMG_2787It has been several weeks since I blogged about my odyssey to obtain my residence card from Spain. Hopefully, when I go to the local police station to retrieve it on 16 February, everything will be found to be in order and I can be granted residency.

A lot has transpired since my last update! Recently I was out for a walk and on a whim just decided to begin hiking up the 1600 meter mountain I live on (see the photo). You may recall from a previous posting that I did this once before in October and got thoroughly soaked. This time I took a different trail and went a good deal higher up the mountain than I had previously. Probably I made it half way up. You can see a picture of the white pueblo in the photo from Fuengriola, Spain. As you can see in the other photo, the views from the side of the mountain where I went to are terrific! Mijas is the white area in the lower left corner and the Mediterranean Sea is in the middle left.

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I could have gone much higher on the trail but decided to not for three reasons. Since I was really out for a stroll, I didn’t have proper shoes as the trail became more challenging. I also hadn’t brought along water (not a good idea on a hike) and I didn’t bring any protection if it rained. The getting wet part really was the clincher as the clouds became threatening and were enveloping the top of the mountain. I went back down the mountain to Mijas and it promptly began to rain. I had made a good decision to return when I did!

Other things have been happening also. One day in December I lifted a canister of butane incorrectly and developed a hernia. My tests are complete and my worldwide medical coverage is in place so I am to have surgery on Thursday to fix it. The surgeon, anesthesiologist, and staff are all women and so far the process has been very efficient. I admit though that I am more involved with the insurance company than I would be in the U.S.

Finally, my stay in Mijas will end on 31 March. I have made my next plan to move from Mijas on 1 April. My next stop then will be in Krems, Austria where I will stay for two months. I will post more about Krems in the future. It is a lovely town of about 25,000 inhabitants and is located on the Danube River about an hour by train from Vienna.Here are a couple photos.

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That’s all for now from my adventure after retirement! I don’t think about work at all!

The Odyssey

In high school many read Homer’s Illiad and the Odyssey. Although I don’t recall much about these epic poems, they have provided me inspiration for this blog entry. This entry is different from the others that I have documented in my adventure following retirement and you may not even find it interesting (assuming you did with the previous ones). OdysseyRegardless, I have been on an odyssey to obtain permission to stay in Spain (and thereby Europe) for more time than a visitor.  Unlike Odysseus and his ten year journey, my odyssey has taken five months and promises at least one more.

My odyssey began last September when I learned that I needed a visa to live in Spain. I really am uncertain what made me think I could just show up at the gates and stay! I learned this tidbit at the Spanish embassy in DC just by chance and “fortunately” they guided me to apply for what is called a “non-lucrative residence visa” which means if I am approved to stay, I can’t work (take jobs away from Spaniards). Given I was retiring, that idea appealed to me so I set forth somewhat blindly doing my research and collecting my documentation.

Documents include a letter why I want the visa, a medical report (that I had no contagious diseases), a police report (super legalized that I wasn’t a criminal), several applications that ask essentially the same things, verification of my pension (with proof that I have enough money to survive), proof of medical insurance (which guaranteed I wouldn’t put a drain on the Spanish healthcare system as well as a guarantee that if I got really sick, I would be taken out of Spain), numerous passport size photos, translation of the documents by a “certified” translator (found one at the local courthouse in PA), and then fees.

As it turns out the US is divided into eight areas by the Spanish government so I had to deliver my documents and fees in person in New York. I had my documents in pretty good order since I communicated regularly with the consulate to ask questions. My documents made it through first shot! Many don’t and people are sent home to get additional / corrected documentation. Two weeks later, I had to return to New York to pick up my visa. This was extraordinarily fast as the time usually is two to four months! To my surprise, I wasn’t yet done!

Although I now had a visa from the Spanish Government firmly placed into my passport, it expired in 90 days! The New York consulate told me I would need to go to the police station in nearby Malaga with additional forms to get a residency card so I could stay for a year!

So on return to Spain, I quickly took a copy of my lease to the Mijas Pueblo town office and received a letter saying that I am a resident. However, they gave me additional forms to fill out and told me to go to the police station in Fuengirola, instead of Malaga. Since Fuengirola is closer, I crossed my fingers and found a person there who told me I didn’t need those forms given to me BUT I did need to pay taxes at a bank (a new form), get finger printed and apply for the residency card after the New Year holiday. An appointment was set for today. I took my application, proof of taxes paid, my passport and a copy of every page of the passport except the cover. Yes, I submitted numerous blank pages as they requested.

Today, though, the woman who told me what to do wasn’t there and wouldn’t be until next week. Her substitute said that I didn’t pay enough taxes and I had to go to the police station in Malaga, anyway. Fortunately there was a man behind me who translated for me and the substitute capitulated and said it was out of his hands and that I should wait for an officer to review my documents and take my finger prints. An officer saw me and accepted all of my forms except my photo which was passport size and needed to be smaller. Outside the office was a photoshop for this very purpose! I brought the photo to her and my next step is to report back precisely in one month. If everything checks out okay, I hope to get the residency card then!

Key things I learned… try to deal always with the same governmental official. Laws, regulations and procedures are interpreted differently between and within offices. Know that you are going to be given incorrect information and roll with it. I think it is wise to take the next step in the process as quickly as possible because time is against you. Research what others have posted on the Internet.

This is an expensive process. I think I have spent around $4000 so far (including the transportation to New York, fees, and taxes. I hope I am done!

Entrances to Mijas Pueblo Homes

The residents of Mijas Pueblo take a great deal of pride in keeping the village clean and attractive. Almost daily the women are cleaning the stoops leading to their homes. In today’s blog I want to share several of the entry ways to homes in Mijas. Sometimes the decoration is very simple but as you can see from the photos, there are times when the residents get very creative and occasionally carried away with the plant decorations. An open entrance in Mijas Pueblo  IMG_1584  IMG_2035  IMG_2607 IMG_2261 IMG_2267

My Day Trip to Gibraltar

It has been a magical time here in Andalusia, Spain reminding me why I have settled here. Snow is beginning to form on a few distant mountain tops but not in the sea-side towns that hug the Mediterranean coastline in southern Spain. Oranges are ripe on the trees that line the streets in a unique display of orange spheres hung to celebrate Christmas!

The air yesterday was warm in the middle 60’s when I visited nearby Gibraltar and today as I blog with my terrace door open. Yesterday I shed my jacket to enjoy the warm air. And last evening from my terrace I could see the mountains in northern Africa seeming to spring from nowhere across the Mediterranean Sea as the sun dropped in the western sky in a beautiful blaze of red, orange and yellow!


I enjoy traveling and have gone to several of the southern Spain communities. But recently I read a blog about Gibraltar and found a day tour for only 38 Euros. On clear days (like today) I can see Gibraltar on the distant horizon from my terrace, so yesterday I went exploring.

Although located on the Iberian Peninsula, Gibraltar isn’t Spanish but, by treaty, it is British! The language is English (and almost all of the 30,000 residents are bi-lingual) and everything is imported. They have their own currency equivalent to the English pound sterling. It is but 6 square kilometers big! The day was like being instantly teleported from one culture to another!

IMG_2549Gibraltar is famous for its iconic “Rock of Gibraltar” where the vast Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. Through the Straits of Gibraltar international shipping commerce has taken place through southern Europe, northern Africa and western Asia for centuries. With a warm sea breeze atop the rock and a clear sky, I was in awe of the strategic rock looking out at places that have been and continue to be of major importance to our civilization.IMG_2555

Gibraltar is the town at the base of the Rock. To get to it our tour bus passed through Spanish and British passport control. Gibraltar has a one-of-a-kind airport (on reclaimed land) where the road from La Linea, Spain crosses the runway! Yes, when an airplane lands or takes off, the road is closed similar to when a bridge opens to permit a boat to pass under a highway!

To the north and west of the Rock is the town of Gibraltar (pictured with La Linea and the airport runway) and to the south is Europa Point with its lighthouse, mosque, World War II tribute memorial to Sikorsky, and a memorial to Harding’s Battery originally constructed in 1869.

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Gibraltar has numerous statues to honor its place in military history and the heritage from Spain, the Moors, Romans, and British. Monuments include a cemetery for those that died in Gibraltar from the 1803 Battle of Trafalgar in the Napoleonic Wars as well as monuments to the Corps of Royal Engineers (the Royal Engineers were formed as a military entity at Gibraltar in 1772) and to those who fought in World War I.

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The town streets have a definite British feel with stores like Marks and Spenser and pubs with names like The Angry Friar. This is definitely not Spain!

The Rock is over 400 meters high which is taller that the Empire State Building or the Eifel Tower. Inside are more that 50 km of tunnels large enough for trucks! A highlight of the day came at Saint Michael’s Cave (also known as the Entrance to Hades). The cave has beautiful formations BUT for me, the presence of numerous monkeys is particularly interesting. In all, it was a wonderful, splendid day!

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