The highlight of our week away had to be the time spent on Gibraltar, that rocky British territory attached to the Spanish mainland which dominates the entrance to the Mediterranean.
Expectations during the 6 hour drive to where we were staying in Andalucia (with views on the motorway of the snow covered Sierra Nevada) were far from high. I'd read so much about the general tattiness of the place. There were accounts of Barbary apes, overdosed on crisps and other remnants of packed lunches, biting tourists. There were complaints of a Rock strewn with litter and with all of the appeal of a jaded English seaside resort.
But we were very keen to visit this place where my dad had spent a couple of years in his army career, his first posting (his first venture ever) overseas, the place where he learned to speak Spanish and which he talked fondly of over the subsequent years. (My brother had been similarly inspired by those reminiscences to spend a couple of weeks on Gibraltar during Franco's time when the border with Spain was closed).
But you know what? We were pleasantly surprised.
Initially it was the size of the Rock that impressed. I'd imagined something much less imposing but it's actually 1398 feet at its highest point. Parking in the Spanish town of La Linea de la Concepcion, we walked to the frontier, went through passport control, waited whilst a plane landed (the main road into Gibraltar actually intersects the runway which is only 500 metres from the city centre) and found ourselves in England (complete with bobbies in familiar uniforms, old postboxes, red telephone kiosks and the British pound).
The Rock is full of history, much of it military, and fascinating buildings. The fire station is straight out of the nineteen thirties.....
.... along with the famous Rock Hotel.
Taking the cable car to the top of the Rock we encountered the Barbary apes (macaques) who were surprisingly well behaved, though always ready to look into tourists' backpacks or to help themselves to what might prove to be a tasty tidbit.
The views from the top are spectacular and on a clear day (it remained hazy whilst we were there) it's possible to glimpse Morocco in the distance.
All in all it was a highly enjoyable visit. Gibraltar is busy, even outside of high summer, and with the presence of M&S, Morrisons, Boots and other high street names, it's very popular with ex pats who crave a taste of home. It wasn't in the least seedy and the only evidence of rubbish at the top of the Rock was that left by inconsiderate visitors. (We witnessed one member of a bus tour party unashamedly giving one of the apes the remains of her packed lunch, complete with plastic carrier bag).
We walked to the cave, now an auditorium, which had housed the underground military hospital where my dad's regiment, the Royal Army Medical Corps, had worked during the Second World War. I could imagine my dad walking to and from there on a daily basis and it really felt as though I was treading in his footsteps.
Of course, I cried.