When we talk to people about our blog site, we often get asked for the meaning behind our name, LivingTheQLife. It is actually pretty simple, our last name starts with the letter Q and when we first decided to start writing about the places that we’ve traveled to and the food that we’ve eaten, we thought to ourselves that we are fortunate to be living a good life. That simple thought turned into our name since we were living our lives in the best way that we could. This week’s Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge is anything with the letter Q, so we could have chosen just about anything, but here are few photos that represent the theme.
When we look back now to our very first overseas trip many years ago and compare it to the way that we travel these days, it was very different. We spent two weeks traveling to Paris, London, Stratford-Upon-Avon, and Manchester, spending anywhere from four nights to as little as one night in each location. It was November, so we knew that we would have a variety of weather conditions, so we packed two full suitcases, one large and one medium, each. We took a variety of shoes to account for outfits, casual, dressy, etc., so that we prepared for walking during the day and going out to a nice dinner at night. There we were, dragging suitcases through airports, train and subway stations, and getting glaring looks from taxi drivers who had to put a suitcase in the passenger seat because they wouldn’t all fit in the trunk/boot. To make things worse, we had to pay overweight luggage charges on the flights and then we bought souvenirs throughout our trip. We ended up buying another duffle bag just to fit the things that we bought. Hard to believe, but true.
Clearly we were not savvy travelers. We have learned so many things over time. Now we try to get everything into a carry-on bag if we can and we can’t, we put everything into a single suitcase that we share between the two of us. In order to do that, we limit what we take. One or two pairs of shoes at the most, choosing a single color tone so that you don’t need different belts, shoes, make-up, etc. If the weather is going to fluctuate, take clothes that can be layered so that the same clothes can be used multiple ways. We have even found laundry sheets for travel that can be used to wash clothes in a sink and then hung up to dry. We will also take advantage of dry cleaning or laundry services at hotels.
We try not to change hotels every few days. Sometimes that means that it costs us a little extra to have a home-base and then making short, overnight trips from that location. Even if we are moving around, limiting the amount of stuff that we carry with us means that we have less to lug around, less to pack and unpack, and less to worry about getting lost in transit. We also roll our clothes so that they take up less space in the suitcase. It makes no sense, but rolling really works, you can pack more in less space. We bought a luggage scale and always weigh our suitcases after packing them to be sure that we never get surprised by an overweight charge by an airline.
We have learned a lot of other things, such as how to relate to different cultures, and how to dress appropriately for the country that you are visiting, and how not to look like a tourist when walking streets of a foreign city. We also ensure that we learn the basics of hello, goodbye, and thank you as well as other key phrases in the language of the country and always try to be a friendly traveler. There are many other lessons that we have learned since that first, comical adventure, but it is fun to reminisce about how naive we were during our first trip to Europe.
When we were in southern Spain a few years ago, we visited Gibraltar, which is a British territory located on the most southern end of the Iberian peninsula. Gibraltar is more of a sovereign city than a country, but despite its size, you still have to pass through customs and border patrol in order to enter and leave. The Rock of Gibraltar is the most famous landmark of the region and is strategic due to its location on the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean. It is also the location of an important naval fortress that is built into the hills of the Rock of Gibraltar. Gibraltar is distinctly British despite its location in southern Spain. The pubs, the people, the atmosphere of the city almost all go out of their way to emphasize their allegiance to Britain and the United Kingdom. It was very interesting to visit, but in many ways it was very odd, and to say that there is controversy over the ownership of Gibraltar would be an understatement.
Before going, we talked to several people in Spain who had very strong opinions about this tiny country within a country. First and foremost, the people of Spain believe that the land should be theirs and they believe that the citizens of Gibraltar are occupying foreign land. In addition to that, the other thing that we were told was that there were huge problems with people going into Gibraltar and buying cigarettes and alcohol where it is cheaper and then selling it on the black market in other parts of Spain. There are strict limits on how much alcohol and tobacco can be brought across the border, but due to the number of people crossing on a daily basis, obviously there is the opportunity for smuggling. Regardless of the political friction, it was still an interesting place to visit.
Visiting the Rock of Gibraltar and walking the trails that led to the top was certainly the highlight of our visit there. The views of the Strait of Gibraltar were certainly stunning and definitely worth the hard hike in the heat, even though we were there in November. One of the more well-known, yet still interesting, things about the Rock of Gibraltar is the population of Barbary macaques that roam wild throughout the park area. Although these monkeys are definitely cute, they are wild animals and have been known to attack people at times, but are more likely to steal anything held too loosely. So, even though they make for great photo opportunities, don’t approach them and keep an eye on your possessions while you’re around them.
Walking through the caves and tunnels that make up the fortifications was also quite fascinating. There is also a cable car for those that don’t want to hike the steep trail to the top of the giant rock, but we would recommend only taking the cable car one direction and taking the time to either hike up or down since that is the only way to go into the fortifications that have been carved into the hillside. The fortifications are no longer in use today and we couldn’t imagine how claustrophobic it must have been for the soldiers who manned the canons within the tunnels. We definitely earned a pint by the time that we finished hiking around the Rock of Gibraltar.
Despite the controversy that exists over the ownership of the Gibraltar, it is definitely worth visiting while in southern Spain. Stepping across the border, you are immediately transported into a different world with thick British accents, the Union Jack flying everywhere to be seen, and restaurants serving typical English food such as fish and chips, bangers and masher, and kidney pie. We have to admit, we did take a couple of bottles of wine back to our hotel with us since the prices were so much less than what we were paying throughout the rest of southern Spain. All-in-all, it was a very interesting day, but a day was about all of the time needed to visit this country within a country.