Getting Married on the Rock of Gibraltar

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It’s that time of the year again, those notifications from the engagement proposals which flooded your Facebook timeline this past winter are swiftly budding towards fully-fledged nuptial ceremonies. With wedding season in full swing, it’s natural that some of your thoughts may turn to visualizing YOUR big day and if like me, you love travel then you may have considered a destination wedding.

I don’t have a precise algorithm to help you decide whether you should in fact have a destination wedding or elopement, but as there are a few factors that may make you well-suited for tying the knot while you travel.

For example, if you love to travel, if you are more interested in focusing on your special day than the experience of your guests, or if you wish to spend more money on your honeymoon than on your actual wedding.

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The downsides to destination weddings are that many of your guests may not want to, or may not be able to travel as far as your destination and generally there are limitations on how many trinkets you can bring with you to your destination, especially if you are flying. For instance, when you are dress shopping you will need to take into consideration, which dresses will travel well.

Now, I feel it’s important to note that I love weddings, especially big expensive ones. As much as I hate to admit it, I am guilty of binge watching wedding shows and I still to this day love visiting wedding blogs (greenweddingshoes.com being my favorite). Of course I do, I’m southern and come from a BIG southern family, the kind which considers 5th cousins close relatives. Where I come from, weddings are traditional, they are usually held in church, and they are community events; For most of my life I assumed my own wedding would be the same. However, when it came time for the real thing I discovered that all the pomp and circumstance really didn’t matter in the greater scheme of my life and traveling with the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with was ultimately more important than any ‘big’ wedding I could’ve ever had.

 

The Beach in La Línea de la Concepción, the Spanish town on the border of Gibraltar.

The Beach in La Línea de la Concepción, the Spanish town on the border of Gibraltar.My fairytale wedding story begins with my one and only true love (aside from my husband), travel. I met my husband with three months left of a year studying in England and not long after our first meeting it became very apparent that we were meant to be. In case you haven’t already guessed, my husband is English and I am American. Because of the time restrictions on my student visa, we had to have conversations about the future of our relationship from very early on, naturally one of the most logical solutions for a transnational relationship is, drumroll please…MARRIAGE.

My fairytale wedding story begins with my one and only true love (aside from my husband), travel. I met my husband with three months left of a year studying in England and not long after our first meeting it became very apparent that we were meant to be. In case you haven’t already guessed, my husband is English and I am American. Because of the time restrictions on my student visa, we had to have conversations about the future of our relationship from very early on, naturally one of the most logical solutions for a transnational relationship is, drumroll please…MARRIAGE.

For many people this notion may seem a bit ridiculous and being the sensible person that I am, I can understand that. Marriage is a HUGE commitment, believe me as a now married woman, I know. I’m not saying it’s a good idea to marry the first foreigner you fall in love with while abroad.

Essential to this story is my belief in something bigger than myself – something that inherently resides deep in the atoms of… well… everything. It was my faith in a greater force that not only brought my husband and I together, but also kept us together as we endured a 10- month, transatlantic, long-distance relationship.

During those 10 months, we spent a lot of time contemplating what we were eventually going to do and where we were ultimately going to live. Travel writer Elizabeth Gilbert puts it brilliantly in her book Committed when she says about her own transnational relationship:

 

As the old adage goes: A fish and a bird may indeed fall in love, but where shall they live? The solution to this dilemma, we believed, was that we were both nimble travelers (I was a bird who could dive and Felipe was a fish who could fly), so for our first year together, at least, we basically lived in midair–diving and flying across oceans and continents in order to be together.”

 

However, as Liz later explains in her book, this is not a recipe for stability. So finally, sometime during the summer of 2013 after an agonizing period of uncertainty, we were both offered jobs in Central Europe and decided to elope before we went there, as it was the best option for us.

I know for many people eloping is a term synonymously bound to some old-fashioned, dramatic, pre-1950s era love story. Just to be clear, when I use the word “eloping” I don’t mean in the secretive, theatrical, “Romeo and Juliet” taboo way. What I mean is that we planned everything very quickly, but all our closest friends and family knew and my parents were even present at the ceremony.

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After we’d decided on a destination elopement, we had to choose which country was best for us to get married in and since we were ultimately planning to live in Europe, it seemed most practical to get married in Europe. Narrowing down the continent was easy, the country however, was a completely different story.

Here is the thing about destination weddings that makes them difficult: If you’re thinking of getting married abroad (especially in Europe), you need to know this- Making sure your marriage is legal in a foreign country, or will even be recognized by the country in which you wish to reside in, is a big fat pain in the booty. I cannot imagine how people managed to figure it out before the internet.

To make things easier, many people elect to get married in their home country before their destination wedding, of course my spouse and I are from two different countries, which made our situation a bit more difficult. This process of country elimination was a two-week long procedure involving an in-depth research of marriage laws in various EU member states.

If we’d wanted to get married in England then I would’ve needed a ‘Visit for Marriage Visa’ (yes there is such a thing) which would’ve cost around 600 USD and could’ve taken up to 6 months to be granted. It would have involved filling out an online application the length of the bible followed by the submission of biometric data, all of which I thought was a bit drastic and ridiculous, so to avoid this grueling process we opted to get married elsewhere.

We soon discovered most EU countries require couples who wish to get married to reside in the country for a specified amount of time. It seemed most of the countries we researched required around a month of residence. This is something to keep in mind if you wish to get married in France, Spain, or Portugal. Almost all of these countries also required immense amounts of paper work before the process.\

In Ireland you are required to prove that you are not related to your intended in the most ridiculous ways, such as, your intended is not your son’s wife or your father’s daughter. The whole process was exhausting, so much so that I eventually ended up Googling “where is the easiest place to get married in Europe”. It was then that we discovered Gibraltar.

Feeding the Barbary apes on a Family trip to Gibraltar in 1997.

Feeding the Barbary apes on a Family trip to Gibraltar in 1997.

I had actually been to Gibraltar before at the age of 8, coincidentally it was the first time I had ever traveled internationally, which in retrospect seems like a good omen. Gibraltar is located on the southern most tip of Spain and is actually a territory of the United Kingdom. It’s home to the famous Barbary apes, the actual “Rock” of Gibraltar, some pretty old Neolithic cave paintings, and believe it or not it is an extremely popular place to get married. Much like Las Vegas, although not quite as tacky (no offense to anyone reading this article who has actually gotten married in Las Vegas) it’s laws allow for a speedy procees and in fact the rock of Gibraltar is where Yoko Ono and John Lennon tied the knot. The best part was that marriages in Gibraltar are recognized by both the US and the UK.

We elected to do a registry office ceremony (basically a court house wedding) in October due to time restrictions and from there on out everything else was relatively simple. I called the registry office in August to set the wedding date for October, we emailed photocopies of our passports and birth certificates to the registry and then paid a couple of fees of no more than £200 (local currency of Gibraltar is in GBP) and that was it! All we were required to do was visit the registry office 24 hours before the ceremony. Everything after the legal stuff was fun: Finding my dress and accessories, finding a local florist and deciding on my bouquet.

A week before the ceremony, I flew to England to spend time with my husband’s family and two days before the wedding we flew from Liverpool Airport to Malaga, Spain, which is about 2 ½ hours driving distance from Gibraltar. While we were there we stayed at a small Marriott in La Linea, a Spanish town right on the the Spain/Gibraltar border. The whole area is surrounded by beaches and the Mediterranean sea and with Gibraltar being the closest point in mainland Europe to Africa (approx. 39 miles) we could literally see the coastline of Morocco from our hotel room window. The night before the wedding, my parents, aunt and one of my husband’s friends met up with us in La Linea.

The next day after an early breakfast we all got dressed and took a short taxi ride to the border and then, in full wedding attire we walked across the border of Spain into Gibraltar. It is the most bizarre border I have ever crossed. The border patrol didn’t even touch the passports as the people crossing merely held them out in front for them to glance at as they walk across.

 

The streets of Gibraltar

The streets of Gibraltar

 

My Family

My Family

Nevertheless, here we were, crossing on foot during rush hour on our wedding day, an act that was completely quirky in its perfection and which would set the tone for the rest of the day. No matter where we went, people were both staring at and congratulating us.

The actual ceremony itself was short and sweet, lasting no more than 15 minutes. We followed the ceremony with a delicious lunch at the O’Callaghan Eliott, before another short taxi ride to the beach, where my husband and I, stood barefoot under the rock of Gibraltar and read our personal vows to one another.

The whole day was truly priceless and as I think back, of my younger self with those visions of a big traditional wedding I can honestly say this, both eloping and destination weddings are not for everyone, but my wedding day was perfect, perfectly me, perfectly my journey, and given the option, I wouldn’t change a thing.

 

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This story was curated by Erica Bailey.

Travel Noire

Travel Noire

A platform of cultivated insights from a global community of black travelers.

4 Comments

  • Reply June 9, 2014

    Gary Bailey

    What a wonderful and re-freshing article.

  • Reply June 9, 2014

    Amanda Whittington

    I am truly envious of the intimate experience that this beautiful location created for you and your husband. Your definition of “eloping” allows the love of family to remain and the misconceptions of secrets and a rushed relationship to be laid to rest. This location seems so amazing and would be a wonderful tradition to pass down! 😉

  • Reply June 13, 2014

    Kristen Noelle

    What a beautiful wedding story! Should my path be aligned for a future marriage, I know almost for a fact that I’d like to exchange vows in an international or Caribbean destination. This article is very insightful.

  • Reply September 18, 2015

    Allison

    I’m American and I married my Cuban husband last month in Gibraltar… we stayed at the Marriot in La Linea the new days before and at the Eliott the night of our wedding… how I didn’t discover your blog before, I don’t know, because we too googled the “Las Vegas of Europe” since we had the same issues of residency requirements in Spain (where we are living but hadn’t been here long enough to meet the requirement). Such a small world! Best from Madrid

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