Find out what happened when Skrill sent a Prepaid Mastercard topped up with €500 to our Barcelona-based Blogger-in-chief. A two day itinerary of bunkers, bars, brunch and true bromance…
So you’ve watched the above video? Who knew that being a presenter is a little trickier than it looks? But anyway if you didn’t get the gist by now, Urban Travel Blog and Skrill online payment system have just teamed up to show our readers, and their customers, how to “Holiday Like A Local“. Their marketing team must have been in a pretty good mood this summer because they’ve given me, and our other locally-based bloggers in Rome, Paris, London and New York, €500 each to spend on staycation using one of their Prepaid Mastercards. As resident city experts we are pretty confident that nobody knows our cities like we do, so come join our adventures and pick up some amazing insider tips for your own city break abroad…
Picnic for Brunch
When I told my girlfriend Skrill were sending me €500 to have fun in Barcelona she was pretty excited. “You can take me out to some nice restaurants,” she said (“for a change,” she implied). Unfortunately for her, my shiny new Skrill Prepaid Mastercard arrived the day after she left for Poland on holiday. Of course a notorious playboy like me only had to leaf briefly through my black book for an equally charming and good looking replacement. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the lovely.. Pierre Le Van, from Voyage Forever.
Wanting to get our “noliday” off to a good start I reserved a table at Barcelona’s brunch bar du jour, Picnic, for some hearty huevos rancheros (Pierre) and pork tacos (moi), fortified with some radioactive-looking gazpacho and a thick, vitamin-rich smoothie. The street terrace is already full even five minutes after opening but there is plenty of space inside for us to tuck in to our meal and record the above video, before we get on our way. Damage done a very affordable €24 for two.
Best of all we’re completely powered up for the day ahead.
The Mystery Of Gaudi’s Death…
…remains unsolved, I’m sorry to say. At our next stop, Escape Hunt Barcelona, Pierre and I were locked in a room and challenged to find the holy relic which the architect was carrying with him when he was hit by public tram in 1926, dying shortly afterwards. If you haven’t heard about the escape games phenomenon that is sweeping Europe (it started in Budapest), then the concept is this… participants are locked in an especially designed room, where they are given 60 minutes to solve a series of clues, usually based around a theme, and thereby earn their escape. Pierre and I got off to flying start in our mission to discover the truth behind Gaudi’s demise, as we quickly found several keys, and managed to unlock various combination codes to reveal more clues and more keys. Unfortunately, not aided by me pulling out a light socket (things got harder in the dark!) we got stuck for about 20 minutes on one clue, neglected to use one key that we found and completely ignored another vital puzzle. Overall great fun, but take my advice and bring someone smarter than Pierre with you if you want to exit the room…
Cost of this brainercise = €50.
Paddling & Pool Time
It’s still scorching hot when we leave Escape Hunt so we decide it’s time to cool off at the beach. We ride the metro to Barceloneta and then walk up the Joan de Borbo boulevard, which always has a great holiday atmosphere about it. I make a stop off an ATM and withdraw 100 yoyos (that’s coolspeak for euros btw) using my SPPMC (that’s an abbreviation for Skrill Prepaid Mastercard btw), before we swing a right at the end up the beach towards one of the modern architectural icons of the city, the W-Hotel.
In fact we’re aiming for Pukas Surf School to hire some stand up paddle boards for the afternoon. But when we arrive there are no SUP boards available so we decide – since we are in the ‘hood and have plenty of cash in our pockets – we should enjoy a drink at the aforementioned W. The hotel’s staff are flawlessly polite, but not too impressed with Pierre’s flip flops which are forbidden at their 24th floor Eclipse Bar. However they agree to let us enjoy a cocktail by their pool, even if technically it’s only open to the public after 20:00. I sneak into the bathroom to change into my swimming trunks, whilst Pierre orders the mango and passion fruit smoothies… (€7 a pop).
After a bit of relaxing we get a call from Pukas to tell us our boards are waiting for us and we hustle back to their beach shack. I ask the lady at the desk if we get a life jacket and she scrunches her face to make a “what kind of man are you?” look, which I guess answers that one. Still, having tried my hand at SUPing last year in Ljubljana I’m feeling pretty confident I won’t have to test my limited swimming skills too much.
Down on the shore and the still searing hot sun means I am keen to get in the water, despite the disgusting amount of human detritus that is bobbing in the shallows. Wading through the filthy surf I hop on my board asap and do a quick warm up lap on my knees. Unfortunately even the mild swell of Barceloneta beach is considerably more rocky than the placid river Ljubljanica (where I first tried stand up paddling) and the moment I try to stand up I lose my balance and take a face first dive into the sea narrowly missing a (presumably used) sanitary pad. Perhaps it’s the incentive of not face-planting on such an item again that means my second run out in deeper waters – which are thankfully both much cleaner and calmer – is considerably more successful. I wish I could say the same for Pierre.
Cost of these aquabatics = €13 per board per hour.
After such rigorous exertion, it’s clearly time to relax again and I suggest a drink at a chiringuito, one of the charming informal beach huts that crop up along Barcelona’s city beaches. But Pierre suggests this is way too touristy for two hip local barflies like us, and points me towards a bar just across the boardwalk called Beach Garden. Amazingly I had ignored this little beaut until now, with its brightly painted tabletops, garden foliage and long menu of liquid refreshments. To top if off there’s a Danish dude with a guitar rendering an acoustic version of The Way You Make Me Feel to entertain us as we sip on a kiwi-flavoured (virgin) cocktail called appropriately enough Paddlesurf. I feel Pierre is finally starting to pull his weight on this staycation.
Craft Beer O’Clock
It’s getting late by the time we leave Beach Garden, so Pierre and I go to our separate homes before agreeing to convene at Cara B for a concert by a girl who comes from the same tiny town in Virginia as my American housemate. Now I’m all for a bit of live music, but even more happily this diminutive den in the hip district of Gracia is also a vendor of craft beer. Another friend of mine Carlos has three more friends in town, so we’re a merry party of six… but armed with my SPPMC I’m feeling generous enough to get a round in. It’s expensive by Barcelona standards at €36 but on the other hand the empanadas are a steal at €2. As we didn’t have time for dinner, I figure three of these pocket pastries should see me through the night. And leave me with plenty more beer money.
Things Get Blurry
You’re never short of things to do in Barcelona by night, especially if you’ve been living in the city for a bit, and when another friend calls to say he’s in Cassette Bar in Raval we make a dash for the last metro and ride it back into the centre of town. This spit and sawdust place, favoured by beatniks and skaters, only fits a handful of people so we prop up the bar with a well mixed mojito or two, getting well into the party mood. However just as we are peaking we are hit with “the three o’clock dilemma”, ie. that regular puzzle of where to go at 3am when all the bars are closed. Barcelona’s nightclubs are almost all dressed up or down discos, full of party casualties, and when we take a punt on Teatre Principal on Las Ramblas we are unpleasantly unsurprised to find it’s full of vomiting girls and groping guys. Still the music isn’t bad and we get a Spanish strength mixer with our €10 entry. I’m too drunk to remember my Skrill pin by now, but luckily I’ve still got some of that cash from the ATM, which I am able to barter for a round of Jagermeister shots… bits of worthless paper for delicious alcoholic beverages. Who da man?
Full Steam Ahead
With great foresight we planned our recovery session at the atmospheric Aire de Barcelona arabic baths for no earlier than 2pm. However, despite a half decent night’s sleep, there are bags under the eyes, queasy stomachs and sore limbs as souvenirs from the night before. In short, two hours relaxing in the mellow womb of these subterranean pools is just what we need. After vegetating in the saline bath for a blissful moment we are called for our 30 minute massage, where silent hands knead and pound our hangover out of our increasingly mushy bodies. The lilting ecclesiastical soundtrack that echoes in the dark supports my growing belief that I’ve died and gone to heaven.
Sadly though mine is not in fact the infinite rest of the virtuous, and once my time is up the hitherto sympathetic hands of my masseuse rudely slap my absurd sanitary slippers back on my feet and bid me make way for the next customer. It was great while it lasted. As a consolation prize Pierre and I are offered a nice romantic package of champagne and chocolates… although I can’t stomach the champagne, so I pour myself a mint tea from a samovar on a silver platter. We then spend another highly enjoyable hour reclining in various baths of various temperatures, plus a steam room and jacuzzi, before a cruel bell rings telling us it’s time to leave.
Cost of this indulgent recovery is €64 per person, for baths and half hour massage. We blag a 2 for 1 deal, as we are superstar bloggers after all.
Safe to say we’re starving by now, so I take Pierre to my current “go to” tapas bar, a new joint called Bormuth that opened not so long ago in El Borne. When it comes to value for money I think this one is hard to beat and we enjoy a healthy lunch of Russian salad, breaded chicken fingers, choricitos in cider, jamon serrano croquettes with of course a side of pan con tomate (tomato bread, a simple dish of almost religious importance here in Catalonia). I also order a glass of gazpacho, the cold Spanish soup that rivals Polish barszcz as far as nutrient-rich hangover cures go. The meal with drinks costs less than €30 and we can’t eat it all.
Culture & Coffee
We are well into the second day of our staycation by now, and it’s high time for a token slice of culture. I’ve received a tip that the unfancied Frederic Mares museum is well worth checking out, and it’s just 10 minutes walk away, right by the sensational Gothic Cathedral. You have to feel sorry for this particular church… in any other metropolis it might well be the cynosure of the city, but with Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia to contend with this more conventional cathedral plays second fiddle. Still it’s nice to take a look, and in the square below there is a two man band playing swing music… which is an invitation for one tourist couple to have a bit of a waltz around the plaza. I encourage Pierre to join in. You can judge for yourself how he does in the video below…
Pierre’s poor man’s jig over, we heard to the museum where we are denied a media discount, despite being superstar bloggers. Guess we’ll just have to fork out the full €4.20 each entry. On the first floor there are some not quite inspiring religious statues, but Pierre does manage to find a bold work of modern art titled “Fire Hydrant – Break The Glass in Case of Emergency”. Fascinating stuff.
Up on the second floor things become a lot more interesting with a collection of ornately decorated swords and helms, plus a display of deadly looking crossbows that you suspect would moisten the
loins lips of King Joffrey if he were to see them. The third floor was probably my favourite though where a fantastic collection of keys, walking sticks, cigarette holders, pipes, playing and tarot cards, matchstick boxes, stamps, paper knives, eyeglasses and more are on display, all intricately fashioned in the style of the era (end of 19th to start of 20th century).
Perhaps the find of the day though was the museum’s cafe, Cafe D’Estiu, which is perched up over one of the city’s medieval ramparts, and annexed to a tranquil courtyard replete with goldfish pond, potted plants, trees and Roman pillars.
A View From A Hill
Having achieved our mission of inserting a tidbit of tradition into our itinerary, we head back to my flat to charge our camera batteries and have a quick siesta. An hour or so later and we flag down a taxi for Bunkers del Carmel. A defunct military complex rising above the Carmelo district, not too far from Park Guell, this broken concrete eyesore atop a hill offers possibly the best views over Barcelona anywhere in the city and in recent years has become a gathering place for locals, and a few in-the-know foreigners, to watch the sunset with a cerveza. Unfortunately our taxi driver is not sure exactly where it is, and neither are we, so Pierre and I have to hotfoot around the slopes of the hill, taking several wrong turns, arriving sweaty and dishevelled just as the light is turning too bad for decent photos. Oh well, it’s still well worth it. To see the whole city laid out like a museum miniature is impressive, and from up here you can really appreciate the scale of some of Barcelona’s biggest bruisers, like La Sagrada Familia, Torre Agbar (whose red and blue lights are flashing for perhaps the last time) and the W-Hotel, compared to the average apartment block. A thick blanket of dismal grey cloud is giving the view a fleeting apocalyptic quality, before dusk turns to dark and we are left to admire the city lights.
(Hint: if you want to do this yourself, and your driver doesn’t know where to go ask him to take you to Restaurante Las Delicias in Carmel, address Carrer Muhlberg 1. From there you can easily walk up).
Seafood and Eat It
There’s still over €100 left on my beloved SPPMC and we’ve both starving by now. A taxi whisks us back to Passeig de Gracia, the grand boulevard that links the top of Las Ramblas with the Gracia district. This avenue is undoubtedly Barcelona’s finest and most expensive real estate, and amongst the litany of architectural gems you’ll find Gaudi’s famed Casa Mila and Casa Batllo. But we’re not here for any more sightseeing… we swing down an alley at number 24 and arrive at El Nacional, one of Barcelona’s most recently erected temples of gastronomy. I guess the best way to describe it would be as a food hall of the type you might find in a mall, except about twenty times posher and with some of the best cuisine in the Catalan capital. There are a total of 8 different restaurants and bars under the arcing ceilings of this former factory, and they all specialise in food and drink from all four corners of Espana. We manage to find a seat at La Llotja, where I order a Pomada Menorquina, a gin based cocktail hailing from Menorca and a smoked eel salad. Both hit the spot. Pierre has a glass of Rose and orders Andalusian fried prawns, which he assures me we can eat shells and all. We do, removing just the heads, and they are rich, crispy and damn delicious.
We contemplate ordering some more tapas, or a dessert, but it’s already close to midnight and Pierre has a house party to go to. My friends meanwhile are at Anti-karaoke, a kind of heavy metal version of your average sing-a-long night. I am tempted to join them but then again someone once cruelly said to me when I turned 35 that “you are closer to 50 now than 20”, and the middle aged man in me is crying for his pillow. I calculate that with cash withdrawals and Mastercard purchases I’ve only managed to spend a bit over €400 on this action-packed bromantic staycation for two, so I reason that I’ve still got plenty of euros still left for a taxi – and it’s the least I deserve. Goodnight Barcelona, it’s been great as always!
Duncan would like to thank Skrill for generously sending over one of their Skrill Prepaid Mastercards enabling him to go on Holiday Like A Local. The card was a handy travel companion, which you can use as a credit card, or at ATMs for a cheaper price (€1.80) for withdrawal abroad than most major bank cards and which you can top up to match your holiday budget. You can also download their app to check your account balance on the go. For more info on both Skrill and their SPPMC head to Skrill.com. Be sure to subscribe to Urban Travel Blog to find out how some of our other resident bloggers Holiday Like A Local in Paris, London, Rome and New York. And if you’re coming to Barcelona and you need even more great tips than above, be sure to check Urban Travel Blog’s weekend break city guide.