You might have noticed I’ve been a little bit absent this past millennium. Okay, it’s been a month. There’s a reason for that. I’ve been away on a travel-writing course in Berlin called City Travel Review.
Basically I have been living a life of luxury for the past two months (interrailing then CTR) and had no time to write a single blog post. However, I’ve racked up seven new countries and plenty more material to write about so you can’t be too annoyed if you’ve been eagerly anticipating the next blog post (hi mum).So, what the hell is City Travel Review, anyway?
In short, it’s basically a writing/designing course where you spend 1-3 month(s) in a European city. You can choose from Berlin, Edinburgh, London, Lyon, Madrid or Barcelona. The end goal is you produce a travel guide for said city. Writers must contribute at least eight reviews and designers, six reviews, plus whatever features they have in mind.
My City Travel Review ExperienceI found out about this course when browsing through my emails at work (naughty me) and found one from TargetJobs (a generic graduate job website most ex-students get emails from). I usually ignore their emails but ‘writing’ and ‘travel’ caught my eye.
I had a quick google of ‘City Travel Review’ and surprisingly, very little came up. There might have been one or two blog posts from people who have done the course and a shoddy-looking official website but other than that, zilch. But I was really bored and must have been feeling adventurous that day because I signed up even though I was about 90% sure the whole thing was a scam.
In the next few weeks I had to send a couple of emails with my details, a brief letter explaining why I think I would make a good asset to the team and then I got a phone call from Jeremy (I think he runs the course? I can’t remember), sent them all my savings and I was on my way to Berlin.
I was picked up from the airport by two of the CTR interns. One was a girl who did the course a previous year and the other was a German schoolgirl doing work experience over the summer. Don’t expect a car, they’ll take you to the accommodation via public transport and you have to fork over €81 for a monthly travel ticket.
The accommodation is nothing special. It’s only slightly more sophisticated than student dorms (at least I think so. I never stayed in dorms). You get a living room with a TV, a bathroom but no towels, a kitchen with the bare cooking essentials, a bedroom and that’s pretty much it. If you paid a couple hundred pounds extra you get your own room, but you still have to share an apartment. It’s usually 3-4 people per apartment. I ended up staying with a guy from London and sharing a room with a girl from America (who later moved out to live with her German bae and I got the room to myself. Lucky me).
The downsides to apartment-living is the fact that you’re miles away from the city centre and… dun dun dun… there’s no wifi. I KNOW RIGHT?! For a real 90s flashback feeling, try City Travel Review, a wifi-less travel experience where you go through a forced internet detox and experience what it’s like to live 20 years ago. But seriously, guys. Living without wifi isn’t absolutely unbearable. It was kind of adorable, actually. I felt so retro.
The first day was pretty much meeting everyone else and discovering we were living in the middle of nowhere. We had 27 people over all, and almost all of them were from the UK. I think we had two American girls, one Australian, one Canadian and a girl from China. Predictable, I befriended the non-English people first because accents. So yeah, don’t expect a cultural mixing-pot. You can find the same kind of people at home. Also, the ages range from around 19 to 30, but most people are aged 21-22, so don’t expect a sophisticated ready-to-work bunch. For many, it’s just another party holiday. It’s mostly girls, too. In our group, we had a 60-40 mix, but apparently it’s usually around 70-30% girl to boy ratio.
The second day we met Lütz, a meme-worthy character, who told us what we were doing over the next few weeks. We also picked out the people who were going to design the travel guides. The Australian girl (AKA, my CTR bestie because she was the only other vegan in the group and just generally cooler than the others) was the only designer in the whole bunch and the rest of us got nominated if we owned a laptop and had heard of photoshop. That meant I was in the layout team, which had it’s perks and downsides. I’ll get to those later.
The rest of the weeks went like this: Eight hours of German lessons a week, four hours of workshop meetings, at least six hours of planned activities (they’re not completely lame, guys. It’s stuff like free walking tours, museum guided tours and a daytrip to Potzdam). Layouters get two hours of layout meetings a week where they teach you the basics of InDesign and you get to hang out in an office with good wifi while you’re there. The rest of the time is spent hanging out, writing reviews, night-time trips to internet cafes and basically lounging around Berlin doing whatever you want. A few of us daytripped to Dresden and Meißen which was fun.Although I only had to write six reviews because I was on the layout team, I wrote seven and three features. One on vegan food, one on vintage shops and one on ethical fashion, even though our theme was ‘Berlin: Love it on a Budget’ and ethical fashion doesn’t quite abide by that. I just wanted to write about what I was interested in, so I did. Anyway, there was a boy who wrote a lot about cars, so he wasn’t exactly abiding by the theme either.
You get given a list of things you must review, most people choose 3-4 things from this list, and a list of things worth reviewing but not essential, but these things are just a guide. After exploring Berlin, you’ll find cool indie places and maybe you’ll want to review those things instead. Along with my features, I reviewed, the Check Point Charlie Museum, Charlottenburg Palace Gardens, Markthalle Neun (all of those were essential), the Monkey Bar, Silver Future, Vegan Sommerfest and Der Kegel (places I discovered myself).So I mentioned a couple of the downsides to the layouting, and the benefit of learning how to use InDesign if you don’t already know how. One of the other benefits is being located in a central office block in Alexander Platz that has a rooftop bar. One night, we got to skip the queue to the bar with our laptops in hand, looking comfy-office-chic and definitely not party-ready, then afterwards we jointed the partiers on the roof, skipping the €10 entry fee and queue, and got amazing views of Alex Platz by night. I mean, yeah, we missed out on a beach day because we were stuck inside formatting reviews and mithering everyone to submit their contributor profile pictures, but the rooftop bar, guys! It was cool, trust me.So, overall, it was actually a fun month. I met some really cool people, fell head over heels in love with an amazing city and would completely recommend City Travel Review to anyone. If you’re wondering whether this experience could be for you, here’s some things to consider…
What are you paying for?
- The accommodation isn’t amazing. It’s probably one of the worse parts of the trip, especially the location and the wifi. Oh, and the lack of wifi has been the same since they started nine years ago so don’t expect it to change the year you do the course.
- Language lessons with two ability-levels. Beginner, and A2. If you’re more advanced, you probably won’t benefit from these classes.
- Writing workshops and classes.
- InDesign workshops for the layouters.
- A handful of optional excursions including museum guided tours.
- A continental breakfast. Milk (not for me, but thanks anyway), bread, jam, butter (again, cool, thanks), muesli, tea bags and bread. It’s enough to last you a few days but you have to share it with your flat mates.
- Airport pick up but not drop off.
What are you not paying for?
- Food and drink the entire holiday. It’s okay though, most of the cities are very cheap, unless you’re choosing London.
- Travel passes.
- Laptop use. You’re going to have to bring your own if you want to be a part of the layout team. If not, an ipad or something similar will do the trick if you’re only writing reviews.
- Museum entry for any place not on the excursion list. If you want to review somewhere, you’ll have to pay.
Other things to think about
- If you’re considering how many months to do, either one month or three months are worth it. Two months… not so much. Why? Basically, it’s the same thing twice but with different people and there’s no discount on the price for doing an extra month. Three months is also the same thing twice but the third month is producing a blog. For me, one month was long enough.
- The language lessons are a hit or miss. The rest of the beginners and I really loved our classes and our teacher, but the advanced class ranged from people who did the beginners class the month before to people with German degrees. The poor teacher had to try and cater to all their needs, with a Kafka reading lesson one week, to trying to buy an apartment in German in the next.
- If you want to be an editor, do not agree to be a layouter. You won’t be able to do them both.
- The layouters get something extra for their money (InDesign classes) but have to do a lot more work than everyone else and this means less time to explore the city.
- If you are a layouter, you still have to write.
- Although advertised as a ‘job’ you won’t be making any money from the course but you do get something cute to add to your CV.
- First and foremost, although it is a ‘travel writing’ course, the primary thing you get for your money is the opportunity to meet like-minded people from around the world (or around the UK) and a chance to party in a really cool European city. The rest is just something to keep you busy while you complain about the lack of wifi.