A Month in Berlin with CityTravelReview

Berlin is a massive, diverse, leafy, lake-filled city. Built for 5 million inhabitants with a current population slightly under 3.5 million, Berlin is spacious and airy, feeling less like a city and more like a conglomeration of squares.

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A month has hardly been enough time to explore all that Berlin has to offer. For the first two weeks, everyone wanted to do everything, all the time. Expansive parks, riverfront walks, organized tours, famous attractions, and beach bars filled up our afternoons after class. Evenings were reserved for cheap dinners out and a few beers, before staying at one of Kruezbergs clubs until 5am, chowing down on a revolting kebab, then waking up at 8 and doing it all again.

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This sort of lifestyle can’t be lived forever. Now that the program with CityTravelReview is nearly over, we’ve started to settle down – and settle in.

 

 

Unfortunately, just as we are relaxing, so is our work load. It’s nearly time to leave. I wish I had taken a couple weeks to explore Berlin on my own time before the internship started. Though I am proud to be doing something productive instead of backpacking aimlessly, I miss the freedom that comes with travelling solo.

Having more time in this city has made me feel like I have less. There are still so many things Lonely Planet screams at me to do, and though I’ve been relentlessly busy, I feel like I haven’t done any.

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But what I have done is even better than touring – I’ve been living. I’ve busked on the streets with Berliners, snuck into abandoned buildings, and watched the German World Cup games in a crowd of mental fans. I can navigate the public transport system with my eyes closed, rattle off my postal code, and order a meal in German. I’ve spent three weeks discovering this city as a resident, rather than as a temporary visitor. I’ve received mail. I’ve learned to operate a washing machine. I’ve grown accustomed to taking an hour to get anywhere and staying out past sunrise. I’ve never once held a Berlin city map – and I don’t intend to.

CityTravelReview Review – Week One

I’ve learned a lot my first week in Germany.

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I’ve settled down in Berlin for a month-long internship through CityTravelReview.  Not only is the course unpaid, but the interns pay to participate- and do all of the work. Though it’s advertised as an internship, what it really is is work experience – training for a career in the world of travel writing.

I’ve always known travel writing is not glamorous, but it’s also more restricting than I previously assumed. There are sights and activities I’ve had to miss in lieu of needing to review somewhere else. I’ve had to venture to sights I didn’t want to see, but needed to. I’ve missed days out lazing around in the sun to spend cramped in a damp cafe, desperately trying to connect to wifi to meet approaching deadlines.

While some of the teachers at CTR and I employ creative differences when it comes to travel writing, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the course so far. My 25 companions and I were thrown into the thick of it, churning out 3 reviews in the first week – with the added challenge of the worst wifi in the world to upload them with. Our German language classes are intense, yet impressively helpful.

To be honest, we all had the sneaking suspicion that it was a scam at first. I probably wouldn’t have gone at all if it wasn’t for the insurance company that reimburses my school fees. When I arrived in Berlin, I was met at the airport by the main coordinator and eyed him the whole train ride, wondering if I was being whisked off to the sex trade. Or worse.

Instead, I arrived at a large grey apartment complex sporting a rainbow-skittles streak. I paid an extra £100/month for the guarantee of a single room and a little precious privacy. My room is huge, with high ceilings and orange curtains that refuse to block out the sun. The kitchen is the smallest room, which makes cooking together mandatory – and rather improbable. Our 8th floor balcony opens onto a lovely expanse of greenery and stunning sunsets. Though I still think the course is overpriced, it’s comparable to other similar projects. I miss the freedom that comes with backpacking solo, but it feels incredible to unpack my bags semi-permanently and do something productive.

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Although the group has formed a cohesive bond, we are rarely allowed time to deepen our friendships. When we’re not stuck in the (rather dreary) classroom all afternoon, we are out researching various sights, monuments, and cultural entertainment around Berlin. While we would all like to explore together, it would be impossible to compile a full travel guide in a month. This means that I probably won’t see everything I want to, and that I’ll probably end up writing about things I didn’t really enjoy.

I will, of course, only submit my most professional work. However, I’m also here to have a good time. CTR might be more work then play, but our guidebook still needs to include restaurants, coffee shops, and nightclubs – which I get to experience all in the name of research 😉

Budapest, Hungary

I was starving for sun when I arrived in Hungary, and I was immediately satisfied. The murky Danbue River sparkled bronze beneath a clear blue sky as I wandered along the river towards Budapest’s main market for breakfast.

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 After grabbing some almonds in a new confusing currency, my friend (whom I met in Bratislava) led me past a cave church up to the Victory Monument. We hopped the gates for a better view and splashed through a waterfall on the way down, which was gated off as well… But hey, what are rules, if not to be broken?

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The perfect way to spend an afternoon in Budapest is with a Radler (beer and lemonade) on one of many houseboats that line the dangerously-high Danbue. Though there is flooding in many nearby countries, Budapest is safe and sunny.

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The city itself enjoys a relatively-low crime rate. I arrived close to midnight and never felt threatened riding the metro or wandering the streets alone at night. Locals seek tourists out to offer directions. Cars stop for you along the road, even if you’re not at a crosswalk. Budapest is a beautiful, friendly city that likes – and needs – their tourists.

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There are several free walking tours in Budapest. My favourite was the Communism Tour, not only because it ended in a ruin bar, but because of the fascinating history that is still apparent and controversial in Budapest today.

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Three days in Budapest was the perfect amount of time to explore the city, relax in the sunshine, and party all night. While I stayed in a quiet guesthouse, I spent my evenings at David Hasslehoff, a wild backpacker party-place. Many of the guests were backpacking through Eastern Europe, but kept extending their stay – and it’s easy to see why. Though in my opinion, Budapest comes second to Prague, it is still an amazing experience and one of the best big cities in Eastern Europe.

Vienna, Austria

A cheap bus took me from Bratislava back to Vienna for a weekend full of grey, spitting, relentless rain. Luckily for me, I had three good friends to help me through the haze.

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I love travelling alone, but it can get awfully lonely. I stay with friends and family whenever possible. It’s a great chance to catch up, be shown around by a local, and save some money on accommodation.  My friend Anna opened her doors to me and proceeded to show me the most architecturally beautiful city I have ever seen.

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Every building, from the univerity to the multitude of museums and art galleries, is decorated in laborious detail, with fantastic sculptures and Romanesc monuments. All around the outer ring of the City Center and stretching through the winding cobblestone streets inside, I was floored by the multitude of beautiful buildings we passed.

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We found a thumping music festival that contrasted against the backdrop of anciet works of art. My friends and I escaped the drizzle in the famous Cafe Mozart, where we warmed up with rich hot chocolate and typical Viennese pastries.

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Vienna’s castles were the highlight of my stay. Even against the agitated silver sky, the views from the gardens were breathtaking. There is an admission fee to go inside, but exploring the vast and lovely grounds is free.  I would suggest taking an afternoon to explore both.

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Sadly, Vienna’s main market was closed due to the poor weather. Instead of our intended outdoor brunch, we took refuge in a cafe, where we enjoyed Goulash soup and Weinerschnitzel – two dishes I now crave regularly!

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I plan to return to Vienna in the winter, when the streets are bright with golden Christmas markets and brimming with opera shows and entertainment. However, I know I can’t relive my initial experience – as Austrians say, only Gouslash is good reheated.