Bad press for UoC

The university of Cumbria got some bad press in the News and Star today because of me.

Four months after graduation, I still don't have my degree certificate!! They sent the wrong one at the beginning of November, as that said I'd studied Travel Tourism instead of Travel Journalism.

I don't know why they used my coursemate's picture ... I didn't even give them the name, but at least the story is published now.

UoC can obviously afford bad press.

Shoestring Issue #2!!

The second issue of my travel magazine Shoestring is finally online!
Read it here, enjoy it, be inspired and please leave feedback!

"Where we're going we won't need roads!"

I'v been to the movies tonight. But instead of opting to see one of the newest releases, I went to see a classic. Well, a modern classic. The 25th anniversary, digitally remastered version of my favourite film Back to the Future!!

For the first time, I've had the chance to actually watch it on the big screen, at the volume it is meant to be played at. It's been 25 years since Michael J. Fox became Marty McFly, travelling through time in Doc Emmett Brown's DeLorean Time Machine.

At one point at the beginning of the movie, Doc mentions he'd like to see what the place would look like in 25 years (later this is changed to 30 because it's a "nice, even number"). And then it struck me - he was imagining THIS year! 2010! And Back to the Future II is set only 5 years from now! What was the future back then is the present now. What a weird thought.

Laptops mit Latte Macchiato gefällig?

Meine Kolumne über Laptops, die man ins Café mitnimmt um dort zu arbeiten und gemnütlich einen Kaffee zu trinken, wurde heute im Solinger Tageblatt veröffentlicht!

Laptops mit Latte Macchiato gefällig?

Add Link to Shoestring

As you probably know, Shoestring travel magazine has its own website by now! If you haven't done so already, please have a look at and tell me what you think!

I've divided the links into different sections, to make it easier for you to find the relevant link. These sections are: Friends & Contributors, Networks, Gap Year Advice, Travel Companies, Books & Gear and Useful Info.

Please let me know whether you have a website you want to see included, from professional website to your own travel blog!!

I'd really appreciate your input!!

Joining the NCTJ debate

A massive debate has sparked in the world of journalism in the UK: It's about the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) and whether their examinations are really still needed, as leading colleges and universities drop the NCTJ modules from their syllabus.

And rightly so. The UK is the only country to have journalists trained at university coming out with degrees that are worthless unless top-up exams (read: NCTJ preliminaries) are being sat and passed.

My own degree did not provide me with full NCTJ qualification. The only exam I was allowed to sit was News Writing, and I see this as the most important exam. If you can't write at the end of a journalism degree, you chose the wrong profession. Simple as that. This should be the one exam that matters to editors... if they take somebody on who can take notes very quickly but cannot write a decent story, they simply picked the wrong employee.

Law was only briefly touched upon in my B.A. (Hons) Travel Journalism degree, the title itself a bit misleading, as it was Journalism and Tourism Management, rather than Travel Writing. However, due to the title, potential employers now think that I'm not up to gathering hard-hitting news.

No, editors would not be able to send me to court right away. But I do have the book, (I even dished out for McNae's instead of going for one of the cheaper ones that cover exactly the same) and these things can be learned. They do not necessarily have to be taught. Then again, where I come from, there are dedicated court reporters, and those that cover other local news.

In Germany, where I come from, you don't even have to study journalism to become a journalist. In fact, a pure journalism degree is frowned upon. All you have to do is get a Bachelor's degree in a subject of your choice. This is meant to provide the journalist with insight and expertise in one topic, and also shows editors that they are determined. Once you have a Bachelor's degree, you start as a trainee and you learn on the job. There is no better way of learning than learning by doing.

Work experience is the keyword here. But the NCTJ and UK editors are equally discriminating against foreign journalists who try to get a job in this country. When I tried to hand in my portfolio, my cuttings from a German daily newspaper which I work as a freelance for, were not accepted by the NCTJ. And that's after I translated it all into English. It's not the foreign journalists' fault that people in Great Britain tend to be rather ignorant when it comes to living abroad or learning another language. Just because the cuttings are in another language, doesn't mean they are not newsworthy! Besides, translating them in a way that still makes them clearly written, grammatically correct and newsworthy in English is quite a skill. Work experience abroad is meant to be a good thing. Shows that you can adapt, that you can write in a different language and that you tend to have a wider general knowledge because of your experiences.

I have studied journalism in the UK for three years. I have done work experience in Ghana, South Africa, the UK and Germany. Most of it in Germany, though, because I used to spend my semester breaks in my hometown. Which means, I applied the skills learned in England to journalism in Germany and guess what? It worked just fine. The NCTJ's excuse that the systems are not compatible is a lie, and even so: Some of the best books on journalism are written in America... surely their system is different too.

The one skill everyone keeps going on about is Shorthand. No other country relies on shorthand as much as the UK does. The way I see it: If you didn't learn to take notes in your own longhand or your own abbreviations during at least 16 years of education (college + at least a Bachelor's degree) then even shorthand won't help. You only need it for court. Plus, it is much easier to prove what you have written if you don't have to transcribe it first. You could show me a piece of shorthand and then tell me what it means - I won't believe you. I can't read it, the shapes don't make sense. I believe what I can see. "You need to have passed 100 words per minute". Rubbish. I have never misquoted anyone. And if they speak so fast that you would really need over 100 words per minute there's a simple solution. It's called a dictaphone! Voice recording. Even my mobile phone comes with the software. The easiest way of proving that somebody actually said it, is to play it back to them. I did an interview in 2008 with German comedian Ralf Schmitz, who is known for talking at approximately 220 words per minute. Even with shorthand, there would not have been a chance to keep up. So I took an audio recording and took down some notes to remind me of what questions I need to ask and the really important quotes. I managed to write the interview up in the way Ralf Schmitz really talks, because I had it all, word for word.

Try your shorthand at this:

Some editors I have spoken to do not have or do not use their NCTJ skills. Why do they then insist on their employees to have them? Surely they are meant to set an example?!

I have survived in the world of journalism in Germany just fine without any NCTJ's. In fact, the local news editor for the daily Solinger Tageblatt asked me twice to continue working for the Tageblatt, gave me a pay rise thanks to the quality of my work (yes, in Germany, even work experience is paid!) and all that without Shorthand, PA or what they're all called. And why? Because quality of work, professionalism, a sense for news and the ability to work to a tight deadline still matter there.

Let's face it: I am less likely to get a break in journalism, because the university did not provide me with NCTJ qualifications. I'll have to pay another GBP 400 just to do the course (which covers a lot of things I already learned in my GBP 9.500 degree) just to have a paper to show that I have skills that I could either learn on the job or teach myself through books.

The NCTJ qualifications are overrated. A strong and diverse portfolio should be what matters. A wide range of publications and a wide range of topics covered to show that you can deal with anything that happens in your patch. If what matters most to editors are your NCTJ scores then stop doing (unpaid) work experience right now!! It might look good on your CV, but in reality, it's worthless!

Shoestring's own website!

SHOESTRING Travel Magazine now has its own internet home and can be found at

The website is hosted by Blogger, which means that anyone with a GoogleID (including Twitter, Yahoo, Blogger etc.) can become a follower of SHOESTRING Travel Magazine in seconds and get all the latest travel news directly to their dashboard as soon as the site is updated! has been designed to host news and reviews to keep travellers up-to-date. As the magazine is going to be published quarterly (Issue #2 is due out in October!), news that happen between publications would not get a mention otherwise.

The new site also hosts a forum called "Community" which is free to sign up to. Here, travellers and readers can share and exchange experiences and tips and maybe even find travel buddies! You can even share travel photos and videos, and who knows, maybe you'll even inspire a SHOESTRING feature or get to write for the magazine yourself!

The Tips & Tricks section contains the advice pages from the magazine, such as "How do you plan a Gap Year?" This valuable advice is always accessible, and even if you can't open the link the see the full issue of SHOESTRING, as this section will conatin the pages in jpg format. This means, that for most of your travel queries, this section will become a one-stop-shop and the pages can be printed out so that you can take them away and refer to them whenever you need them.

Next to all this, the website will also be where the next issue of SHOESTRING will be published! The issues will be downloadable and printable and you can bookmark and share the site on various social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Digg, Technorati and Google.

The little red sign on the left of the website shows how many visitors are online at the moment, while the map on the right shows where SHOESTRING's readers are from.

Please become a follower on and on Facebook (search for Group SHOESTRING Travel Magazine), and help turn SHOESTRING into an international backpacker magazine!!

My Family's Crazy Gap Year - Channel 4

The idea behind Channel 4's latest travel show is simple: A British middle-class family goes around the world and tries to get well out of their comfort zone.

In tonight's programme, the Willmott family travelled through India, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea and South America, in an attempt to educate the kids - two boys, aged 13 and 9, and a girl, aged 6 - all the while filming their adventures.

Mother Raffia, a bhuddist, does not believe in conventional medicine, and puts her family at risk when they depart for the jungle without any of the recommended vaccinations or malaria prophylaxes and only homeopathic remedies in their bags. Although the family stays with host families in remote parts of India to interact with the locals, My Family's Crazy Gap Year soon turns into a dangerous ego trip when Raffia decides that she just has to meet the Dalai Lama. Head over heels, two cars are organised to drive them 200 miles into the Himalayas to get a chance of meeting His Holiness. On treacherous mountain roads, one of the cars looses grip and rolls twice, with the kids in the back. The Willmott's finally meet the Dalai Lama, and the kids summarise the experience with the words "It wasn't that important to me."

Somehow, the family then ends up on the Mongolian plain (how exactly they got there is any viewer's guess), staying with Nomads in gers (yurts). Within hours, they have to help herd yaks, horses and sheep, and look on as their breakfast is slaughtered before their eyes. While the father of the family has to pitch in, mum looks away in disgust although she claims that they had told the kids "where their food comes from." Only the boys seem to be getting really into it, tucking into breakfast without problems and they even herd the yaks by themselves at the end of the stay.

For some reason, the family then backtracks to the Mount Everest basecamp, before ending up in the jungle of Papua New Guinea. Here, the family seeks out a remote tribe that has never met a Western family before. Next to abandoned huts, the family and their guide set up camp, just to be surrounded by tribesmen armed with bows and arrows as soon as they are finished. Although they are then invited to join the tribe, and the kids definitely seem to be making good friends, the one constant in this episode is the lack of communication between the family and their hosts, most of which do not speak any English at all. But the family only seems to pick up a few words in their hosts' languages throughout the programme. Unfortunately, the viewers only get glimpses of the Willmott family gap year. Huge parts are skipped or only explained with one sentence and one picture, which leaves the viewers wondering: "What happened and how did they get there?" And the whole issue about travel health and homeopathic is not touched again throughout the programme - without medication or vaccinations, I doubt that the entire family managed to travel around the world for a year without any illnesses whatsoever.

The immersion idea is a good one. It definitely takes them all out of their comfort zones and into the unknown, where they have to live like the locals and work like the locals. The children learn not to take things like running water and flushing toilets for granted, and even try insects as snacks offered by the Papuan tribe. Children should learn about these things first hand, make new friends in faraway places, hear different languages, eat different food. The more they learn, the more tolerant towards other people and cultures they will become.

Channel 4's show has left some questions unanswered, though. What kind of luggage did this family take with them? Suitcases or backpacks? When did they get the idea of going around the world and how much planning has gone into it? How much did it cost? Where did they get fitting local dresses upon arrival from? How did they pick the places, and, most of all: how did they arrange all these host family stays?

It's a good show, if you are interested in one family's travels, or want to see middle-class Brits getting back to nature. But from experience, I can only say that meeting the Dalai Lama and living with a remote tribe in Papua New Guinea are not your average Gap Year experiences, nor do these exploits, as down to earth as they might be, sound like they were planned on a budget.

My Family's Crazy Gap Year, Mondays 9pm, Channel 4.

Conny's actual corner...

Yep, folks, this is where I work on this blog and try to create Shoestring Travel Magazine! Just out of shot is the printer and my old laptop which has the publishing software on it (the version I have only runs on XP...). But that's about it!
I'm hoping to expand my work space a little when we move house, probably in a few months, get a proper desk to spread stuff out on and get the rest of my books sent over from Germany... The books I've got here are only journalism related. All the travel books, guidebooks, wildlife books, Almanachs are still at home. Oh, and my souvenirs! They're still in Germany too!
One day, I want to be able to have shelves stacked with topical travel books, have my world map with pins of where I've been back up on the wall and souvenirs dotted everywhere. A proper travel writer's work space, if you like. I know that won't happen for a while yet, though.

Help spread the Shoestring word!

I have a favour to ask.

As you might know, I'm busy planning my travel magazine Shoestring, and I am still looking for contributors.

I have designed for Shoestring and would really appreciate it if you could print them and distribute them around university notice boards, halls, student bars or community centres. One of the flyers is in English (below), the other is in German (above). Although the magazine is based in the UK (due to me living here), the authors can come from around the world and talk about every country on earth.

I'd really appreciate your help in getting the word about Shoestring out!

Thank you!

Last day at easyJet

Drinks with the team at the Lady of Mann pub in Liverpool, after the contract working for easyJet's German customer service at Arvato Services came to an end today.

It's been great working with you guys, and, after 3 years I really enjoyed being able to speak German in England! Keep in touch!

Southport Summer Sunset

Join Shoestring on Facebook!!

To promote Shoestring magazine, I have set up a Facebook group at SHOESTRING Travel Magazine

I'm looking for writers and readers, and want to give everyone the chance to discuss story ideas with like-minded people and get published.

So join me on Facebook if you think that Shoestring sounds like your kind of magazine, want to find out more or even contribute to it!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

My new job on suite101

Here are the first three articles I've published as a freelance for

The first article is about new World Heritage Sites just inscribed into the list, which are as diverse as Shrines and nuclear testing sites.

Then there are the basics of Air Passenger Rights when it comes to European Air Travel. And then there is a little bit about the phenomenom that is Couchsurfing.

Seven New Sites On UNESCO World Heritage List

Seven New Sites On UNESCO World Heritage List

My First freelance article has just been published!

Mini marriage

Southport and Ormskirk Mini Owners Club made a real commitment at this years' Woodvale Rally in Southport. Two Minis, called Ursula and Woofer, were married by a member of the club on Woodvale airfield earlier today.

While the groom was sporting a bow tie and top hat, the bride wore a veil and pearls around her rearview mirror. The owners read their cars' wedding vows, vowing to drive side by side on motorways as long as their engines may run. Marriage certificates were signed, keys exchanged, the champagne was passed around, and the Mini owners cut specially-made wedding cake. At this time it should be pointed out, that the CARS got married... NOT the owners!!

My Summer Song 2010

Eliza Doolittle - "Pack up"

Soooooooo catchy! And that guy is an awesome singer! (The girl's pretty good too though)

Be a Shoestring contributor!

If you have read this blog before, chances are you've heard about my final project, travel magazine Shoestring.

I have decided to continue it as a proper online magazine, bigger, better and for a wider audience.

To achieve this, I am currently looking for travel savvy writers who would like to contribute.

Shoestring is a travel magazine aimed at the 18-30 year old student and gap year travel market. Next to experiences and suggestions for the next trip, I want it to cover advice as well. This can include everything from photo tipps to the best backpacks.

I want to introduce an "as the locals see it" section, where twenty-somethings introduce their hometowns and suggest hip places to hang out, cheap thrills, beauty spots, the coolest new bars - that sort of thing. So if you want to introduce a city that you know well, get in touch! At the moment I'm looking for such places like Barcelona, Milan, Rome, New York, London, Sydney, Cape Town and Auckland but I'm open to suggestions. I'm also always looking for simple (and I mean fool-proof), tasty recipes from around the world.

Shoestring should also feature outdoor stories, active stories, including extreme sports - but on a travelling angle. This could for example include travelling to New Zealand to bungee jump from the bridge where the sport was invented or crossing China on a pushbike. There are no real limits, as long as it has to do with travelling and is of interest to the target readership. Stories exploring different cultures are also welcome!

Have you recently read a really good (factual) travel book? Seen a great documentary? Tried a new travel app on your phone? If so, I'm looking for short reviews.

As you see, Shoestring is still in the planning stage, but I want it to be a one-stop kind of magazine, that offers all the info relevant and of interest to the readers.

So if you have stories you want to share with like-minded travellers, please get in touch with me at or leave a comment on this blog. I can't offer any money but your story will be published under your own name, so this could be a great way to extend your portfolio. If you know anyone who might also be interested in contributing, please spread the word any way you see fit!

Journalist looking for work in the North West of England

My name is Cornelia Kaufmann, I am looking for work as a journalist in the North West of England and this is my Curriculum Vitae.

I was born on 11th July 1987 in Solingen, Germany and I am a German national who has been a resident in the UK since 2007. Currently, I am based in Southport, Merseyside.

On 16th July 2010, I graduated from the University of Central Lancashire with Upper Second Class honours in my Bachelor of Arts Travel Journalism degree. This course was not offered anywhere else in Europe, and I graduated as one of the two top students (same grade) in my class. And because this course is not offered anymore, we are also the top two students to ever have graduated with this degree. The degree was taught at the University of Cumbria, which was formerly University of Central Lancashire's Business School and the Cumbria Institute of the Arts. The course included journalism modules such as newspaper production, practical journalism, general law, print and photography, as well as tourism management modules on supply and demand, geography, society and postmodernity.

This is what I did to get there.

In 1997, when I entered Grammar School, I became one of the first students to be taught bilingually at Gymnasium Schwertstrasse Solingen. This means, I had geography, history and politics lessons in English instead of German. At the end of Year 10 I decided to spend a year in Auckland, New Zealand as an exchange student at Waitakere College. Here, I attended 6th and 7th Form classes, including Geography, Photography, Drama, Classical Studies and English while living with a host family and exploring the Land of the Long White Cloud at the age of 16. Returning home, I attended Years 12 and 13 at Gymnasium Schwertstrasse and graduated with Zeugnis der Allgemeinen Hochschulreife (Abitur - the German university entrance qualification) in June 2006. Due to being taught bilingually, I also received a Certificate of Anglo-German language skills. My Final exams were sat in Advanced English, Advanced German, Biology and bilingual Geography.

After Grammar School, I decided to take a Gap Year and work all around the world. I was a journalist for weekly paper People & Places in Accra, Ghana reporting court cases for two weeks. However, since I don't speak local language Twi, I decided to teach children in a Day Care instead and so became a teacher for 5-year-olds at Little Angels Early Childhood Development Centre in Achimota. In my free time, I travelled with my host family and helped build an orphanage in a neighbouring village.

In South Africa, I spent three weeks in Johannesburg, where I acted as a substitute teacher for two local schools in Reiger Park. During these two weeks, I also translated STAESA's website from English to German (the website has been re-developed and does not include the German translation yet) and I also took Afrikaans lessons. In Cape Town, I was a reporter for local English and Afrikaans newspaper Daily Voice for five weeks before honing my photography skills on a four-week overland tour from Johannesburg to Nairobi.

In Australia, I completed a course and worked as a Jillaroo in New South Wales. I decided to work as a cowgirl in order to try something new and also to show that I am not afraid to get my hands dirty - literally. I then went into the Outback and around New Zealand, to practise my photography skills. My next assignment saw me as the photographer for the Parque Nacional Galápagos Islands in Ecuador. I was stationed in Puerto Villamil on Isla Isabela for seven weeks and it was my job to take photos of all aspects of island life, including the indigenous fauna and flora.

In May 2007, I reached the United States of America, where I studied Visual Communication in a summer session at the University of Nevada, Reno which I finished with grade A, before travelling across the northern states for three weeks. During my Gap Year, I published a series of articles with German Itchy Feet magazine.

Since I started university in September 2007 in the United Kingdom, I have done two months of work experience with the daily local newspaper Solinger Tageblatt in my hometown during semester breaks. I have contributed to all desks of local news, including the bi-weekly youth page Karl. for which I continue to contribute from the UK. I also contribute to the Solinger Tageblatt as a freelance and on story commissions everytime I'm back in my hometown, as of special request by the editor.

In August 2009, I did work experience with the Champion Media Group in Southport and have since contributed reviews for their weekly series of papers, as well as for their website. I have also contributed the photography for some GR8 Life magazine features. During my time at university, I was also part of the editorial team for The Informer, the student newspaper in Carlisle. At The Informer, I held positions as reporter, proofreader, page designer, sub-editor, pictire editor, webmaster and editor and published articles for three years. The Informer team also published the official magazine for Words by the Water literature festival which was called Write On!, as well as several student magazines like Horizons, and the magazine for the Carlisle Arts Festival C.A.F.ine.

Over the Easter break 2010, I worked at Wanderlust travel magazine in Windsor, to finally gain some experience in the travel sector. There I was working in editorial and helped research and write destination guides, as well as sourcing and editing pictures.

My final project was a travel magazine entitled Shoestring, for which I was editor, photographer and designer.

Next to my native language German I also speak English fluently. My spoken English is without any sign of a German accent and I am able to translate from one language to the other instantly. Next to German and English, I've had French lessons at school, speak French on a basic level and hold the DELF A1 certificate. I learned Spanish through private lessons, and spent seven weeks in Ecuador, but due to not having had to speak any Spanish in three years, my language skills are only basic. I took British Sign Language classes and I am always trying to learn a few words in other languages as well.

During my degree, I sat and passed the NCTJ News Writing exam, and will continue to study towards the other NCTJ preliminaries by distance learning, as my degree was not accredited by the NCTJ. I did, however, gain excellent computer skills and knowledge using Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, as well as publishing software QuarkXpress and Adobe programmes such as Photoshop and Acrobat and basic html skills which I practised as webmaster for Write On! as well as on this blog. I have basic working knowledge of Burli and Final Cut Pro programmes, and have published my photography in a variety of outlets such as newpapers, magazines and a book.

While I work very well on a team, I am also able to take initiative, motivate myself and work independently. I am always determined to get the job done to the very best of my abilities and I am enthusiastic about what I do as various recommendations can testify. I've held a full German/European driving licence since 2005 and I have a car at my disposal.

So if you think I'm qualified, experienced and enthusiastic enough for a media job in the North West of England, please contact me either through this blog, by email on or by phone on 07517226 100.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

Going freelance to get work experience

Here's the thing: I have recently applied for a job with the local weekly paper. And although my interview was apparently really good, and they know me, I've published with them before and could start right away - they took someone else.

Apparently seven years of doing work experience during free time is not enough to get a job when you're a journalism graduate. I spent my Gap Year doing work experience as a journalist and photographer, studied Visual Communication and wrote for a German magazine while I was on the road. During my Gap Year, I really got convinced that writing is what I want to do, and applied for a place on the B.A. (Hons) Travel Journalism degree at the University of Central Lancashire while I was working for Cape Town paper Daily Voice.

I have now graduated with upper second class honours. During university breaks, I did work experience at my local daily paper Solinger Tageblatt and was asked by the editor to continue to work for them as a freelance and on commissioned stories whenever I'm in town. Even from England, I continued to write features for their youth page Karl. and have my own, irregular column "Post aus..."

During my third year, I did work experience at Wanderlust magazine in Windsor while writing my dissertation (which by the way was twice as long - 16.000 words - than single honours journalism dissertations) and creating my Final Project, travel magazine Shoestring.

But apparently all that is not enough. Editors want somebody with work experience, but how are you meant to get any more work experience if nobody gives you a job?? I am past unpaid internships. There are bills to pay. And quite honestly, I am done offering my services for free. And the excuse, that it gives you work experience and enhances your portfolio is clearly not of importance if it doesn't get you a job you are more than qualified for.

Which is why I have just gone freelance. I have successfully applied for a job as freelance with I have to write at least 10 articles of between 400 and 600 words every three months and I can write about whatever I like. Finally a chance to actually write about travel.

Life on Cars - The magazine

My other half has just produced a magazine. A car magazine. A magazine about his motoring blog and column Life on Cars. It's a birthday magazine, as his blog went live exactly a year ago, with the blogger-related help and a bit of nudging on my part.

And guess who did half of the photography for this Life on Cars magazine? Yes, yours truly!

Air Passenger Rights

Have you ever been delayed at an airport or your flight got cancelled? If so, this could be of interest!

Usually, when a flight is delayed, most passengers just wait until the plane is ready for boarding. When flights are cancelled, most people try and find the next best flight that suits them. But passengers have rights, even on short delays, which they are not always informed of.

By law, if a passenger asks for the following, airlines have to provide.

- Light Refreshment Vouchers: These should be handed out by airport staff but have to be asked for most of the time. If your flight is delayed and you don't receive vouchers, make sure you keep all the receipts! The same goes for longer stays due to cancellation. Airlines need itemised receipts (no card holder copies for card purchases) and alcohol is not refunded.

- Hotel Accommodation: If you're delayed overnight, or are left stranded somewhere because your flight got cancelled, the airline has to reimburse you for hotel costs incurred. Ask for a detailed receipt that lists all expenses. Some airlines do not reimburse you for pre-paid hotels which you couldn't use because of a cancellation. If you're delayed or your flight is postponed, do not rely solely on the airline to find accommodation. You can go and find your own.

- Phone Calls: Next to the meal vouchers, you should get about € 3.00 per day to call home. Try and use landlines and local numbers. But if you run up bills while being on hold to the airline's customer service, send them a copy of the itemised bill - they have to reimburse you for any calls to the customer service centre, if they cancelled your flight and the calls were a direct result of this.

- Transfers: If you have to stay at a hotel due to a flight delay or cancellation, airport transfer should be reimbursed. Keep hold of all receipts and remember to ask for a receipt if you use a taxi!

One hour of delay is deemed an acceptable time. But if you are delayed more than three or even five hours, you can ask to change your flight to the next available one if travel arrangements don't suit you anymore. If you choose not to travel that day, you can get a credit voucher over the sum of your affected flight. Accepting another flight from your airline should be free of charge. But if you can find an alternative flight (same route) before the one you have been given by your own airline, you can get the costs, or at least the price difference, refunded by your airline. To claim back your alternative costs, provide a booking reference and your boarding passes for easy processing.

The same goes for other alternative travel arrangements such as train. Keep the receipts and you should get at least the difference in price back from your airline. Here as well, you'd have to travel the same route (same origin, same destination, or be in the vicinity of the destination airport when you leave the alternative transport). Transfers to train stations, as well as transfers to pick up your car where you left it will not be refunded.

Always make sure you ask staff about the official reason for the delay. Make a note of it. Then ask the Aviation Authority to confirm the reason for cancellation - these incidents have to be logged. If necessary, double check with the airport concerned or (ie if bad weather is given as reason) the Meteorological Institute.

If the reason is an "extraordinary circumstance", it is deemed outside the airline's control. Reasons can be weather (ie thunderstorms, snow), nature (ie volcano), strike action.

However, there are also "non-extraordinary circumstances" in which the airline is at fault. These are mechanical and technical problems, or crew sickness (especially the captain) when nobody is on standby. If it is confirmed that your delay or cancellation was due to such a circumstance, you are entitled to EU compensation. If the distance between your two airports is less than 1500km, you get €250 per person, per affected flight. Over 1500km, you're in for €400 per person, and flights over 3500km come in at €600 each. It is the law, that you get this compensation if it's the airline's fault you couldn't fly. It's best to check the reason first, but you can always ask for it by mentioning the EU compensation you are entitled to when you contact the airline for a refund. The going policy is: If you are entitled and you don't ask for it, you don't get it.
So if you have been delayed or your trip got cancelled during the summer holidays, or you have friends who will fly soon, show them this site! Some airlines will not inform you of any rights in case of a cancellation. But you will need to know what to ask for, and what receipts are necessary in order to get your extra expenses refunded.
Happy travels!

What's the verdict?

just as I thought I was leaving Carlisle for good, Carlisle tried to lure me back. Well, not the city itself, but Her Majesty's Courts Service. That's right. I've been summoned for Jury Duty at Carlisle Crown Court.

And yes, I did get a slight shock, receiving a letter from court.

The problem is though that I am not eligible to actually be in the jury. Jurors are picked at random from the electoral register, which I am on, if only locally. I can't vote in General Elections. But jurors must also have lived in the UK for 5 years or longer. I have been here slightly less than 3 years now. Besides, I am a German national and that's not going to change anytime soon.S

o I'll fill in the form and send it back - it's a legal requirement - and ask to be excused due to not having lived here long enough. That means though, that should I ever get another summons, I must attend. Unless I'm working for the local media by then, in which case I would almost definitely be in contempt of court...

Graduation Day

Today is the day!! I have just graduated from the University of Central Lancashire (but taught at University of Cumbria) with Upper Second Class Honours in my Bachelor of Arts Travel Journalism degree!!

It feels weird in a way, that it's suddenly all over. Three years of university have finally paid off. This morning we collected our gowns and mortar boards - for everyone not familiar with that term... it's the hat - from Ede and Ravenscroft at the Crown and Mitre Hotel in Carlisle. Once again, I was glad that my degree is validated by Central Lancashire and not Cumbria. While UCLan graduands wear grey and red hoods over the gowns, Cumbria graduands wear grey and a colour best described as neon green and quite hideous.

I went back up to Carlisle yesterday, with my mum, dad, sister and of course my other half. Staying for the last time ever at the house that's been my home for three years - and which my landlord had already rented out again although our contracts hadn't run out yet.

Nonetheless, I had to get up early this morning to get ready and went over to the Crown and Mitre by myself, through the rain. Inside, I met up with fellow Travel Journalism graduand Lauren, got my gown and hat, got my official photos done and then waited for my family and other half to arrive.

After taking a few pics outside infront of the old town hall, all graduands were ushered inside. We had to get in line for the procession to Carlisle Cathedral, and it turned out that Lauren and I were the last graduands from the University of Central Lancashire for the day, and probably also the last to graduate as UCLan students from Cumbria. Fitting also, as we are the first and only two Bachelor of Arts Travel Journalism graduates in all of Europe.

While all the ceremony guests got seated in the cathedral, our gowns were checked, hoods straightened, hats put on tight and straight and the procedure was explained. We then made our way to the cathedral and down the centre aisle towards the altar and stage. What I didn't understand is why they hid us graduands behind the columns in the side aisle. After all, today was supposed to be our day. Helen Hutchinson came by, finding Lauren and me and congratulating us. Then the ceremony started with several addresses and it seemed to last forever until we finally got to go on stage. We had to hand name cards to the dean, then walk up the stairs when our names were called, shake hands with UCLan's vice-chancellor and walk off the stage again, walk around the whole cathedral and sit down. Kind of disappointing, that we did not even get a fake scroll. A graduation ceremony without anything to show off?

After all the degrees were conferred and two honorary fellows appointed, the ceremony was declared over and we followed the academic procession down the main aisle again, and exited the cathedral to applause from guests and all members of the university.

Outside Carlisle Cathedral, our course leader Dr John Luffrum, and tourism lecturer Brian Eaton came to find Lauren and me to congratulate. After all, we're pretty unique as graduating classes go, seeing as there are only the two of us. We're the first to graduate, and for now as far as we know also the last. For three years, it's been our little four person clique when we didn't have lessons at Brampton Road for the journalism modules.

University is over, and somehow we made it! I say hats off to that!!

Upper Second

I still can't really believe it: I finished my B.A. (Hons) Travel Journalism with Upper Second Class Honours!!!! That's right - I got a 2:1!

I think what impressed me most was the 65 I got for my Final Project, travel magazine Shoestring. I'd wanted to create the magazine for years and knew I was likely to be marked down because I took controversial decisions, like bleeding pictures to inside edges and going against British norm (but conforming with German norm!) by using double quotemarks in headlines. To come out with 65 is great!!

My 16.000 word double dissertation "How do travel magazines define their readership and how does their style and content reflect this? An analysis of the travel market" got me 63.

In Newspaper Production, I guess the main module for journalism, I even got 66! But the biggest surprise was Professional Development. For my Guardian-front page styled CV, as well as a work experience report and career goal analysis, my tutor gave me 76!!

I had the overall result of 2:1 confirmed by phone a while ago. However, for no logic reason at all, all the Travel Journalism result letters were lost in the post - twice. So I finally got my result emailed to me. After all, I will graduate on Friday, so knowing individual grades is nice.

Since we didn't get any feedback on any of the modules during the entire third year, this could have gone either way. Especially since I had to improve slightly from Year Two. But I managed it!! This calls for celebration!

Oh uni result where art thou?

My graduation is on 16th July (only two weeks from today) and I still don't know whether I passed or not.

After handing in my last assignment on 13th May, I haven't had anything from uni yet. If I was a single honours journalism student graduating in November I wouldn't be this stressed. But leaving it evidently less than two weeks before graduation to tell students whether they actually passed or not is not fair.

It really reminds me of the start of my third year... I was back at uni, studying in third year for 3 weeks, before they Gold me that i had actually passed second year.

The reason for this graduation result malarky is the University of Cumbria. Although I studied at their Carlisle campuses, my degree has always been run by the University of Central Lancashire. Assessment criteria, assigmemts, rules and regulations all set by UCLan and I have always considered myself a UCLan student. UCLan's exam boards where a while ago and we could have had results then. But apparently UOC decided they wanted to have a look as well, resulting in this massive delay. Why UOC wanted to have a look at degrees clearly validated by UCLan is anyone's guess..

All I can say is that I'm glad I can leave UOC behind me in two weeks and never have to go back. The teachers were great but that uni screwed up too much on my degree.

Alone among Lions....

Germany is through to the Quarterfinals at the 2010 World Cup. And knocked out England in the process. As a German national, I don't really see the problem all my British neighbours have with this outcome of last Saturday's match. I myself was rather jubilant. What can I say? While the Lions were only roaring, the Eagle was soaring.

I did miss something though: Fußball-Fieber, as I'm used to from home. Watching from massive Public Viewing spaces instead of tiny pubs or confined to the four walls of the living room. Celebrating victories by driving your car through town, honking, waving flags and joining convoys. Flags of all participating nations proudly displayed in windows, shopfronts and flapping around cars. Nobody getting bullied for supporting "the wrong team".

I remember the Euro 2008, when Germany played against Turkey and ultimately won. Fears were high there might be trouble in the streets of my hometown of Solingen after the match. Instead, Turkish and German fans flogged to the city centre, closed the main thoroughfare in the process and celebrated out on the street until the early hours.

When I suggested flying the German flag from our house in Britain, my other half shrieked: "Do you want to get us killed?" Having experienced the World Cup in Britain so far, I do have to say that Germany comes out more multicultural and tolerant than Blighty. This picture was taken in my hometown Solingen during the European Championship:

For today's Champion newspaper, my England supporting other half David Simsiter and I were asked to write a feature. Here are our impressions:
I'm no football expert but even I was feeling worried when our lads went out on the pitch for our World Cup showdown. Not because I was afraid England might lose - that'd never happen, obviously - but because Germany might win, and I was sitting next to a German supporter in a pub packed with England fans. I was thinking I'd be lucky to survive the first half as my other half, Cornelia Kaufmann, hails from the city of Solingen, in northern Germany, and wasn't going to let living in Britain get in the way of supporting her country's sports stars.
I knew the high stakes for both teams. I just wished it wasn't such a crucial match for Capello's crusaders, who'd made it through to the knockout stages by the skin of their teeth. Aware of the imminent dangers of causing a diplomatic faux pas, we deliberately chose to view the match where the England support might be a little more muted - Wales. I reckon it was probably one of the best decisions I've made, because while there were plenty of England supporters to cheer BOTH the England goals, there were also plenty of ABE - Anyone But England - fans cheering alongside Conny. They didn't want Germany to win either, but they definitely wanted England to lose.
It's the most unlikely cultural partnership I've ever seen, but I was glad the lone German wasn't the only one cheering for the other side. As a proud Brit, despite the sunshine last Sunday, it was a dark day. I'm not going to get into what went wrong but the score speaks for itself, and I can't think of any worse consolation than a jubilant German. She actually wanted the score to be 5-1, just to rub out memories of nine years ago when England fans were celebrating that score.
I left the pub feeling even more defeated than expected, made worse because I knew the German supporter wasn't ever going to stop going on about the win. I guess it makes up for all the light-hearted jokes about 1966 and a certain two other times we've faced Germany. Don't mention the score....
Meanwhile, proud Germany supporter Cornelia Kaufmann had this to say on the match:
Following the World Cup in the UK and not supporting England might not be the smartest idea. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve lived in England for the last three years and I love it here – but when it comes to football, I’m cheering for my own national team. Yep, you’ve guessed it: I’m German.
Sitting in a Welsh pub surrounded by England supporters felt weird. Previously, I’d followed matches from Public Viewing spaces but this time I was the odd one out. I tried to keep my enthusiasm down for fear it might get me into trouble, but it did prove rather difficult to keep quiet.I found myself muttering tactical suggestions in German and couldn’t suppress a “Yes” when the whole pub went “NO!” All the while, my England-supporting other half shook his head disapprovingly.
Hand on heart though: you would probably have cheered too if it had been the other way round.
What I missed in England were multicultural celebrations, flags of all the participating nations being proudly displayed and rival supporters celebrating side by side. With this being a match between arch rivals England and Germany I knew it would be different, but I didn’t expect it to go that quiet.
The whole nation went into mourning upon that final whistle and I felt sorry that England’s second goal didn’t count. Driving through town after the match, I only blew my tiny, electronic vuvuzela once to celebrate. The noise it made was so quiet I doubt anyone actually heard it.

Coffee business

It's 8.30am and I'm sitting in Starbucks on Liverpool's Castle Street. For once I'm early and have time to sit and observe instead of downing my coffee while walking to work. The coffee shop itself is not as busy as I thought it would be, but I also know that could change in a second. More than once did I walk away without something caffeine-containing because the queue was that long.

A man in suit and tie works on his laptop on the table across from mine. Another man sips coffee in the corner, while lounging on one of the sofas and reading today's news.

Business men, construction workers and women in summer-y, flowery dresses walk past, and I can see them thinking "coffee would be nice right now" while they haste out of sight.

One of my colleagues just walked through the door. It seems I'm not the only one who needs to wake up!

Gone treasure-hunting!

I've finally had the chance to do something I haven't really taken part in since I was in primary school - I went on a treasure-hunt!

Katie and Sian have been treasure-hunting since the start of the year. They know that treasures are hidden all over the world, but focus mainly on Southport and surroundings for now. Together with them, I set out to find trinkets and sign my name on the list of those who have found it.

It's a nice game, suitable for anyone, and just as exciting as your childhood memories suggest. Somewhere out there, little boxes are hidden and buried, and it is your task to find them, using their GPS coordinates. You don't take anything though. You add to the collection of treasures with little things (some teams and individuals have their trinket of choice they always leave behind), or, if you do take something, you replace it with something of equal value. We found a bracelet, cigarettes, a lighter and much more. This time, because we were unprepared, we didn't leave anything ourselves. We just signed the list to say that we found it, stated date, time and "thanked them for the cash" and hid it again just where we found it, for others to find it in days to come.

These treasures are not hidden in plain sight, and you will have to search for them quite a bit, turn over rocks and look in and under trees. It's fun, gets you out into nature and you can either do it as a one-off while out on a picnic or daytrip, or be serious and try to find them all.

I have definitely found a new hobby - and I only had to walk 300ft to find my first treasure! Katie and Sian are right: you do get hooked on it!

Journal to Book?

When I was on my Gap Year from September 2006 until July 2007, I kept a travel journal. Partly because I wanted to keep track of what I was doing, partly because I wanted to remember everything and to a great extend because I wanted to record what struck me about the places I visited.

While I was travelling, I kept an online journal as well, to keep family and friends up to date. Unfortunately, I lost one of my travel journals due to sending it home and the parcel never reaching its intended destination. However, the online blog, most of my notes, flyers and of course all my other journals are still there, and now I think I should put the skills I learned on my BA Travel Journalism to good use.

I am planning to turn my journal, along with maps, loads of photos and anecdotes into a book! Thanks to QuarkXpress, Adobe and that should not be a problem, and it would be instantly available for everybody who is interested in it. Oh, and yes, I'd write it in English this time 'round.

What do you think? Good idea? Bad idea? Let me know!


Ladies and gentlemen, the time has come! I have finally joined the world of smart-phones, apps and mobile contracts! That's right, I just got myself an iPhone.

After years on pay-as-you-go, I figured I'd spend less money on a contract per month than I am topping up at the moment. And with many contracts, you can now get yourself a smart-phone, such as BlackBerry, iPhone, N97 or X6.

My other half has been going on about getting himself a N97 mini for ages now, and finally made good on the promise. However, I had a play around with his new phone, and didn't find it intuitive enough for me.

So I went to the store and actually tested the BlackBerry, iPhone and N97, to see which one I could get used to, and the iPhone came out on top. Easy to handle, you know that there's an app out there for everything you could possibly want and it's a touchscreen phone - no keypad whatsoever.

However, now that I got my phone out of the box, I find it's not as straight-forward as I had hoped. First, you have to download the latest version of iTunes onto your computer (a hard and long task, if you've got mobile broadband with a bad connection). Then you have to set up your Apple ID for the iTunes Store, from which you download your applications. I do have iTunes, but never purchased anything before... It took absolutely ages, and keeps wanting to register the phone again and again. It also keeps logging me out. And because I've kept my phone number, I'll only be able to actually use the new phone from Tuesday onwards.

I still think it's easy to handle and the best of the lot, but setting it up does test your patience.

Exam Time

The problem with this university degree in travel journalism that I've been doing for the las three years is: it's not NCTJ accredited. Which means, in order to actually work as a journalist in the UK, I'll have to get these sought-after qualifications another way.

There are 6 preliminary exams in total, only two of which I can actually do right now. One is Newswriting and the other is handing in a portfolio of work.

I've just sat my Newswriting exam today, in which I had to write a 325-word news story, an 80-word story, a 50-word story as well as come up with sources and possible interview questions and how to make use of the internet for a pretend news story within the space of two hours. It's my only third year exam, and it's not even set by the University of Cumbria.

The portfolio will be handed in soon, just need one more story for that. Now I just have to sort out where and how to learn shorthand, PA, law etc. which I will need for the full qualification.

I'm just glad that with this exam, university is really over!

Empty room

It's weird seeing your life packed up in boxes. qall your memories fit into four cardboard walls.

My student life in Carlisle has come to an end, which means that my other half and I can finally live together! Last week, straight after handing my last assessment in, we moved in together, and are now living in the room he has had for the past year as part of a house he shares with two good mates.

Since everyone else has been in the house for a year, I currently have nowhere to put my stuff. Bags, and boxes are everywhere, from the cupboard under the stairs to the garage. But it's getting there.

Today, we hired a transit van and drove back up to Carlisle, to collect the bulk of my belongings. Since I don't have any furniture - the student house came fully furnished - I only had a couple of boxes for my uni folders, books, magazines and clothes, as well as two DVD shelves and a bike. Loading it all into the van only took a few minutes, really, and now I'm told it all lives in the garage in Southport for the time being.
Typically, we did the trip on the hottest day of the year, and the 2 1/2 hour trip up the A6 and lunch in the beergarden left me completely sunburnt.

While my boyfriend drove back down to Southport, I had to stay behind because I will be writing an exam on Tuesday. Which means, that I am currently sitting in an empty room. The only things left here are my duvet, pillows, printer (I still need to print things out for uni), bathroom stuff and kitchen stuff, all of which I will take with me when I graduate. It's the strangest thing, to see your room empty and the walls bare for the first time in three years.
I never moved house during my time at uni, so whether I wanted it to or not, this place has been home for me.

The Italian Job minus the Mini

Over the last few months my boyfriend, Champion motoring guru David Simister, has planned a Mini event to take place in Parbold.

The idea was to get the Mini SOD club members and other Mini clubs in the area to meet at the Mini SOD's pub of choice Scotch Piper in Lydiate, and then drive in convoy to Parbold. There, the old Minis and Mini Coopers would be displayed in the parking lot of the Parbold Village Hall for an hour, before the 1969 original of The Italian Job with Michael Caine would be shown on the big screen inside.

A brilliant plan, and a rare chance to see the movie in a cinema setting, and lots of people were really excited by it. So was David, planning it, corresponding with the organisers at the Village Hall, advertising it on his blog and on the radio during Martin Hovden's show on Dune FM on Fridays. I was appointed photographer.

Today was the day. The Mini Run took place. So we dressed up in our club t-shirts, washed David's 1983 Mini Mayfair, polished it, cleaned the windows and chrome, filled her up with fuel and went on our way.

With four people in the car, we didn't want to take the bumpy road over the Moss, so we decided to detour through Formby to Lydiate. As he was the organiser, David insisted on leaving early so we'd be there when everyone arrived. Lucky we left early, because as soon as we turned off the dual carriageway and onto the country road behind the Tesco in Formby, something happened.

While doing 40mph down the country lane, over potholes and round bends, all of a sudden, we heard a bang and the front left wheel gave in. At first we thought it was a blowout, as we skidded to a stop. We were right before a blind bend and luckily had not yet started to turn. But as soon as we got out, we saw what had really happened. The entire tyre had caved in, and was now stuck at an angle underneath the wheel arch. There was no way we could have driven it any further, infact the Mini had to be lifted onto the footpath not even steering it worked. So we called a recovery truck and waited... after 45 mins, a mechanic in a transit van shows up, looks at the car, looks at us and goes "that needs recovering"... you don't say! Another 45 mins later, and the truck finally arrives. By that point, we have missed the set off of the convoy.

A friend and fellow Mini club member took over organising at the pub and coordinating how much space would be allocated to the car display. The truck driver was kind and agreed to drop our Mini off home and drop the keys in the letterbox, so that we could hitch a ride and still make it to the show.

We got there with 10 mins to spare before the film started, exhausted, sunburnt and slightly disappointed that after all the lovely treatment, the car decided to break down today out of all days. In the end, we had eight Minis on display and the screening of The Italian Job was a success. Just a shame that the car we travelled in was not roadworthy anymore. I'm not into cars, nor could I point out all the parts, bolts or anything else attached to it (excluding the engine, lights and windscreen wipers) but I am told it was the driveshaft that gave up and knocked out a swivel joint.

If you go "huh?" at the moment, don't worry I'm not quite sure what that means either, however, I can show you what it looks like:

For all those who can never quite remember how to calculate braking distances, head out towards and past the Formby Tesco, and look for the tyre marks on the road. Measure it, and you'll know how long it takes to go from 40 to 0 in a Mini within a second... We're just glad it happened where it happened, and not on the dual carriageway or in a bend... it would have thrown us right off course and we could have ended up in a ditch or even worse, in oncoming traffic. The car is fixable, I'm told, and we're all in one piece, but that car sure has a way of showing its appreciation...

Last university assessment ever

I have just handed in my very last university assessment for the B.A. (Hons) Travel Journalism.

The assessment was to look at post-modern management at a World Heritage Site or other attraction. For mine, I chose Stonehenge, and created a website on which I can show my findings... very post-modern indeed.

Anyway, have a look at Managing Stonehenge to see what I found out.

Now that university is over, I can finally concentrate on the important things, like moving in with my other half and finding a job!

15.938 words, 0 sleep. Dissertation countdown

After several all-nighters, countless cups of coffee and very, very little sleep, it's finally done! I have just handed in my dissertation for the B.A. (Hons) degree in Travel Journalism.

"In what ways do travel magazines define their readership and how does their style and content refelct this? An analysis of the travel market" was my topic, and I looked at travel magazines Wanderlust, Lonely Planet Magazine, The Sunday Times Travel and National Geographic Traveler in terms of writing style, features, pictures, colours and advertising, to find their readership. For this I also had to know how market segments can be defined and what methods are used.

In total, I have written 15.938 words, excluding quotes, abstract, declarations, lists, captions and references. 60 pages including the cover, and the overall word count of everything I have written is 19.028.

I found that I had to cut a lot out. Writing the Literature Review, and the first few chapters explaining Market Segments, Travel Writing and Magazine Style was pretty straight-forward, based on quotes and my own interpretations. However, the four case studies were not that easy to write. I did one after the other, so I wouldn't get confused with the magazines. I looked at each one from many different angles, and really had to focus so I wouldn't write too much. The hardest part was then to link it all up, compare, contrast and add quotes and references to earlier chapters. I found that nailing down a specific readership is not possible in most cases, even though every book on the subject advises editors to have a very clear reader profile in mind when designing the publication.

I actually finished my dissertation in the early hours of yesterday. However, I still had to write an abstract, which took me most of the day, as I had to sum up nearly 16.000 words in 250 words or less.

Once the results are published, I will publish my dissertation for you to judge!

Know what you are voting for!

With the General Election only two weeks away, you should register to vote and make an informed decision on May 6.

A good tool, that will let you compare your views against that of the parties is VoteMatch. You will be given a 30 question quiz, showing you statements on topics like Crime & Justice, Employment, Immigration, Tax, Education and Health among others. All you do is read the statement, and tick a box whether you agree, disagree or are open-minded about it. At the end, you will have to choose three parties you would consider voting, and your answers will be matched against their policies. A chart will tell you which one of the three chosen parties you agree most with, and you can then go and see whether your answer matches what you think the party stands for. It is only meant as a guidance tool, but I urge you to have a play around with it.
Ideally, you will read through the policies of all the parties, and weigh them against your own view on things. It doesn't matter whether your mum and dad always supported the Conservatives, or whether your boyfriend will vote Labour. You should make up your own mind, and vote accordingly.

Whatever you do, don't waste your vote! If you don't agree with the three main parties Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats, then vote something else - UK Independence Party (UKIP), Green, British National Party (BNP), Monster Raving Loonies,... at least that way it will be registered that you are unhappy with the way things are being run. Your voice will be heard. But scribbling obscene words or paroles onto the ballot, or ticking every single box will mean your paper goes into the bin - you will have wasted your vote, so you could have stayed at home to start with.

Tonight at 8pm, the leaders of the three main parties - Gordon Brown (Labour), David Cameron (Tories) and Nick Clegg (Lib Dems) will meet in the second televised prime ministerial debate. Watch it on Sky, BBC or online, or listen to it on the radio. It should be interesting! Champion reporter David Simister will also keep you updated on Twitter about how it's all playing out.

Shoestring magazine Out Now!

My Final Project SHOESTRING MAGAZINE went to print today!!

Shoestring is a magzine for backpackers aged 18 - 30, who enjoy outdoor activities, exploring cultures and might even be thinking or taking a Gap Year or Sabbatical to volunteer or work somewhere. Exploring the world on a budget - it's exactly what it says on the tin. Students with itchy feet might not know about all the possibilities open to them, and I'd like to help there. My motto is: "Where you have been is not half as important as where you are going! Meet you there!" and I mean it.

Just like Mark Twain once said "Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the things you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." I do believe that you should take your chance to travel while you can, and even though the world has been explored many times over, there are still so many hidden gems and experiences to discover!

For now, Shoestring is a 12-page magazine, but if I get enough encouraging feedback, I will turn it into a regular online publication, with more sections (i.e. city breaks, what gear, etc.) and more pages. As this issue of Shoestring is an assessment and counts towards my degree, there will only be a limited number of hard copies, mainly for those who contributed to it (printing is expensive, if you don't print in bulk). But the good news is: you can read it online either here on Conny's Corner or on, download it, print it and hopefully in the future even subscribe to it.

Click on the magazine above, and it will open in full screen modus. If you click on the page then, it will zoom in, so you can read it properly. I only ask you not to distribute it further once you downloaded it and not to pass it off as your own.

Last but not least I want to thank David Simister, Laura Heisig, Skye Macdonald, Luise Görlitz, all the photographers and everyone I interviewed for their big help!

Shakespeare's Stratford

It's been almost exactly nine years, since I was last in Stratford-upon-Avon. Back then, I was 13, in Year 8 at Gymnasium Schwertstrasse Solingen (Germany) and lucky enough to score a place on the one-week Girls' Exchange between my school and Stratford-upon-Avon Grammar School for Girls. It was my second trip to the Kingdom, and our English was not good enough to read or undestand Shakespeare yet.
That didn't stop our teachers back then to take us to all the locations associated with the playwright, who was born and lived in Stratford. My exchange partner lived outside of town, and I barely saw the city or the river for that matter. We did, however, go sleighing at a SnowDome (in Royal Leamington Spa, I think it was?), horse riding and swimming.
As my placement in Windsor came to an end, I decided I'd stop in Stratford-on-Avon on my way back to Southport, pretty much as a fuel stop on the way from Oxford. However, my plans changed slightly.
After two weeks apart, my boyfriend decided he wanted to surprise me, and come down for the last night and then drive back to Merseyside with me. However, I am glad I found out beforehand, as he would have gone to the wrong YHA. As Jordans is booked for the weekend, I would have de-camped to Oxford, which he didn't know. But Oxford didn't have any spare private rooms left for the two of us, so in the end, we booked into the YHA just outside Stratford for our rendezvous.

It was really sweet, although it meant long travels for both of us. We decided to get take-away food from town and drive back to the hostel to watch some TV and then have an early night. The next morning, however, I insisted on having a look around. Shakespeare is not my favourite playwright, nor am I a history buff, but I wanted to see the place again, and see whether my memories were correct. Also, I have lost most of my photos from 2001, so I used the chance for photo stops.
Our first stop was Anne Hathaway's Cottage (see above) in Shottery, just around the corner from the Grammar School for Girls I attended for a week. It wasn't open yet, and I didn't need to go in. The gardens and the house are viewable from the street. Granted, you don't get to walk around a 16th century farmhouse, but then again, it doesn't really matter. Anne was William Shakespeare's wife, and legend has it that William proposed to her on a wooden bench inside (which I saw in 2001). However, I also heard rumours back then from the locals, that Anne's cottage was actually a small cottage next door to the famous building, in which case the association with Shakespeare would be incorrect.
After a few early morning shots (it was 9am on a Sunday and my boyfriend - who isn't into Shakespeare's work - was not too impressed) we headed back into the town centre, where we walked over to Shakespeare's Birthplace (top picture). Again, we did not go in, as everything associated with the bard seems to be quite expensive. Also, in 2001 I did see the inside. Decorated with furniture and household items from the 1580's it's worth a look, but probably not worth the money if you're not fanatical about Shakespeare. With an hour to spare until the parking ran out, we strolled down to the Avon, saw the narrowboats and Royal Shakespeare Theatre, before returning to our car. It's a nice place to stroll around on sunny days, with it's medieval market town flair and Tudor buildings, but you should be into Shakespeare or at least history to fully enjoy it... unless of course you look for curious little shops like the year-round Christmas Store opposite the bard's birthplace.....

The people you meet at YHAs

Spending two weeks at YHAs, you do come across your fair share of characters. There are people you share the dorm with, with whom you just "click". Others follow you around like a puppy and tell you their life story, whether you want them to or not. Some just sit in the corner, others use the YHA as an excuse to go and visit their mistresses.

I have spent quite a few weeks of my life sharing dorms at YHAs, backpackers and hostels all around the world. Just recently, I met an Australian lady at the YHA in Jordans, who was over here to research her family history and actually managed to find some of her relatives. We shared the room for a few days, and just got talking in a nice exchange of thoughts, ideas and experiences. She left to travel some more but came back to the hostel after I'd left the area for good (but I did leave my contact details for her) - and she just called me, saying she was sorry she missed me and wanted to say goodbye because she will be flying home tomorrow. I now have another contact in Australia, and an invitation to come and visit her when I'm next Down Under. Meeting people like her is nice. You bond, you have someone to talk to. But then, there are others.

At the same YHA, a retired man checked-in. He was there two days, and told everyone everything they possibly needed to know about his life. He just started talking and all attempts to either shut him up or get out of his way (the amount of times I got up, did the dishes, left the room, tried to read...) were to no avail. He kept following us, me in particular, around. I now know that he rides his bike nearly everywhere, has had more jobs than I care to remember, that his best friend in Germany is called Rolf, he loves the city of Freiburg, he lives just outside of Birmingham and his daugters all have taken gap years - the only thing I don't know is his name. He never introduced himself.

YHA Jordans was used as a base by many of us, who worked temporarily in and around Windsor. An actor who was working as a double on the latest Harry Potter drove to work from there, lecturers prepared lessons and other met clients in the area. Although I had to be up farily early myself, I was usually awake by 5am - the time the first dorm-sharer would jump down from the top bunk and shake the bed every morning without fail.

During my Gap Year, I joined impromptu BBQs in Australia, was given didgeridoo lessons by fellow travellers and went shopping with the staff of a South African hostel, before singing "Son of a preacher man" alongside Mama Fefe in Cape Town during karaoke night. I made friends with PeaceCorps members in Swaziland, witnessed how somebody staying at my hostel in Brisbane was arrested and smashed the police van, and slept in a bunk bed that had been put under a car port in Tamworth, Australia, when the YHA owner realised she had hopelessly overbooked.

The worst, but also most hilarious YHA moment happend in L.A. though. I was in a mixed, 10 bed dorm for a few nights, and noticed that some of the guys were also staying for more than two days. One guy in particular kept bringing a different girl back to the dorm every night (why you would even consider that is beyond me), but during the fourth night, one of the other guys got up (at 4am), turned on the lights and said completely serious: "We might as well just watch."

At the time, you might not be too impressed, but looking back at all the people you've shared a dorm with, it's those characters you'll remember and they make the experience very lively indeed.

Out and About in Oxford

Oxford - what a great place! I only got to spend a weekend there, but I absolutely loved it! On my weekend break from Wanderlust, I had to move out of YHA Jordans, and decided to go to Oxford. New hostel, city centre location (unlike the "middle-of-the-forest" location of Jordans) and a place I've always wanted to go to.

I spent my first morning not in Oxford at all - instead I decided to drive down to Stonehenge for my assessment and have a look around at their managing techniques. But Oxford's pull was stronger, and the whole city, at least to me, more intriguing. The ancient buildings of the halls and colleges that make up the University of Oxford reflect the city's rich history, not only in architectural terms.

As a place of learning and knowledge, I shouldn't have been surprised by the amount of books in the Bodelian library or the amount of booksellers throughout the heart of the city. Over 6 million books! And my own university couldn't even maintain it's three miniature libraries in Carlisle...

Sunday morning I was up early. I was the very first person to climb Carfax Tower that day, even before it officially opened. Not advisable for people afraid of heights (narrow, steep spiral staircase, through which you can see the ground below) and asthmatics, the tower offers views over Oxford's city centre and its Dreaming Spires. 360° Panorama views of most of the colleges, churches, chapels, medieval buildings and the city bustling underneath make it worth it all, but I was glad when I was back on solid ground as I suffer from both problems outlined above. However, I'm also such a keen photographer that I tend to ignore them until I have to turn back down...

On nice days, punting on the Isis (as the Thames is called in Oxford) or on the Cherwell is recommended. There are walks along the rivers for those wishing to stay out of the water. Walking around the medieval college buildings, the Radcliffe Camera, Sheldonian Theatre, Bridge of Sighs is like stepping back in time. On the main shopping streets, 15th century houses lean into the streets. Many cafés are hidden away in back yards and alleys, although they really capture the atmosphere of the city. Students pouring over books and grabbing quick coffees to go.

Before I walked around Christ Church College (one of the most famous ones in Oxford), I treated myself to a G&D's ice cream. Although this Oxford ice cream parlour is not the cheapest, it is one of the best I've been told and I can testify they are pretty good! Christ Church College was amazing. To walk around the old buildings, the dining hall, the dorms, the cathedral on the grounds of the college ... and to think that students still study there, sleep in the same rooms as hundreds of students have done before them over the course of hundreds of years! I came close to transferring to Oxford University just for the sake of studying at a properly recognised uni that's well respected and established and history-ladden. Glancing up at the portraits of former students that hang on the dining hall walls, I just can't imaging UoC to ever be any competition. Full-gown dinners, taking exams in academic dress, honouring all the traditions there... just imagine!

Oxford has inspired so many people, and I can see why. I had a pint in J.R.R. Tolkien's favourite pub, heard all about Alice in Wonderland which was written by an Oxford professor and was told all about Inspector Morse. I can't wait to go back and explore some more - longer than a day next time though!

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