Travel: Students with the write stuff: Frank Barrett reports on our student travel writing competition and its winner, who spent four months on a polluted bank of the Volga

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The Independent Travel
There are three things you can usually be sure of encountering in our annual student travel writing competition: sex, toilets and Bucharest railway station. This year's entries provided something of a departure; while Bucharest station cropped up, sex and toilets were notably absent.

Mark Ellingham of Rough Guides, whose team had the daunting task of trawling through the record total of 950 entries, in order to draw up the final shortlist, estimated that overall quality was down on previous years.

'This could well have been my fault for moaning that the last set-essay titles for the competition - 'Transport of Delight' and 'Heartbreak Hotel' - were looking for trouble, and were entirely the cause of the entrants' obsession with bodily functions,' he says. He judged this year's theme, 'Impressions of a City', to be 'a bit too dry and a bit loose - giving too much scope to the budding James Joyces and obsessive globetrotters alike.'

He says one of the best things ('well, let's be honest - the best thing') about the task of ploughing through 950 entries is the piece which cannot win but just cannot be binned. 'This year's walkaway winner in the bizarre category was Kim Segal's poem, 'Albert's Dock'.'

Written in the style of the famous monologue 'Albert and the Lion', memorably performed by Stanley Holloway, the poem is set not in Blackpool but in Hong Kong: 'Young Albert were fairly excited / On account of the view from the plane, / 'E thought they were landing on t'buildings / And wanted to go round again.'

In Segal's poem, young Albert does not get eaten by a lion but, in a moral tale for our times, is traded in by his parents at an electronics shop for a cheap video camera.

There was very tough competition for the 'Pretentious? Moi?' Award, which Mark Ellingham gave, after long deliberation, to Rupert Mould for his opening sentence: 'The incessant boisterous cackle from the kids around me was shut out by the words to my song that I had been working on one week previously.'

Elizabeth Caller had the best first sentence: 'It is illegal to make a fish drunk in Oklahoma'; Fiona Walton came up with the worst pun, writing about being drawn to Seville 'like a moth to a flame(nco)'.

But now (roll on drums), the prize winners, in reverse order. The three runners-up, who each receive five Rough Guides and a Eurotrain rail ticket to the European destination of their choice, are: Samantha Kellow of Cambridge, Helen Rumbelow of Oxford and Amelia Hill of Leeds.

In second place, for his piece on 'Faith and Bicycles in a Punjabi City', is William Buckingham, who receives a Trailfinders ticket to any city in North America to the value of pounds 400 and a selection of five Rough Guides. He is 22 years old and is in the final year of a fine arts degree at Newcastle University; he says he entered the competition one morning in order to fill in an idle hour while waiting for the gasman to come and fix the oven.

The winner of the 1993/94 Independent Student Travel Writing Competition is Alice de Smith, 22, in her fifth and final year of a classics and Russian degree at Magdalen College, Oxford. She wins a Trailfinders long-haul ticket to the value of pounds 600 and a selection of 10 Rough Guides. The Independent will provide pounds 500 spending money. She also receives a writing commission to contribute to a Rough Guide.

Her winning entry on Yaroslavl was written after her year abroad in Russia, which included four months in Yaroslavl and four months in St Petersburg. This is her second writing success; last year she took first prize in Cosmopolitan magazine's journalism competition. 'I was very surprised to win. I would like to become a journalist, but first I am planning to travel.'