ROME – berlin – paris – brussels – amsterdam
The second part of my EU Supergirl tour was somewhat more ambitious than part 1 – travelling to five countries in the space of 10 days – it needed some careful planning, so it was just as well I had made some time at home by cancelling the preceding week’s events. I had hoped to join the JEF (Jeunes Européens Fédéralistes ) “I choose Europe” bus for at least a period of their pre-election tour to mobilise voter support for pro-EU parties. Unfortunately, after cancelling on the Slovakia-Bulgaria leg of the tour, the only events I could make were Rome on 24th and Paris on 28th, as I also had to travel to Berlin for a conference on the 26th, and to Brussels for the Altiero Spinelli award ceremony on the 29th (for which my #24ReasonstoRemain campaign had been shortlisted). The plan was to hang in Brussels for another day to check out the #Youthweek Yo!Fest activities on 30th and then travel to Amsterdam where I was due to be interviewed by the European Cultural Foundation who awarded me the #DemocracyNeedsImagination grant for my EU Supergirl tour.
Struggling to get on top of the never-ending list of jobs, I accepted the offer of assistance from EU super Dad making the travel plans. But as genuinely helpful as he was trying to be, the decision to delegate backfired, and I rapidly realised that it was likely to cause more stress than it was going to alleviate. I had asked Dad to book travel as far as Rome, as Berlin and Brussels was being arranged by the event organisers – when I discovered that he’d chosen a lovely hotel on the sea-front in Fiumicino (thinking that I’d be able to enjoy some relaxing time on the beach) – my alarm bells started ringing. Not unnecessarily, as it turned out; there were no public transport links from the airport to the hotel, when foreign taxi drivers are known to rip-off vulnerable tourists. It also meant extra travelling in the wrong direction from which I wanted to go – to Rome – the I was already on a tight time-schedule! Ironically, when my Dad had thoughtfully tried to provide a relaxing stay – he inadvertently added a whole lot of extra stress – there would definitely not be any sunbathing on Italian beaches!
It turned out, the hotel actually ran a private shuttle bus to the airport, which would only have cost €6 to drive the 6km. However, I only discovered this the following day, when I quizzed the receptionist on the best way to travel to Rome. So I forked out €30 for a taxi – not sure what alternative I had other than dragging my suitcase, guitar and satchel behind me for an hour and a half – stupidly in my stressed state I forgot to ask for a receipt for the ridiculous expense. I arrived at the hotel in what seemed to be a nigh-on deserted little seaside town, just as it was getting dark. I took a brief wander around in search of food. I was left decidedly unimpressed, nonetheless, I tried to make the most of my first day in a country I had never visited before, snapping photos of architectural features and making some artistic shots of plants for my Instagram feed. I have to say I was a bit disappointed by the dreary little seaside town, where the only sign-posted attraction appeared to be the McDonalds Drive-Thru. I headed back to my hotel. It was at least a lovely room and very good value compared to the prices of the hotels in central Rome or closer to the airport (somewhat justifying the extra taxi expenses); it struck me that had I more time it would have been a lovely place to relax in the sun, as EU super Dad had envisaged. Unfortunately, I was there to do a job and I was hell bent on finding a way to get to Rome in the morning no matter how long it took to get there.
After a sleepless night worrying about the travel plans for the following day, I got up early to seek advice from a member of staff at the hotel. When the fluent English-speaking receptionist arrived, I quizzed her on potential options that wouldn’t involve paying €30 each way to get at the airport. And as luck would have it, I discovered the hotel not only ran a private shuttle bus to the airport, but also one into Rome for €30 return. Bargain! I chose a departure and return time, and she told me I could pay the driver when he arrives. ‘Great!’, I thought, a bus trip directly into Rome was much easier than negotiating taxis and trains. Except I rapidly learnt it’s a mistake to get one’s hopes up when relying on Italian transport. Having returned to my room to “EU super girl up” (a fairly lengthy process that involves hair straighteners, make-up and copious quantities of glitter), the wall phone rang. I was filled with a sense of dread – Why would the receptionist need to contact me unless it was bad news. ‘The shuttle bus might be cancelled if there are not enough bookings.’ Shit. ‘The driver will phone me before 11am to let you know.’ So I continued getting ready, determined one way or another, that I was going to get to the event by 3pm. After a brief interlude, the receptionist phoned, the shuttle bus was definitely on (hoorah!) but on a “summer timetable”, which turned out to involve the return trips departing Rome at 3pm (too early for the JEF event which started at that time) and 12 midnight… Given that I was booked on a 10am flight the following day, neither of these alternatives seemed viable. I decided I’d get the hotel’s shuttle bus into Rome and find an alternative journey back: probably the train and then the airport shuttle bus or another horrifically expensive taxi. So I paid for the trip, and asked for a receipt, they nodded and assured me they would but none was provided – but by this point I was too stressed to care about reclaiming expenses from my European Cultural Foundation grant.
The driver was very friendly and after securing my guitar into the seat, chatted to me about being a musician and asked whether I was performing. We collected a small group from another hotel en route and he deposited all of us somewhere in central Rome – I had not been told where beforehand. Getting out of the taxi into the glaring sunlight, I immediately headed for the nearest shade and dug my sun cream out of my bag – because like a typical white British person I fry to a crisp in the sunshine. I then tried to orientate myself and plan how I was going to get from wherever-I-was to where I needed to be. Unfortunately, before I could do this my phone started ringing with a call from Brussels, which was someone from the European Commission wanting to discuss travel arrangements for the following Monday – feeling exasperated by my current predicament – I was not in the best mood to discuss travel arrangements for an event which was a whole 5 days away – so I probably came across as decidedly grumpy and somewhat dismissive. Conversation over, I returned to my immediate travel difficulties… Luckily technology is a great companion to the human race, and Google Maps was on hand to guide me, once I identified the location of the event from my WhatsApp chat with one of the JEF tour bus organisers. It turned out to be a 40 minute walk away, along a very scenic route, and I had a few hours to complete the trip. This was ideal, as it would allow me to see Rome, make some sketches and take photos for social media en route. For once: I had a plan.
Following the Google Maps route across a foreign city proves to provide an “alternative” tourist insight into the place. The technology programmed to take you along the most direct route, wove me through the back streets of Rome with textures and sights I happily documented with my phone. One of my followers later commented “these aren’t your standard tourist pictures of Rome” – which is exactly what I hope to achieve. Similarly, through my sketches, I intend to convey my unique interpretation of place and to capture the character and essence of Europe’s diversity.
I eventually, made it to the location of the JEF event, quite tired now after my sleepless night, but keen to make the most of the opportunity to support the pro-EU actions of my fellow European youths. After some warm-up activities with the group, I helped the bus tour team to set up the activities, where my knowledge of Gazebo erection came in very handy. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of material, and activities the team had planned – it was very well organised and clearly a lot of thought, planning and effort had gone into this initiative. A huge, PVC map of Europe was unrolled across the square and a game, which involved labelling the different EU countries, proved very popular with the Italian children. The local JEF Italy group manned the stall under the Gazebo, distributing the freebies and leaflets to the passers-by, I deposited the stack of #24ReasonstoRemain posters which I had brought with me. After a while, a number of older people, mainly dressed in formal attire arrived – I ascertained that they were primarily MEP candidates standing in the elections for pro-EU parties. We posed for group photos, the Youth of Europe in matching, white, “I Choose Europe” t-shirts grinning alongside the “adults” in their grey suits. A portable amp was then wheeled out and a rally ensued, consisting of speeches by the MEP candidates, interspersed with my protest songs and chanting lead by the JEF Europe organisers. Unfortunately, we had the classic problem of “no microphone stand” and my back-up solution (a wireless headset mic) also failed, as I had forgotten to charge the battery. So some poor unsuspecting member of the JEF team was forced to act as my human mic stand – which he did with little complaint.
After the rally had finished, and I had interviewed two members of JEF Italy and captured the content I needed for social media, I bid the JEFers goodbye, leaving my guitar with them to pick up when I met them again in Paris (the event organisers in Berlin did not need me to perform at the conference, so it seemed an easy solution to the standard expense and faff of transporting a musical instrument on an airline.) I wanted to leave in good time – given the travel difficulties I had faced getting into Rome, I wasn’t anticipating it would be easy getting back either. And to my own misfortune, I was proven right.
Google Maps rightly informed me that the quickest route to the station, Roma Termini was via the subway, so heading in the direction of the station, I walked for 15 minutes only to discover it was closed. Okay – we needed a plan B – the bus. I walked for another 15 minutes, to what I figured out to be the correct bus stop. And waited. And waited some more. The bus, of course didn’t arrive at its scheduled time. Conscious that the clock was ticking later, I was on the verge of walking when the bus arrived – absolutely jam packed with passengers. I crammed myself onboard – it was entirely unclear from whom I was supposed to purchase a ticket – and in the end, I hopped off at the station having not paid my fare. I hurried myself into the station, asking a member of staff where I could buy a ticket to the airport, he directed me to a ridiculously long queue at the information office. Fuck that. I braved the self-service machines, which thankfully have an English language option. There was a train in a few minutes, otherwise I would be forced to wait so long I would miss the hotel shuttle bus times. I took a risk, bought the earlier ticket and legged it across the station, only just finding the correct platform and making the train with seconds to spare. But I made it.
So the next problem to face was the journey from the airport back to the inconveniently located hotel on the sea front in Fiumicino. I studied the information sheet given to me by the hotel receptionist that morning: the airport shuttle buses supposedly departed at 20:30 and 21:15. I should have easily been able to make the earlier bus, and indeed, walking from the train station, I located the bus bay and stood waiting from 20:15. And carried on waiting because the bus didn’t arrive. At 21:00 I phoned the hotel, asking why the bus had not come – the member of staff did not speak very good English – no reason was given, but she told me the next bus was coming at 21:15. I asked her what assurances she could give that it would actually come, pointing out I had been waiting 45 mins already. ‘The next bus is at 21:15.’ She said and put the phone down on me. Tired, frustrated and somewhat impatient, I decided I couldn’t rely on this ridiculous private shuttle bus service and would rather end the stress by hopping in a taxi. it wasn’t an expense which had been included in my budget for the “EU Supergirl Tour” application – but sometimes you have to pay the price to take control of a situation.
Everything ran smoothly after that. I made it back to the hotel in good time, got up early in the morning, caught the shuttle back to the airport and caught my 10am flight to Berlin – feeling somewhat exhausted – but glad the most stressful leg of the journey was over and Italy had been ticked off the EU Supergirl Tour itinerary.
Having reached German ground, I was relieved to be re-acquainted with functioning and reliable public transport. I caught the bus from Tegel airport to the Hauptbahnhof station, purchasing a ticket this time from a nice uniformed German woman. Zeit Online had booked the IBIS hotel directly opposite the station for two nights – I reflected that you could rely on a professional travel agency to book accommodation options that were convenient, although presumably at some expense – luckily I didn’t have to worry about this time.
Luckily, I had this spare afternoon to rewrite my speech after the first draft I submitted apparently hadn’t met their criteria for the conference. But after an hour or so, in my state of tiredness, I felt the writing process was just going around in circles – I needed a break. Not one especially adept at the “mid-afternoon nap”, I decided to opt for some fresh air, grabbing my sketchbook and pencils as I head for the sun-drenched streets of Berlin. I wandered through the ever-impressive feat of German engineering that is the Hauptbahnhof station, crossed the river and found myself outside the German parliament building. Which seemed a highly appropriate sketching subject, so I sat on a small concrete block under a tree and began drawing. Passers-by often stop briefly to glance at the page, but I noticed one gentleman stood for a while, so I looked up. “Excuse me, I’m not very good with remembering people but are you the super girl?” I smiled. Blue flash in the fringe and wearing my bright blue top adorned with iron-on gold stars, who else could it be? “I met you at the Schwarzkopf Foundation courtyard party last year.” (The Schwarzkopf Foundation who awarded me the Young European of the Year award in 2018, hold an annual summer event known as Huffiest which I attended for the first time last summer). “My friend, Mia, is an artist and she’s organising a Europe event in front of the Brandenburg Gate, would it be possible to have your contact?” I dug out my little pack of business cards from my satchel and readily handed one over. He seemed very apologetic about having disturbed me and promptly disappeared into the sunny German afternoon. I finished my charcoal sketch of the German Parliament, wandered on, making another in ink of the view over the river, then wandered some more, capturing interesting photos of the sights of Berlin on this glorious afternoon.
By the time I got back to my hotel I had received an email from the artist’s studio inviting me to meet her the following afternoon if I had time. I had arranged to visit the European Commission in the afternoon, but was free later – so we fixed a time, my speech at the conference was in the morning and I had also arranged a TV interview with a German journalist. It was going to be a busy day – but even when I intend to have an early night I never do. Even after getting on top of emails, and organisational demands, social media will consume infinite periods of time – if you allow it.
The conference venue proved harder to locate than anticipated. Running behind schedule I hopped in a taxi which dropped me in what appeared to be a small open green space with a brick pillar at the centre. I had given him the address provided ‘the Silent Green Quarter’ to me by the organisers, so I was somewhat perplexed; buildings surrounded the little park, but it was not clear which was the conference venue. I called the journalist who was planning to interview me after the speeches, and she helpfully came out to find me. It turned out the building was actually a repurposed crematorium, a short walk around the corner. Having finally arrived, I was mic-ed up and briefed as to the proceedings. It was a slick operation and everything went to plan. I was also really pleased to see my fellow EU campaigners and internal activists, Herr Und Speer, also speaking at the event – I last saw them a few weeks earlier in London – when they interviewed me for an article published in Jettz. I was pleased with how my speech was received, suitably serious in tone, but including a couple of lines to provoke a laugh – I got the reaction I wanted. The speeches were all filmed by the organisers, and later published on Zeit Online.
After the speeches, media interviews and a quick sketch sat on the lawn in front of the crematorium, I headed off to the European Commission. It was not a very scenic journey along a main road into the heart of Berlin, but it was a lovely sunny afternoon. Two members of staff from the Commission gave me a tour of the exhibition, which included an apparently highly popular photo booth where you could take a picture of yourself in different EU-themed locations. They also showed me there #ThisTimeImVoting board, where visitors were invited to write what change they were voting for in the EU elections. I was reliably informed that many ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ stickers have appeared. I was then escorted upstairs to the offices, where the European Commission was hosting a craft party with a famous YouTube vlogger called Jette and a group of her followers who had won a competition in order to attend. They were a super-cute group of girls and boys, and they’d all brought garments to “up-cycle” with fabric paint. There was also badge making and bag decorating, insta-frames, drinks, snacks, pretty much everything you could need for an afternoon of fun. One thing they didn’t have, however, was a guitar, and neither did I, having left mine with the JEF Tour bus. Luckily the journalist, who interviewed me earlier in the day, had arranged to come along to the craft party as well and she had a guitar at home, which she went to pick up so I could perform a song for the group. However, I rapidly discovered she did not have a capo, and after attempting to create a make-shift alternative from a pencil and an elastic band, I gave up and performed ‘We Won’t Go Down Without A Fight!’ 3 tones lower than usual (in the key of C rather than E-flat).
I checked the time on my phone. Already late for the next appointment, I said my goodbyes and hurried out to the Brandenburg Gate. In the dazzling sunshine, it took me a while to track down Mia, who was clutching an amazing miniature of her #LoveHate sculpture made from a Perspex material that shone like a rainbow in the light. We went for a drink in the bar with her assistant, who was taking notes, filming and photographing as we chatted. She invited me to this event she was organising on 18th May – it is the first time ever that permission had been granted for such an event in front of the Brandenburg Gate. I told them about the difficulties flying with a guitar and the information was duly noted. We parted ways and I headed back to the hotel, conscious I had another long journey – flying out of Schoenfeld airport this time – to Paris the following day.
The flight arrived early afternoon and having dragged my suitcase from the luggage carousel, I then had to figure out how to get to the hotel which was near Gare du Nord station in central Paris. Luckily a member of staff was on hand to compliment my hairstyle and provide me with directions. Disappointingly, the weather had turned foul between Germany and France and I was feeling somewhat chilly in my shorts. It wasn’t far to walk to the hotel, and I headed out with my sketchbook almost immediately after I had checked in, to make the most of the daylight, hoping that the rain would hold off. Walking across Paris I captured plenty of photographs for social media but struggled to find a suitable sketching location. Reaching the sight-seeing area on the river, I was disappointingly turned away, due to a yellow vest protest. Feeling utterly exhausted I headed back to the hotel disappointed at myself for not having produced a sketch to document the city. Except back in the hotel room, I clambered onto the window ledge, and realised I had a perfect view of a Parisian street, and under cover of the rain. I sat for well over ran hour, working on a fairly detailed charcoal study of the buildings – pleased with the results – I went back out, this time to find food. I was struck throughout the evening by the constant sound of emergency services sirens, that became a background element of the cityscape, and unsurprisingly when I turned the news on the TV that evening, it consisted primarily of debates over the ongoing yellow vest protests.
In the morning, leaving my luggage at the hotel to pick up later, I headed to the Metro figuring out on my phone the quickest route to the location I had been given – ‘Place des Fetes’. It turned out to be a little Sunday market, where the JEF France group had booked a stall for the morning’s activities. As I was walking through, like a magpie for all things blue and sparkly, my eyes caught a couple of blue suede studded strap bracelets – which were apparently priced at €1 each, when I would happily have paid a lot more as they have become a repeatedly used element in several of my outfits.
It took me a while to circle round the market and locate the JEFfers, I had to admit I wasn’t overly impressed by the location, with very little foot traffic. It was also unpleasantly cold, with a light grey drizzle dulling the vibrant little market. I made the most of the opportunity to get the interviews and photos I need for social media, but was somewhat disappointed that the new team leader on the JEF bus had neglected to bring my guitar along – so I couldn’t perform. Given all the effort and cost that had gone into getting the guitar there, it was somewhat frustrating, but I figured my hands were so cold I would struggle to perform anyway. The campaigners did the best they could given the circumstances, but inevitably, after a couple of hours in these unpleasant conditions they decided to call it quits early and head for some lunch. I still wanted to capture another sketch (my aim being to get at least 2 in every destination), but frustratingly couldn’t part their company until I had retrieved my guitar from the JEF bus which was out of town unable to park centrally in Paris. So arranging with the Team leader to meet them an hour later, when the bus picked the group up from the bus stop outside the hostel where they had been staying, I scampered off to make my final sketch. The only problem being the persistent drizzle – I crouched on a street corner and did the best I could – the pages once dried, are now noticeably warped by the rain drops. Afterwards I headed to the hostel, reunited with my guitar, big goodbye to the JEF activists and hopped back on the Metro to Gare du Nord, picking up my suitcase from the hotel, just in time to catch my Thalys train to Brussels (riding 1st class at the expense of the EU).
Arriving in a drizzly Brussels early Sunday evening, I headed straight for my hotel. I was staying at the A-Loft, a very snazzy “Revisiting Hotels” kind of hotel which is habitually booked by the EU institutions. I had stayed there once before when I was part of a panel discussion after the EU media poll results at the Brussels press club, in a room big enough for several families, with two double beds to myself. Sadly this time I only had the one. Pretty exhausted, I crashed for the evening, working on my laptop for a few hours before going to sleep. Luckily I didn’t have to be anywhere particularly early in the morning, the award ceremony for the Altiero Spinelli prize wasn’t until 4pm and I hadn’t heard back from either of my other potential engagements.
I got up late and took a jog around a part of Brussels I have never explored before – I always enjoy this. Running gives you a unique opportunity to get to know the diverse character of a city from the ground (much faster than at walking pace). I take photos of scenes that intrigue me en route, photos I like to post on social media to convey the cultural depth of the places I visit. Once back at the hotel, I had received messages from both of the other potential engagements, now with limited time to squeeze them both in, I got ready in a hurry. Firstly, to meet an old friend, who has supported my pro-EU campaigning from the start – Richard Medic – an EU comms expert. I headed to his office, for a coffee and a quick chat where we devised a little video for social media, utilising the balaclava he had acquired from god-knows-where. We walked to a little park just round the corner, with two members of his team to film the little skit: EUsupergirl alongside a flag-bearing supporter, performing in the park, is attacked by the Belgian balaclava-clad thug, who wrenches her guitar from her arms and runs off. The supporter passes his flag to EUsupergirl, follows the thug, retrieves her guitar, hands it back to her and she continues with her protest song. It was a cute little sequence, filmed in one cut, which provoked an entertaining reaction when later posted on Twitter – I had people tweeting me about being “assaulted by the Belgian thug” for the following few days – I wonder if they knew it was a set-up? (A give away clue for only the most eagle-eyed of ‘EU super fans’ was that I wore the guitar strap on the wrong shoulder, so that the guitar could be easily snatched from my hands).
After bidding my goodbyes to Richard’s team, I ran around the corner to meet the “This Time I’m Voting” Brussels volunteers, to give them some inspiration for their campaigning. We had coffee, cake and an interesting and lively chat. I told them some of the actions I have taken as a campaigner: writing children’s books, recording and performing protest songs, illustrating campaign material: and passed around my posters and badges. They were very impressed with the #24ReasonstoRemain material, and wished me good luck in the award ceremony for the Altiero Spinelli prize later in the afternoon… “We hope you win. We’ll be following you to see.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t. But was somewhat frustratingly informed at the award ceremony that it was very close and I had come “sixth”. (The first 5 winners receive the substantial prize money to help fund their projects in the future). Alas, despite spending days working on applications for two EU prizes now, I have not been awarded either. Interestingly, the two prize awards I have received; ‘Young European of the Year 2018’ by the Schwarzkopf Foundation and a ’Democracy Needs Imagination’ grant by the European Cultural Foundation, have both come from organisations that are looking at the EU from the outside and critically, but constructively supporting initiatives that they believe will help change the public perception of the EU. Whereas the EU itself, has not supported my actions or the advice/suggestions I have proposed to reform their communication strategy and public engagement.
I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t won the award, I was half expecting it. What did frustrate me though, was that I had turned down a gig in Maastricht, to perform after the rather important European debate, in order to be at the somewhat-pretentious award ceremony in Brussels. This was compounded by the fact that the organisers of the award ceremony had informed me it wouldn’t finish until 7pm, when in reality it was over by 5pm and I could easily have made it to Maastricht in time to perform. I can’t be everywhere, but when it is possible, I do my best to try. So I was somewhat irate that I had been obliged to pointlessly miss an opportunity in order to attend a prize ceremony for an award which I hadn’t won. Such is life. I did a few interviews for the gathered press, performed my new song “We Can Be the Change” and then headed over to the Esplanade outside the European Parliament for the live screening of the Maastricht debate. YoFest! were organising the activities in Brussels, but disappointingly didn’t want me to perform (despite the suggestion being made by the organisers in Maastricht who had invited me to perform their) which I had to explain to the “EUsupergirl fans” in he crowd who were equally perplexed that I wasn’t singing any of my protest songs.
A German TV crew were filming me whilst I engaged with the crowd and met up with some fellow activist friends. They were capturing shots for a documentary piece, for which they were interviewing me the following day. I am by now quite accustomed to ignoring the film cameras tailing me, but I could see my friends glancing into them mid conversation, before inquiring what they were filming for. I wasn’t really sure myself so, before heading back to my hotel (it wasn’t late, but I was tired and cold in my shorts, and feeling somewhat anti-social) I had a chat with the producer about the plan for filming the interview the following day. It seemed that it was some piece about “European visionaries”, he wanted to follow me and my actions – I told him I had planned to do some sketching in the morning. After grilling me on the purpose of documenting my ‘EUsupergirl tour’ through drawing – he decided it was a winner and asked me if I would be okay if they filmed me sketching. I wasn’t sure if I really had a choice?
I headed back to my hotel as the sunlight was beginning to fade. Knowing that it would be very stressful and distracting, sketching with a camera observing me, I decided to capture another sketch immediately, in the peace of solitude. I quickly scouted a location, perched on a windowsill and sketched the facade of a Belgian street. Only my solitude didn’t quite last, as I was interrupted by a Green party member who had been attending some event at the Commission. He recognised ‘EUsupergirl’ and wanted to chat, inviting me along to join the event – I don’t think he realised the importance of letting an artist finish their work – I guess he considered the sketching to be an insignificant “leisure” activity compared to political campaign networking. I politely declined, and he headed off, by which time the daylight had almost entirely evaded me. I quickened my hand, hoping desperately to finish the sketch before I was interrupted once more. I was gratefully left undisturbed.
The following morning, I went for another run, exploring yet more of this multi-faced city. I discovered some interesting, newly installed Japanese style planting design. I was also scouting potential locations for my “on camera” sketch with the German documentary maker. I was about to head into the hotel to get ready to meet them, when I was caught by a Greek lady who had met me at the award ceremony the preceding day. A brief conversation ensued, whilst I glanced at the clock conscious that time was evading me. I made my excuses and scampered back into the hotel – it seems I now have to plan in contingency time when scheduling arrangements, to allow for chance encounters or just to deal with the latest barrage of messages/emails on my phone.
So I was late for the TV crew, “We thought you missed us.” The filmmaker informed me, “We asked someone if they had seen a lady with blue hair and they said they had seen you walking away.” I apologised and told them that must have been earlier when I was looking for somewhere to sketch. I suggested we took a walk around the Parc Leopold for the interview and I could find somewhere suitable to make the sketch. A group of Belgian teenage schoolboys in gym clothes (presumably on a jogging session), ogled as the sound guy mic-ed me up at the entrance to the park. I was in a somewhat melancholy mood, after yesterday’s disappointment, which was reflected in the resulting documentary. The filmmaker also asked me some questions which left me slightly taken-aback. I realised I was responding on autopilot, so used to answering the same questions over and over by journalists, to be posed something that actually required some thought and self-reflection left me slightly flustered. In particular, ‘When you are travelling around, what is your feeling, are you melancholy?’ I responded as best I could at the time, but the interview left me in a state of introspection for a while afterwards. This is usually an indication of quality journalism.
After completing the sketch, with which I was not at all satisfied, we headed over the the Yo!Fest activities on the Esplanade. Despite the German film-maker’s best attempts to get them to allow me to perform on their stage, they refused. My friend and fellow EU activist, Bettina was on hand to cheer me up and offer some much needed support after a disappointing couple of days. We explored the festival tents together and I ended up singing a few songs for the European scouts in their tent – I was rewarded with a very sweet blue and yellow starred neckerchief as a reward, which I took with me on my onward travels to Amsterdam and back to the UK.
I picked up my suitcase from the hotel, and then took the metro to Gare du Midi before catching the Thalys train to Amsterdam. I was going to arrive fairly late at the hotel, which was outside of the centre (where I had managed to find a reasonably priced hotel), close to the European Cultural Foundation where I was due to be interviewed the following day. Google maps told me to hop on a tram to the hotel, which took a route over many of the city’s canals. At around 8pm, the tram was surprisingly packed, I managed to grab a seat, but it was standing room only most of the way. I got off at my stop as dusk was falling.
The hotel was just around the corner, and was a fairly old-fashioned, but still comfortable affair. I unpacked my case, only to discover I had left my European plug adaptor and phone charger in the hotel in Brussels. Argh! Luckily I was planning to stop in Brussels the following night, to break he journey back to Sheffield, so I could potentially retrieve the items, but that didn’t solve the immediate problem of the inability to access power. I tweeted my frustration before heading down to reception to ask if they had any spares. The young Dutch receptionist pulled out a box of plugs and cables which seemed to have everything but the UK-EU adapter I needed. They did, however, have a USB to EU plug, which would at last allow me to charge my phone and laptop. I did not however have a solution for my hair straighteners. As I had an ‘on camera’ interview the following day, for which the ‘EU super girl hair do’ needed to be on point – I resolved to go out in the morning to locate one. Which was easier said than done. One of my very helpful Twitter followers replied to my tweet with a list of potential stores to try. It took me over an hour, but I eventually located an international plug adapter in Cool Blue electrical store – costing €18, I paid the price of vanity and headed back to the hotel to glam up before meeting my funders for the interview.
I had allowed some extra time to make sketches of Amsterdam for my tour sketchbook, dragging my suitcase behind me, I located two benches with suitable sights to depict. The first was in front of a memorial, the second was outside a residential street. And to my delight, a gentleman came out with a glass of tea and ‘cookies’ for the ‘artist’. After finishing a 3rd sketch, a woman, presumably the gentleman’s wife, came over to speak to me – I showed her my sketchbook, told her about my anti-Brexit campaigning and handed over badges and posters. She agreed to do a little interview with me for social media, as a friend responded to my WhatsApp messages about the incident commented; “There’s nothing about this story that isn’t charming”.
Afterwards I headed to the European Cultural Foundation offices which were located a few minutes’ walk along the canal. There I was greeted by the enthusiastic members of staff, and introduced to some of the team, before settling down for a chat over coffee, to sign some paperwork and discuss my plans for the ‘EU super girl Tour’. I also got to meet the new director of the Foundation, Andre – I instantly recognised his face – and he reminded me that we had indeed met before, at the Pulse of Europe event in Frankfurt the previous year. It was very useful to chat to Nicola, as the scope of my project had diverged significantly from the initial proposal – due to the latest developments in the Brexit chaos, unexpected but welcome invites which would disrupt the original plans and also delay starting the Tour. The original plan (perhaps a little ambitious) was to travel around the EU27 predominantly by interrail, during April and May before the EU elections. However, due to invites to specific events and media requests, which i decided needed to be prioritised, we agreed to extend the project deadline to Oct 31st to correspond with the latest developments in the Brexit saga. We also agreed that I should prioritise invites to events, with guaranteed pro-EU action, where I could also capture content for social media. So multiple trips to the same country might have greater impact than getting round the full EU27 if this can’t be achieved. It would mean submitting a revised budget, at a later point, but certainly nothing that can’t be handled.
After our chat, I had my video interview about my campaigning as #EUsupergirl and the action grant awarded by the Foundation, which was published on 9th May – Europe Day.
I bid my goodbyes, heading back to the tram stop where I got off the night before. Getting on the tram, I recognised the driver from the night before, he smiled wryly; ‘Hello again,’ he said with a wink. In a life where I’m constantly passing strangers, a familiar face always provides reassurance that I’m never truly alone.
It was a long journey back to Brussels on an Intercity train. I got to the hotel, exhausted, but managed to phone my Dad for a consultation before cancelling on a trip to Vienna (that was logistically too difficult to get to) and booking travel to Frankfurt for the following week. In the morning I made it over to the Aloft hotel to pick up my missing plug adapter and phone charger, before catching the trains home to Sheffield. Irritatingly, 15 minutes before the Eurostar was due to depart, they evacuated everyone from the Eurostar lounge due to a “security problem with the doors” meaning we all had to be processed through security once again. Despite the impressive efficiency and courteous apologies of the Eurostar staff, the train was still severely delayed. Tweeting about the incident and expressing my concern that I would miss the last “off-peak” train out of St.Pancras, the train manager announced on the tannoy that he had seen the tweet. He found me a little while later, informing me that he had phoned ahead to make sure the East Midlands trains would allow me on boar and gave me a slip of paper with a written assurance. The power of twitter, and the kindness of the Eurostar tea are beautifully reaffirming things in a mission constantly threatened by the stress of travel chaos.
Everything under control, I had a few days to get on top of everything before the next stage of the EUsupergirl tour.