Since the drama of my travelling escapades seems to be greatly anticipated by my followers, I decided to write up the tales of my recent trip to Strasbourg whilst it’s still fresh in my (somewhat hungover) head… Recalling various incidents has been making me spontaneously giggle throughout the journey home to Sheffield, so hopefully the following blog will provide some hilarity and entertainment for anyone who can be bothered to read it…
The Adventures of #EUSupergirl in… Strasbourg
I was invited to attend the “European Youth Event 2018” at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Saturday 2nd June, where the ‘Young European of the Year’ Award was to be presented by the Schwarzkopf Foundation. As I was the awardee it was somewhat necessary that I attend, so I duly noted the dates in my diary but delayed booking the travel, until perhaps regrettably late, due to my continuously fluid and changing schedule. (Making travel plans too early frequently results in cancelations or alterations to the schedule, which usually adds additional expense and complications). In this instance, I belatedly discovered that my Youth Movement, the Young European Movement (YEM), for which I am an Ambassador, was holding workshops on the 1st June, the day I had anticipated travelling to Strasbourg. Wanting to make the most of the trip, I planned to travel on the 31st May and found a potential accommodation option for that night… Until I discovered all the trains were booked up, so that wouldn’t be a possibility. So back to the original plan, I bought train tickets (at huge expense – €400!* Which fortunately will be reimbursed) to travel on the 1st June, leaving early in the morning so I would at least make it to Strasbourg in time for the second workshop at 17h, a debate where I had been invited to make a concluding speech – assuming of course that the journey all went to plan. Which, thankfully, for the most part it did.
*Travelling by plane would have proved even more costly due to the fact that I needed to bring my guitar which would have meant booking 2 seats.
The first leg of the journey, the Eurostar was an utterly delightful experience as I was given a coffee “on the House” by the staff in the Eurostar Lounge ‘Pret A Manger’ I believe because of the Bollocks2Brexit stickers on my bag! This caffeine kick was greatly received after getting up at 6:30am (for those who are not aware, I am a nocturnal creature and find dealing with early starts a thoroughly unpleasant experience). Nonetheless, the Eurostar seats were as comfortable as ever and I was in bliss listening to the train manger’s french accent announcing that his name was “Henri” and his colleagues were called; “Herve”, “Arnaud” and “Jean-Paul”. In fact, I tweeted as much, “Couldn’t be more French! Listening to his French accent = bliss! Vive la France!” and was thrilled when the Eurostar official account replied to tell me they “will let Henri know how much you appreciate him and his team”. Needless to say, I was in fits of giggles for the remainder of the journey, much to the bemusement of my fellow passengers. Meanwhile, some of my followers began replying to the Eurostar account demanding that I be moved to 1st class which only intensified my giggling.
From Paris Gare du Nord, I made the short walk to Gare d’Est where I discovered a lovely little landscape garden project in the otherwise concrete urban surroundings, that really brightened up the scene. I had an hour to kill so it was lovely being able to chill in the lush green surroundings, watch the kids playing on the gym equipment and enjoy the fish swimming around their pond. For anyone who doubts the psychological benefits of urban greening, for the weary traveller it really does make all the difference to the experience of the journey and ultimately one’s mood. The train I took to Strasbourg was one of the impressive (to a British person used to rattling Northern Rail sardine can style carriages) double decker SNCF trains, which was again very comfortable, and also running on time (which again seemed miraculous).
Once in sunny Strasbourg I checked into my hotel, which was located near to the station, so that I could ditch my case and leg it to the European Parliament buildings, hopefully in time for the YEM workshop at 17h. At which point I was incredibly grateful that I had recently made the decision to upgrade to an Android phone with a 20GB data package, as the use of Google Maps has become more or less essential with all the travelling I have been doing. I remarked on how aesthetically delightful Strasbourg seemed to be as I walked hurriedly along the river bank clutching my phone-come-Satnav in my palm. I also spotted an “Alba White Wolf” double which is always bound to brighten my day. As I progressed from the river course towards the parliament, I encountered the tram lines which I was amused to see seem to run on the grass, which i’ve never seen before, but have to admit looks great. Unfortunately at this point the storm clouds looming overhead began to spatter and I realised i had left my new leopard print umbrella (to match my “Theresa Mayesque” leopard print suitcase) in the hotel stupidly thinking that the immediate warmth of the Strasbourg climate would equate to rainlessness. No such luck. So I continued on my journey with my jacket held above my head trying to follow the instructions on the luminous screening my palm. I eventually located the parliament buildings, in what would have been reasonable time, were it not for the fact that I had approached them from the wrong side where there was no access. Due to extensive building works occurring nearby, I was forced to take a ridiculously long detour of 10-15 minutes, under the direction of Juuso, the president of YEM, who I called in desperation to seek navigational assistance. Once I finally approached the Parliament buildings it was close to 17h, so I promised Juuso I would get there ASAP and headed to the registration centre. Luckily there was no queue, as Juuso reliably informed me that they were waiting up to an hour earlier in the day as 6-8000 European youths descended on the parliament for this event. A lovely lIrish lady at the desk recognised me from Twitter and promised to register me super quick, declaring that I was given a blue “EYE2018” tote bag, “It has to be blue for her!”, the alternative choices being red and yellow. My speaker’s wristband, however, happened to be bright red rather than standard visitor’s blue wristband, and I discovered with great pleasure the power of flashing my wrist at the security gates which allowed me to skip queues and pass instantaneously into the buildings. When I was further thrilled when given a “Yo!Fest ARTISTS” wristband the following day which also gave me access to the backstage area where the Greenroom consisted of some awesomely “festival chic” tents complete with coffee machine and fridge!
Anyway I digress from the YEM workshop, which I arrived at a fashionable 15 minutes late, and heard enough of the subsequent debate – on whether the UK should be welcomed back into the EU if Article 50 were to be withdrawn – to be able to give an informed and relevant closing speech. The group had been split into two and allocated opposing views; the pro UK remaining side’s principle arguments being that the current situation was mutually advantageous and that the UK has much to offer the EU in terms of economic benefits – valid points with which I fully agree, but I had to point out that the EU is about much more than just finances, the greatest achievement of the EU being the peace it has brought to a continent historically at war. Conversely, the pro UK leaving side’s argument consisted almost solely of the familiar argument “it’s the will of the people” therefore Brexit must be implemented, which failed to address the actual question that was being debated of whether the EU should welcome the UK back after another democratic vote. Nonetheless there was a lot of interest when I drew to their attention the question mark over the legitimacy of the outcome of this supposedly democratic vote where the 3 million EU citizens and UK expats were denied a vote, where election spending rules were broken, where there was misuse of data harvesting by Cambridge Analytica, and the fact that the vote was advisory only and therefore not legally binding. The group unanimously voted in favour of the EU welcoming the UK back and I left them on an optimistic note, giving them my sincerest apologies for this epic blunder on the part of the UK and reassuring them that Brexit can and will be stopped and that I am doing my utmost to achieve that aim.
After the workshop there was a “rap battle” between MEPs, which was somewhat entertaining, but I was fading fast after the early start and long journey, so left the others to their evening entertainments and headed back to the hotel to snooze for a good 10 hours!
On the Saturday morning I took the opportunity to explore Strasbourg in the blazing sunshine. Which I later regretted having forgotten to bring my Factor 50 sun cream with me. I always find jogging (or cycling for that matter) around a city to be one of the best ways to get a true sense of its character. If you travel far enough it forces you to leave the central touristy areas and engage with different socio-economic areas and life as the locals experience it.
After the informative run, I got ready for my “Big Day” and set off for the parliament attired in my new Wonder Woman outfit, complete with EU badge which I had sewn on the day before I departed on the trip. Walking around Strasbourg in superhero garb attracted an understandable amount of attention, with little kids gawping and pulling their parent’s arms and several people shouting “It’s Super girl!”, who obviously weren’t keeping up to trend with the new look (#EUsupergirl is SO last year…) One there, I met the representatives from the Schwarzkopf Foundation who were presenting the Young European of the Year Award, and we chilled backstage in those oh-so-hipster greenroom tents, before the award ceremony at 15h. As with seemingly all events I am involved with, the timings and venues were all altered at the last minute (it’s a good job my frayed nerves are accustomed to the necessity of flexibility), which meant I was forced to miss a debate I had promised to participate in during the afternoon. On the MASSIVE plus side it also meant that instead of performing a half hour set on the small acoustic stage, I would be performing 10 minutes on the big stage before the headline act in the evening (Which meant less work and greater impact, which is always given a thumbs up from me).
The award ceremony was made somewhat more nerve wracking when I discovered it would be filmed and broadcast on the large TV screens that were strategically positioned around the site. But ultimately all went to plan, and after listening to the rationale for my selection; namely the creativity, passion and relentless energy I put into campaigning, I graciously accepted the award declaring that if I failed in my mission to Stop Brexit before March 2019, I will be leading the campaign to take us back into the EU, because the British youth, who I represent, did not vote for Brexit and this is not future for my generation that I am willing to accept.
The award also comes with a €5000 grant from the Schwarzkopf Foundation which can be used either to fund a 6 month internship with and MEP or for a project that promotes European values. I was asked to mention on stage what i intended to use the grant for, but forgot, so I will state here: That, despite being offered a placement with Guy Verhofstadt’s social media team (a very tempting offer indeed) I will be using the funding for the latter of the two options. My background is in organising arts projects, previously I worked with arts organisations in Sheffield and also received funding from O2 to lead Eco-Arts projects for disadvantaged groups; the homeless, Young Carers, etc. However, I am delaying the organisation and delivery of this project until the fight against Brexit is over, for 2 principle reasons: firstly, I am needed on the ground to support the campaign in the UK, and I am exceptionally busy so scheduling a 1-2 month project isn’t feasible as stopping Brexit has to take precedence; Secondly, I want to use the project as a bridging device to reflect on the outcome of this mess (whatever that may be) and reconcile our relationship with our European family.
Between the award ceremony and my evening performance I decided to return to my very cool hotel room (the thermostat was jammed on the fridge-freezer setting) as I was burning in the afternoon sunshine. I decided to change out of the “EUWonderWoman” outfit and into something more casual as I anticipated going out in the evening and didn’t want to be in superhero costume for the entirety of the day. I discovered to my great amusement that the red dye from the fabric had rubbed onto my skin and turned my tummy a hilariously bright pink so it looked as though I had been sunburnt through the fabric of the costume. Heading back to the European Parliament building things took a turn for the surreal, when I was accosted by a drunk french man in a green “Borat style” mankini and a rainbow clown wig, he presented me with a packet of condoms and asked me (in french) to put one on him. He was accompanied by a gang of mates thankfully not all in mankinis and clown wigs, but equally pissed, so I can only assume it was a stag do prank, but nonetheless still a thoroughly unpleasant way to behave. I made a slightly astounded noise in response and ran away as fast as I could, it was only subsequently after posting about the incident on social media, that a friend suggested a more suitable reaction would have been to offer to put the condom on his head.
Irrespective of the country, I have a habit of attracting unpleasant drunk men like some sort of Twat Magnet, but i’m relieved to declare that I had no such other incidents during my trip to Strasbourg. My performance on the main stage went swimmingly, and afterwards we joined a group of mates who had congregated on the riverbanks to drink cheap, warm red wine from a nearby supermarket. Which wouldn’t be my beverage of choice, but was accepted in preference to beer which was all that was available from the bar tents on the festival site. And after downing a considerable amount straight out of the bottle I got my guitar out and had an impromptu jam session as the sun began to set over the parliament buildings. The dusky pink light and impressionable buildings reflecting in the waters, provided a rather magical end to the evening.
Except of course it wasn’t the end of the evening, because we all hopped on the tram into town to get even more plastered than we already were. After attempting, and failing in drunken broken french to find a restaurant that would seat a large group without a reservation, we decided to split and I ended up in a Japanese sushi restaurant with fellow 4 fellow YEM members and 3 others who, if they told me who they were, I have no recollection. At this point I made the grave error of ordering Ricard (an aniseed liquor, and french speciality, of which I am particularly fond) and which my fellow Sheffielder, Logan, impulsively decided to join me in drinking (having never tried it before). Logan’s reaction to his first sip of the feiry liquid was possibly the best i’ve ever witnessed, “I like it… But…. It burns!” He passed it onto his girlfriend, jade, who gave a similar response. Needless to say, I ended up consuming both mine and Logan’s drinks, which I would sorely regret in the morning.
All of the others were staying in a youth hostel, so after checking the distance from the restaurant to my hotel, supposedly 10 minutes walk, we parted ways and I promised Logan I would message him when I was safely back at the hotel… Which turned out to be much later in the evening than originally anticipated. In my drunken stupor I must have somehow altered the address in google maps, and subsequently followed the little blue dots further and further away from the centre of town. It was a good half an hour into my blissful nighttime ramble, prancing along singing to myself, before I twigged that something was amiss. The devious blue little dots had lead me to… the middle of nowhere! And a good 45 minutes At which point in dawned on me that I was lost, alone, in the dark, in a foreign country, at 11:30pm at night. I was stupidly drunk but not so much so that I wasn’t aware that this was not the safest predicament to be in. I decided Uber was the best solution and put the hotel address into the App, or at least, what I believed to be the address…. When the driver picked me up and confirmed the destination “l’hotel Mercure” to which I replied, “Oui, lequel press de la gare!” He replied to inform me that the address I had given was “Loin de la Gare”. After some confusion, I assured him that my hotel was indeed near the station and we headed in that direction, but of course when we arrived he couldn’t locate the hotel, and asked me for directions, which I was probably too drunk to provide, in french, so we ended up driving around in circles whilst he became increasingly frustrated. I tried to persuade him I could find my way on foot from the station if he would just drop me off, but he refused, and after eventually locating the correct road, we became stuck behind a 4×4 inexplicably stopped in the middle of the road. This eventually turned into a roadblock, as other cars turned into the road and began honking their horns. My driver got out and began shouting at the driver of the 4×4, whilst I sat in the back giggling at the hilarious situation I had once again managed two get myself into on my travels as #EUsupergirl.
Once finally back into the hotel, I messaged Logan to inform him of my safety. It was well after midnight at this point, an hour after we had parted company. Although, being so stupidly drunk, my level of safety was questionable, as I managed to conclude the eventful evening by walking into one of the cupboard units and taking a sizeable chunk out of my knee, which resulted in a lot of blood pouring down my leg. I considered heading down to the lobby to locate a receptionist and a first aid kit, but decided I had suffered enough embarrassment that evening, so fell asleep with my leg looking like something out of a horror movie prosthetics department.
I’m not sure which hurt more, my knee or my head when I awoke to the sound of my alarm at 8h (at least I had remembered to set it), and packed up my stuff, checked out of the hotel and embarked on the return journey from Strasbourg to Sheffield. After locating a surprisingly large (for France) 40cl coffee, and taking some ibuprofen I was in much better spirits and spent the remainder of the journey giggling to myself as I recollected the previous 2 days shenanigans. The journey went miraculously smoothly, given the french rail strikes, and the congestion in the Eurostar passport control which resulted in our train departing late, still devoid of half its passengers. After arriving into St.Pancras, I managed to sprint across to King’s Cross station and catch the train back to Sheffield with 2 minutes to spare.
Back at home, I had 2 days to rest up before my travels recommenced, so I asked my Dad if he would put my clothes in the wash so that I could repack my case… A request I soon regretted, when he informed me that, having put the whites in with my turquoise blue hoodie, all of my clothes were now dyed a pale blue. I suppose there could be worse colours for an EUsupergirl to wear.