Summer Throwback: Travel blog from the I Choose Europe bus tour

, by Denis Shemyakin

Summer Throwback: Travel blog from the I Choose Europe bus tour

What do you get when you take a dozen youths all over Europe and put them on a bus for a week to campaign for the European Parliament elections? A rollercoaster of euphoria, melancholy, exhaustion and excitement.

The project

At the time of writing in mid May, the EU parliamentary elections are just around the corner. Actually the advance voting has begun today. These are set to be momentous as contemporary trends and forces are expected to uproot the political status quo with far reaching consequences.

Enter bus tour: “Aiming to raise awareness about the upcoming European Elections2019 and encourage young people to vote, JEF Europe leads the campaign “I Choose Europe”, with a promotional bus tour as one of its highlights” reads the call for participants on jef.eu website. The bus tour was executed in three parts: Frankfurt – Budapest, Budapest – Skopje and Rome – Brussels. From starting city to the finale each day of the week was spent in cities between. We were on the last leg of the trip, so our stops were in chronological order: Rome – Montpellier – Barcelona – Montpellier – Paris – Lille – Brussels. In each city we met up with the local JEF section to organise a public event in the streets. In essence it is all about meeting with and engaging the locals with the purpose of ensuring they vote in the upcoming elections.

“Federazione europea subito!”- calls can be heard in the vicinity of our stand as our cheerleader hypes the crowd. Even months later I keep hearing these haunting words in my mind. Thanks for that. Anyhow, while the audience is being riled up others give out flyers to passers by. This has led to multiple awkward and comical encounters where we simply did not find a common language with passers by. The flyers may have been in Spanish, but since my Spanish is limited to phrases such as “La nina bebe leche”, explaining the intricacies of the European project may have faltered on my part. Nevertheless we all did our part, be that by stopping every single pedestrian to hand out the flyers or by sneaking them into old ladies shopping bags.

If our loud, enthusiastic activists did not get the locals excited about the elections, the wide assortment of gimmicks we had brought with us certainly did. By far the most popular of these was a large canvas map of Europe with EU countries highlighted and the participants are tasked with identifying each EU country. This activity attracted participants from all ages to share in the joys of political geography. Some may have been rewarded with an appropriately branded cloth bag or a t-shirt. Other participants wrote what EU means to them on a star-shaped sticky note and filled other, plain blue canvas with them. Naturally no street campaigning is complete without balloons.

The people

Now the people – at the heart of this federalist concoction. The people are who make the experience.

The first and most noticeable feature of this motley crew was the diversity of our backgrounds. Between us, we covered nearly every EU country in addition to non-EU members. Meeting new and interesting people all over Europe by itself is fascinating, but having people from non-EU states gave the experience a significant boost. Naturally they have very different concerns when it comes to practical day-to-day life; our conversations were superbly insightful. However, it was everyone’s unique personalities what made the trip.

The experience

The bus tour was a surreal experience for me on many levels. I arrived in Rome a day before the bus tour was set to begin. Since childhood Rome has been this near fantastical place from the past, where legendary heroes and villains walked its streets. I’ve dreamt of ancient roman festivals and renaissance era Italian arts my whole life. Needless to say I was not disappointed, indeed I was overwhelmed by the culture and history of the place. Rome has monuments on every street and plaza. Temple of Mars, Trevi fountain, Vatican, Pantheon and many other wonders were simply stunning. I ran from one location to another, like an over excited dog, covering roughly 40 kilometers in 24 hours. I did have a moment to sit down for a coffee and a gelato. It was wonderlust through and through.

It would be remiss of me if I did not mention the beautiful landscapes I saw on the trip. Most impressive part for me was our trip starting from Montpellier going to Paris. It was foggy and overcast as we drove through mountainous green valleys and incredible French countryside dotted with castles and fields of flowers. The small town of Millau made a great impression on me. The town is located in a valley, surrounded by mountains with a river running past it. Driving by the town you cross a gorge valley on Millau Viaduct – the tallest bridge in the world. The view was breathtaking.

Barcelona was an interesting city and I wish we could have spent more time there. Barcelona is the center for a Catalan independence movement, being the regional capital. The yellow ribbon, symbol for catalan independence, is an inescapable sight in the city. Painted on roads, hung from balconies and posted on walls the symbols of independence are ever present.

In the end it was Paris that was the highlight of the adventure. It was special. Something happened to us and I can’t quite put my finger on it, whether it was the legend of Paris, quaint streets of Lille or simply being stuck in a bus for a week. We were taken by a state of inexplicable bliss. Running around, laughing, singing and reenacting romantic scenes in the night against bright lights of the Eiffel tower. No doubt we were regarded as complete loons by the passers by.

Coming from highs of Paris, the town of Lille on the Belgian border was something else. Lille is filled with charming streets and friendly people. It is an ideal small town to visit prior to the conclusion of our journey. Unlike previous day of joy in Paris, Lille gave an opportunity for reflection. For instance we met with an Brazilian politics major studying in Paris, who’s taken a day off to come to Lille after exhausting exams. She spoke of the situation in Brazil, how political opposition is killed or imprisoned. The lawless and arbitrary injustice and cruelty faces those who challenge the powers that be. How can you operate in such an environment? I don’t know. Yet she is resolved to go back to her home country to defend democracy when she’s finished with studies in France. It is these human stories that ran through my head on that night in Lille walking in the park by the river, highlighted in neon purple lights from the silent carnival across. It felt like a fever dream, as if the situation was taken straight from a movie. This feeling is impossible to transcribe in words and for this reason I better leave it at that.

The last words

I wholeheartedly encourage everyone to broaden their horizons by traveling, get inspired by new experiences and make meaningful connections by meeting new people. This bus tour gave me the chance to do all of the above and I know it will do the same to you. JEF Europe tirelessly organizes similar events around the year. And do not forget the local JEF sections in your country. I encourage you to get in touch if you have not done so already. The local sections provide the basis for all activities we do. I want to thank the organizers, participants, local JEFers and the people we met on the road for making this an unforgettable experience. As for me, the work for a better Europe continues. Until next time, cheers!

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