Chiara Ginestra and Alexander Colling have decided to embark on an amazing journey across Europe to discover the wonderful right of movement within the European Union. Now, you may say, what is the big deal in travelling across Europe? Well, Chiara and Alexander have decided to do it by bike! Over the next few weeks, we’ll be covering their journey in regular excepts from their diary so stay on board and join them in solidarity as they help to highlight what it means to be citizens of Europe.
We catch up with Chiara and Alexander as they enter week five and currently enjoy the sights of Riga but we’ll bring you excerpts from their diary covering the last few weeks in the next few days so you can enjoy their run so far.
Lets start with their motivation behind the project.
What inspired the guys to do this?
On 23rd June 2016 the UK, or rather 52% of the UK, or rather 52% of the people who turned up to vote, voted to leave the EU in a non-binding referendum.
We woke up that morning in total dismay and incredulity. We cried. Our money had lost value overnight and we felt rejected. We are EU citizens from different countries within the EU (Italy and the UK) and we currently live in the UK. Freedom of movement which gives us the right to travel, live and work in another EU country is one of the founding principles of the European Union. Without the EU we would have never met. Many things unite us including our love for bicycles as a vehicle that takes us from A to be (pun intended). We suddenly felt divided by our respective nationalities.
Months after, things were still suspended. Things ARE still suspended. We don’t know what our rights will look like. Despair is now mixed with moments of wry hilarity. At times we imagined us locking the door of our flat behind us, and instead of cycling to work, cycling to Dublin. Then Amsterdam. And then never stop until we found a place were we would not be strangers, another place that could be our home. We laughed. And waited. But freedom of movement is still here, it is still ours. 28 countries and 28 capital cities where we could live and work in, and we can definitely travel in. Our freedom of movement is now, and we are going to take it.
So that is our simple and enduring plan: to exercise our right to freedom of movement in the EU.
Why bicycles Alex?
Why bicycles? For us it’s very obvious. Since I was about 5 years old it has been the most obvious way of getting about. As I got older my bicycle enabled me to travel further and be as independent as I could be. More or less at the same time, somewhere down in the continent, Chiara’s granddad was having a laugh to himself while pretending to hold her by the back rack as she wobbled her way forwards, scared of having taken off the stabilisers for the first time – she never looked back.
Cycling is a truly restorative experience rooted in the joy of balancing while moving swiftly forward. No-one puts it better than Nick Moore (I’d definitely recommend his book, Mindful Thoughts for Cyclists), who wrote:
“It is about freedom. The bike provides a means of escape from the confines of home, work, the phone and the inbox – a chance to, temporarily, drop off the radar and disappear. It is also about reconnecting with and being aware of feelings, physical sensations and the world around us. It is about confronting and overcoming challenges, fears and limits. It is about self-reliance and independence, and also the company of others, and encounters with strangers. It is about recapturing a sense of childlike wonder… it is, above all, about awareness.”
For us it was never about the bikes themselves. It was about the doing. The balancing, the forward progress, the independence and self-sufficiency, the fresh air, and the freedom.
So the choice was made many years ago, when we used to bomb around on, respectively, a beautifully fluorescent mountain bike and an extremely pink shopper, laying the groundwork in our minds for the Freedom of Movement Tour.
Why Brexit Chaira?
Well, indeed. Why on earth?!? 600 something days ago, that was the main question. And it still is.
There is no intelligible point in “Brexit”.
The truth is that the UK voted for Brexit as an act of rejection of “foreigners” based on lies British politicians didn’t have any shame in divulging. Racism and intolerance is of course not the motive of all 52% leave voters, but in the aftermath that’s how it felt in my gut and that of many fellow EU citizens: a kick in the goolies. I won’t spend any more words on the lies that brought us to it, but you can easily Google yourself “examples of pro-Brexit lies” to get 44,200 results. Alternatively, why not also try searching for “Brexit bus” – 3,490,000 results. Sit back and relax.
You may also want to read a book called In Limbo – Our Brexit Testimonies. It’s basically a thriller where a group of “expats” wake up one morning and realise they are actually just filthy, sponging, unwelcome “immigrants”. Unfortunately, the plot of the book is one of those annoying open-ended ones, with the protagonists (and the readers) left with one major doubt: where is home?
600 something days ago I realised that the home I had adopted was rejecting me like some sort of incompatible kidney. How could that possibly happen? I loved it. Loved feeling the Scottish nature unfolding unforgivingly around me; feeling valued and appreciated for what I could do, not for who I knew, where I was born, how old I was and whether I had any children; loved the independence and self-determination I could finally grasp. Of course, I also hated it. As an Italian, I am to this day personally offended by the lack of bidets, mixer taps, and decent artichokes, as I am equally and easily brought to exasperation by the constant presence of drizzle on my specs, carpeted flooring, and tinned ravioli. Still, despite retaining only faded memories of what summer feels like, I would not hand back my dignity to a country, my country, where there are no facts, only opinions, and whose people spend their whole lives simmering in the past and the impossibility of change.
Probably it is normal to hold a special grudge towards your own folk, but the very British John Hooper shares my views as shown in his book The Italians.
On Brexit day I felt lied to. It did matter where I was born, after all, only nobody had bothered telling me before. How silly of me to assume that as humans we would fight to achieve equality among us. Humans fight only for their own individual privilege, yet they don’t recognise it when they have it. Freedom of movement is one of them, a privilege many of us in this part of the world were born with, and something that many other of us elsewhere will probably never experience. Luca Parmitano, an Italian astronaut, was once asked during an interview what he liked the most of being up in space. He said he liked looking down at the Earth. During the day Earth looks like a lifeless piece of rubble, but at night it comes alight showing our human presence. Light flows like blood from one country to the other and, guess what, there are no interruptions in the flow, there are no borders.
So, where is home? Alex’s family changed home many times when he was little, there is no place like a family home for him now. He grew up feeling his bike was his home. My parents still live in my granddad’s house, bought in the 50s and a bit stuck in the 50s since then. I have the luxury of going back to the smell of mothballs and my identity every time I fly back for Christmas. Still, that is no longer my home. Where is my home? For the time being, I suppose a bike will have to do for me too.
Time to get riding.
In our next instalment, we’ll catch up with the guys when they went from Edinburgh to Bristol, via Glasgow, Belfast, Dublin and Cardiff!