Before I came back home.

By Rhiannon Jones, Chemistry, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA

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As I lay here feeling like I’m dying from a cold, it seems like the perfect time to give an update on what I’ve been up to back in the “Land of Lincoln”. After flying home for a much-needed Christmas with the family, I cut my one-month winter break short and  went travelling before returning to the reality of dining hall food, midterms and physical chemistry homework.

Our first stop was Boston, Massachusetts where, as you can see from the pictures above, we also tried our best to look photogenic. Despite being jet-lagged for the first couple of days, we still managed to do some classic tourist stuff such as trying clam chowder (chow-dah) and walking the freedom trail; imagine a redbrick path that snakes through the city. It includes some beautiful buildings such as the state house and also the oldest commercial building in Boston, which now houses a Chipotle. The tour finished with a walk up to the Bunker Hill Memorial, built to commemorate a victory against the damn British (think of it as a smaller Washington monument, without a lift to the top). Despite it being cold and the wind chill taking it to the minuses, it felt good to be back.

Despite a brief stop on the East-coast, the main point of our travels was to visit ‘the South’. A short (compared to the greyhound equivalent) flight later and we turn up in Nashville, home of hot chicken, country music and cowboy boots; not quite the mid-west I’m used to. Our first afternoon there and I had the best eggs I have ever tasted. I could have chosen it with their ‘award winning’ hot chicken, but with a spice level of ‘holy crap’, my friend seemed like he was only suffering mildly before he started sweating profusely. The next day a trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame inspired a new found love of Johnny Cash and Howlin’ Wolf in us, the soundtrack that would join us for the rest of the trip. A personal highlight of mine was Broadway. It’s the main street in Nashville, and is home to live country music blasting out of every bar and restaurant. We also visited cowboy boot shops, but with the average price at about ~$300, rhinestone embellished, multi-coloured leather boots just couldn’t be justified. I also got to do an escape room one day when we ran out of a plan. It’s full of puzzles and you have to solve them to escape the room before the time is up. It was country music themed (boots and guitar included) but we ran out of time.; definitely would recommend.

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Doing their best guitar impression, on Broadway and the Nashville skyline.

Six days in and we finally made it to our final stop, Memphis. As Tennessee prides itself for its musical heritage, this time we got to be in the location for soul and also Elvis’ mansion, Graceland. What was once probably a pretty house full of him ad his family, it’s now so commercialised that every gallery was another excuse to sell you something; very American. A short Google search that evening also told us that his life there was very sugar coated, forgetting to mention the very rock and roll activities such as divorce, drugs and deep fried peanut butter sandwiches.

Our trip wouldn’t have been worth it if we didn’t learn about the history of the state. Before I left home I knew the stereotype of the South’s embarrassingly racist past, but the Civil Rights Museum really hammers home how devoid of reality lawmakers were at time. At the same time as Europe is fighting its Second World War, Alabama made it illegal to play integrated billiards. The building is on the back of the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated. We were there almost four hours and the weather outside was a glorious contrast to the subject matter inside. If you are ever in Memphis, even if for the day, don’t think about it, just go.

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The Lorraine Motel, Memphis’ Millennium park and street graffiti.

As I like to finish on something more light-hearted…

Every plate of food I had for a week and a half was beautiful. It might be because I have spent so much time eating dining hall ‘food’ but a restaurant that serves you a whole rib of half wet/half dry ribs, in my mind is bliss. At dinner every day we would talk about the day, ‘what was your highlight?’ and every day someone always said the food. From Mary-Rose sauce on sweet potato fries to world famous burgers, if I was to go back, I could easily spend the whole time eating. It’s no surprise the US is so obese.

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