By Ülvi Gitaliyev
Hello and welcome back to the third installment of the Travel Chronicle series. In case you are wondering, I could write a dozen more of these, which, depending on your perspective, could be a good or bad thing. Whether you were in Berea or back home, I hope you had a pleasant, or at least acceptable, Spring Break. At the very least, you did not spend it homeless on a rock like me.
I choose Knoxville for my Spring Break for three main reasons. Firstly, despite all my talk of Communism and hatred for the bourgeois, I have a soft spot in my heart for the opera which Knoxville had with just $15 tickets. Secondly, before going into the Deep South, dipping my toes in Tennessee would be nice practice of what to expect. Thirdly, Knoxville was relatively close to Berea and Greyhound Bus tickets only cost about $60 dollars for a roundtrip.
In this adventure, I was not suffering by myself as I brought my roommate, Dimitrios, with me. He was initially opposed to some aspects of the plan, especially the being homeless one, so we came to a compromise. For the first night, we would fulfil my dream of living in America’s streets and on the second night, we would get an Airbnb.
From the very beginning, our trip went awry. The Greyhound Bus was late by three hours and by the time we got to Knoxville, the crescent moon was visible. We checked our pockets (nothing had been stolen, this time) and walked downtown.
What struck me first about Knoxville was how lively the streets were. Groups of teens and boomers were walking around bars and restaurants talking about work, love and life in general. As a life-long city slicker, the empty streets of Berea always irritated me and seeing a city with inhabitants actually enjoying life was a refreshing scene. Dimitrios and I walked all of downtown and briefly crossed the Tennessee River before deciding on a semi-Greek restaurant with karaoke (no, none of us sang). We enjoyed great chicken kebabs and even though the Azerbaijani ones are better, my stomach did not notice it at the time. By the time we finished, it was almost midnight and time to find our temporary home.
Coming back to the Tennessee River, we walked down steep slopes to reach the river bank. There, we found a rock that was suitable for sleeping. If I was alone, I would have tried going to bars and convincing drunk/lonely/missionary locals to let me stay with them for a night. With Dimitiors though, I had a reputation to uphold and that meant being homeless for one night! So, I took my blanket and rolled myself up in a burrito to stay warm while Dimitiros took the rock. If you want a photo of that, ask me when you have the time. After finishing my diary, I (tried) to sleep. By 4 a.m., both of us woke up and looked at the now sleepy city. Due to a mixture of cold, paranoia and uncomfortableness of the situation, we decided to walk towards the nearest Waffle House as the sun rose.
Along the way, we stumbled across the Knoxville Botanical Garden. In reality, it was a suburban park with a few exotic trees. This time, no missionaries greeted me and instead, Dimitirios and I enjoyed some morning bacon and eggs. With our energy restored, but dark circles under our eyes, we began walking towards the Zoo. There was a makeshift bazaar and I was able to buy some stamps for the cheap price of one dollar. Somehow, Apple Maps gave us directions to the back of the Zoo instead of the entrance but this worked in our favour. Rather than paying like law-abiding citizens, we crossed a small fence and enjoyed the Zoo Knoxville for the same price as the animals inside it: Nada.
I had only been in one zoo in my life beforehand – the Baku Zoo – and that is in a state of destitution. So, Zoo Knoxville blew me away with the variety of animals and the quality of their cages. There were foxes, rhinos and elephants to observe and interact with. Dimitrios in particular showed a monkey its own reflection and from my scientific investigation, it realized that it was looking at itself. Almost everyone had come with a child and we were sticking out like a sore thumb and this trend would repeat itself though our trip. After enjoying every animal that the zoo had to offer, I bought some postcards and we left from the official exit. Looking at the half kilometre line to enter made me even happier with my earlier actions. Now, it was time to go back downtown.
During rush hour, the streets of Knoxville were jam packed with both visitors and locals. I even heard some Russian spoken. We found a Japanese restaurant and ordered my favourite meal: rice. Simple, yet delicious. I also went on a postcard buying spree that cost me slightly over $80. Addictions come at a heavy price. Whenever I explore a city, I make sure to calculate how much I have to walk for each postcard on average. For the sake of fairness, I shall remove the walk from Waffle House to the Knoxville zoo. I collected a total of 71 postcards during the trip and so, had to walk an average of 169 metres for every postcard, a respectable showing.
The Airbnb that Dimitrios had ordered was across the Tennessee River so after buying some ice cream, we started our march. This is when the least pleasant part of the trip occurred. While Dimitrios was trying to find the exact house, I was standing in the street, suspiciously. After a few minute, a whole family approached me, asking me if Jesus was my Lord and Saviour. I answered negatively, and soon enough, their smiles turned into frowns and after telling me that I was “lost without Jesus,” they called the police on me. Yes, law enforcement and I are destined to meet no matter where I go. After a short discussion, the police officer simply told me to move to another street and coincidentally, Dimitrios finally found the house we were going to stay at.
Now, I had been told to expect an empty, two bedroom house, but instead, I was met with three other residents with only one being the actual owner. Dimitrios got the bed while I slept on a mattress under him. While I would normally berate him to no end, my exhaustion and lack of sleep finally caught up with me and I fell asleep for a good ten hours. Once awake, I told him about how the rock was better to our current situation in almost every way imaginable and we planned our last day in Knoxville.
The main reason for our adventure was to see one of the first post-COVID-19 operas in the United States. After a nice lunch and tea at a Thai restaurant, we entered the Tennessee Theatre with our tickets. As fate would have it, Mefistofele, an opera about an alchemist selling his soul to the devil, was being shown. The whole thing was sung in Old Italian, which is a beautiful language to sing in, and everything from costumes to the Mephistopheles’s abs was spectacular. After the Satanist rock concert a month ago, listening to religious chants was a nice change of pace and did make me consider whether or not I would make such a deal with Mephistopheles, if presented the chance, of course.
With the opera over and the sun giving way to the moon, we enjoyed our last hours in Knoxville with a great sense of melancholy. Dimitrios wanted to see the local dog park so that he could pet other people’s animals. After, we went bowling, where we both realized that we suck after years of all the bowling alleys being shut down. Our last act was to buy three pounds of high-quality chocolate to help us better deal with the stress of being back at Berea.
Without a doubt, Knoxville is a great place to have your next vacation. The vibrant downtown and beautiful Tennessee River, as well as the nearby parks, make it well worth a week-long stay. Other than some Jesus-loving snitches, I have nothing to complain about the city. My final review for Knoxville is: