Duluth, Minnesota

When it's cold in Manchester and I'm bundled up in my coat and scarf with my hands red raw I think of Duluth.

When I'm cold and I check the temperature and see it's four or five degrees Celsius, I think of the scoreboard that I used to walk past every day ("Home of the Bulldogs") and the temperature that flashed up with six or seven degrees Fahrenheit, and the banks of snow six feet high. 
When I complain about hating snow, I think about that first snowfall in October and that last one in May, and then the sudden sweltering summer that seemed to appear from nowhere a few weeks later, with total disregard for Spring.

I remember where I was when I found out I'd gotten into the University of Minnesota-Duluth for my year abroad.
In 2009 at the University of Birmingham, the options of American and Canadian universities we could attend was initially disappointing to those of us with aspirations for the likes of New York or California. I didn't want to go to Canada, and I instantly disregarded the hot Southern states of Alabama and Mississippi and Georgia. What was left was Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. I can't remember even now what made me choose Minnesota, but I remember crying when I found out I'd gotten in.

The journey to Duluth took three flights and almost an entire day from Manchester. A flight to Amsterdam, then to Detroit, then finally, on a plane with barely 12 seats, to tiny Duluth "International", the name I later learned to be a bit of a joke among locals, as it literally had one flight a day to Canada.

I remember trying to get into the wrong side of the taxi, and lugging my two enormous suitcases up the stairs when I couldn't get the hotel receptionist to understand what I meant by "do you have a lift?". I got to my dark, dingy hotel room, looked out of the window onto nothing but a car park and burst into tears.

I remember calling my parents hysterical. "I'm in the middle of nowhere. I am far away from everyone and I'm literally in the middle of nowhere."

And that was how I moved to Duluth.

Trying to explain my love for Duluth is like trying to explain something in another language where nothing you say makes sense. On the outside it's this little Midwestern town where it snows six months of the year and there's not much to do. But I look back on it as a physical manifestation of my nostalgia.

The town centre had two cinemas, a pizza place, a Dairy Queen, a Coldstone Ice Cream parlour (which closed for half of the year), a bookshop, a couple of candy shops, one alternative clothes shop, an outdoor supplies shop and whatever you would call Electric Fetus. That was basically it. 

I remember when my parents came to visit and my Mum wouldn't even get out of the car. I took my Dad to what he called the "huntin', shootin' fishin' shop". 

Even after visiting me my parents never came to understand why I loved this little town so.

I relied on other people for everything. The main supermarkets, mall, Target and anything else I might need were always a car ride away, and although the bus was free if you were a UMD student, they were a challenge to time correctly and I lost count of the times I rode around the city on the wrong bus. 

But I miss it. I miss it every single day. The ache of a place you loved that is 5000 miles away.

I miss the library where I feel like I spent my whole weekends when I hated being in my apartment because I shared a room with a girl who never spoke to me and Skyped her family back in China without headphones every night at 2am. I miss the "ven dens" where I would treat myself to a Cherry Coke Zero during long study hours. I miss the coffee shop where I learned to love Earl Gray tea because that was the only English tea they had. I miss the "British aisle" in the Supermarket which sold Dairy Milk and Heinz Baked Beans which were always too expensive to buy. I miss the Baked Potato Pizza at Pizza Luce and the cheesecake ice cream at Coldstone and the Mexican place that gave you endless chips and salsa.

But most of all I miss that it was the most beautiful place I've ever lived. I miss the view of Lake Superior from the top floor library windows and I miss the aerial lift bridge which became, to me, a symbol of Duluth. I miss how beautiful the snow looked on the ground, even at its most treacherous. 

I went back three years ago for a few days after travelling across the US. I felt out of place at the university then. Meeting awkwardly with old teachers and feeling lost in the coffee shops. But Duluth itself hadn't changed. I went downtown and finally bought Minnetonka Moccasins and ate that famous Baked Potato Pizza and went to the same bars I did when I was 20 and hoped the doorman was confused enough by my "backwards" date of birth that he'd let me in anyway.

I get overwhelmed with nostalgia sometimes and want to get on the next flight (and the next flight, and the next flight). But Duluth is a long way away. I tell Phil how much I want to take him but he doesn't understand. And it's a long way to go to spend a few days in a little town I used to love.

But one day I'll go back again. And maybe the people will have changed and maybe even some of the places I used to visit will have changed. But Duluth will always be a part of me. It will always be home.

I wrote this post to enter in Get Your Guide's #Ileftmyheartin competiton, but I was in no way compensated for this post. I just really wanted to write about Duluth.


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