Monday, November 2, 2009
Welcome to the Bluegrass State
I had this wild idea to visit Kentucky for my annual fall vacation. Every single person I talked to about this trip had similar responses, "What are you going to do there?" I knew I would stay with my cousin, Ashlee, and her cute little family, but beyond that, I really had no idea. I requested a visitor's guide from the Lexington Visitor's Bureau. It was a dandy publication and gave me several ideas to fill my two weeks of schedule-less bliss. Ash's husband also gave me a few ideas, noting that there were several "destinations" within a couple hours' drive from them. I booked the red-eye ticket and was gone within a couple weeks.
As I arrived in Louisville (the cheapest airport in Kentucky), I picked up my car from the rental counter (with borderline harassment from the agent - can't one leave the counter without purchasing supplementary insurance?!) and was on my merry way to Lexington. I knew that Kentucky was beautiful but I had no idea of the degree of beauty. The freeway was lined with thick deciduous foliage, brightly colored with the hues of Fall (unlike Utah, where the trees are sparse and the corridors of the roads are peppered with advertising). When I arrived at Ash's house, I thought I would be ready to hit the town for my first day of activity - but rather crashed on the couch instead. The red-eye flight and I do not get along.
I had never met Ash's two boys until now. I had seen pictures, and even fantasized that my own children (with Ash and I sharing similar alleles) would be so beautiful. They were so much fun and made my stay so enjoyable. Mac called me Spacey for the duration of my stay (which made him all the more endearing) and G (short for Gray) was just too adorable for words. They made me feel so welcome and right at home that I was sad when it came time to leave.
It was so great to not have to do everything alone while I was there. Ash braved the long drives and the non-kid friendly activities to keep me company and help me make the best of my trip. My first day of Kentucky tourism included a visit to Keeneland to watch the races. I didn't even bet $2, mainly because I was distracted. Mac was convinced that the beer in the transparent plastic cups was apple juice, and like a good cousin, I corrected him (and he proceeded to beg Ash for a Budweiser). There were quite a few characters (and wonderful Kentucky stereotype men) at the track and I joked with Ash that I should start taking pictures for a post called My Kentucky Soulmates, but unfortunately I never got around to that.
The next day we ventured out to Cincinnati to the famous Gap Clearance Center. This is NOT an outlet, but a place for the store rejects to find a new home. It houses retail outcasts from Old Navy, Gap, and Banana Republic at killer prices - I left the store with two pairs of jeans and a pencil skirt for $23 total. I really had no definite ideas of what else I wanted to do in Cincinnati, so I told Ash I wanted to take a picture by a bridge, eat some chili and be done. That is precisely what my visit to Cincinnati entailed (beside the 2 hour layover I had in the airport on my return flight). I don't regret this at all (I've been told that it's a ghetto city - one where blondes go for a high price, and the chili was gross).
On Saturday I ventured out to Woodford County to the Woodford Reserve Distillery (the only distillery to triple distill their bourbon for a smoother taste). I purchased my tour ticket and joined the group with several guys I had noticed in the waiting area. Turns out, they were on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail for a bachelor party. They chatted me up during the tour and accompanied me to the counter at the tour's conclusion to witness my first (and last) taste of bourbon. The taster card said it would have hints of caramel and vanilla in the flavor. I'm quite convinced that the bourbon makers of Kentucky have never tasted caramel OR vanilla. It tasted like gasoline...straight from the pump. I took a picture with these fellows (and mentioned to them about my Soulmates of Kentucky blog post) and we parted ways.
Sunday, I thought I would get acquainted with a community who lived as "Brothers and Sisters in Christ" in Pleasant Hill. The Shakers were an odd people, and during my wandering around their plantation, I decided I would have been a horrible one, probably being exiled from the group before I hit puberty. Their living space resembled a Polygamist compound, segregating men and women on opposite sides of the house. It was a HUGE residence. I was transported back to 5th grade when I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond in Mrs. Hacken's class. My imagination went wild envisioning these people and how they lived, and probably inaccurately envisioned characters from the Salem Witch Trials. I bought a book at the gift shop with the intent of actually educating myself on these peculiar people...it is still in the bag.
On Monday, Ash, the boys, and I toured Darley Horse Farm and learned all about the horses that race at Keeneland and Churchill Downs. They discussed the lodging of the horses (most of them have better living conditions than I do), breeding habits (during breeding season, stallions breed 3 times per day, videotaped in a secure facility), Stud fees, etc. They wouldn't let us near any of the horses.
Following the Darley, I ventured out to Berea, an artsy college community whose economy is dependent upon the craftsmanship of its' residents. It was so quaint and very fun to wander around checking out the local talent. Berea is home of Boone Tavern Hotel and Berea College, where students pay their tuition and fees through their handiwork. As I arrived in town, I noticed all these cool hand statues on the lawns. I learned that it was a charity project called the Show of Hands. I was very impressed.
Tuesday I drove back to Louisville to visit the Slugger museum/factory (fun for baseball enthusiasts of all ages) and to have lunch with my new friend Matt (of the distillery). Matt actually took the afternoon off to shuttle me around town, visiting the University of Louisville, the Seelbach Hotel, Churchill Downs, and the 4th Street Live area. We even ventured over to the Hoosier side to view the city from afar and snap some cityscape pictures. He was fun company to have and made my stay in Kentucky much more memorable. On the way home from Louisville, I stopped in Frankfort to take a picture with the capitol building and was assaulted by the vibrant red bushes. They were stunning!
The last two days of my trip we kind of just laid low and enjoyed each others' company, going to lunch with Drew in downtown Lexington and taking one last memorable road trip to Red River Gorge in Eastern Kentucky. We happened to stumble upon Nada Tunnel, one of the coolest natural formations I have ever seen. There is a tunnel carved out of this huge wall that you can't see until you round a sharp corner. It was a one-way tunnel, so it was a little nerve racking, but it was short. We also spent a little time in what I would call a "Kentucky Canyon."
Never did I think I would have so much fun in Kentucky. Thanks to Ash and Drew's fabulous hospitality, this vacation ended up exactly what I needed - a lot of rest and relaxation with a little tourism on the side.
More pictures on my Facebook page.