Category Archives: Travel

Pilot Mountain

The first time I saw Pilot Mountain was on a road trip to Indiana.  As you zip along scenic Hwy 52 toward the VA border, Pilot Mountain suddenly leaps into view, looking like absolutely nothing else in the area!

Pilot Mountain appears out of nowhere on Hwy 52N

Pilot Mountain appears out of nowhere on Hwy 52N

We have since driven by Pilot Mountain on several trips and vowed that one day we would actually drive over there and hike around it.  We finally got around to doing that last Thanksgiving, and we had such a great time I think it will now be our annual Thanksgiving tradition (weather permitting, of course!).

Any trip to Pilot Mountain should start or end with a side trip to the charming city of Mt. Airy, which is about 20 minutes away.  We have been to Mt. Airy several times and I can’t imagine why I have no photos, but sorry, I don’t.  I recommend lunch at either Barney’s or Leon’s Burger Express.  This is not fancy food, just Southern fare served with plenty of Southern hospitality – and cheap too!  I also highly recommend popping in to Specialty Gifts.  They sell all kinds of Mayberry things, but more of interest to me is their massive selection of Department 56 pieces and Old World Christmas ornaments.

Last year we decided to skip Black Friday and take advantage of a beautiful Fall day to head out for lunch and shopping in Mt. Airy and hiking at Pilot Mtn.  We hit up Specialty Gifts to buy some new Old World Christmas ornaments for our ever-expanding collection, had a quick lunch at Leon’s and then took the 20 minute drive back to Pilot Mountain State Park which is located right on Hwy 52 (you can’t miss the signs).  The park has plenty of easy to moderate hiking trails and good restroom facilities.  We started our exploring on the Jomeokee (the Saura Indian word for “guide” or “pilot”, thus the English name for the mountain) Trail which circumnavigates the iconic quartzite “crown” atop Pilot Mountain.  I was highly annoyed with myself that I forgot to bring my camera, but I have to say, I think my iPhone 5 took some pretty decent snaps!

A view of the quartzite cap of Pilot Mtn, from the Little Pinnacle Overlook

A view of the quartzite cap of Pilot Mtn, from the Little Pinnacle Overlook

A view from the start of the Jomeokee Trail

A view from the start of the Jomeokee Trail

The entire cap is layer upon layer of quartzite.  If geology is your thing, this mountain is fascinating!

The entire cap is layer upon layer of quartzite. If geology is your thing, this mountain is fascinating!

A closeup of the quartzite layers

A closeup of the quartzite layers – it was literally like looking at a wall of time.

I spent nearly the entire time on the Jomeokee Trail looking up because (a) it always looked like a huge rock was about to fall on you and (b) there were dozens of Turkey Vultures hanging out up there just waiting for that to happen.

I spent nearly the entire time on the Jomeokee Trail looking up because (a) it always looked like a huge rock was about to fall on you and (b) there were dozens of Turkey Vultures hanging out up there just waiting for that to happen.

On the Jomeokee Trail - you can see for miles and miles practically the whole way around.

On the Jomeokee Trail – you can see for miles and miles practically the whole way around.

We then headed over to walk some of the Ledge Spring and Grindstone trails, which afforded gorgeous views south and west towards Elkin and Winston Salem.  These trails are labeled Moderate to Strenuous, but the parts we were on were fairly easy (we’re both fully mobile and “moderately fit”).  There was only one rough spot we encountered which required you to scramble up about 50 yards of tumbled rock, but other than that – pretty level and easy-peasy.

On the Ledge Spring Trail

On the Ledge Spring Trail.  We saw lots of people practicing rappelling on the rock cliffs.

The only tricky part we encountered were these rocks you had to climb up.  Really, quite doable, tho I did manage to bash my knee on the very last part at the top.

The only tricky part we encountered were these rocks you had to climb up. Really, quite doable, tho I did manage to bash my knee on the very last part at the top.

Near the top of the “rock staircase” we found an outcrop over a 100 foot cliff that afforded an amazing view of the rolling Piedmont below.  It was so peaceful and quiet up there that we spent quite a few minutes just soaking in the sun and enjoying the view.  This was also the moment when I reached into my backpack and produced a big, fat wedge of Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie (ridiculously delicious!) that I had made for Thanksgiving.  We sat on those cold rocks with tired legs and savored every last crumb!

Our picnic spot atop the cliff.  Below we could see a meandering river and picturesque homesteads.

Our picnic spot atop the cliff. Below we could see a meandering river and picturesque homesteads.

I don't know what possessed me to go stand on the edge of that cliff (probably the sugar and the Bourbon in that pie) - but I just HAD to get my picture made!

I don’t know what possessed me to go stand on the edge of that cliff (probably the sugar and the Bourbon in the pie) – but I just HAD to get my picture made!  At no point did I let go of that tree.

That day was so fun and relaxing!  I wouldn’t recommend hiking there in Summer (godawful HOT!), but late Fall was wonderful, and I imagine Spring or early Fall when the leaves are turning would be spectacular.  This is definitely our new Thanksgiving tradition!

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Kentucky Travelogue 4 – Lexington, Horses and Bourbon

We spent our time in Lexington doing two quintessential Kentucky things – visiting Thoroughbred horse farms and touring Bourbon distilleries.  I booked an afternoon horse farm tour out of Lexington, and I wanted to have lunch at a well-reviewed place in the country.  Since we really aren’t Bourbon fans (hmmm…I should say weren’t because we are now!) I chose to tour the Four Roses distillery because it geographically fit with my other plans.  After wolfing down a so-so breakfast, we took the half hour drive (again, through beautiful country on a beautiful sunny day!) out to Four Roses.

I read beforehand that Four Roses was a respected brand back in the day, but fell into disrepute when it was bought out by a large beverage conglomerate.  Kirin Brewing bought the brand a few years ago and is rebuilding Four Roses as a kind of “craft bourbon”.  The historic facility is done in an old Spanish style, which is a bit of an architectural anomaly in KY!

Four Roses  - a beautiful property on the National Register of Historic Places

Four Roses – a beautiful property on the National Register of Historic Places

We had a great tour with Leila and learned a ton about bourbon distilling.  Bourbon is a type of whiskey that is made with at least 51% corn, aged a minimum of 2 years in a new, charred oak barrel, and it’s the only spirit “native” to the US.  KY became the center for Bourbon distilling because it’s a great place to grow corn, the cold winters and hot summers are perfect for aging the whiskey, and the rivers run with pure, clean, limestone-filtered water.  Bourbon is made by cooking a “mash” of corn and whatever other grains are being used (wheat, rye, malted barley), cooling it, adding yeast and letting it ferment in large vats.  Fermentation creates alcohol and carbon dioxide, and you could see the vats literally “boiling” with all the CO2 being released.  And it smelled yummy!

Four Roses makes a relatively small amount of Bourbon each year, and they are one of the few distilleries to still use wooden vats for fermenting, which adds more flavor!

Four Roses makes a relatively small amount of Bourbon each year, and they are one of the few distilleries to still use wooden vats for fermenting, which adds more flavor.

The mash is then filtered and distilled, and that distillate is then re-distilled.  Some of the fermented grain they filter off is used to flavor the next batch of mash, but most is given to farmers as pig food, which supposedly pigs love!  Don’t freak, there’s almost no alcohol in it.

where the filtered mash is distilled into "proto bourbon"

where the filtered mash is distilled into “proto bourbon”

The resulting clear alcohol is placed in new, charred oak barrels and aged at least two years – the charred barrel imparts bourbon’s characteristic caramel color and rich flavor.  The barrels age in huge, often multistory warehouses, and where a barrel is located in the warehouse affects its taste (higher up in the warehouse = hotter = ages faster and stronger; lower in the warehouse = cooler = more nuanced flavor).  Bourbon masters then taste and blend various barrels to get their signature flavor profile, which is why a bottle of Four Roses 81 or Wild Turkey 101 will taste the same year after year.  Any particularly fabulous barrels are bottled unmixed as “single barrel” Bourbons. Or a small amount of exceptional barrels may be mixed together to create what is called “small batch” Bourbon.  Single barrel and small batch Bourbons are like wine in that they will have different flavor nuances from year to year and bottle to bottle.  Since Four Roses is a small distillery, they tinker a lot with flavor using several different types of yeasts in their mashes, and I have to say I was very impressed in the tasting room.

If you go on any of these Bourbon tours on what is called the Bourbon Trail in KY, be prepared to drink a lot of Bourbon, or share your glass with a friend.  They give you VERY generous samples and expect you to finish it before they give you the next one!  Everything we sampled at Four Roses was smooth, sweet and amazingly delicious.  Who knew Bourbon could be anything but gag inducing!?

After thanking Leila for the informative, interesting tour and buying a few bottles in the gift shop, we headed off through the country to our lunch spot, Wallace Station Deli.  It was a gorgeous day so we took advantage of the large patio out back to enjoy our lunch al fresco.  This place is popular and packs out fast, so I was glad we got there by 11:30.

Wallace Station Deli - I'm pretty sure this place used to be the old country general store - it's in the middle of "nowhere"!

Wallace Station Deli – I’m pretty sure this place used to be the old country general store – it’s in the middle of “nowhere”!

We took another half hour drive to the Embassy Suites in Lexington where we were to be picked up for our afternoon horse farm tour.  I chose Thoroughbred Heritage Horse Farm Tours because they had stellar reviews on Trip Advisor, and we were not disappointed.  Our guide, Tim, is a horse trainer who “moonlights” as a tour guide, and he was funny, friendly and extremely knowledgeable.  In four short hours we learned way more than we could ever have imagined about Thoroughbred racing, breeding and training!  Tim first took us to Winstar where we met some of their prized stallions and learned about breeding.  Fun fact:  every single Thoroughbred horse is the product of a “live, natural cover” (that’s fancy speak for horse sexy times) – artificial insemination is never allowed.  These stallions are living the life!  They live in palatial stables, and every day during breeding season (Valentines Day through July 4th) they are “visited” by up to three mares a day!  I know exactly what every dude on the tour was thinking, including mine!

The stallion barn at Winstar!

The stallion barn at Winstar. Yes, this is a barn!

One of the "studs" at Winstar, KY Derby winner Super Saver.  He was very pretty!

One of the “studs” at Winstar, KY Derby winner Super Saver. He is very pretty and he knows it!

Then there's this guy - Distorted Humor.  A fair racer who has golden DNA.  He commands a stud fee of $100k a pop (pardon the pun).

Then there’s this guy – Distorted Humor. A fair racer and scruffy-looking bloke who has golden DNA. He commands a stud fee of $100k a pop (pardon the pun).

Next Tim took us to the famous racing facility Keeneland where several annual horse auctions take place and “horse movies” such as Secretariat and Seabiscuit were filmed.

Walking onto the track at Keeneland, which is not dirt, but an artificial surface with fake "dirt" made from recycled materials.

Walking onto the track at Keeneland, which is not dirt, but an artificial surface with fake “dirt” made from recycled materials.

The grandstands at Keeneland

The grandstands at Keeneland

After touring through some gorgeous countryside viewing several different farms, we made our last stop at McPeek Racing’s Magdalena Farm where we got to meet some adorable Thoroughbred foals.

KY is dotted with fabulous stone buildings and sadly disappearing old stone fences.

KY is dotted with fabulous stone buildings and sadly disappearing old stone fences.

One of the farms we rode by - these individual stallion pens are all separated by narrow, fenced off alleys so the stallions can never interact with each other and fight.

One of the farms we rode by – these individual stallion pens are all separated by narrow, fenced off alleys so the stallions can never interact with each other and fight.

at Magdalena Farms

at Magdalena Farms

another foal at Magdalena

another foal at Magdalena

We were welcome to pet the foals, which I was surprised my hubby did as he is not too keen on horses.  But those babies were irresistibly adorable!

We were welcome to pet the foals, which I was surprised my hubby did as he is not too keen on horses. But those babies were irresistibly adorable!

After our amazing horse tour we had an hour or so to kill before supper time, so we headed to the State Botanical Garden at UK in Lexington.  By now it had grown a bit hot, so we kinda booked it through there, but if you have some time to kill in Lexington and like plants, this is a great place for a walk or a picnic.

State Botanical Garden in Lexington

State Botanical Garden in Lexington

On a cooler day, the botanical gardens would have been a great place for a long stroll.  We did get lots of ideas for new plants for our yard tho!

On a cooler day, the botanical gardens would have been a great place for a long stroll. We did get lots of ideas for new plants for our yard tho!

Some friends who went to UK recommended a place for dinner which must have radically changed since they last ate there.  Bourbon and Toulouse was not only the worst meal we had in KY, but I think one of the worst meals I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant, period.  The bread came pre-soaked in margarine (eww!) the etouffee looked and tasted disgusting, the chili was dessert sweet (huh?) and while the gumbo had great flavor, it was 90% gravy/10% misc stuff.  So, yeah, can’t recommend that place.

We spent one last nite at the Rose Hill Inn, and after another so-so breakfast visited one last spot before heading home.  The Wild Turkey distillery was fairly close, and I’m glad we took the time to tour the place.

Approaching the Wild Turkey distillery on the banks of the Kentucky River

Approaching the Wild Turkey distillery on the banks of the Kentucky River

Ya gotta get your picture made on the turkeys out front!

Ya gotta get your picture made on the turkeys out front!

Jonathan gave us an excellent tour, and I have to say for two places that produce the same product, the Wild Turkey and Four Roses facilities couldn’t have been more different.  First, Wild Turkey produces in one week what Four Roses produces in a year!  Second, Four Roses ages all their barrels on one level to minimize differences in the taste, barrel to barrel, while Wild Turkey racks their barrels all over the place in huge, multistory warehouses, and then does a lot of blending to standardize the taste.   The scale of the place was amazing.  Their Still Master, Jimmy Russell, is a legend in the Bourbon community, and he was actually there that day, just rocking on the front porch of the visitors’ center.  Jonathan told us Jimmy’s palate is so sensitive that he can actually tell from eating a Bourbon candy which brand and year of Bourbon was used to make it!

The huge metal vats where the mash ferments, rows and rows of them...

The huge metal vats where the mash ferments – rows and rows of them…

Their oldest warehouse - they all look the same, regardless of age, and you see them springing up out of nowhere all over KY

Their oldest warehouse – they all look the same, regardless of age, and you see them springing up out of nowhere all over KY

Inside the oldest warehouse on the property, dating to the 1800s.  Again, this place smelled amazing!

Inside the oldest warehouse on the property, dating to the 1800s. Again, this place smelled amazing!

The room where Jimmy and his son sit every day, tasting, evaluating and blending Bourbon.

The room where Jimmy and his son sit every day, tasting, evaluating and blending Bourbon.

After my experience at Four Roses, I was eager to hit the tasting room at the end of the tour.  I was surprised at how very different Wild Turkey’s Bourbons tasted from Four Roses, but then again, they use very different methods.  We didn’t like anything we tried (mega mega hoochie!) except their luscious liquor, American Honey.  Oh boy.  That is some delicious stuff.  All the most wonderful notes of Bourbon blended with citrus and honey.  Some of our fellow tour mates told us they store theirs in the freezer so it stays thick and use it on pancakes.  Um kay!  Don’t think I’m ready for boozy breakfasts…  : )  With a bottle of American Honey in hand we hit the road and bid KY adieu.  What a beautiful, beautiful state with tons of fun, interesting things to do.  Definitely worth the trip!

It was a perfect day for the drive home

It was a perfect day for the drive home

My old friend, Pilot Mtn

My old friend, Pilot Mtn

Kentucky Travelogue 3 – Frankfort & Versailles

Before we set off for Frankfort, we were treated to another over-the-top Central Park B&B breakfast of orange ricotta pancakes, sausage, cheesy scrambled eggs and a poached seckle pear with berries.  Normally the only thing I consume before 11 am is a humongous cafe au lait, so all this early morning culinary effort is somewhat wasted on me.  I don’t know why the Bed & Lunch concept hasn’t taken off, but when it does, I will be in my element, food-wise.

Once again, the ride was beautiful.   If there is an unattractive part of KY, we did not see it on our trip!  One of the things we like to do when we visit a state is tour the State Capitol and the State History Museum.  The two are typically right next to each other and are a great way to spend an interesting (and usually free!) afternoon.

Frankfort is a lovely little town with a very Mayberry vibe that doesn’t seem to have anything going on in it except being the state capital.  Instead of being set in a bustling urban center, KY’s capitol building is in a quiet, park-like setting.

The gorgeous KY State Capitol

The gorgeous KY State Capitol

The Governor's Mansion is directly across the circle.  It was built in 1912-14, and patterned after Marie Antoinette's villa.

The Governor’s Mansion is directly across the circle. It was built in 1912-14, and patterned after Marie Antoinette’s villa.

Now THAT is a hanging basket!

Now THAT is a hanging basket!

We arrived just in time for the 11 am tour which was led by the adorable Miss Stephanie.  It was very obvious that Stephanie loves both her home state and her job.  There’s something wonderful about watching someone do their job with joy and enthusiasm, isn’t there?  I don’t know how or why, but KY’s capitol is ranked by AAA as the 3rd most beautiful in the nation.  I mean, where did the $ come from?, because this place was fancy!!!

Naturally there is a statue of Lincoln directly beneath the cupola.

Naturally there is a statue of Lincoln directly beneath the cupola.

Inside the cuppola - it is fitted with LED lights that shade the dome pastel colors that change every few minutes

Inside the cuppola – it is fitted with LED lights that shade the dome pastel colors that change every few minutes

Looking up to the third floor.

Looking up to the third floor.

A view from upstairs

A view from upstairs – I have never seen so much marble in one place in my life!

The KY Supreme Courtroom.  Yes, I know this is a terrible picture (cavelike room - no flash allowed).  The point is this ugly room is the most valuable in the building because the walls are mahogany, and the ceiling is entirely covered in copper!  Seriously, where did the $ come from to build this place!?

The KY Supreme Court courtroom. Yes, I know this is a terrible picture (cavelike room – no flash allowed). The point is this ugly room is the most valuable in the building because practically everything is mahogany, and the ceiling is entirely covered in copper! Seriously, where did the $ come from to build this place!?

Miss Stephanie completed our lovely tour by cluing me in to where I could get a delicious KY Hot Brown – a treat I most definitely wanted to try on our trip.  She pointed us across the KY River to Gibbys, which was a great place for lunch, and conveniently located a few steps from our next stop, the Thomas D Clark Center for KY History which houses the state history museum.  But let’s get back to the food.  The KY Hot Brown is a sandwich created at the Brown Hotel in Louisville during Prohibition.  Gotta have something to go with that bootleg bourbon right?  You take a slice of toasty bread, lay on some turkey, maybe a little ham, tomatoes and bacon, smother it all in Mornay sauce goodness and broil it till it’s all bubbly and oh-so-fabulous.  I’ve already made this twice since we got back, and I have many ideas for variations, but that’s a later post.

Gibby's - where I was introduced to the delightful concoction that is the KY Hot Brown.

Gibby’s – where I was introduced to the delightful concoction that is the KY Hot Brown.

My first KY Hot Brown.  It.  Was.  Delicious!!!

My first KY Hot Brown. It. Was. Delicious!!!

After lunch we spent the afternoon at the KY History Museum and took a tour of the Old State Capitol which is about a block away.  There is a very small fee for both ($4) and well worth the time spent.  The old capitol was in use from 1830 to 1910, and  is very small and plain in comparison to the new.  However, it has one really cool feature – a “floating” staircase, meaning it has no support from underneath, but supports its own weight by the precise placement of the stones.  It’s other claim to fame is that the only KY Governor to be assassinated, William Goebel, was shot here.  There is a creepy marker on the sidewalk out front to indicate where he fell.

The floating staircase at the Old State Capitol.

The floating staircase at the Old State Capitol.  Isn’t Physics fun?

About a half hour’s drive (another scenic one) took us to the Rose Hill Inn in Versailles (pronounced Ver-SALES, I swear) where we would be staying for the Lexington portion of our trip.  The Rose Hill is run by a “retired” British couple, Alder and Gill Blackburn.  The Mr. was on his own while we were there, and he seemed the tiniest bit over his head.  The house is decorated Victorian style or at least with antiques, but the bathroom in our room was 100% “2011 Lowes” (not that that’s a bad thing, it just doesn’t go in a Victorian era home).  A modern 6-light fixture in our bath had 4 burned out bulbs, rendering the room cave-like.  When I asked for a little more light, things got weird.  These were some funky lightbulbs that Alder didn’t know how to change, and he seemed soooo upset by that fact.  So we said we’d take care of it (what!?) and John hopped up on a chair to do it, but he couldn’t get them out either.  Before these two started using all manner of pointy objects to prise the bulbs out and potentially trash the fixture or electrocute themselves, I suggested we google the bulbs and find a You Tube vid or something, which J & I ended up doing.   We finally figured it out and John got the job done, but let me say, I think diffusing a bomb has fewer steps.  So now I know never to buy a fixture that takes that kind of bulb!  Sorry I can’t remember what they were called; I’ll just never forget what they look like…

On the plus side, John and Alder discovered they are kindred spirits – both work(ed) in the Pharma industry and both root for Tottenham Hotspurs.  While we were there John read the slightly fictionalized account Alder published of how they became innkeepers.  I believe it was titled “Semi Retirement”.  I forgot to ask Alder if the part about two drunk female guests inviting him for a roll in the hay was fact or fiction.  Brits are pretty self-deprecating, so I’m going to go with the former.

Rose Hill Inn, Versailles KY

Rose Hill Inn, Versailles KY

Handyman chores complete, John has a well-deserved glass of wine on the comfy front porch.

Handyman chores complete, John has a well-deserved glass of wine on the comfy front porch.  He was warned not to wear that Duke shirt in Lexington, so it made its appearance in Frankfort!  ; )

We had a surprisingly “fail” dinner at the highly-rated Melissa Cottage Cafe, so no shout-out there.  Tomorrow we start our 2 days of horses and bourbon in the Lexington area, and wow – did we learn A LOT!

Kentucky Travelogue 2 – Central KY & Louisville

As part of our “See All 50 States Tour” we recently spent a week in Kentucky.  When we told people we were going to KY, the universal response was “why?”  I never realized KY got so little love!  Kentucky is a beautiful state with lots of interesting things to do and see.  After spending a day at Mammoth Cave, we headed off for 2 days in Louisville.  The hour-long drive was dotted with beautiful farms and homesteads.

A picturesque KY farm

A picturesque KY farm

On the way to Louisville

On the way to Louisville

I just loved the old black barns we saw all over - and this KY fan's was my favorite!  And yes, my sweet hubby turned the car around and pulled off the Hwy so I could get my snaps.  He's a keeper!

I just loved the old black barns we saw all over – and this KY fan’s was my favorite! And yes, my sweet hubby turned the car around and pulled off the Hwy so I could get my snaps. He’s a keeper!

Along the way, we stopped in to see Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, and a few miles down the road from there his boyhood home.  Illinois might be the “Land of Lincoln”, but Honest Abe was born in KY and spent his early years here.  The Sinking Spring Farm is where Lincoln was born.  Today  you can see the Sinking Spring, a reconstructed cabin (once believed to be the cabin in which Lincoln was born, but subsequent research revealed that belief to be incorrect) a Neoclassical memorial where the cabin is housed, and a small museum that shows an informative movie about Lincoln’s early years.

Lincoln's Birthplace Memorial - the cabin is inside

Lincoln’s Birthplace Memorial – the cabin is inside

The reconstructed cabin that was once believed to be Lincoln's birthplace - the location is accurate and the cabin is a close replica.

The reconstructed cabin that was once believed to be Lincoln’s birthplace – the location is accurate and the cabin is a close replica.

The Sinking Spring - actually an underground stream that provided fresh water for the farm.

The Sinking Spring – actually an underground stream that provided fresh water for the farm.

While we were there we encountered a large group of antique car enthusiasts out on tour.  It was fun seeing these cars tooling around all over the countryside!

One of these things is not like the others - or is it!?  I think my car fits in perfectly with this antique car rally!

One of these things is not like the others – or is it!? I think my car fits in perfectly with this antique car rally!

Next we headed a few miles east to the site of Lincoln’s boyhood home.  The cabin is no longer there, but the site has been preserved just as it was.

LIncoln's Boyhood Home site

LIncoln’s Boyhood Home site

The grassy area is where the family garden was - the field behind was for crops.  The site has never been developed.

The grassy area is where the family garden was – the field behind was for crops. The site has never been developed.

The creek where our 16th President almost drowned as a small boy.  A friend saved him.

The creek where our 16th President almost drowned as a small boy. A friend saved him.

A quick check on Yelp! and Trip Advisor led us to a little restaurant in the nearby town of Hodgenville, Ray’s Hodgenville Grill.  They serve simple country fare, and we both got the pork chop plate.  One of my favorite souvenirs from a vacation is a recipe, and the gracious cook at Ray’s provided me with the best thing I brought home from KY – his technique for making the most ridiculously tender pork chops.  I adore pork, but never make pork chops because there’s just no way to get them tender – they are always tough and dry.  Turns out the technique for cooking moist, fork-tender pork chops is to quick fry thin loin chops that have been worked over with a special tenderizing roller that has needles all over it.  I will definitely be buying one of those gizmos!  They also served the lightest, fluffiest rolls I’ve ever eaten.  If you happen to find yourself in Hodgenville, do yourself a favor and stop in for the pork chops and a basket (or two) of rolls.

Best pork chops ever, and I'll be dreaming about those rolls too!

Best pork chops ever, and I’ll be dreaming about those rolls too!

We arrived in Louisville just in the nick of time to stop in at Muth’s Candies, a local institution that has been making dozens of kinds of candies for 4 generations.  They are most famous for their Modjeskas, a caramel covered marshmallow thing, but they make everything from bon bons to caramels to licorice to brittles.  We tried the Modjeskas, all the kinds of caramels, mints, peanut butter bon bons, and our favorite – the popcorn-peanut brittle.  Yum!  Across the street is a great antique store, Joe Ley Antiques, where we spent the rest of the afternoon rooting around inside.

Muth's Candies - a  Louisville institution and a must-stop.

Muth’s Candies – a Louisville institution and a must-stop.

Joe Ley Antiques - three stories of some really cool stuff.  A great way to spend some time shopping.

Joe Ley Antiques – three stories of some really cool stuff.

While in Louisville we stayed at the incredibly elegant Central Park B&B.  The hosts were great people to talk to – full of tips and info, and the breakfasts were multi-course, over- the-top awesome!  They also have a beautiful back yard to sit in while you enjoy your afternoon appetizers and baked goods with a glass of wine.   We enjoyed Louisville, and I would definitely stay at this place again – highly recommend it!

Central Park B&B

Central Park B&B

Our bedroom - pretty swank, no?

Our bedroom – pretty swank, no?

The Breakfast Room

The Breakfast Room

Dinner that nite was at Doc Crow’s, which was recommended to us by one of our pastors who went to school in KY.  Doc Crow’s is a fun place with a hip after-work crowd vibe and plenty of yummy options.  We enjoyed the fried green tomatoes and the mixed grill of ribs, pulled pork and brisket.  Downtown Louisville has a great food scene, and I would love to explore more of those options on a subsequent trip!

Doc Crow's - seriously yummy ribs, brisket and pulled pork!

Doc Crow’s – seriously yummy ribs, brisket and pulled pork!

Day Two

After a fabulous breakfast of baked peaches with raspberries, herbed eggs in crisp ham cups, homefries and Boudin sourdough toast, we trotted off (get it?) to the KY Derby Museum which is adjacent to Churchill Downs.  We are not “horsey” people but usually watch the race each year, so I thought this would be interesting.  I was right!   In front of the museum is an amazing statue of Barbaro which stands over his remains.  If you don’t know the story of this courageous Derby-winning Thoroughbred, check it out here.

The main entrance to Churchill Downs and the KY Derby Museum

The main entrance to Churchill Downs and the KY Derby Museum

An amazing statue - all 4 of Barbaro's feet are off the ground.

Barbaro’s amazing memorial statue.  The rail supports his weight, allowing all 4 of his feet to be off the ground, beautifully capturing a moment from his Derby win.

The museum is very well done and includes a tour of Churchill Downs where you get to spend a few minutes viewing the current Derby winner in residence, which in our case was Mine That Bird.  It was really cool to see sights around the track that I’ve seen on tv for years.

2009 Derby Winner - Mine That Bird.  He was finger painting (okay hoof painting) some pictures for a charity auction.

2009 Derby Winner – Mine That Bird. He was finger painting (okay hoof painting) some pictures for a charity auction.

The paddock where the horses are saddled

The paddock where the horses are saddled

The main grandstands at Churchill Downs

The main grandstands at Churchill Downs

The most famous finish line in horse racing

The most famous finish line in horse racing

One of the iconic twin spires

One of the iconic twin spires

Inside the museum they have displays about Thoroughbred breeding, training and racing, the history of the Derby itself and the stories of many of the winners.  A highlight is an excellent film that takes you from birth through Derby day for a Thoroughbred racer.  The movie is shown on screens all around a circular room, giving you a real feel for the action of a Thoroughbred race.  One of my fave exhibits was a room full of amazing hats that have been worn on Derby Day.

One of my favorite exhibits inside the museum - some of the amazing hats that have been worn to the Derby!

One of my favorite exhibits inside the museum – some of the amazing hats that have been worn to the Derby!

We spent about 2 hours at this museum and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Lunch was at Wagner’s Pharmacy – an ancient “dive” across the street from Churchill Downs which is popular with the horse folk who work at the track.  They serve your basic lunch counter fare, and I went with the waitress’ recommendation of the tuna melt.  Very tasty.  Breakfast is more their claim to fame, as is their well-known horse liniment.  Another quirk of this place is that the dishwasher is in the middle of the dining room.  That was a first for me!

Wagner's Pharmacy - where you can get a tasty tuna melt and some horse liniment, all in one convenient location.

Wagner’s Pharmacy – where you can get a tasty tuna melt and some horse liniment, all in one convenient location.

At Wagner's - that dude in the back is the dishwasher.  Yes, the dishwashing machine is smack in the middle of the dining room!

At Wagner’s – that dude in the back is the dishwasher. Yes, the dishwashing machine is smack in the middle of the dining room!

We rested our feet for an hour or so back at the B&B and pressed on to another Louisville institution – the Louisville Slugger factory tour and museum.  My John is big into baseball, so this was a must stop for us.

Has to be the world's biggest bat!

Has to be the world’s biggest bat!

The factory tour is up close and personal – as in I wanted some goggles to ward off the flying sawdust and lacquer fumes – but it was very interesting.  Even if you’re not into baseball, c’mon, who doesn’t love finding out how stuff is made?  They show you how bats used to be hand carved using hundreds of different templates, according to what the player wanted.  Nowadays, bats are made in mere minutes using computer-run lathes.  We were lucky enough to be there when they offered a sneak peek into the vault where all the old bat templates are stored, along with all the company’s purchase records and endorsement contracts.  Our guide was like a kid in a candy store – he was so excited to show us everything!

The template vault where all the old templates for hand-turned bats are stored.

The vault where all the old templates for hand-turned bats are stored.

I think the highlight for John was the batting cage where you can hit balls with game-used major leaugers’ bats.  John is a big Johnny Bench fan, so we were hoping they had his bat, but his name wasn’t on the “menu” at the batting cage.  When I mentioned it was too bad they didn’t have a Johnny Bench bat, the dude working the counter said “did someone say Johnny Bench?” as he whipped out one of his bats from a secret stash.  So, if you don’t see your fave player on the rotating menu, ask!

My man, working Johnny Bench's bat like a pro!

My man, working Johnny Bench’s bat like a pro!

Louisville was fun, but we have a date with Frankfort next!

Kentucky Travelogue 1 – Mammoth Cave

As some of you know my man and I have a goal of touring through all 50 states.  In the last year we’ve knocked out the big 2 of Alaska and Hawaii, so this time we decided to go for one a little closer to home:  Kentucky.  I did my usual homework on bedandbreakfast.com and Trip Advisor to find places to stay, things to do and local cuisine to sample.

We started our trip with a visit to Mammoth Cave.  The 9 hour drive was a pleasant mix of major interstates and country highways through some truly beautiful country.  The scenery and the cool weather made for a pleasant, easy drive.

One of my favorite sites heading out of NC on our adventures - Pilot Mtn.

One of my favorite sights heading out of NC on our adventures – Pilot Mtn.

Along the way we stopped for lunch in Abingdon VA.  We pulled off the highway, whipped out our iPhones, and had a Yelp-off to see who could find a great local haunt for lunch first.  Settling on Zazzy’s we drove thru this quaint town and made a mental note to definitely come back for a weekend.  Lots of cute shops, restaurants and B&B’s lined the main streets, and the vibe was definitely artsy yet genteel.

For the Mammoth Cave part of our trip we stayed at Hall Place B&B in Glasgow.  The Inn was quiet and comfy, but it did suffer from dusty antiquey nick-nack overload.  The breakfasts were homey and very tasty – scrambled eggs and bacon both days with crispy Belgian waffles one morning and delicious French toast the next.  The second morning we enjoyed dining with a business traveler – a compliance officer for a financial institution who moonlights as a Bigfoot researcher.  Not kidding!  Dinners at Garcia’s Grill and A Little Taste of Texas were both very good.  If you are visiting Mammoth Cave you don’t have much in the way of lodging options – Cave City and Glasgow are the two closest cities, with Glasgow being about a 25 minute drive.

Hall Place B&B in Glasgow KY

Hall Place B&B in Glasgow KY

The drive out to Mammoth Cave was beautiful – rolling grassy hills, lush woods, farms and roadside curio shops full of geodes.  We chose the Historic Tour for the morning, which is a 2 mile, 2 hour tour.  J and I both love caves, so we’ve visited several.  I was expecting spectacular underground rivers and formations.  That is not what is going on at Mammoth Cave.

All of KY seems to be made of sedimentary rock, and most of Mammoth Cave was made either by water boring out tunnels or these layers of sedimentary rock collapsing in on each other.  The Historic Tour is interesting – you hear about how the caves were used by Native Americans, saltpeter mining, and the development of tourism in the area.  Here are a few sights from that tour:

The main entrance to Mammoth Caves.  The ice cold wind blowing up from here was sooo refreshing!

The main entrance to Mammoth Caves. The ice cold wind blowing up from here was sooo refreshing!

There is a great deal of "historic graffiti" in the caves - some carved in the rock, most of it burned into the rock with candles.  This is the signature of the most famous tour guide and explorer in Mammoth Cave history - Stephen Bishop.  The Historic Tour talks a lot about how this man (who was a slave) single-handedly explored  the cave system and pioneered tourism here.

There is a great deal of “historic graffiti” in the caves – some carved in the rock, most of it burned into the rock with candles. This is the signature of the most famous tour guide and explorer in Mammoth Cave history – Stephen Bishop. The Historic Tour talks a lot about how this man (who was a slave) single-handedly explored the cave system and pioneered tourism here.

More 1800's "graffiti".  It was common for people to burn advertisements into the cave walls; John and Isaac Newton (not THAT Isaac Newton) were musicians who "advertised" their services all over the place!

More 1800’s “graffiti”. It was common for people to burn advertisements into the cave walls; John and Isaac Newton (not THAT Isaac Newton) were musicians who “advertised” their services all over the place!

The Bottomless Pit - you cross over this crevasse on a narrow metal bridge.  However, it's much better than how they did it in the 1800's - crawling over on a ladder with a lantern between your teeth.  No thanks!!!

The Bottomless Pit – you cross over this crevasse on a narrow metal bridge. However, it’s much better than how they did it in the 1800’s – crawling over on a ladder with a lantern between your teeth. No thanks!!!

We decided to book the New Entrance Tour for the afternoon, which is another 2 hour tour of a completely different section of the cave system.  This tour promised some traditional cave sights or “formations,” as well as some really interesting, narrow passageways.  Fun!  With a few hours to kill we headed back to Cave City for some lunch and a little shopping, and began what was to be a recurring theme on our trip – lunch in places my friends would never believe I ate at.  Hey, I’m a food snob, but I’m also the queen of the meat-n-three dive.  A total sucker for Southern food!!!

The Watermill - it's 100% classier outside than inside.  whew!  I'll give the peach cobbler and pintos an "A", but how can you call yourself a true "Country Cooking" buffet if you don't have any greens on the menu, the green beans don't seem to have any pork with them and, hello!, the cornbread is salty!?  That wouldn't cut it in NC!

The Watermill – it’s 100% classier outside than inside. The buffet was in the smoking section of the restaurant -yikes!  I’ll give the peach cobbler, nanna puddin and pintos an “A”, but how can you call yourself a true “Country Cooking” buffet if you don’t have any greens on the menu, the green beans don’t seem to have any pork with them and, hello!, the cornbread is salty!?  That wouldn’t cut it in NC!

The New Entrance tour was actually way cooler.  There are lots of steps and extremely narrow passages, but you only cover 3/4 of a mile in 2 hours, so it really isn’t “strenuous”.  If you have time for only one tour, I’d opt for the New Entrance one.  Here are a few pix:

Formations on the New Entrance Tour

Formations on the New Entrance Tour

Formations showing damage - in the 1800's one of the tour operators sold pieces of the formations mistakenly thinking they would "grow back" in a few months (more like hundreds of years, dude)

Formations showing damage – in the 1800’s one of the tour operators sold pieces of the formations mistakenly thinking they would “grow back” in a few months (more like hundreds of years, dude).

New Entrance tour sights

New Entrance tour sights – this was in a HUGE cavern

Here you can see how much of the cave was formed as layers of rock simply calved off and collapsed on each other - that is why the "ceiling" is so perfectly flat.

Here you can see how much of the cave was formed as layers of rock simply calved off and collapsed on each other – that is why the “ceiling” is so perfectly flat.

The area surrounding the caves is beautiful and offers some easy hiking.  You can also spot lots of wild turkeys as you drive in and out of the park!

Two wild turkeys on the side of the road.  Aren't they pretty?

Two wild turkeys on the side of the road. Aren’t they pretty?

Next, we’re off to Louisville, with a stop along the way at Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace and boyhood home.

My Top Oahu Do’s and Some Bonus Don’ts

Hawaii is a “big ticket”  or once-in-a-lifetime vacation for most people so I thought I would share a list of my top tips for having a great time on Oahu.

  • Rent a car for a day or more and get out and see the island on your own.  Oahu is very easy to get around, the speed limits are low and slow, and there is something amazing around every bend in the road.

    Gorgeous Laie Beach

    Gorgeous Laie Beach – You won’t get to secluded beaches like this on a tour

  • Eat like a local.  Don’t even think about eating at some crummy chain you have back home.  Ask any and everyone you meet where they love to eat.  The locals will steer you to the best places and as a bonus, these restaurants will likely cost a lot less than the touristy ones.  Sweet Home Waimanalo, Side Street Inn and Camaron’s Shrimp Truck were all great local faves we were clued into.  Every day I challenged myself to try something I’d never eaten before or can’t find back home.  I’ve definitely enjoyed adding some new foods to my cooking repertoire!

    Camaron's - just east of Turtle Bay on Hwy 83

    Camaron’s – just east of Turtle Bay on Hwy 83 – we would never have found this out of the way truck on our own!

  • That said, do hit a few of the touristy favorites like Leonard’s Bakery, Dukes Waikiki and the Tiki’s Grill.  These places are tourist favorites for a reason!  Sure they are crowded and a bit pricey, but heck, how often are you in Hawaii?  The malasadas at Leonard’s are a must-try, the salad bar and Mai Tai’s at Dukes are fab, and the macadamia crusted Mahi Mahi at Tiki’s Grill was one of the best fish entrees I’ve ever had in my life.

    Leonard's Bakery on Kapahulu

    Leonard’s Bakery on Kapahulu – just don’t go here as often as we did.

  • Take in the local culture – visit the Iolani Palace and the Territorial Building; check out the Bishop Museum and the Army Museum of Hawaii; go to a quality luau; stop and check out the historical markers you pass; learn a few Hawaiian words and use them; tuck a plumeria blossom in your hair and savor the sweet fragrance.  The native culture of Hawaii is rich and fascinating and it’s a beautiful addition to the melting pot of America.

    Territorial Bldg. and King Kamehameha statue

    Territorial Bldg. and King Kamehameha statue

  • Hit an ABC store (or two).  Now if, like me, you are from North Carolina you might be thinking “why do I need to hit a few liquor stores?” (in NC the state run liquor stores are called ABC stores).  There are ABC stores on practically every corner in Honolulu, and at first I thought, “man, what’s with all the booze!?”  Sure, you can get booze at the ABC store, but you can also get pretty much anything else.  It’s like a mini Hawaiian Wal-Mart.  If you need it on your trip, they sell it at the ABC store.  If you want to bring something home for someone, they sell it at the ABC store.  They’re fun, they’re kitchy.  Go!

    I wish I'd bought all 4 varieties they had - I can't find this brand online anywhere.

    You can’t go to Hawaii and come back without some fun stuff like this!

  • Spend some time strolling and shopping on the energetic Kalakaua Avenue.  Kalakaua is lined with huge, beautiful hotels and parks, all kinds of shopping from extremely high end designer shops to the kitchy International Market, and every kind of restaurant you can think of.   The vibe is decidedly upbeat and international, so dress your best and join the parade!

    Kalakaua Avenue

    Kalakaua Avenue

  • Take a sunset or moonlit stroll on Waikiki Beach.  Daytime crowds on Waikiki Beach are oppressive to say the least.  I have no idea where everyone goes after 5 pm (oh, yeah, Kalakaua Avenue), but a sunset stroll will be less crowded and beautiful and a moonlit stroll will be downright romantic!  Be sure to stop in for a Mai Tai at any number of “walk up” beachside bars.

    Sunset on Waikiki

    Sunset on Waikiki

  • Visit the North Shore to watch the surfers and hit at least two different shrimp trucks.  And don’t just go for the garlic shrimp!

    surfer at Ehukai Beach on the North Shore

    surfer at Ehukai Beach on the North Shore

  • Spend an afternoon driving the Kamehameha Hwy on the windward side and stop at every beach.  Amazingly, they all look different.  All beaches in Hawaii are public and many have simple facilities.  Be extra careful to lock your car and hide any valuables (unfortunately smash and grabs are a problem in Oahu).  If you go during the week, you will likely have a beach all to yourself.  What a lovely way to spend an afternoon – on your own private Hawaiian beach!

    Waimanalo looking north.  My man and I had it all to ourselves!

    Waimanalo looking north. My man and I had it all to ourselves!

  • Hike Diamond Head.  It’s an easy hike if you are even remotely fit.  The history of the place is interesting (both geological and military) and the views are not to be missed.  It’s $5 a carload, and get out there early before it gets crazy crowded and hot.

    Rainbow over Waikiki, seen from Diamond Head

    Rainbow over Waikiki, seen from Diamond Head

  • Visit the Arizona Memorial and spend some quality time at the museum there.  The audio tour is excellent and the displays are first-rate.  It is a moving, fascinating complex  for anyone to tour, and if you are blessed to be an American, it will make your heart swell with pride and gratitude.

    The Arizona Memorial

    The Arizona Memorial

And my number 1 tip for having a fabulous time in Oahu:

  • Put down your damn iPhone, talk to the people you are actually with and enjoy the beautiful, amazing place where you actually are.  sheesh!

    This picture was taken at Ala Moana Beach, during a beautiful sunset.  Breaks my heart...

    This picture of my boo was taken at Ala Moana Beach, during a beautiful sunset. Breaks my heart…

Okay, here are a few bonus “don’ts” to help make the most of your time on Oahu:

  • Don’t spend all your time on Waikiki or even in Honolulu.  Oahu is so much more than a tourist mecca.
  • Don’t use one of those group airport shuttles.  You save only a few dollars with them, and you lose several hours of precious vacation time.  Because those shuttles pick up a large group of people from all over Waikiki you end up spending a ton of time on the bus, not to mention the fact they will get you to the airport several hours sooner than you need to be there.  You are probably spending thousands to visit Hawaii.  Spend $5 more and get your own cab or use the excellent A8 service I mentioned in my Hawaii Travelogue 1 post.
  • If you spend some time in Waikiki, don’t stay at one of the sprawling mega-resorts (such as the Hilton Hawaiian Village) – stay at one of the smaller properties.  At the huge resorts you waste so much time just going to and from your room, and don’t get me started about getting to your car.  Your stress level and probably your bill will be lower at a smaller property.

Hawaii Travelogue 11 – Aloha Oe

Somewhere around day 10 of a trip my will to vacation deserts me, and I just want to be home, sleeping in my own bed and cooking my own food!  John and I were both ready to come home, but we thoroughly enjoyed our last half day in Oahu. Bob and Kim had not yet hiked Diamond Head, so we went out there with them early in the morning after yet another stop at Leonard’s Bakery.  Sweet Baby Jesus, I don’t need to eat another malasada ever again, but this is what happens when you travel with hummingbirds – they gotta have their sugar! The weather was much nicer than when John and I hiked Diamond Head at the beginning of our trip, and it was amazing how far out you could see.

Short-range view from Diamond Head - you can see an observation bunker on the crater rim, the Shell Amphitheater, Waikiki, downtown Honolulu, and all the way out to Pearl Harbor.

Long range view from Diamond Head – you can see an observation bunker on the crater rim, the Shell Amphitheater, Waikiki, downtown Honolulu, and all the way out to Pearl Harbor.

Zoom-in on Waikiki

Zoom-in on Waikiki

The folks at the Hilton Hawaiian Village were kind enough to give us a 1 pm check out, so we had plenty of time to do some last minute shopping and get everything miraculously shoved back in our bags.  The Honolulu Cookie Company has a store at the Hilton, and we daily availed ourselves of the free samples.  Oh man, those are some seriously divine cookies, esp. the chocolate-dipped ones.  Naturally we brought quite a few home with us! We said goodbye to Bob and Kim and headed over to Dukes Waikiki for a late lunch.  Lunch is definitely a great time to try Dukes.  The menu is slightly pared down, but so are the crowds – we got a great table overlooking the beach.

There is something so wonderful about relaxing over good food and enjoying a beautiful view with someone you love to be with!

There is something so wonderful about relaxing over good food and enjoying a beautiful view with someone you love to be with!

On our way back to the hotel to catch our airport shuttle, we spent an hour or so at the excellent little US Army Museum of Hawaii in Fort Derussy on Waikiki.  The museum offers very interesting displays on the military history of Hawaii, US Army action in the Pacific, and a special section honoring Kauai native General Eric Shinseki, the first Japanese-American to become the Army’s Chief of Staff.

After one last stroll on the Waikiki Beach and one last cat nap by the pool, we caught our shuttle to the airport and endured the 9.5 hour overnite flight home, with the special added bonus of a 5 hour delay in Washington DC.  ugh.

Hawaii was not on my Bucket List (it was John’s idea to go) but I truly loved Oahu, and Hawaii has definitely left its fingerprints on my soul.  I will never forget the smell of plumeria on the tradewinds, the beauty of vivid rainbows that you can see end to end (they’re not kidding about that Rainbow State thing!), the striking juxtaposition of dark, jagged volcanic mountains and the vibrant cobalt blue of the South Pacific, and all the flora and fauna unique to this little paradise.  I will forever love potato salad with macaroni in it, coconut syrup on my pancakes, haupia, drinking out of tiki mugs and glasses, buttery, garlicky shrimp and pineapple juice in my iced tea.  America is blessed to have this star on our flag!  I’m already looking forward to a return visit to Oahu, with a definite side trip to see the volcanoes on the big island.

Aloah oe, and mahalo for coming along on this journey!

Hawaii Travelogue 10 – Last Full Day in Oahu

This day was pretty laid back and uneventful.  Tom & Becky were heading back to CA so they and Bob & Kim spent their morning on Waikiki sunning and trying their hand at paddleboarding (they said it was fun!) while John and I zipped across town to drive the popular scenic loop around Tantalus Mtn.  This was one of the last things I wanted to check out on my Five-O/Angels filming sites list.  I found a great tour narrative online which gave us driving directions and points of interest to check out.  Even if you’re not a Hawaiian TV nut, the Tantalus Mtn drive is worth spending an hour – the scenery and the views are terrific!  The drive is especially popular at sunset when traffic can be a problem.  On a weekday morning, we practically had the drive, the outlooks and the park all to ourselves.

Honolulu and Diamond Head from Tantalus Mtn

Honolulu and Diamond Head from Tantalus Mtn, Round Top Rd side

Honolulu from Uulaka Park on Tantalus Mtn - Charlie's Angels fans should recognize this spot from several episodes.

Honolulu from Puu Ualakaa Park on Tantalus Mtn – Charlie’s Angels fans should recognize this spot from several episodes.

Tanalus Rd.

Tatnalus Drive

The Punchbowl seen from Tantalus

The Punchbowl seen from Tantalus Dr.

This is my least favorite sight on vacation.  What is the world coming to?!

This is my least favorite sight on vacation. What is the world coming to?!

Tom and Becky headed for the airport and we couldn’t pry Kim away from the pool to join us for lunch.  We took the stroll (it is a bit of a hike, you need comfy shoes) down Kalakaua Ave and decided to grab a fairly tasty burger at Cheeseburger in Paradise.  The guys headed back to the hotel and I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring and snapping pix on Kalakaua – yep, more quarry on my filming sites list!

This is the most beautiful hotel on Waikiki, the

This is the most beautiful hotel on Waikiki, the Moana Surfrider

The market was a disappointment - a jillion kiosks selling the same touristy "stuff"

The market was a disappointment – a jillion kiosks selling the same touristy “stuff”

The Duke Kahanamoku statute

The Duke Kahanamoku statute

Waikiki looking North

Waikiki looking north

The landmark Royal Hawaiian - beautiful buildings and ground and a great "luxe" vibe at this property.

The landmark Royal Hawaiian – beautiful buildings and grounds and a great “luxe” vibe at this property.

Waikiki looking south

Waikiki looking south

John and I sat on the beach and enjoyed one last Oahu sunset – we would be leaving the next afternoon.

IMG_2261

Hawaii Travelogue 9 – Remembering and Honoring A Brother

Sometimes God orchestrates the coolest things.  This day is a good illustration.  Before I tell you about it, I want to throw a few “disclaimers” out there.  I realize in sharing this information that I am treading on sensitive and hallowed ground.  I am not a historian nor the family spokesperson.  What follows are my recollections and understanding of the day’s events; any errors or omissions are unintentional and my own.  Whew!

Dick's West Point portrait

Dick’s West Point portrait

A few weeks before our trip, John’s older brother Bob “happened” to Google their oldest brother’s name.  The boys oldest brother (half brother) is Capt. Richard “Dick” LeBrou Whitesides, a West Point grad and Air Force pilot who was shot down in Vietnam in 1964.  Dick was initially listed as MIA, then declared dead the following year, though no remains were ever recovered.  The man shot down with Dick, Capt. Floyd Thompson, was the longest held POW in the Vietnam War (9 years).  The family is active in POW/MIA affairs and follows Dick’s case, hoping for a resolution as to exactly what happened and the return of his remains.  Every once in awhile an internet search turns up some new tidbit, and it certainly did this time!  Bob saw a news story about an official memorial ceremony for Dick held at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (the Punchbowl) in Honolulu.  An accompanying photo showed a misidentified woman receiving a folded flag in Dick’s honor.  John’s other brother Tom contacted the reporter to inquire as to who the woman was and who had organized the ceremony (since our family had no knowledge of it).  The reporter put the boys in contact with the gentleman who organized the memorial, Jack Bohman, a friend and classmate of Dick’s.  Jack and his lovely wife Arlene live on Oahu, and they invited us to spend the day with them, visiting Dick’s memorial at the Punchbowl and touring the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), the government agency responsible for locating and identifying remains of unaccounted-for American service men and women.

West Point K2 Company - Dick is the handsome young man standing on the right.  Our host Jack is next to him on the front row.

West Point K2 Company – Dick is the handsome young man standing on the right. Our host Jack is next to him on the front row.

Our day began with a brief tour of Hickam AFB (after yet another stop at Leonard’s, of course).  Jack told us Hickam is the most beautiful air base in the world, and I believe it.  The entire facility is neatly landscaped, and the buildings are all art deco style to preserve the bases’ original 1935 design.  As another nod to history, the bullet holes in exterior walls caused by Japanese strafing runs during the attack on Pearl Harbor have been left unrepaired.  It’s kind of eerie seeing them.  I wish I had some pix to share, but alas, we were forbidden to take pix of facilities on base.

Jack and Arlene took us to the Missing Man Memorial on base which honors fallen aviators, and Jack presented each of the boys with a commemorative coin from the West Point Class of 1959.  Very cool.

John, Arlene & Jack Bohman, Tom and Bob at the Missing Man Memorial

John, Arlene & Jack Bohman, Tom and Bob at the Missing Man Memorial

Jack giving the boys their commemorative coins.

Jack giving the boys their commemorative coins.

Next we went to the JPAC HQ for our meeting.  It was great to meet some of the dedicated men and women who work all over the world, sometimes in very hostile (politically and environmentally!) conditions to bring home every missing US serviceperson.  We were shown the laboratories where actual remains are being worked on to discover their identities, as well as displays of the various methods used to identify remains.  Each missing serviceperson has a box containing every bit of relevant information pertaining to their case, and we were given the opportunity to view the contents of Dick’s box.  It was fascinating to read through official accounts of Dick’s disappearance and peruse his service record and a stack of photos – both service photos of Dick and his aircraft as well as photos of wreckage discovered in the late 90’s.  Everything we know of Dick reveals him to be a kind, thoughtful and serious man, and all of that was reflected in his handsome service portrait.  He was also a brave and dedicated pilot, as evidenced by the fact he was the first to be awarded the Air Force Cross in the Vietnam War.  As I looked at pictures of Dick, it made me sad to think that my John never knew this brother, and that his family still has no real closure as to what happened to Dick.  However, in looking at Dick’s service record I made a discovery that really tickled me.  A few of John’s toes meet at some, let’s say, “interesting” angles, and I like to tease him about his “chicken toes”.  On the back of Dick’s service record was a set of his foot prints.  To my delight, Dick had the very same “chicken toes”!  It was a silly and small thing, but it made Dick seem more real to me and like family.

After a wonderful lunch on base, Jack directed us to the lei stands at the Honolulu airport (THE place to get gorgeous leis at ridiculous prices!) where we could pick up some leis to place on Dick’s memorial marker at the Punchbowl.   The Punchbowl is a cemetery and memorial garden dedicated to American service men and women, particularly those who served in the Pacific area.  Thousands of veterans are interred there, and there are also memorials for those whose remains were never found.  The main feature of the Punchbowl is a statue of Lady Columbia which is said to represent all grieving mothers.  She is surrounded by intricate murals detailing Pacific area conflicts from WWII, Korea and Vietnam and the Courts of the Missing, a collection of marble walls listing the names of “Americans who gave their lives in the service of their country, and whose earthly resting place is known only to God.”  There are almost 29k names listed on those walls, and it should be noted that these are only men and women who went missing in the Pacific – NOT those who went missing in Europe, Africa, etc.!  At the base of Lady Columbia is a sobering quote from a letter Abraham Lincoln wrote to a Civil War mother: “the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice on the altar of freedom.”

Lady Columbia surrounded by the Courts of the Missing

Lady Columbia surrounded by the Courts of the Missing

Lady Columbia - you can see the quote from Abraham Lincoln at her base

Lady Columbia – you can see the quote from Abraham Lincoln at her base

An example of the intricate battle mosaics.  They were all made with tiny colored rocks - amazing!

An example of the intricate battle mosaics. They were all made with tiny colored rocks – amazing!

On a small hill in the Punchbowl overlooking downtown Honolulu is set a new memorial garden for those who were buried at sea or whose remains have not yet been found.  A year or so ago Dick’s widow remarked to his classmates that it was sad that they had not had an official military memorial service for Dick.  Jack graciously offered to organize one and last fall Dick received the honors he deserved.  The family had not previously asked for a service, because Dick’s father never really gave up hope that his son was somehow still alive.  The boys’ father passed away 12 years ago, but our family had no idea such a ceremony was even an option.  Dick’s classmates in turn, had no idea of the existence of his half-brothers, so our family was not notified.  It was unfortunate that none of us attended Dick’s memorial service, but we were so grateful that Jack arranged this special day for us to remember and honor Dick.  The boys each laid their leis at Dick’s marker and Jack added one on behalf of his classmates.

Dick's memorial - the quote references that Honolulu is the last place Dick and his wife were together.

Dick’s memorial – the quote references that Honolulu is the last place Dick and his wife were together.

Bob, John and Tom at Dick's memorial marker

Bob, John and Tom at Dick’s memorial marker

Next Jack took us to the Courts of the Missing and showed us Dick’s name on the wall, as well as the name of another classmate of theirs, Roque (pronounced Rocky) Versace, who received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic actions while interned as a POW in Vietnam.

Dick's name on the Courts of the Missing

Dick’s name on the Courts of the Missing

Roque's name in the Courts of the Missing - the bronze star indicates he is a Medal of Honor recipient

Roque’s name in the Courts of the Missing – the bronze star indicates he is a Medal of Honor recipient

The brothers posed for pictures next to Dick’s name, and after I finished snapping my pix, I turned toward Tantalus Mtn and saw the most beautiful rainbow.  When I showed my sister Cristal the picture I took, she said it was a sign from God.  I’ll buy that!

A gorgeous rainbow over Tantalus Mtn, seen from the Punchbowl.

A gorgeous rainbow over Tantalus Mtn, seen from the Punchbowl.

Next Jack took us up a walkway lined with memorials erected by various veterans groups and individuals.  The view of downtown Honolulu from this area was breathtaking.  I particularly love this picture because it so captures Honolulu:  H1 in the foreground, a gridlock of rush-hour commuters, the sky scrapers of downtown, the hills behind them jam-packed with homes and stately Diamond Head overseeing all of it.

There is no end of my love for Diamond Head

There is no end of my love for Diamond Head

We said goodbye to our new friend Jack and headed back to our hotel.  It was such an amazing day – none of us could believe how any of it came to be!

We spent our final nite together strolling down Kalakaua Avenue and enjoying a fabulous dinner at Honolulu landmark, Duke’s Waikiki.  Duke’s is a must-do if you are in Honolulu, and definitely plan ahead to make a resi.  It is crazy popular.  If you can’t get a dinner resi, lunch is also a good option and way less crowded.

At the Duke Kahanmoku statue on Kalakawa Ave.  That really is the sunset - not a bad prom photo backdrop!

At the Duke Kahanamoku statue on Kalakawa Ave. That really is the sunset – not a bad prom photo backdrop!

A terribly grainy pic, but proof I got some mileage out of that kukui nut necklace.

A terribly grainy pic, but proof I got some mileage out of that kukui nut necklace.

Mai Tais and Duke's Hula Pie!

Mai Tais and Duke’s Hula Pie!

Hawaii Travelogue 8 – Oahu Round Two: Pearl Harbor

Our final half day in Kauai and the return trip to Oahu don’t rate their own post, so I will include my few remaining comments about that part of our trip with our first day back in Oahu.

For our last meal on Kauai we decided to “pop over” to Waimea to check out the highly rated Island Taco.  We’d been to Waimea twice already, so I am not sure why we forgot what a loooooong drive it is from Poipu.  I’m sure I’ve already said this, but even if things look close on the map it will take you forever to get there.  Oahu is exactly the opposite.  No clue why.  Anyway, Island Taco’s Cajun Ahi and Mahi Mahi tacos were great, so if you are in the Waimea area check them out.

Final thought on Kauai – glad we went, had a nice time, but I doubt I’d go back.  I enjoyed Oahu so much more and I would also like to see the Big Island and Maui.

Next, let me reiterate that Go! Airlines is to be avoided.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, they are the flakiest, chinziest airline I have ever been on.

Flying in to Honolulu - you can see Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial in the center of the pic.

Flying in to Honolulu – you can see Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial in the center of the pic.  The green area at the bottom is Hickam Air Base.  Let’s just say there’s a little foreshadowing going on here.

For our second time in Oahu, the boys (my man and his brothers) chose for us to stay at the Hilton Hawaiian Village (HHV), or as I called it, Disneyland Oahu.  Oh man, this place was waaaaaaay too much for me.  Too loud, too big, too confusing to get around, and way too many people.  Night and day from the sold-out yet still quiet Ilikai.  Normally when John and I travel we stay at a bed and breakfast if at all possible, so the HHV was way off the chart from the norm.  On the plus side, we had quite the view from the 30th floor of the Tapa Tower!

View of the Tower, the Ilikai, Duke's Lagoon and the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor

View of the Lagoon Tower, the Ilikai, Duke’s Lagoon and the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor

The six of us got up bright and early Sunday morning and headed out to Pearl Harbor.  My s-i-l Becky reserved our tour online and ordered us the audio tour headsets.  Highly recommend doing both those things.  Our tour time was 9:30 or so and we got out there around 8, which was perfect timing all around.  Here are a few tips about visiting Pearl Harbor:

  • It gets sold-out and crowded fast – book online and go early in the day.
  • Definitely go for the audio tour – it adds so much.  The audio tour covers the grounds, all through the museum, your time on the Memorial itself and the displays you walk through after your trip to the Memorial.  It’s all good!
  • If you enjoy going through museums or are a history buff, try to get there at least 90 minutes before your tour time. The museum is extremely well-done and informative, and it will greatly enhance your time at the Memorial to go through it beforehand.
  • They show you a movie before you take the boat over to the Memorial, but be sure to also see the other movie they show in the museum – they are different.
  • You are not allowed to bring a bag of any kind with you (your camera has to go in your hand), so plan to leave your bulky stuff at the hotel or bring some money for the bag check service.
  • After your time at the Memorial be sure to check out all the displays around the harbor – really cool maps, historical tidbits, memorials, etc.
The Arizona Memorial

The Arizona Memorial

From the Memorial, looking towards the Missouri.  You can see a section of the Arizona below the water, as well as a bit of the diesel oil that is still seeping out of the Arizona.

From the Memorial, looking towards the Missouri. You can see a section of the Arizona below the water, as well as a bit of the diesel oil that is still seeping out of her.

A visit to Pearl Harbor should be on every American’s “to do” list.  The complex provides a broad view of the situation before the war, the details of the island-wide attack (Pearl Harbor was by no means the only target that day) as well as some information about the war in the Pacific and several memorials.  Two little snippets particularly stood out to me:

  • Around the grounds were markers detailing little anecdotes of the day.  The one pictured below reads “few islanders went to bed that night…Outdoors there was silence…Shortly before midnight, the moon began to rise, and a vivid lunar rainbow, the Old Hawaiian omen for victory, arched over the dark city.”  I thought it was cool that even in (literally) their darkest hour, God sent a sign of hope to the people of Hawaii.
Anecdote from Pearl Harbor day

Anecdote from Pearl Harbor day

  • Another display (which I didn’t get a snap of as it was very long and involved) detailed the story of a Hawaiian priestess who was fishing in Pearl Harbor one day.  As she was fishing, a shark swam up and began exhibiting some odd behavior.  Hawaiians believe that Pearl Harbor is home to the shark goddess Ka’ahupahau, and the priestess understood that the shark had a message for her.  After praying, the message the priestess heard from the shark was that a great death was coming.  Three days later the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  Make of that what you will!

I’m a history/museum buff, so I would have loved to have taken the other tours available (you can tour the Missouri and the Bowfin, a WWII sub), but that will have to wait for our next trip.

We headed over to Waimanalo to have lunch at Sweet Home Waimanalo and hit the beach, making the requisite stops again at the Halona Blow Hole and Makapuu Point – it was such a beautiful, sunny afternoon.

at Makapuu Point - I'm hanging on to my shirt for dear life, the winds were crazy!

at Makapuu Point – I’m hanging on to my shirt for dear life, the winds were crazy!

The gang at Sweet Home Waimanalo

The gang at Sweet Home Waimanalo

Alas, by the time we hit the beach the clouds started rolling in, the winds picked up and the rain was back on.   I just wasn’t meant to spend an afternoon on that beach!  No one felt like waiting out the weather, so we headed back to Waikiki, where it was much sunnier.

Sunday nite we had the best food of our trip at Side Street Inn on da Strip (what a name!), a great local joint our first cabbie Ray turned me on to.  Unfortunately three of our party had other plans for the evening, so only John, Bob and I got to enjoy this treat.  Make a resi if you can – we made our plans too late and had an hour+ wait.  They are located on the same street as Leonard’s Bakery (Kapahulu) so we strolled down there to kill time.  Lo and behold – they are open all nite!  So naturally we helped ourselves to some malasada “appetizers”.  I’m sure we burned off the calories on our walk.  At Side Street Inn food is served in leisurely courses on platters “family style”.   The three of us shared the Nalo green salad (excellent), seared Ahi (I didn’t try it), “Side Style” fried rice (best I have ever eaten in my life) and Lilikoi-sauced BBQ baby back ribs (ditto).  That Lilikoi (passionfruit) sauce was transcendent, and I have never eaten such tender, meaty ribs.  And the prices are really reasonable!

Next up, the most special day of our trip.  I hope I can do it justice…

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