Category Archives: Kentucky

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

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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.

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