One part travel blog. One part nerdy history lesson.

Category: Kentucky

24 Hours around Kentucky

This quick weekend trip was just to get in some random sites in Kentucky, including Big Bone Lick State Park (hilarious name ha), Abe Lincoln’s Boyhood home and Mammoth Caves. However, the weather had other plans for us and it was cut short due to a huge wind storm and flooding all over the Midwest.

Friday started out fun with high winds and flash flooding so bad that Norah’s school emailed and asked everyone to come get their kids as soon as possible so that the teachers could get home because multiple roads were flooded around Columbus. We even had to go “the back way” to get her from school because our highway was flooded. But, we grabbed her and headed towards Florence, KY for Friday night just because it’s a decent suburban area close to Big Bone Lick for the morning but would give us some fun things to do Friday night.

When planning what to eat in Florence, nothing was jumping out as a need-to-try… and just the other day Norah said “I’ve never been to Olive Garden, can we PLEASE go sometime??? They have all you can eat breadsticks!” Haha

Hilarious to me that she thinks she’s missing out. Haha So… we blew her mind when we told her that tonight was her lucky night- Olive Garden! Ha

This may be old news to people who eat here more than I do, but they had these touchscreen machines that you can order your drinks, appetizers and desserts on… and then for $2.99 you can play unlimited games. Of course Norah wanted to do that… and I let her.

All was going well. Got my Alfredo dipping sauce for my breadsticks… found out they took the one thing off the menu that I liked (the braised beef tortoloni). Ordered some calimari…

…and then…

The power went out. LOL

Luckily our food was already out, so we just paid cash to the waitress and we were good. Ha half of Florence was out of power all evening, stoplights were pitch black on a black street- so that was fun to navigate in a town I’ve never been in before. Ha

Luckily, Half Price Books had power! So we had an hour until they closed to shop around. Found a few more books to add to the collection and Norah picked up some paperbacks to fulfill her Spring Reading Challenge at school including a Dean Koontz thriller and Ready Player One for Sci Fi.

We booked an Escape room in Florence for 9:30p but they called us around 8 and said their power was out… but they had one room that could be done without power but it was only available at 10:15… so we moved to that one.

It was our first room we didn’t escape! It was called The Shipwreck- and I have to say I want to put an asterisk on not escaping haha the power being out meant their comm system wasn’t working and the game master didn’t give us any clues, even when we asked so we ended up spending the last 10 minutes in the room trying to get the last lock open and she didn’t hear us asking questions and we just thought she was being rude and purposely not answering us. Like we thought the lock wasn’t opening so Kegan said “I’m starting at zero and doing blah blah” and she said “I believe in you- you got this!” So we continued doing the same thing assuming it was right. Turns out it wasn’t lol oh well. 

We went back to our hotel slightly annoyed, but there are lessons to be learned in failure as well, so a good opportunity for Norah who was about ready to cry over it. ha 

Saturday, I had planned to go grab quick breakfast for everyone from a restaurant called First Watch. Its a chain but we’ve never been there-so I got online and made an order for pickup. For 3 people with coffee and juice and meals- was going to be $130! I was like, ok…I’m not super budget conscious… but I just CANNOT pay $130 for breakfast I still have to drive and get. So… we had White Castle breakfast instead! haha It’s not exciting… but- let me tell you- if you aren’t woke to the Castle for breakfast- they have the best cripsy golden hashbrowns of any fast food restaurant and they flat-top fry real eggs on their sliders. Also, you can get sausage or bacon instead of the hamburger patties…and they even have a chicken and waffle sandwich you can add egg and cheese to. Highly recommend for cheap fast food breakfast….and their coffee has even won awards. I still think its terrible watery drip coffee- but others seem to like it. ha 

I had also advanced ordered some cool doughnuts online to eat as snacks Saturday or Sunday for breakfast from a place called Peace, Love and Little Doughnuts. 

These were pretty good! The only bad factor was that it was the same base doughnut for each item, just different toppings on top. So the dense cakiness of it worked well for the strawberry shortcake one… but maybe not so good for the Boston Creme Pie ones.. but I also understand from an operational perspective this is about the only option to offer this kind of doughnut variety in a tiny little shop. 

Our first destination was Big Bone Lick state park. Because of the history of the site, I had really been wanting to fit a visit in. This is literally the site of the birth of American Palentologic study. It gets its name from so many maps dating from the 1700s of European explorers mapping out the French claimed “La Louisiane” territory where “big bones found at the salt lick” or “elephant bones found here” were marked. Map after map shortened and it became the “big bone lick”.

The Shawnee and Delaware tribes of the area knew this site very well and used the springs in this area for collecting salt and for hunting larger game that came to the spring to drink. Lewis and Clarke stopped here to collect and send back mammoth bones to Thomas Jefferson who was very interested in the site. So, Big Bone Lick was in essence the first funded paleontological excavation in North America. You can still see some bones from the excavation at Jefferson’s home in Monticello. Benjamin Franklin actually put forth the first documented discussions of the possibility of climate change after reviewing the “elephant” fossils from Big Bone Lick. Basically thinking that if elephants only live in warm climates.. but we had them here long ago… then maybe it was warmer here long ago and it has progressively gotten colder…

Back in the Pleistocene period/epoch (in the Cenozoic Era) or “ice age” about 12,000 years ago, mammoths, mastadon, ice age bison, giant ground sloths (my favorite) and elk-moose all lived in the area and would come here to the salt deposits around the sulphur spring to drink. The land around was very marshy and the animals would get stuck and die or be killed by early Clovis people… or other larger animals. 

So…pretty cool right??? I want to see the fossil beds! I want to see the spring! Oh… it looks like they have a herd of bison ranging! I wonder what cool skeletons they will have on display??

Yeah… none of that. ha We were soooo disappointed. Fossil beds have all been dug and destroyed, nothing to see at all left- not even marked on a park map at this point… the medicinal salt springs that even had hotels and spas in the area are gone and no longer there. They had cases along the walls of one room with some small bones, as well as some arrowheads and other artifacts of early life. They did have a 1,000 lb skull of a mastodon, so I guess they had 1 big cool fossil. Outside, they set up a fake diorama of painted animals getting stuck in a bog so you could visualize the concept, but it was just cheesy. ha 

I was very excited about giant ground sloths being found here, but disappointed there was no mention of them anywhere except this resin plastic model that was added in 2017 during a model to expand the gift shop into a real visitor center. 

So, after our 15 minutes or so in the building, we decided to hike back to the bison area, even though it was really muddy and puddles of water on the trail and even a downed tree we had to climb over from the storms the night before….because -herd of bison, right???

This was the bison. ha 5 sad bison in a pen with hay. I was done… 

I feel like a jerk sometimes and that my expectations must just be way too high… but like- come on. ha My standing theory is that most things in Indiana/Kentucky are just markers for what USED to be here. “Yeah, we don’t have anything cool now- but back 100 years ago, this place was special!” ha Sorry, I don’t need to visit to see a fake diorama and fake plastic skeletons and walk a flat 1/2 mile trail to where a spring USED to be. 

Anyway… more time for more activities today! So, we headed towards the Louisville area to some other sites I had marked. Since we had more time than I was expecting now, we went over to Fort Knox to see the Bullion Depository and visit the General Patton museum of Leadership. 

We got there… and the gate was closed to the parking lot of the museum, written CLOSED on the gate. No explanation… even though they said open online. 

But we did get to show Norah the Bullion Depository and explain all the crazy security it is thought that they have there, as well as explaining why people say “tighter than Ft Knox” or “more gold than Ft. Knox”. 

Ft Knox has housed over half of the US Treasury’s gold reserve since 1937 when it was decided it was better to house precious reserves away from coastal areas for more protection. Ft Knox even held the original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution during World War II. 

But overall, nothing to visit or see since you cant go in the bullion depository and the museum was closed. We stopped in the visitor center (which is really just a visitor checkpoint for civilians entering the actual base of Ft Knox.) and the security guard there even confirmed there was nothing for us. So.. onward. 

We were only 20 minutes or so from Bernheim State Forest, so we thought we’d go see the giant forest trolls. Pull up to the entrance…. CLOSED. 

A forest. Is closed. ha Online I did check afterwards and it did say on their website that they would be closed Saturday and Sunday for storm clean up. I just didn’t think I needed to check that woods would be open. ha 

Ok… well Jim Beam is just a mile away- lets at least go there, see the grounds, go to the gift shop… 

Security guard out front tells us that the gift shop is closed and no tours today because they still don’t have power. Well, OK then. This day might just be a bust!

The area did have some high winds… leaving Jim Beam we saw a silo tipped over on a barn. 

Alright, so one last stop I had marked on the map on our way south to Mammoth Caves for Sunday tours… Hodgenville, Kentucky- the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. 

So we drove to town thinking that we likely wouldn’t be able to do that either.. but much to our surprise the small Lincoln Museum downtown said OPEN! 

The museum contained historically accurate dioramas and wax figures depicting various events from Lincoln’s life.

Out in the square there was a traffic roundabout with multiple statues and granite stones with inscriptions dedicated to the life of Lincoln.

We hit up the local coffee shop before heading out of the town. Sampling sugary doughnuts while you are eating your feelings that everything is closed will make you very sleepy when it wears off. ha

The Main Street there retains such classic charm.. a drug store on the national register of historic places, original granite building fronts with mosaic nameplates of the original purveyors. Super cool.

Vibe Coffee is a gem of a place in Hodgenville. I got a very good matcha latte and Kegan got his standard 50,000 shots of espresso with a drop of cream. ha

After our museum visit we headed towards the National Historic Park that has a monument built to house his “cabin birthplace”. It’s not the original cabin. It’s even listed online as the “symbolic cabin” because the real cabin was dismantled before 1865. But in this case, the “fake” recreation seems fitting to show the humble beginnings of one of the great presidents.

Lincoln family bible

Map of Lincoln family migration over the years.
The memorial has 16 windows, 16 rosettes in the ceiling and 16 fence poles- all signifying his title as the 16th president. There are 56 steps to the monument, representing his age when he died.

About this time, I got an email that my hotel reservation in Horse Cave, KY for tonight had been cancelled. No attempt to help me find another hotel- just cancelled at 4pm. So… I called the hotel and they had power… lady answered the phone and everything. “They just weren’t sure yet if they were gonna have guests tonight”… which seemed like a likely excuse to cancel a points reservation they weren’t making any money off of anyway because we may have been the only guests that hadn’t cancelled because again, I hadn’t thought to check the Mammoth Cave website because….its a cave… and we literally booked a 9am lantern tour. Why in the world would that be closed??

But… it was. Checking the website it said all tours were cancelled for Sunday…so we made the decision to just go back home. No sense driving all around the state to just find closed signs… So, we decided to find some good dinner in Louisville before heading home because our own power at home was still out if our Ring cameras could be believed… so we weren’t in any huge hurry to get there.

We decided on Vietnam Kitchen- a fantastic authentic Vietnamese restaurant that has been a Louisville landmark for years. We love this place, but they are closed on Sundays and it seems every time we are in the area, it’s Sunday.

So, we stopped in and had some amazing food

A10: Beef Salad marinated with lime juice, onions, carrots, peanuts and served with shrimp chips.
K8: Hû Tiêu Xào – Trie Chau Style Noodle Soup
D5: Mi Vit Tiêm – Duck egg noodle soup with duck and Chinese herbs

Overall, not the weekend we planned… but a fun time none the less. Next adventure will be a weekend to Iowa and Illinois over Easter after our Spring Break week in New Orleans readying the house a bit more for the full move in May!

48 Hours in Louisville,Kentucky

Hello! It has been a minute since I could write a post about travels! A bit over a year…. too long… but we have been traveling- just to the same destination all year- New Orleans! After last Christmas’s trip… we decided to entertain the idea of moving down there… and after a few months, we bought a house! So, since May 2022, we have been spending every week Norah isn’t in school down in Louisiana working on that house with the goal of a full move in May 2023 after Norah finishes 5th grade in Indiana. 

So, this upcoming move prompted me to think about what all we could see while we were still close in Indiana that we hadn’t made a priority in the last few years. So I started putting together some short weekend trips we could work in before May… we shall see if I can get them all blogged!

First up, a quick trip to Louisville, Kentucky for the weekend. We picked up Norah after school and headed straight across the bridge- an hour and twenty minutes from us to see what touristy things we could find.

Our hotel was nothing exciting- a Holiday Inn Express- but I’m still finishing up my points from traveling for work pre-Covid… so free won out here for hotel choice. 

We headed out from the hotel to our first destination of the evening- The Old Spaghetti Factory. 

Nothing fancy, definitely a chain, but we could be dressed casually and they have a brown butter mizithra cheese spaghetti and spumoni ice cream (chocolate, cherry and pistachio) that is REALLY good.

Norah got a Cotton Candy drink and a grilled cheese (because she doesn’t like pasta…who’s child is this??)…so life was good. 

After a dinner that took entirely too long (like… 1.5 hours and that was only because we told our waitress to just bring ice cream and check and get it moving as they brought our dinner because we had to go)… we walked south through downtown through 4th street live, a pedestrian area full of bars and restaurants-mostly 21 and up… 

We walked past The Seelbach Hotel, a famous historic hotel built by two German immigrants in 1905. It was so fancy, it was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s inspiration for the wedding in the The Great Gatby (I believe he called it the Maybach hotel…) Many presidents have stayed here over the years including FDR and JKF and most recently, George W Bush in 2002. Many celebrities have slept a night here, too… one of the more interesting characters to frequent the Seelbach was Al Capone… he used to play poker here on his bootleg runs from Chicago to moonshine country in Kentucky. Rumor has it there was a button in the floor that the staff could step on when police arrived looking for him and it would shut the poker room doors, alerting Capone to escape through hidden passages. There is an underground room in the Seelbach that I REALLY wanted to go see, but the doors were locked by the time we could go in… guess I should I stayed as a guest here instead of using my free points at the Holiday Inn Express! ha 

The Rathskeller room in the basement is constructed of Rookwood Pottery- designs were hand drawn on clay, then fired, then glazed and fired again… A portion of the ceiling is made of leather with intricate designs like zodiac signs in it…. there is a giant art deco clock on one wall… so- even though I didn’t get to see it this trip, I still had to talk about it here and include a photo from the internet- because maybe someone who reads this will get to go see it!

Lots of other fun sights along the way… 

We were headed to The Louisville Palace Theater to see a showing of the 1986 film Labyrinth starring David Bowie as the Goblin King. Norah dressed appropriately. 

The Louisville Palace is a really uniquely decorated theater that has been open since 1928. Very European or old Spanish style… ornate carvings and cobalt blue… very over the top and super fun. 

The vaulted ceiling has carved faces in each of the circles. 
The theater itself has 2 levels. We were under the balcony because the seating was open- I hate sitting side by side with strangers in a theater…and I figured the quality of the video from 1986 probably wouldn’t make that much of a difference 🙂 

None of us had ever seen the movie surprisingly…. and we loved it! Norah especially. I loved that the whole theater erupted in cheers with David Bowie appeared on screen for the first time. I loved all of the puppets (it was done by Jim Henson) and some of the same voices and maybe even the same puppets were used in Fraggle Rock- one of my all time favorite shows. It was an especially good movie for the time…. very quippy and fun.

Cute spot to photograph this growing child outside the theater after the film. 

After the movie, we booked an escape room next door at Locked In: Louisville. It was called The Warehouse and the goal was to find the alien artifact our coworker hid and escape before the government finds out we know their secrets!

We escaped…. but barely… and only by having to call the gamemaster 3 different times. It was probably my least favorite escape room experience we’ve done… there was one poor guy having to juggle all of the rooms so he wasn’t watching our play… and when our lock didn’t work- we spent 15-20 minutes of our room time trying to figure out what we did wrong…until finally we decided to call for help and ruin our chance to be on the leaderboard -only to find out we had the code right the whole time… that happened twice…just overall not impressed with how they run it, but the puzzle was decent. Wouldn’t book anything else there though sadly. 

Norah and Kegan were still hungry after the movie and escape room, so Kegan ran inside Pizza Bar at 4th street Live and got the last 3 slices of pizza available. ha Late night walking snacks make a mile walk seem better. 

It was back to the hotel to sleep for the night. 

Saturday morning we woke up early and took an Uber across downtown to Wild Eggs, a fantastic breakfast/brunch local chain. We went to the original a couple times when we lived in Louisville in another lifetime (2009-2011) and their Everything Muffins are just heavenly. We think about them from time to time to this day. I tried to recreated them once and got close… but just not perfect. So, what better place to have breakfast. Kegan had the Kalamity Katie’s Border Benedict with corn cakes topped with chorizo and poached eggs, Norah got pancakes and bacon, and I had the Country Fried Steak and Eggs 

Kalamity Katie’s Border Benedict
Country Fried Steak and Eggs
Pancakes and Bacon
The amazing Everything Muffin

We had interesting breakfast drama… while we were waiting on our food a fight erupted in the kitchen and I could hear a lady yelling and carrying on. I thought she was maybe the head chef back there or something, yelling at someone that worked for her… the wait staff started mumbling asking if she was “for-real going off” or joking… they decided it was for real… and then she burst out of the kitchen double doors out into the actual restaurant yelling and cussing “I dont know who the F you think you’re talking to…your damn kids or something… ” and then continued a solid 30 seconds of more profane ranting before the actual head kitchen guy was like “YOU HAVE GOT TO GO” and tried to drag her back through the kitchen to exit the back… but she was not having that. She’s swatting and yelling and cursing and she leaves out the front. ha I have never seen anything like that. Other people’s drama? Big fan. haha Norah was a little stunned… and looking at me like “is this real life??” haha but she handled it well. The kitchen manager guy even came to our table later with extra everything muffins that were “on the house” for having to witness that. We just laughed it off with him… told him he handled it the best he could. People. be. crazy. I don’t know what someone could have said at 8:30 in the morning to cause all that… haha 

With full bellies and our drama meters fulfilled, we headed off along the waterfront walking the mile back towards the hotel 

Norah outside the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. We didn’t take a tour, but we did peak in through the windows to the factory and could see a lot of the process.

We started our day at the Frazier History Museum. 

It was a really cool few hours- learned a LOT about Kentucky history and items/people who originated in Kentucky. I didn’t want to include a LOT of things here because I don’t want to ruin someone else’s trip and discovery… but a few highlights to maybe pique your interest to visit yourself:

The gift shop had Ale 8 cold in an old vending machine so Norah got a history lesson and a soda!
Kegan brought home a TShirt. ha He does love his Ale 8.

Next stop was the Kentucky Science and Discovery Center

Norah guessed 4/5 furs correctly, missed the 5th one by guessing Beaver instead of Muskrat… pretty darn good!
An actual Egyptian mummy.. seemed out of place as one of the only artifacts in the place.. where- but ok… I love Egyptian stuff!

We spent a good 3 hours in the science center. Saw an IMAX 3D movie on Pandas and how they are breeding them in China using some bear techniques we’ve used in the USA…. it was slow but good. I learned a lot about pandas. 

Now it was time to get in the car and leave downtown for the evening. We headed out East to Hurstborne Parkway and started at our old stomping grounds- Half Price Books. Maybe my favorite store on the planet. This used bookstore is just full of amazing finds… almost all under $10. I literally had to get a cart. and this was me keeping it under control. ha

After buying 75 lbs of books, it was time to get our exercise on at a place called ACTIVATE. 

You pay for a 75 minute pass into the gaming area and it basically has about 10 rooms with various mini-games inside. You scan a band, pick a game and a 1-10 difficulty level and wait for the door to unlock when the group in front of your finishes. Then you have about 10 seconds to get inside and the game starts!

Picking our game and difficulty, waiting for the green light to enter the room
This game had you finding the one light on all of the walls that matched a light shown. Run and hit it to get the next one… points for each one you find before time runs out. 
This room was similar, find the circle not rotating like all of the others and hit it, trying to identify as many as you can
This was the most fun- The Grid. The floor tiles changed colors and you had to run to get on squares of a certain color in under 4 seconds. 

Overall, Activate was super busy, so there was a bit of queuing up in between rooms- but that was OK- we still had a blast and would totally go back. I could see this being such a good teen activity…but what do I know. I’m too old to be cool anymore. 

We ended the evening at The Melting Pot- another chain… but I had never been. It was always a restaurant I longed to go to back when I was young and poor… and we never did. Now, I knew I’d be disappointed, but I still thought Norah would love it and I could check it off the “want to do” list. Overall… if I did it again, I would just do a cheese course and a dessert course, I think instead of the 4 course dinner. The meat was pretty plain, small portions, nothing special.. but the Alpine cheese and the Smores Chocolate fondue were pretty darn good!

It was back downtown to our hotel around 11:30pm for a decent night’s sleep. 

We woke up to start our Sunday and stepped outside to…SNOW! 

We were glad we got all of our walking out of the way Saturday! I finally found a coat last year that is SO WARM and so NICE …I was literally getting hot and sweating walking in freezing weather and wind. I had to have Kegan photograph the amazing coat! I finally understand after owning this coat why they say “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing” ha 

Turns out I need to wash the sleeves! I didn’t realize until this picture how dirty they are! hahaha

We went a couple blocks to the 21C Museum hotel for a breakfast brunch at Proof on Main. 

The food was good…don’t get me wrong… but I maybe expected more? The menu was limited – because its a slow time… (i think there were maybe 2 other tables) and my fried chicken sandwich was so burnt I didnt eat it… BUT, a couple items were great. 

Grilled octopus. This was great
A pimento cheese skillet with a sweet and spicy pepper jelly- delicious

After breakfast, we walked through the 21C art Museum. 

It was a fun 30 minutes with some interesting more modern art from a lot of local artists. I don’t know that I would make it a destination- but worth a stop in the area for sure. 

We hopped in our car and starting a driving tour of Old Louisville south of downtown. 

The Witches Tree- supposedly leaving trinkets in the tree will bring good luck- the higher you throw it, the better your luck will be… 
The Conrad-Caldwell House Museum – which you can actually tour inside and see the woodwork and parquet floors and stained glass windows. 
Just blocks and blocks of amazing old houses just waiting for some McKinney Magic. haha I made Kegan snap a photo of at least a couple for me. 

After driving around on all the side streets and picking out all of the not-for-sale houses I wanted to buy or restore… we needed to kill some time before the art museum opened at noon, so we headed to Bardstown Road to a couple of vinyl record shops. First stop-Electric Ladyland, basically a smoke shop with a couple bins of records… didn’t find much there, but I did educate Norah on what a “bong” is. haha 

Our next stop was much more our style- The Great Escape- walls and walls of comics, Star Wars, Star Trek, vinyl, collectables… I could have bought the store. ha 

Norah picked out a vintage used Ouija board, I found two working, in the box, original Star Trek toys and some vinyl I’d never seen anywhere else. Kegan hit the motherload of Jerry Jeff Walker vinyl so he was thrilled. 

Now, it was noon-and the Speed Art Museum was open, so we made our way there. It was a madhouse. Turns out this was the last four hour window to see the special exhibit of art nouveau items that had been hugely popular. We got the last spot in the garage on the roof and it wasn’t even a spot haha but I parked there anyway. 

Again, not wanting to highlight too many things to spoil a trip- but to pique interest… a few items from various wings of the museum:

A fabulous round cookie tin
Self portrait of Mucha
A fabulous teapot. I love it. 
My very own fair lady 🙂 

A fun museum… I think I’d wait for a special exhibit to be in town you’d like to see. Then its worth a visit, for sure. I was impressed with the volume of old European art and paintings they had there… it was a nice museum. 

We ending our evening by meeting up with some friends at The Dragon King’s Daughter- a restaurant on Bardstown road very near the vinyl shops we shopped earlier in the day. 

It was great to catch up with Gretchen and Charles and hear about how amazing their daughters are doing as they finish college and high school this year. Gretchen is a fantastic artist and sells jewelry and other art at a shop in Louisville- has her own feature show coming up- excited to see that! Charles is a geologist Kegan used to work with (how we met them) and he’s coaching two sports- being dad, running like crazy- both just being the best parents they could be. Great people that I loved catching up with. 

Overall, the food was great! Would recommend and would go back.

Luckily, Louisville is just a bit over an hour from us, so we headed home around 6:30 and were home and unpacked by 8 or so… it was a jam packed weekend, but it was great to actually be a tourist close to home and give a local city the same planning and treatment that I would give a destination city. 

Next up- Cincinnati in a couple weeks. Stay tuned!