One part travel blog. One part nerdy history lesson.

Author: Erin McKinney (Page 1 of 26)

Mother. Wife. Travel Addict. Never met a gadget she didn't immediately need to buy.

48 Hours in Peoria and Springfield, IL and Iowa City, IA

This weekend was a quick drive over to Iowa and back to see a couple things that had been on our Summer 2021 Out West road trip itinerary, but we had to cut short at the end for Norah’s 4H events… I had been waiting almost 3 years now… trying to fit them in…but finally got them done! We were a little worried this weekend would end like the last weekend had in Kentucky where everything was closed. We started seeing tornado warnings and forecast charts that did NOT look good for the areas we would be going. In the end, we missed almost all weather that came through the area by just a few hours each time and other than a little rain on our first stop in Pekin, IL- we had great weather and most everything was open!

Starting to drive into the storms in Illinois on Friday afternoon
By the time we got to Pekin, IL just south of Peoria, we had a double rainbow and the rain had stopped.

I added a stop in this tiny town on a last second whim because of a TikTok video I saw. This man was talking about this insanely cringe-y town in Illinois that was called Pekin- a play on Peking, China- which they claimed was exactly on the other side of the world.. They had a Chinese theater, their school mascot was “The Chinks”, they used to dress up their homecoming king and queen in cartoonish stereotypical Chinese hats and clothes.. NOT KIDDING. I was like- this CANT exist… OMG… and when I looked to see where it was, it was 15 miles off our path for the weekend. So, we veered into town mostly for the shock factor.

Happy to report- we found NOTHING remaining of that time… looks like someone came to their senses in the 1980s and everything was changed/fixed…. it was just a simple midwestern town these days.

With, thankfully, nothing to report in Pekin- we continued on up the highway into Peoria. We passed this Uniroyal Gal still standing on the roadside.

These “muffler men” were a very common site along Route 66 and other auto parts/service stations back in the day. It seems like maybe only about 10 of these ladies remain across the country.

Peoria is the home of Richard Pryor, a famous standup comedian who died in the early 2000s. I love stand up comedy… I know some of his more famous material is incredibly offensive to a lot of people…but I can’t -and wont-deny that he was groundbreaking in his material….and that comedy comes from a very dark place 99% of the time. Bill Cosby even said ” Richard Pryor drew the line between comedy and tragedy as thin as one could possibly paint it.”

He was raised in a brothel where his mother was a prostitute and his father a pimp and hustler. Beaten regularly growing up, sexually abused at age 7, expelled from school at age 14, entered the Army, but spent his entire time in the Army jail, once for stabbing a white soldier who laughed a little too hard at a racially charged scene in a film. He moved to New York in 1963 and started playing clubs doing opening comedy routines. His early stuff was much more “middlebrow” and less controversial. He wrote for Sandford and Son, the Flip Wilson Show… he appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Ed Sullivan Show and others… it wasn’t until 1974 that he really became a hit- and that was when he co-wrote Blazing Saddles with Mel Brooks ( he was supposed to play Bart… but he was un-insurable… so they went with Cleavon Little) and he released his famous controversial albums and stand up routines that he became known for. He always struggled with drugs and alcohol, married 5-6 times, 7 children with 6 women… and at the end of his life, struggled with Multiple Sclerosis and heart issues from a lifetime of hard living and tobacco use. In the end, a 3rd heart attack got him. I respect Richard Pryor for turning pain and experience into art… and for speaking his truth on his experience with race in America..and for leaving us with some of the best belly-laughing stand up that will never be topped.

Continuing to drive around we saw the Caterpillar headquarters. There is a visitor center for seeing the big machines up close- but they closed at 5pm and we didn’t hit town until after 6.

Norah said this one looked like a government building from Men In Black and that big saucer was a spot to land the alien spaceships when they come to visit.

The Peoria Riverfront Museum was closed, but we stopped by the Holocaust memorial outside to see it before dinner. From their website:

We are honored to be home to the Peoria Holocaust Memorial, the only memorial of its kind in the world. Created by the Jewish Federation of Peoria, each of its 11 million buttons, collected by school children during the “The Button Project,” symbolizes a life lost during the Holocaust.

The purpose of the Peoria Holocaust Memorial is to remember the 6 million Jews and 5 million enemies of the state who lost their lives during the Nazi Holocaust, and to help educate future generations about the importance of standing up to bigotry, prejudice and hatred wherever and whenever they occur.

Every 6th- and 8th-grade student in the museum’s donor-sponsored “Every Student Initiative” tours the Memorial after first hearing a presentation.
Today, its lessons are as relevant as ever.

We tried to go to a restaurant right downtown at the Holocaust Memorial called Blue Duck Barbecue- but they were closed from the tornado that came through earlier in the day. Right next door was another restaurant high on the list- Rhythm Kitchen- but they were closed because their basement flooded from the storm… So… we looked at a few options including a brewery in an old church- but in the end, the food photos at a little Israeli place looked best.

It was not disappointing. As we walked up, the waiter and cook were coming to the door to look outside at the sky… and we think to turn the lights off because the place was empty. No one was out and about because of the storms. But, they were happy to see us and we had very fast quick service. So fast and so good, that I forgot to photograph the food! doh!

They brought pita and a tray of sauces- a garlic sauce, a jalapeño sauce, a smoky hot pepper sauce and a tzatziki.

Here are 2 photos from the internet of what we got! Ha Kegan got the lamb shank and I got the combination plate

Dinner was so quick, we were very early for our escape room we booked, but I read online they had a 10 minute Dr Who themed escape in the lobby you could maybe do…. so we headed on over.

The Dr Who TARDIS box was unoccupied, so we were able to squeeze that in. We escaped in 3 minutes and 26 seconds! haha and when we opened the door, the girl was standing there with her jaw on the floor! ha She said it was definitely the record. ha

Our real room for the night was the Help! We got Shrunk! room, a spoof on Honey I Shrunk the Kids. Super cute! We were shrunken down to Barbie doll size and had to set up the laser and program the shrink ray correctly to make ourselves big again and escape.

No problem. Piece of cake 🙂 I think we had 17 minutes left of something. It was a good room! lots of tricky puzzles but all on theme and logically made sense. Norah really liked it.

After that, it was on to Iowa… and when driving on I-80 in Iowa- you HAVE to stop at the World’s Largest Truck Stop! So even though we really didn’t need to stop- we made a quick stop by to check it out before hitting the hotel.

It was FREEZING by this time, cold front on the back side of the storm on the open plains there…. I bet it was 35 degrees and extremely windy. You can see it on her face when I made her pose for the photo. ha
Not just one restaurant- but a whole food court of options! DQ, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut… also deli, doughnuts, hot dogs, etc… it was really big.

We finished our drive to Coralville, IA and crashed. Arriving around 1am.

We started Saturday ordering carryout from Goosetown Cafe which looked to be delicious brunch food. But it was a huge disappointment. Soggy wet raw poached egg, flimsy cheap bacon strips with the photos online were thick cut rashers…green olives that were supposed to be Spanish citrus marinated olives (Kegan fell in love with these in Spain, so we had to try!) We barely ate most of it… except Kegan’s bagel with Lox- it was good! (I dont know about $20 good… ) anyway, wouldn’t recommend at all.

We had to wait until 10am for the first building to open for the day. We headed to Macbride Hall on the University of Iowa campus for the Natural History Museum.

This is Rusty the giant ground sloth (you know- my fave! ha)

The bird and mammal halls of the museum were fantastic! Very much in the style of the Theodore Roosevelt/American Museum of Natural History in New York City that we visited. Dioramas and scenes behind glass in substantial wooden cases. It was much better than I had expected. If you loved looking at taxidermy animals up close, you could spend a day here…

a Dodo bird
This Bobcat reminds me so much of our male cat “Dude”. Same face, same big paws and body ratios and he is part Maine Coon, so he has some tufts of hair on his face and ears. lol I think the other part must be Bobcat. ha

After that nice trek, it was time for some real TREK. We walked back to the car to drive to Riverside, Iowa. The future birthplace of James T. Kirk. Star Trek canon says that James T Kirk will be born in Riverside Iowa on March 22, 2228.

Truthfully, it wasn’t Star Trek canon until May 2009…. the original Star Trek idea from creator Gene Roddenberry was just that Kirk would be born in a small town in Iowa, but Steve Miller- a Riverside councilman- was a trekkie and read Gene’s book from 1968 and thought- why not Riverside??? At the next council meeting in 1985, he proposed that Riverside declare itself the Future Birthplace and the motion passed unanimously. The Star Trek movie in 2009 is the first time the franchise every actually says “Riverside, IA”.

Fun fact- Captain James T. Kirk and William Shatner, the actor who played him, both share a March 22 birthday.

Riverside changed it slogan from “Where the best begins” to “Where the Trek begins” and changed its annual summer RiverFest to TrekFest- now entering its 38th season. (June 24-26, 2023- thinking about attending… lol)

In 2016, the US Postal Service released Star Trek themed stamp sheets. Riverside Historical Society and Voyage Home museum bought up all of the sheets from surrounding post offices to always have some on display. You can still buy a sheet in the museum gift case… I thought about it- but I don’t collect stamps- just Star Trek memorabilia, so I decided to leave the sheet for someone with more of a stamp appreciation.
T-shirts on the wall of the Voyage Home museum from past TrekFests
Norah was very excited to sign the Captain’s Log.
The computer and data cards on the bottom left are one of my favorite “futuristic” items from the Original Series. I would LOVE to have a transponder from the original show (middle bottom) or a real Tribble from The Trouble with Tribbles episode from the second season. I bought tiny tribbles in the gift shop made here in Riverside. ha
They had this display on the wall of the bathroom. So when you sat on the toilet, you were in the Captain’s chair and looking out haha Clever.

Riverside was fun- I was very happy it exists… and I love that people volunteer their time (I’m sure) to keep that museum open. I would have liked to see a bit more there to make me stay longer… a documentary, excerpts of episodes, behind the scenes footage playing on a screen, maybe. What about a video game console to play Star Trek themed games or pinball… or a table with Star Trek themed board games, put feelers out on websites, conventions, etc offering to display and insure memorabilia, anonymously or with credit. Recreate the terrain from famous scenes for photo ops. Head in a hole photo ops…

I’m telling you… I think I could do some stuff with that museum! 🙂 Call me. lol

Interestingly… this was the only overtly political ad I saw along the road in all of Iowa that we drove…. I assumed as the earliest voting state that we’d already be knee deep in political billboards, signs, etc… but this being the only thing I saw was very interesting.

We travelled right back to the University of Iowa campus to see the Stanley Art Museum. (The Star Trek museum was only open 12-4- so I didn’t want to hang out in the art museum too long and they close up shop for the day… so we we took the drive in the middle of the UI sites.)

A very fun coffin.
The museum was full of a lot of African and modern art. I dont think there was really anything classic, European, etc…. some pottery, some Americana… but a lot of very detailed and amazing African pieces.

After the art museum, we walked to the Old Capitol Building and museum.

This was Norah and Kegan walking backwards to glare at how slow I walk… so I made them take a photo ha

Iowa City was chosen as the capitol of the territory in 1839… 8 years before Iowa would become a state in 1846.

The building was completed in 1841 and the Territory Legislature met here starting in 1842.

The state capitol moved to Des Moines in 1857… and this building became the first permanent building on the University of Iowa campus… it opened in 1976 as a National Historic Landmark after extensive renovations, a fire in 2001 was started by contractors using a heat gun on renovations that burned the entire dome and bell, which took 4 years of repairs to renovate.

We decided that was enough museums for the day- time to do something else fun. Fossil spotting!

This spot is a gem of a place… Coralville Lake was created with a spillway dam… but it wasn’t until 1993 that Iowa saw enough flooding to spill over the dam. Maximum lake inflows of 41,000 cubic feet per second. For 28 days as much as 17,000 cubic feet of water per second flowed down the spillway, washing away 15 feet of river bottom silt along with the water as it ran. This exposed the Devonian area limestone rock beds- 375 million years old! That’s almost 200 million years before dinosaurs… that’s…well, I cant even fathom numbers like that. It’s crazy.

There were more floods in 2008 that exposed more beds… and I find that interesting because we were in Iowa for those floods in 2008 trying to get to California for my first contract there. We had to drive around for hours trying to get through flooded towns and eventually got stuck in Lincoln, NE for 3 days trying to get a wheel repaired from a pothole if I remember correctly ha

We found lots of Devonian area sea floor fossils and we found that Norah LOVES hunting for fossils- so now I have catalogued all the major US sites you can fossil hunt and potentially take home your finds. Future trip ideas 🙂

We found a tiny trilobite! They are more rare in this era of fossil bed.. usually you find coral and crinoids, but I did read you could find trilobites… and we were very excited to be able to pick one out.
Large crinoid stems Norah located.

Overall a nice hour spent outside on a cool sunny afternoon seeing something rare. I recommend it!

Next we started driving to some random roadside sites we marked on the map.

The World’s Largest Wooden Nickel. Supposedly built as a political protest against the Johnson County supervisor’s decision to raise speed limits on 3 streets. 16 feet across and weighs 4,000 lbs.
We had to swing through the cemetery to see The Black Angel- a famous 9 foot bronze sculpture that is the subject of many scary ghost stories in town. Supposedly the angel gets darker black every year from all of the lives its claimed (its really oxidized bronze…it does that) and supposedly if you kiss in the front of the statue, you’ll die within the year… I didn’t take any chances. 🙂
Drove past this sitting Buddha on a hill, but we couldn’t figure out how to get to him… so a drive by from the highway was all we got.

Time for some fun after all of the sites were done- we headed back downtown to the SpareMe Bowling and arcade for what we hoped would be a couple hours of fun. I called ahead to make sure they were kid friendly because they had a bar and it was near a college campus… but they said they were. Never mentioned that I should reserve a bowling lane for Saturday if we wanted to bowl… turns out there were only 6 bowling lanes and they were full… and they normally had 6 skeeball lanes, but half of those were out of order. So, really- all we could do was play a few vintage arcade games and a pinball… so we did that for a while…

Norah found a Stranger Things machine, so she was pretty pumped about that.
I found Star Trek…. I still dont understand pinball completely haha

We had dinner at JiangHu Asian Street Food just across the street. We just ordered a bunch of everything. ha

Beef Noodle Soup
Duck Noodle Soup
Hand pulled Curry Noodles with Beef
a Spicy chicken stir fry

Overall, it was a decent meal…. nothing to flag for future trips. The food was pretty good but every table was dirty and stayed that way through our whole visit. Had to go ask if they got one meal that they missed after they brought everything out one at a time over 15 minutes…just stuff that I think will end up with them closing. Not everyone is cut out for a restaurant ha

As we drove back through Coralville we saw some remnants of the tornado that came through right before we arrived. Telephone poles were halfway over, roofs off of buildings, I guess our hotel was out of power until right before we had arrived at 1am.. but we didn’t notice in the dark… it was apparent driving around in a few areas that a tornado definitely touched down.

Last item for the night was one more escape room, since Norah just loves them. and we don’t hate them… they are definitely a fun brain teaser… but I wouldn’t do so many if my kid didn’t think they were the greatest thing ever. ha

This one is a small independent place. Owners created the rooms. I thought it would be a cheesy poorly designed room but we were impressed! It was a lot of fun. It was called Grandma’s House… and so you start out at Grandma’s, trying to find an heirloom item… and you find out Grandma was a secret CIA Spy with a hidden room! We had to find computer codes, point lasers in a certain direction… it was fun! Lots of misdirection and items that weren’t used for anything keeping it interesting and fun. 10/10 – recommend. Oh, and we escaped- whew… gotta keep that street cred up 🙂

We got back to the hotel right at 10pm when the pool was supposed to close- but I told Norah we could give it a shot and see if they didn’t kick us out…. and no one did. Gave her a 30 minute swim before bed.

We were up early Sunday morning for an early check out and a 3 hour drive to Springfield, IL. We stopped for breakfast and coffee at a Caribou Coffee drive thru right near the hotel and Kegan and I were both impressed by the strength of the coffee drinks and how good their Lumberjack breakfast sandwich was! If you pass one, check it out- I would choose it over Starbucks every time… and I love my Starbucks.

Our first stop in town was the Lincoln Home National Historic Site run by the National Park Service.

The Home here at the site is the first and only home Abraham Lincoln owned- with much of the original structure, walls and foundations remaining. The entire street is preserved to remember what a typical day in 1860 Springfield would have looked like.

The home where Abraham Lincoln lives with his family for 17 years… and all 3 of their children were born here.

After spending some time here and the visitor center, we walked to the oldest house in Springfield- the Elijah Iles house….but even though it said it was open for tours in April, apparently not April 2nd… they were closed

Just down the street was a Frank Lloyd Wright designed house – the Dana-Thomas House. The next tour wasn’t until 1:30pm and it was 11am… so we booked tickets online and came back for the tour later.

We drove and parked at the Illinois State Museum, but they didn’t open until 12… so we decided to hit all of the outdoor sculptures and sites and see if we could walk through the Capitol building… we figured it would be closed, but to our surprise it was open.

This Proud Raven totem pole has a funny history. What is Abe Lincoln doing at the top of a totem pole that was created by the Tlingit people in Alaska? Well- it depends on who you ask. One theory stands that it was a shame pole- since another exists for Secretary of State William Seward too- as symbols of American Imperialism in the 1800s and bringing of diseases such as smallpox to the Native American tribes. Another theory is that the chief commissioned a carver to in 1883 to commemorate the first white man the village had ever seen. But the carver had no idea what a white man looked like. The carver went searching- the local army base or the local post office stop- asking for a picture of a white man and they provided him with a photo of Abe Lincoln from his 1864 presidential campaign, so that’s why Abe is atop the pole- the carver thought all white guys must dress like that and keep a beard. ha We may never know…

The Capitol building was amazing inside with a 405 foot dome in the center.

Even the Exit sign was on theme
Trash cans can be art too

We had finally made it to noon for the State Museum to open so walked back there. The ground floor was fossils, geology, animals, etc. A natural history type exhibit.

Ground Sloth replica skeleton. ha now I see them everywhere

Norah’s favorite part- by FAR- was the Generation X exhibit. It was a floor of items dedicated to Gen X, including a full recreation of a late 70s/early 80s Rec Room- complete with Atari, wood panelling, a record player and a set of encyclopedias. She was in heaven haha It definitely helps that we are all currently listening to the audiobook of Ready Player One in the car while she reads along in the book- and that is just FULL of 80s references and pop culture. So, it was very fitting to the culture she has been immersing herself in this week.

We talked through ALL of the exhibits, pointing out all of the toys and games we had…. which was surprisingly, a LOT of them! ha Pound Puppies and Strawberry Shortcake were a couple “core memories” that were unlocked viewing this display ha
Kegan had to school Norah on the awesomeness and creepiness of Teddy Ruxpin
I had almost every item in this case! haha – banana clips, that same Caboodle curling iron, Love’s Baby Soft, little plastic barrettes… a caboodle… quite a blast from the past.
Norah got to try her Hand at dialing a rotary phone and we got to explain to her the concept of an answering machine – which blew her mind. haha Also, they had a couple old computers- Apple II, Commodore 64. They had a tape drive, 8″ floppies, 5″ floppy disks and the 3.5″ ones… so it was fun to show her that. They also had a button to press to simulate the old internet dial up sound. It was just a super fun and nostalgic exhibit. Along a wall they even had TIME magazine covers of a lot of historical events that occurred- Ryan White, Baby Jessica, the Iran Hostages, Chernobyl, Berlin Wall, Reagan being shot, Adam Walsh-missing child…. so that was a great conversation starter to discuss some of the big history of our childhood times.

I finally coaxed Norah into leaving when I promised she could have a slice of pizza before our tour if we left right then. That worked. ha

Our house tour was surprisingly the highlight of the whole trip! They only do a few scheduled tours a day with a max of 15 people, so it was a small group and our guide was very good. The house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1902- completed 1904. It has 35 rooms, 12000 square feet over 3 main levels with 16 level changes throughout. This was FLWs first “blank check” commission- and it shows, we more art glass in this house that any other FLW structure in the world, with more than 450 art glass windows, doors and light fixtures as well as 100 pieces of custom furniture.

The craftsman style woodwork and built in cabinetry, which wouldn’t become popular for 20 more years, was just fantastic. The roman stack mid-century brick walls with open concept spaces that wouldn’t be seen for another 30-40 years in other home designs. A multiple line phone system installed in 1904! you had 9 private lines in the house. Full electric, indoor toilet – all first in the area at a time when outhouses and no electricity was still very common.

The house also contains 2 different barrel vault ceilings – the only time FLW did barrel vaulting outside of his own house for the rest of his career.

Photos were not allowed on the tour, but here are a few from the internet to show the house:

It was a good note to end on… We could have seen more in Springfield- there was a train station, some Lincoln statues… lots more we missed- but we needed to head further East to get back home at a decent time for school the next day.

Our last stop was in Casey, IL on the way- a town full of the World’s Largest Everythings. ha It made for some fun and silly photos.

World’s largest SeeSaw… but they had it locked down. Sign said they have an operator on Saturdays
A 1958 Ford Fairlane unlocked some memories for Kegan. He had to show Norah that this was the car Grandpa Dave owned when he started dating Grandma Sharon. He then told the story of how Sharon sat a cup at the drive in on the super buffed and shiny dashboard and it slid off and spilled everywhere in the car! I said Norah and Kegan were lucky to exist if she did that on a date! haha

Dinner was at a Mexican restaurant called Cilantros..and it was good Mexican food!

My child wouldn’t know that though because she ordered cheese sticks, shrimp and fries at a Mexican restaurant! ha The cheese sticks were an addition AS she was ordering… or otherwise I think she knew we would have vetoed that. ha
Steak chimichanga
Kegan’s Molcajete that was enough for 3 meals for only $18. Flap steak, chicken, a shrimp skewer, a whole avocado and random shredded meats, peppers, onions and cactus. If this is on the menu, he’s ordering it every time.
and my white whale of Mexican food- the Fried Ice Cream- with both honey and chocolate with whipped cream and cherries. Only missing the cinnamon sugar coating on the fried tortilla to make it exactly like the old ChiChi’s Fried ice cream back in the day… This one even had coconut in the cereal coating around the frozen ice cream… Would get this again any day! ha

Overall, a busy busy weekend! But tons of sights seen, fun times had… it was a good trip! Glad we got to squeeze it in while we are still in the area locally.

Next trip is to Cleveland in early May because Norah and I are headed to Washington, DC in a couple weeks with her school for 5 days… I figured I needed both weekends on each side of that to both recover from kid overload and to catch up on work from actually taking some time off! See you then!

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 Cincinnati,Ohio

This short trip was a two hour drive to Cincinnati to see what kind of fun we could find. We have been to Cincinnati many times before…Kegan’s dad and stepmother even live on the north side so this wasn’t unknown territory. We have been to King’s Island (a very good amusement park) a few times. (Planning to take Norah for the first time in April) and we have been to the Cincinnati Zoo last year when a friend from Florida visited the area. But we hadn’t really spent time downtown and we were able to find plenty to see and do for the weekend.

We grabbed Norah right after school and immediately hit the road headed to the Newport Aquarium.

The aquarium was a really good one- and almost completely empty by 5:30pm when we arrived. Normally this time of year they close at 5, so I guess we got lucky that they were open until 7pm, but it seems no one else seemed to know! Ha

They had a tank with starfish and anemone you would reach in and touch. Both had a very strange texture.
A sting ray tank where you could touch.
My favorite- the penguins! They do penguin meet and greets but only midday so we just sat and watched them for a few minutes. They were getting ready for bed haha most were against the walls waiting on the lights to shut off!
I loved this cutaway because I didn’t know what turtle nests looked like under the sand… it was really eye opening
This beautiful fish kept posing for me at the glass, it was hilarious ha
They had cleaner shrimp in a tank that were extra lively. Norah really loved the “manicure” so much so that she made us backtrack through the whole aquarium at the end to do it again haha
After leaving the aquarium, we got a view of the Cincinnati skyline from across the river at Newport on the Levee

Now, it was time to go a couple miles to pick up what I will refer to as Stupid Purchase #1 (because there were multiple this weekend haha)

One of my hobbies is checking Facebook Marketplace for things I just can’t live without. Especially while traveling. Well on the drive over, I changed my area to Covington, KY just to surf and see what people had for sale over there. One of the first things that popped up was this vertical planter that a lady had listed for $40. Looking at it, it was big and it looked like a self watering hydroponic setup…definitely something I had been searching for and looking for options. But $40 was just silly low…surely not. So I messaged and asked her questions, in chatting learned she was relocating to the US Virgin Islands- I just finished a contract for the hospital in the US Virgin Islands, so we discussed the area and in the end she told me I could pick it up after the aquarium.

We arrived and it’s covered in leaves and some frozen bees and lots and lots of sloshing water. There’s a toilet leaning against it but it is exactly what I thought… so we HAVE to clean it up and get it in the SUV! Haha that itself was comical as it was 7 feet tall so we spent the whole weekend driving around with this planter above our heads! Lol

We drove to Ft Mitchell to a pizza spot but it was jammed packed with an hour wait so-backup plan: when in Cincinnati, eat Skyline Chili!

Skyline was founded in Cincinnati in 1949 by a Greek immigrant, but the story of “Cincinnati chili” goes back 100 years to a couple Macedonian/Northern Greek brothers that took the typical coney dog topping chili, mixed it with a Mediterranean stew spiced with nutmeg, clove and cinnamon but instead of limiting to hotdogs, they added it to spaghetti…and the Germans in the city couldn’t get enough of it. Gold Star, Empress, Dixie Chili, Skyline… you have plenty of options in this city. And admittedly, I do crave Cheese Coneys when I haven’t had them in a while.

Norah is a fan of the cheese ha

After skyline, we headed to The WEB- an arcade/mini golf/indoor go kart/Laser tag/VR combo spot. We only had a couple hours until they closed so it cost us a whole $10/person (plus arcade game tokens) for an unlimited band. Ha

Norah was pumped to drive her own go kart
They had a 9 3/4 black light Harry Potter themed mini-golf

We shut the place down trying to use our credits before 11pm and they shut the machines off at 10:50! Jerks 🙂 norah used her credits to pick out some little junk prizes and we headed to our hotel. Again, hotel was nothing special- a Holiday Inn downtown using points I had.

Saturday morning we got moving for a walk downtown to Wild Eggs again since Cincinnati had one, too. We’ll leave Wild Eggs to Louisville- the Cincy one wasn’t nearly as good, but it was still a good breakfast

Norah got a hot chocolate
I got a Nutty Irishman boozy coffee with a little “extra special” according to the waitress.
Strawberry pancakes
I got the Steak Benny- a New York strip on eggs Benedict
Kegan got the same Kalamity Katie’s Border Benedict. He said the corn cakes were too good to pass up

After breakfast we explored some more blocks downtown and headed towards the waterfront

We walked past the international headquarters of Proctor and Gamble- a company started in and still based in Cincinnati.
Passed the Great American Ballpark- home of the Cincinnati Reds baseball – caught this photo looking into “the gap” – I didn’t get any photos but there are also 2 tall smokestacks that emit fire when the pitcher strikes out a runner and fireworks after a home run or win.
Pete Rose statue in front of the Spirit of Baseball Indiana limestone relief. For anyone that follows baseball at all, Pete Rose needs no introduction- nicknamed “Charlie Hustle”, he’s the all time leading MLB hitter, at-bats, games played, singles, and outs and played for the Reds from 1963-1978. Although he’s actually most famous for the fact that he isn’t in the baseball hall of fame due to his betting on games while he was a player and manager.
The John A Roebling Suspension bridge, was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was built- until Roebling finished his next bridge project: The Brooklyn Bridge. Roebling died before the Brooklyn bridge was ever built, after crushing his toes between a dock and a ferry led to amputation and then tetanus. His son took over that project but in the end, it is believed his wife actually managed the project to completion.

Down at the waterfront, there is a great monument to the Black Brigade of Cincinnati- the first black military unit in the civil war. When the Confederacy was closing in on Cincinnati, a group of black men offered to volunteer to help fortify the city against attack. They were ignored…but then the mayor decided they should go round up all the black men and forcibly make them work. When the top general learned this, he ordered all of the black men (around 400) be allowed to return home…but that if they chose to volunteer, to come back to report the next day. Over 750 black men showed up to volunteer. Eventually they were paid and even led by black officers. The cleared hundreds of acres of forest, rifle pits, forts and are credited with completing the fortifications that saved the city in an 1862 attack.

The black brigade presented an engraved sword to one of the top officers
Norah, being Norah at the Marion Spencer statue. She was a civil rights activist who led desegregation efforts in Cincinnati schools, and she was a cofounder of the national Underground Railroad center
We found a great photo op at the Sing the Queen City sign. Cincinnati has had the nickname of The Queen City since the 1800s when residents referred to it as the Queen of the West, as it was last civilized stop on the way west.

Lots of great deco architecture everywhere downtown

About this time I remembered that I booked our next item for an exact time. Whoops. We had 20 minutes to drive out to the Cincinnati Museum Complex, park and get inside to the OMNIMAX theater. We made it, 1 minute late, but before they started the show!

Union Terminal is an AMAZING art deco train station that opened in 1933 and was planned to hold 17,000 passengers a day and over 200 trains daily. It is the largest half-dome in the western hemisphere and just an awesome building.

106 ft tall rotunda
A 218 million dollar renovation in 2018 brought back so much original luster. Walking through made you feel like you were headed to a train in 1940.
The rotunda has giant mosaic murals of industrial subjects by German immigrant artist Winold Reiss

Our OMNIMAX film was called Dinosaurs of Antarctica and it was super interesting to learn about how Antarctica was once a lush jungle setting housing tons of early dinosaur species prior to the T Rex Jurassic age.

The first museum we visited was Natural History Museum
The biggest trilobite we have ever seen! Found in Ohio!
I loved this fossil. The detail you could see in this full crinoid was just amazing.
In the back of the lab we could see a triceratops skull they are just starting to remove from its field jacket
They have a whole wing of the museum dedicated to space and exploration
An interactive computer console where you could remotely control a Mars rover
An interactive exhibit trying to explain the curvature of space time.

Next we visited the City History Museum- which was a bit disappointing. There were a few stations talking about the history of the city but mostly it was just a wing dedicated to housing this giant train set that was a replica of the city from the 1920s

Next up was the Holocaust Museum which just opened in 2019. It was a really good museum but I didn’t take any pictures, I guess. Although not really the subject matter to photograph. I highly recommend it.

They had an “ask a survivor” interactive exhibit. You could literally ask any question and the recorded person would answer. Norah said it felt very awkward to be asking personal questions like “what happened to your family?” Because it felt like a real person.

Next we visited the Rookwood Ice Cream Parlor. A shop completely covered in Rookwood pottery serving Graeter’s ice cream- a Cincinnati original since 1870, even declared by Oprah as the best ice cream she had ever tasted.

After chilling with some ice cream, we were offered a tour of the building by a guy who saw us just standing around staring at all of the details- he said it went to some areas not open to the public and lasted about an hour… but we only had two hours until closing and Norah hadn’t been to the Children’s museum yet… so she voted to skip the tour and we reluctantly agreed because we knew she really wanted to go play. Parenting requires sacrifices ha

Overall it was a small museum, mostly a big playground with some other interactive stations and crafts.

Norah enjoyed the big play restaurant kitchen and serving me breakfast.
In the craft area, we were too late to build a big cardboard house but the lady told Norah she could help them disassemble it for recycling and she was thrilled to take tape off the rods haha
They announced overhead that they would be starting a dance party on the stage… so naturally, Norah wanted in on that. She spent a good 30 minutes in her kid rave ha It’s fun to see her still enjoy little kid stuff because she’s right on that line where everything is too young. She even said “oh, this is like a little kid museum” haha yep, you’re just aging out of it ha

After all of those museums we needed a bit of a break. We headed back to the hotel for an hour and had a rest- I took a nap, Kegan listened to an audiobook and Norah surfed YouTube.

We took an Uber downtown since it was pretty cold to our reservations at Taste of Belgium- another Cincinnati local chain specializing in “taking American staples and Belgianizing them” . It’s Norah’s favorite because they have waffles ha

Pretzels with beer cheese
Steamed mussels
Loaded fries
Chicken and Waffles
Ham and cheese galette in a buckwheat crepe. None of us liked this at all.
Norah got a breakfast chicken biscuit with gravy and eggs
Norah and I shared a banana Nutella crepe for dessert
The Cortado coffee that led to Stupid Purchase #2. Ha

Kegan said, “you should try this coffee, it’s really good” so I did. And wow… it was like the best coffee I had ever had haha so I asked our waitress what brand of coffee they brew… she didn’t know. So on our way out I stopped at the bar area and asked the people there what they brewed. They pointed to a House Blend black bag with a Taste of Belgium label and told me that they did sell it. But when I asked if that’s what they use in the espresso machine- no that’s this Espresso Roast… also in a big 5 lb bag with a Taste of Belgium label. I asked if they sold that and they said they’d have to go ask the manager. Manager came out and was like …I mean, I can sell you that bag… but it will be expensive and it’s like 5 lbs… yeah. That’s fine, I’ll take it haha

So…. That’s how I ended up carrying a 5lb bag of coffee beans around for the evening 🤣

Our last item for Saturday night was at The Escape Game right next door. This was the last room we had never done that they had… Gold Rush. It was a fun one! Fairly easy on the difficulty level I think because we escaped in about 35 minutes

Sunday we checked out of our hotel and headed right back down to the waterfront to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center- a fantastic museum and cultural center dedicated to telling the story of slavery and the long road to freedom many slaves endured.

They have an actual “slave pen” recovered from a farm in Kentucky where slaves were held in shackles to keep them from running away.
Many exhibits and videos that are well worth a visit and watch. It was a very well done museum.

After we finished there, we headed to the northern suburbs to Blue Ash for our favorite midwestern Dim Sum at Grand Oriental Buffett where we met Kegan’s dad and stepmom for lunch.

It wasn’t their best showing of dim sum options but definitely a solid lunch and something I had been craving for quite a while.

After lunch, we headed over to the American Sign Museum- a quirky little museum dedicated to preserving nostalgic old signage from years passed.

Overall, it’s small but totally worth a stop! Tons of really cool vintage signs, with a history of each type of sign that had popularity over the years

We found ourselves with 2 hours until the Cincinnati Museum of Art closed, so we decided to trek on back downtown and see what we could squeeze in. We definitely did a speed tour and would love to spend more time there in the future.

They had a special exhibit of Georgia O’Keeffe photographs, but none of her famous works that I recognized. Overall we were underwhelmed with the special exhibit but maybe we just didn’t “get it”. That’s always a real possibility.
This was my favorite piece in the museum for a few reasons. This was painted in the 1940s- the height of American patriotism (and rightfully as we needed that to endure World War II and America was sacrificing at home to support the effort abroad) but this artist painted these “smug” daughters of the revolution members standing in front of Washington Crossing the Delaware (a painting painted in Germany by a German) , drinking tea in Chinese teacups, dressed in British fashion, claiming that America is the best. The irony and snark shows through vividly and this being from the 1940s just really seemed beyond it’s time. I thought about this painting and smiled a few times after leaving so I have declared it my favorite because it’s the one that stuck with me.

We were surprised by the volume of works by famous artists like Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Diego Rivera, and even a couple Paul Cézanne paintings- which was cool because I did a research paper on early Cubism in college and I know that he didn’t paint a lot of paintings… he was sort of the bridge between Impressionism and Cubist modern art.

A Picasso I hadn’t seen before- not quite the abstract style we usually think of from Picasso.
I loved this one! Very Ireland. I would have hung this one in my living room. I promise, I’ll take good care of it!

After art museum adventures, it was time for stupid purchases #3 with a trip to Jungle Jim’s for some groceries and fun international items before heading home. Jungle Jim’s is like a theme park for food. Usually, if you are looking for anything, you can find it there.

And even things you weren’t looking for- like an $80 blue ostrich egg from New Mexico lol

We usually look for a French cider that is very similar to one we loved in Normandy, fancy cheeses I’ve never had, some Irish staples like rashers and puddings and Swedish caviar spread for toast, along with more exotic produce like jackfruit, longan berries, trumpet mushrooms, and bok choy. This trip we had to keep it under control on fresh items because we only had three days until we are headed to Disney World! It’s a busy Spring ha.

Overall, a great weekend trip that we all enjoyed! Next trip will likely be Falls of the Ohio, Mammoth Cave and Big Bone Lick (because I have heard they have giant ground sloth fossils! Ha)

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!

Day 9 and 10-Zoo, New Year’s Eve and Wrap Up

Today was an easy day planned because a lot of places were closing early or were closed completely… I wasn’t able to make reservations anywhere I tried over a month ago… so we just decided to play it by ear…and maybe not even do much today but hang out in the hotel room.

We got tickets to the Audubon Zoo out past the Garden District in Audobon Park- famous for its 300 year old Live Oak trees.

They had a lot of REALLY cool animals. I think we are a bit spoiled with the Indy Zoo and Cincy Zoos… and even the Louisville Zoo…. this one was good- and you could tell it has major history and has been here a long time… but some of it felt a little run down. I just hope the animals are healthy and as happy as they can be in a zoo.

Some of the cool animals we saw:

The Roman Chewing Candy cart was open inside the Zoo. Its been an institution for over 100 years at the New Orleans Zoo. The guy running it said that today was the LAST day ever for $1.00 a stick candy. I said, wow- that paint on the cart has been there a long time, when was the last time you raised prices? He said 1986. ha Went from .50/stick to $1.00/stick. January 1, it goes to $1.50 a stick. Pretty cool if Norah ever goes back when she’s old- she can tell her grandkids that she still remembered getting this candy for $1!! ha
and she has the photographic evidence to prove it!

I had made lunch reservations at a place called Superior Seafood on St Charles on the recommendation of a coworker. It wasn’t totally bad… but it wasn’t great either. I know better than to blindly listen to people about my food. ha

We had 1:30 reservations- they immediately sat us outside on the patio instead of asking which we’d prefer… strike one- I hate eating outside lol Maybe its a bit Karen of me…but you ask your reservations what their preference is…you seat your walk-ins where you have space left. Anyway, whatever, not that big of a deal… but now its 1:50 and we still haven’t placed drink orders. Then its 2:10 and we still haven’t placed food orders. Now its 3:15 and we still haven’t got our food yet. lol was the meal that never ends. In the end, an almost 2.5 hour lunch… and Kegan’s meal came so far ahead of mine that he was done almost before mine arrived. And I want to add that his main course- at a seafood restaurant, the Shrimp and Grits, had 5 shrimp on it. ha Ok- thats all 🙂

We got one dozen Charbroiled oysters and I got a dozen raw oysters. When in Rome.
Crawfish Cornbread. Kegan and Norah devoured this. It was very tasty.
Kegan’s shrimp and grits

I messaged my friend Tim to see if he was still around and he was… so we Uber’d straight to his hotel and met him outside. We ended up walking around downtown and looking for a Starbucks to hang out in for a while- the one we found-limited hours- closing at 2pm all week due to short staffing or covid. So..on we walked- found a gelato and espresso shop and popped in there. I got a good strong coffee to hopefully keep me up past midnight.

It was so good to catch up with Tim… but I totally forgot to get a picture of us all! Oh well.

We talked to him until it was time for us to head to our very last Escape Room- Inventor’s Attic at Escape My Room.

It was-hands down-the hardest room we’ve done. I did not have a good time. ha I have no idea how we managed to actually pull it off in the end with 2 minutes to spare. I’m not certain we actually did. ha They may have just been being nice… but they said we made it. They have a super cool machine that vibrates at certain frequencies and displays patterns- but the sand that vibrates into the patterns- there wasn’t enough on the plate to make out the patterns…and adding more sand didn’t actually work- so we probably messed with that for 15 minutes… even asking if anything was wrong with the machine and letting our guide know we couldn’t see the patterns and in the end she did help us ensure we were on the right track… but after the game she says “yeah… we’ve been having tons of trouble with that all week”. and we spend another 5-10 on another piece that “the timing is a little hard sometimes” lol In the end- the room was super hard, very cerebral, the theme was fantastic…. I hate to complain. All the other rooms there were the best anywhere… and the staff are phenomenal. I think I just had a bad and angry day lol I don’t like feeling stupid from equipment malfunction ha Kegan and I both were not on our A game tonight… he missed some basic math stuff, we missed instructions right in front of us… we missed an item literally on a ledge in front of our faces. lol Truth be told, the machine probably wasn’t our only barrier!

We got back to the room, feeling like we failed even though we escaped. ha They said there is only like a 20% success rate on that room. So we just hung out for a while and ordered some pizza and wings from DoorDash so we didn’t have to go out into the craziness that was really picking up downtown.

We stayed in the room, Norah did a Google Meet with an old classmate from her online classes and decided she didn’t want to go down to the ball drop… we were thinking cool! ha

Then about 11pm, she changed her mind. ha So…off we go into the craziness.

It really wasn’t as bad as I expected. Police had traffic blocked off for blocks around Jackson Square…and most people were up on the Moonwalk on the riverfront waiting on the fireworks. We stood on the railroad tracks in between so we could see the Fleur De Lis drop from the Jax brewery roof – the New Orleans equivalent of the Times Square ball drop. The fireworks over the river were very nice and we rang in the New Year with 25,000 of our closest friends.

Norah had this grand idea that she was going to ask all the drunk people around us to yell HAPPY POTATO at midnight. haha I told her if anyone could get it done, it would be her. But I didn’t let her actually ask anyone. lol

So, HAPPY POTATO from the New Orleans McKinney clan. LOL

The sea of people leaving the Jackson Square area was CRAZY. lol Literally filled every street as far as you could see.
But these people had it figured out! They had a guy peddling them around on a lounger! haha

Finally, got Norah wound down and asleep about 1:45am… and told her she was not going to be happy at 8am when I woke her up… but I told her all she had to do was get her butt to the car and she could go back to sleep.

Fast forward to Day 10 and packing up to head out- she cried over brushing her teeth this morning. ha so, its safe to say that she didn’t get enough sleep! ha

Our only plan today was to drive around some neighborhoods in New Orleans in case we decide to get serious about a move somewhere, we’d at least have seen some suburb areas in person… and to make some stops at an area grocery store chain that sells my La Croix Cola flavored sparkling water. ha I cant find it around Indiana anymore- every once in a while at a Big Lots, but that’s it… so when we went to Florida, I looked up where I could buy and we stopped at 3-4 grocery stores there on our way home, too.

So we combined neighborhood viewing with Rouse’s Market LaCroix hunting! Stopped at 7 different locations all around the area. Found about 15 8-packs! That should do me for a bit 🙂

It was interesting to look around and how different the items in the store there where compared to everywhere else. It really is like a whole different country down here.

This was just one section of the freezer case:

If we did move here, I can tell you Kegan would be shopping at Rouses Market! ha He was like “jaw-dropped-open” when he saw this case of dry aged beef lol
They even had Wagyu, tomahawks and other uncommon cuts
I have never had pickled pork, but now I’m intrigued!
Norah saw this cereal and asked if she could have some. Sure…why not? haha Not sure what “spoke” to her about this… but sure thing, kid. It’s yours. Come to find out, this is a new cereal from the rapper Master P- who is from New Orleans- and is quite the entrepreneur…but he decided to sell cereal, because he said that everyone eats cereal…and nobody was making cereal that was the equivalent of the Wheaties box for inner city kids…so, he put his own face on the “Wheaties” box…. and marketed it, with a portion of the profits going back to inner city communities and elderly. He said “no cereal company out there was giving back to people who need it, so I created one that did”. So, after reading that…I’m like, RIGHT ON. ha Turns out, they are only selling Master P cereal in New Orleans at Rouses Market. So, right place, right time. ha

I had planned to go to a new Vietnames restaurant called Kim Ahn’s Noodle House, but when we arrived it was closed. So we decided we’d wait until we got to Hattiesburg and hit that Landshark food truck with the cajun crab boils boxes… but they, too, were closed today according to their Facebook… So… we went with something we knew we loved- we went back to the Dong Phuong Restaurant and Bakery that we hit on our way into the city on Day 1. Such a good decision.

Kegan said he wasn’t in the mood for soup- so he got the short ribs and rice plate. It was outstanding. It was like meat candy. Glazed and charred… i could eat that every day.
I got an iced Vietnamese coffee to hopefully make the 12 hour drive after less than 6 hours of sleep. ha I forgot to photograph the rest, but I got the special Pho with meatball, beef, etc… it was very good.

The highlight though was after our meal, I went next door to the bakery since we had a cooler and ice (Kegan had picked up Andouille sausage at Rouses Market and had it on ice already) and I just asked to get some assorted meat pies and steam buns. The lady was super nice and helped me get an assortment of pies and I saw signs up for their King Cakes. You can only get king cakes in Jan/Feb leading up to Mardi Gras… and the ones from here are super famous for being one of the best.

I asked her “I assume you have to order the king cakes ahead of time?” fully figuring you did… she said Yes, that the shipping had already sold out for the year on Day 1… but if I hurry, she thought there was a few spots left for pickup that would likely sell out soon, too. I told her, that’s OK…we were headed back to Indiana today- maybe next year.

Then…she surprised me. She said “you’re so sweet…” (which- HA. just like Kegan is a pleasure in the mornings) She said “we have a few “rejects” in the back that she didn’t think were good enough to sell…. if you’d want one of those, I can ring you up and meet you outside and give it to you. I can’t give it to you in here because I can’t have any of the other people see it”

So…. that is the story of how I got a back alley reject cream cheese King Cake from Dong Phuong Bakery!!

This thing weighed like 5 lbs. Its sort of a flaky, laminated brioche cinnamon dough with a silky light cream cheese frosting. It was AMAZING! I have no idea what a king cake is supposed to taste like, but I can tell you I see why theirs is famous. That’s for sure.
Assorted meat pies. I cant tell you what they are…but I do know 1 is a crawfish pie
Assorted steam buns- I know the 2 in front are pork, egg and onion….no clue on the others. It will a surprise for breakfast or lunch tomorrow 🙂

We drove straight home with only 2 stops for fuel. Left New Orleans around noon- rolled in about 1am Eastern time- so a 12 hour drive. We crossed Louisville around midnight with the bridge all lit up, thought that looked cool

Have to give credit to Kegan’s mom and step-dad for keeping our dog so we could go on this trip… and to my dad and step-mom for watching our house, the chickens, the cats, the plants, the mail… EVERYTHING else!


Overall takeaway- we loved the city. Had a really great time. Met some cool people, ate some amazing food, experienced a very deep rooted culture and learned way more about New Orleans that I knew before. The weather was fantastic. We only had rain one evening… and it was 80 every day all day. 70 all night. I could definitely get used to that weather, I miss the heat since leaving south Florida.

No future vacations booked right now. Norah has 2 weeks off in March- I may book something last minute, but our plan was to go to Spain… but now with Omicron spreading like wildfire, I’m not sure we want to deal with overseas travel at the moment. Europe takes Covid way more seriously than the US does. Who knows what would be closed, what kind of testing and quarantine rules will be in place… likely better to wait a few more months before heading across the pond on a deadline to return.

This summer we’ll likely do another road trip in June/July… likely this time to New England since Kegan hasn’t ever been up that way. Gotta see if any of those states or cities have relocation potential 🙂

When I have a plan or tickets booked, You’ll get updates here! Until then, thanks for following along with our gypsy caravan!

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