Louisville/Lexington, KY: “B” Is For ….

We left Bardstown and all that bourbon, heading to Louisville and even more bourbon. Seriously, these people are bourbon batshit. But we were here for other things that start with B …. starting with a Beautiful Skyline! That’s the Belle of Louisville paddlewheeler in the front — you can cruise the Ohio River and go through the locks. What’s that?! Two lighthouses on top of the skyscrapers on the left? Why oh why are there lighthouses here? Read this to find out!

B is for Boxing

Louisville’s famous son is Muhammad Ali, the humanitarian legend and heavyweight champion. Through a bunch of multimedia and other presentations, the M.A. Center examines his impact on not only the boxing world, but the human world, in particular how he was able to inspire others to do great things for the world.

B is for Buildings

Louisville is a great walking city, and unique in that it is filled with municipalities (Germantown, Uptown, East Louisville, Highlands, Indian Hills, etc) with little to no zoning, so you just might find a bar built inside an old house. Louisville’s largest building is in a cave underneath the city, and it has a zipline inside!  We loved exploring all of the old iron architecture, neighborhoods, parks, and open spaces, especially along the river.

B is for Bridges

There are no RV campgrounds in Louisville proper, so our campground was just five miles across the Ohio River in Clarksville, Indiana, via four Bridges – The Big Four pedestrian-and-bike bridge, the Clark Memorial Bridge leading straight into downtown, the busy I-65 to avoid downtown, and a train bridge. All of these bridges are beautiful from every angle, and the Barges pushing cargo down the river are a sight to see.

B is for Billionaire

We missed the Kentucky Derby by five days, which was fine with me, because during the Derby, B is for Billionaire, which is what you pretty much have to be to afford to attend “the greatest two minutes in sports.” In fact, most racehorses are indeed owned by Saudi royal families, Dubai princes, Japanese syndicates, and a plethora of mega-rich people who have made fortunes in other businesses and keep multi-million dollar racehorses as a hobby.

The Derby Saturday got so crowded, that years ago they added the Oaks on the Friday before. Then THAT got so crowded that they added Thurby (Derby Thursday, get it) and that’s when all the locals go (and you should too) — read more about Thurby in this excellent blog post by Raven and Chickadee.

We were there on Mothers Day (their SECOND biggest day of the year, besides the Derby) and won zero dollars, but put a serious dent in their Mint Julep supply — a cocktail made of bourbon (of course!), sugar syrup, and fresh mint which has been slapped into pungency before being inserted in the drink. It’s not mint-green as you might expect, and you should know that only tourists drink mint juleps outside of Derby day — otherwise, the beverage of choice is an Old Fashioned.

My little hat is called a “fascinator,” which is attached to a headband or clip instead of being a full hat, and it was made for me by the one employee of Churchill Downs in charge of making such millenery. The Derby attendees had decimated her stash, and our small tour group accidentally ended up in the area where she was making more. She offered to let me choose the colors and attachments and so VOILA I was ready for the day, a great excitement because I definitely don’t have a supply of dainty fascinators at-the-ready in our RV.

The sprawling Churchill Downs facility is gorgeous and, of course, steeped in tradition. From the horses, to the hats, to the siren song of the race bugle, a visit here on any day is exciting. All the iconic features were a thrill to see — horses being paraded around the paddock, the track itself, and of course the famous twin spires.

The Kentucky Derby Museum is located right at Churchill Downs, and is a good place to get your hooves wet in the history and legacy of The Derby, the longest continuously-running sporting event in the country, since 1875.

They have interactive activities, exhibits on crowd faves like Secretariat, and an impressive oval track-shaped movie screen. You sit on swiveling barstools and can swing around 360 degrees to see any portion of the movie. It was pretty slick!

B is for Brown

The “Hot Brown” has been served at the beautiful, historic Brown Hotel for about a hundred years. If you’re not from Kentucky, you probably know nothing of a Hot Brown, and when I describe it, you will probably find it strange — but trust me, it’s an iconic dish. They serve 80,000 of them a year right here, not counting all the copycats at other establishments.

It’s Texas toast, layered with succelent turkey, smothered in a dangerously delicious Mornay cream sauce (butter-butter-butter-more butter), garnished with ripe tomato and crunchy bacon, and browned in it’s own baking dish. I include the recipe here in case you wish to try it! (Full disclosure: I preferred the one I ate at The Tavern in Bardstown — less thick on the turkey, less thick on the sauce. Philip disagrees.)

B is for Bats

Louisville Sluggers, to be exact. The Slugger Museum and Factory has been churning them out since 1884, right in the middle of downtown behind the full-scale replica mega-bat — the world’s largest, made of steel weighing 68,000 pounds, and towering 120 feet into the sky. 

The bat art hanging from the ceiling of the Museum was really cool, as were all the activities for baseball aficianados, including handling bats once owned by famous players, posing with lifesize sculptures, and other activities for those who like a deep-dive into America’s favorite pasttime.

The trees are grown in Pennsylvania and the wood arrives in Louisville in sleek, homogenized cubes of wood all ready to be spindled into a bat. They claim to replant as many trees as they cut down, but that’s a lot of trees!

The real fun was watching the wood chips fly in the factory. 32,000 pounds of sawdust is semi-trucked outta here every week — on its way to a local turkey farmer, who uses it for bedding. (Those turkeys don’t know they are on their way to becoming a Hot Brown — don’t tell them.) The 30-minute tour covered all aspects of production, from carving to painting to engraving and more.

Many major-league players come here to supervise the production of their very own MLB bats, and some of them have left their signatures on one of the machines. “Be The Bat” ~ Steve Garvey. Yassss! You can also buy a bat and have it engraved as you wish — order it before your tour, and it’s ready for pickup at the end.

B is for Bluegrass

Kentucky IS the bluegrass state, after all. Alas, after searching high and low and finding nothing even a faint shade of blue, we asked somebody who looked smart and they said that bluegrass has basically been replaced by a better-growing, but worse-sounding, grass called “fescue.” It’s green and lush and pretty, but calling Kentucky the “Fescue State” just doesn’t have much marketing appeal.

B (continues to be) for Bourbon

Bourbon, bourbon everywhere. Angel’s Envy is the local fave distillery, it seems, but places like the bar “Baptized in Bourbon” tell you all you need to know. Art Eatables is the place to go for bourbon-infused chocolates, with a different box for each of the different popular bourbons. In Lexington’s hotspots Warehouse Block district, Crank and Boom, a crazy-good homemade ice cream shopm will make you a boozy bourbon float — honey bourbon ice cream, floating in bourbon. These people are crazy!

People here pronounce stuff in unexpected ways. Louisville is NOT “lew-ee-vill” but rather “lou-vull,” said slow and deep and with a slur. Similarly, our last stop Bardstown was not “Bards-town” like any normal person would assume, but rather “Bard-shtown.” Cue the slur, again. Closer to Lexington, Versailles is not pronounced “Ver-sigh” like the famous European city for which it is named, but rather “Ver-sails.” Perhaps this is all a sly way to distinguish locals from tourists like us. Now that I think about it, maybe it’s all that bourbon and people really are slurring their words.

B is for Bits and Bridles

Horses, horses and more horses. Kentucky is not only “Bourbon Capital of the World,” but “Horse Capital of the World,” which means they are effectively claiming two of the most expensive hobbies. Upon leaving Louisville, we spent a few days in Lexington, which is about 70 miles east and THE heart of Kentucky horse breeding. It’s exactly what you would expect …. rolling hills, pastoral valleys, horses munching their days away, long driveways, picket fences, stately mansions disguised as humble farmhouses, and more than 450 horse farms.

Why here? Well, you’ll have to go back 400 million years for that answer. Deep below the earth in Lexington is an ancient lake bed which over time hardened into Lexington Limestone rock. That limestone leaches valuable minerals into the ground, that comes up as superfood-style grass, which over centuries has produced untold numbers of four-legged superstars and sturdy, strong stock. (It’s also that same limestone which filters the natural spring water which makes Kentucky bourbon so darn tasty.)

Here, we toured the nonprofit Keeneland Race Track, one of the most historic and genteel courses in the world, and the leading auction house in the thoroughbred industry.

Statue honoring Keeneland at Maker’s Mark Distillery in Bardstown

Interestingly, races are only held here for 3 weeks in April and then 3 more weeks in September; Otherwise, it’s a training facility for more than 1,000 equine residents and the multitude of trainers, grooms, and more who tend to their needs. The massive amounts of horse poop generated here are sent to Campbell Soup, who grows mushrooms in it. Think of that next time you’re digging into a bowl of mushroom soup.

Our tour of Keeneland really brought the backside operations of horse breeding, training and racing to life. It was one of our favorite tours thusfar!

Our favorite story involves most horse movies (think: Secretariat, Seabiscuit, etc.) being filmed here. For one of them, they were using real actors in the first few rows of the grandstands, but thousands of inflatable dolls in period clothing as the rest of the spectators. A sudden strong storm came up and tossed those dolls all around the property and across the street on the airport tarmac — they were still picking up “bodies” two days later! Can’t you just picture the scene!

In Lexington, the International Kentucky Horse Park is part museum, part competitve show location, part interactive theme park, all celebrating our relationship with the horse.

They have horse rides, horse trolleys, and shows like the Parade of Breeds, and Hall of Champions, where retired superstars like this guy — Western Dreamer — get to live out a happy existence.

Our campground was located right on the grounds of the Horse Park, which — wouldn’t ya know it — means that if you have a disturbance or a problem and need to call in the police, they are gonna arrive on horseback.

If you prefer your rides on two wheels instead of four hooves, the Legacy Trail (Kentucky’s longest paved multi-use trail) leads right out from the campground toward downtown Lexington.

B is (not) for Duck — oh well

Our unofficial hobby of “Jeep Ducking” continues, with an on-theme surprise here — a horse-shaped duck was left for us! Jeep ducking is where owners of Jeep Wranglers secretly leave rubber duckies for other Jeep Wrangler owners. We got ducked for the first time in 2023 in Florida, when we had no idea what it meant. Now it’s a lot of fun to play this game, whenever we get the opportunity. Our “duck pond,” which is where you display them on the dash of your Jeep, is growing! (The football-textured duck was left on our Jeep on last Superbowl Sunday in Tubac, AZ.)

B is for Back

As in … we will be Back! We were super **lucky** to be under the tender loving care, planning-wise, of our neighbor Cyndi, who is from Louisville, and who loves Louisville.

Cyndi imparted enough “must-do’s” that we could have stayed a month here and not done them all. We will surely be back for more! Louisville was one of the rare “big cities” that we weren’t dying to leave almost as soon as we arrived. It’s a true four-leaf clover, in a world of fescue grass!

To read about other great places to visit in the Bluegrass State, click here.


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