We’ve covered a lot of ground on our epic USA road trip. So far we’ve been to Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri and Iowa. Most of our time so far has been spent in urban campgrounds. While urban campgrounds aren’t the most scenic, they’ve given us easy access to some amazing cities.
We stayed in the Kentucky Horse Park to explore Lexington. Since we don’t tow a car, we rely on our trusty bicycles and Uber to get around. On our first exploration in Lexington, we rode our bikes about 2 miles from the campground to The Red State BBQ, recommended to us by our son-in-law. The food was delicious, but the bicycle ride was terrifying. The last quarter mile of the bike ride was on an interstate. We didn’t get the feeling that the cars were accustomed to looking out for bikes on the roads. After that, we didn’t take our bikes out of the campground again.
After our harrowing bicycle experience, we decided to take our very first Uber ride to downtown Lexington! Our daughter had suggested that we check out Cheapside. Cheapside is a one-block area where the slave auctions took place for decades up to and during the civil war. We thought Cheapside was just a fun place to go. We had no idea of the historical significance. It was startling and disturbing to imagine the fear and sorrow of the men, women and children who were torn apart from their families and faced an uncertain future that they could not control. Lexington is honest about the history of the Cheapside Slave Auction Block.
The next day we walked through the City and found the Mary Todd Lincoln house. It was eye-opening. I always thought Mrs Lincoln was just plain crazy, based on the historical accounts. But she was actually an educated, intelligent woman with strong opinions when women were expected to be none of the above. I can’t wait to read and learn more about Mary Todd Lincoln.
Our next stop was Louisville, Kentucky. On the short drive to Louisville, we stopped for a tour at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, where they’ve been making Bourbon for more than 200 years. A buffalo trace is the path that the herds of buffalo made as they traveled. Most of the current roads in this area follow an old buffalo trace.
That wasn’t the only thing we learned. If you ever get the chance, stop in for a tour. We took the standard walk-in tour, but they offer more specialized tours that you can book on-line. The good news is that they all end with a tasting. Also, you’ll have an opportunity to buy some of their excellent bourbon. Be sure to purchase the best they have. It will change your opinion of bourbon forever.
The campground in Louisville was actually across the Ohio river in Jeffersonville, Indiana. This was our first real urban camping experience. This RV park had full hook-ups (sewer, water and electric), but lacked any charm. There was no space between the RVs and no good reason to unpack the lawn chairs. But it was an inexpensive Uber ride to downtown Louisville, and we made the most of it.
On our first night out, we dined at Lilly’s Bistro. Inspired by our trip to the distillery, we ordered Bourbon Old Fashions. I can remember my Grandfather drinking Bourbon Old Fashions. I now understand why they were his favorite cocktail. The ambiance at Lilly’s was funky-chic and the food was delicious.
The next day we Ubered back to town. Nick’s bicycle tire was flat, so we dropped the tire off at “The Bike Couriers Bike Shop” to be repaired. We met the owner, Jackie Green. Jackie is a local activist focused on land-use, climate and transportation issues. He’s run for Mayor a number of times! We enjoyed speaking with him.
Downtown Louisville is beautiful and has such a welcoming vibe. The streets are filled with flowers , fountains, art and interesting places to explore. The Louisville Slugger factory tour was a working factory with artifacts spanning the entire length of baseballs history. They explained the differences in the wood, the finish, the weight and diameter and how each baseball player could get exactly the bat that worked for him. After the tour, we picked up the no-longer-flat bicycle tire and headed to the RV to check on Bella and escape the heat. It was HOT!
On our third day, we took the bikes out and crossed the Ohio River to downtown Louisville via the Big Four pedestrian bridge. The bridge is an old railroad bridge that has been converted to pedestrian and bicycle use. It connects Jeffersonville, Indiana to downtown Louisville. While riding over the bridge we enjoyed the classical music that played.
I was pretty excited that we might be able to use the bridge to take Bella on a long walk through Louisville but it was posted “no dogs allowed”. The police were enforcing that rule on the Louisville side of the span. Nick and I enjoyed the view from the bridge as we crossed the impressive Ohio River.
Once across, we quickly found that Louisville is very bike friendly! There were plenty of bike paths, and the drivers seemed very bike aware. This is largely due to the efforts and activism of Jackie Green.
As we biked along the riverfront, we came upon two old paddle-driven riverboats. This is one of the advantages of bicycling. We would never have discovered this in a car or on foot. A steamboat ride is exactly the kind of experience we are looking for on this trip.
Nick purchased tickets on a dinner-cruise on the larger boat and we biked on. The bike path led us to 4th Street Live, a pedestrian area loaded with bars and restaurants. The number of neon signs indicated that this was a place to return to at night. The heat of the day was settling in, so we pedaled back to our RV to chill before our dinner cruise.
That evening we arrived at the dock to board The Belle of Louisville for our dinner cruise. The Belle of Louisville is the oldest operating steamboat in the nation and a National Historic Landmark. It’s one of just two sternwheel riverboats still running on steam. Before boarding, we were entertained by the sounds of the steam powered calliope from the ship.
Upon boarding, we walked up the gangplank and were escorted to our reserved table. Before we knew it the boat was moving. The dining room was nostalgic. A buffet was set up on the dance floor and dinner was served! We could see both sides of the river through the big windows lining the air conditioned dining room. Indiana was on one side and Kentucky on the other. After dinner we moved to the upper decks to enjoy the river breeze and the unobstructed views from the open decks.
After disembarking, we walked up to “4th Street Live” to see the area in its full neon glory. It did not disappoint. There was a party atmosphere on the street and oozing out of all of the bars and restaurants. After a cocktail (Bourbon Old Fashioned, our new favorite) at one of the quieter bars, it was apparent that the bike-ride, boat-ride and heat had done us in. We were not up to a big night out. Thanks to the magic of Uber, within a couple of minutes we were home.
There was one last thing we just had to do in Louisville. There was no way we were going to leave without a visit to Churchill Downs. The Kentucky Derby is a bucket-list event, but on this trip we would have to be satisfied with a regular week-night racing card.
We lived in Saratoga Springs, New York for many years. Saratoga is the home of the oldest thoroughbred race track in the country. It’s an elegant track, nostalgic and old-fashioned. We can’t help but compare other tracks to our beloved Saratoga. Churchill Downs was definitely beautiful, but Saratoga will always be our favorite.
We had a wonderful time in Kentucky. I wish we had been able to explore the eastern part of the state. But that gives us a great excuse to return again someday to see more of Kentucky and to revisit Lexington and Louisville.
Next stop, Nashville!
Lynne, Nick and Bella