Birthday Bourbon

I decided to make a new tradition of sorts and make my birthday weekend a staycation weekend. Last year we visited Harrodsburg and Shaker Village and I had such a good time that I couldn’t wait for a repeat. The bourbon industry has been exploding over the past few years and with the weather forecasted as clear sunny skies it made the decision super easy. We pass by signs for the distilleries all the time and this was the day to satiate my curiosity and gawk at the beautiful early summer bluegrass country.

Four Roses

We started the day at Four Roses’ distilling location. They were undergoing construction to double their output capacity so we didn’t get to go inside the distillery itself, but we did get a good video and talk with Paige about the process of making bourbon and the Four Roses history. Four Roses looks a little funny for it’s location… It’s a traditional Spanish mission architecture style. The founder spent some time out west and loved it so much that he brought it back with him. The site is on the National Register of Historic Places, and as a result the expansion must continue the mission style. While they are proud of their architectural history, they’re really all about the bourbon.

In order to be called a bourbon, the liquor must be distilled in the US, and made of at least 51% corn mash. The liquor must be stored in a white oak barrel, and that barrel can only be used once to make bourbon. The bluegrass gets an additional boost because it’s vast bedrock of limestone strips iron from the water, leaving a much smoother taste to the bourbon. Four Roses uses 2 different mash recipes and 5 different yeasts aged in single story warehouses to then meld the flavors. They sell 3 major bottles in the US and we got to taste all 3 and take home our tasting glass! I preferred the Yellow Label, but Jeff goes for the Single Barrel. It’s actually one of his favorite bourbons across the board.

Wild Turkey

Another bourbon we’ve tried recently was a bottle of Russell’s. Turns out it’s made by Wild Turkey and where we made our second stop. It was a pretty stark difference from Four Roses. The grounds were cleared, mowed, and the distilling was a very large and commercial process. They take pride in being the cleanest facility and the entire distilling process is monitored by two men in a control room. They are also the largest facility (under one roof) by volume output. The corn that lasts Wild Turkey a week would take four months for Four Roses to process. Russel’s is one of several bottles Wild Turkey produces as is named for their master distiller Jimmy Russell who has been on the job over 62 years.

Their Russell’s lines aren’t my favorite and most of their stuff is too spicy for me. The extra boldness comes from the high amount of rye they use for their mash, higher than most anywhere. After making it through their 4 most popular, my favorite was their American Honey. It’s much much much sweeter and while I struggle to enjoy bourbon straight, this one makes it super easy.

Woodford Reserve

Another super easy sip was the dessert bourbon from Woodford Reserve. It’s especially good when paired with some dark chocolate, which came in the form of a bourbon ball for the tour. Woodford was the prettiest distillery we visited and the most traditional as far as appearances. Nestled in the hills of Woodford County, the county has more bourbon barrels and horses than residents.  Despite having such a large inventory the operation staff of each of the distilleries was remarkably small, families of 200 or so employees with the tour support groups being by far the largest departments.

After spending such a perfect day on the trail it’s no wonder the bourbon industry is booming in Kentucky. Be sure to come down and experience it yourself! Many will shut down during the summer due to the heat (and notorious humidity) but early summer and spring are great for lush foliage, fall is great for the changing foliage, and even winter is beautiful because the lack of foliage lets you see a bit more scenery. I’d be happy to host anyone any time of year! Come see us soon!

Tioga Falls

Jeff has mentioned hiking Tioga Falls to me several times but we’ve never quite made it up there. This weekend was the day to do it though. We decided to get our butts moving at a decent hour, minimize the forecasted heat and humidity, and make the hike before continuing south to visit his family. It’s a short trail (I believe 1.86 one way), but after a fairly lengthy bike ride the previous night we weren’t looking for anything more rigorous.

The trail follows an old stagecoach road that stretched from Louisville to Nashville. Some of the retaining walls that were built to support the road can still be seen. The wheel paths are still obvious and a much easier walk than the middle rocky ground. I wouldn’t call the path “smooth” by any stretch of the imagination and even when stretching the imagination it’s amazing that anyone ever thought it possible to traverse the area on wooden wheels. We’re both constantly surprised that Kentucky was ever settled. Some areas are rolling hills and great farmland, but it’s some pretty rugged landscape to cross before the gentler areas. We can’t even fathom how thick the area must have been before settlement and population. Few American Indian tribes ever settled the area and instead left it as a sacred hunting ground.

That being said we did make the hike, we did enjoy cooling off in the cold water, we did make it to the car before Jeff’s legs started shaking, and I did successfully carry my pack without discomfort. There’s another trail just over 2 miles that we’ll have to try another day. I could use all the training I can get before my fall trip. Happy trails y’all!

Old Stomping Grounds

It had been many years, but my family went back to some of our old stomping grounds for a weekend trip. We started at Turkey Run with my family, my aunt’s family, and an extra cousin. It was a bit chillier than we expected for the weekend, but manageable. We kept ourselves warm with a canoeing and hiking trip down Sugar Creek and through the canyon of Turkey Run State Park. It’s one of my favorite places to hike because aside from its beauty, there aren’t many hills! At least none on the magnitude that Kentucky usually has. The creek through the park is very gentle with lots of pebble beaches for splashing. In addition to being gentle it’s notoriously shallow for watercraft. Thankfully there had been plenty of rain so no one had to carry their canoe/kayak and we only dragged bottom when we weren’t paying attention to sandbar locations. Some struggled with this significantly more than others. You know who you are.

That night we feasted by the campfire and celebrated a birthday with lots of cupcakes. Of course where there is a fire, you can find me stuffing my face with marshmallows. Thankfully I’d worn myself out and wanted to get to bed more than I wanted to keep eating marshmallows. We’d be doing a lot of walking the next day and I needed some extra z’s.

That next day was trekked west to Newport, Indiana’s annual Hill Climb festival. Every year the town hosts hundreds of antique and vintage cars and blocks off the main highway out of town so each can test their mettle up the steep hill. It’s no issue for today’s cars, but at the time the automobile was first invented and developed, getting up the hill wasn’t an easy task. The entire town is blocked off for the event and streets are lined with either cars on display, or booths selling crafts, car accessories, food, and standard flea market goods. With full bellies and tired feet we made our way back to the campsites for expedited packing and a long venture home.

Staycation

 

Harrodsburg

For the weekend of my birthday and Memorial Day I decided I wanted to celebrate with a staycation (after getting my awesome bike!).  There are a lot of smaller towns in the area famous for one thing or another. Most kids growing up here had school field trips or early family vacations to these locales, but not being a native, I haven’t been to any of them. I still struggle to remember which direction they are and why they’re known. The first city for a visit of this kind was a quick afternoon in Bardstown a few months ago. I had a blast for the day and it was such a laid back easy trip. The destination this time was Harrodsburg and nearby Shaker Village.

Harrodsburg itself is famous for being the first white settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains (part of the larger Appalachian chain). Times being what they were the settlement was a fort, Fort Harrod, and the city now boasts a replica to roughly 2/3 scale across the street from the original site. The current site also has the enshrined cabin where President Lincoln’s parents were married. The fort was never taken but there is a reenactment of a raid in early June. Although the raid is conducted by Indians, none lived in the area at the time. A large swath of Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio were sacred hunting grounds meaning hunting parties traversed the areas for a few weeks at a time, but no permanent settlements existed. Also non existent were sheep!

The fort did not have sheep simply because sheep cannot swim. They are admittedly hard to tend as they are utterly defenseless, but the settlers made their way to the area by boat. Boat may be a generous term, they were mostly canoes carved out at their point of entry. There are stories that some loaded pack horses couldn’t fit through the mountain pass. Needless to say the settlers arrived with few supplies but they found plenty of resources in the surrounding area.

The surrounding area is now the town of Harrodsburg. There are lots of historic buildings noted for their architecture, especially the Beaumont Inn. The park-like property consists of several buildings with rooms and also a tavern and fine dining restaurant. Our timing didn’t work out to eat there but I’ll keep it on the list. Throughout its history and evolution the property grew and served as a spa for the nearby spring, a school, an orphanage, and several reincarnations of a women’s college. It’s a gorgeous property if you’re looking for somewhere to stay and explore the area it would be high on my list.

The rest of the town didn’t have much to offer. The downtown area had a few antique shops and a small local art council with displays. To optimize the mood of my company I bypassed the antique shops and therefore cannot vouch for their quality but the arts council had a few cool pieces. What I can vouch for is the deliciousness of the Olde Bus Station restaurant. We had a pork tenderloin sandwich and fried catfish with sides of coleslaw for lunch and it was hands down some of the best I’ve ever had. They have ice cream and shakes too! Eating out on the deck/patio was the perfect lunch for the day.

 

Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill

The next day we spent at Shaker Village, just east of Harrodsburg. The Shakers were a religious movement with roots in pre-Revolutionary New York but other settlements between here and there. Pleasant Hill near Harrodsburg was the farthest east. They got their name for the enthusiastic way in which they worshiped, with loud singing, dancing, and sometimes convulsions. The site at Harrodsburg was closed as a religious community in 1910, but the site lived on through incarnations as inns, restaurants, and gas stations. It was reopened as its current state in 1961. In fact the main highway between Lexington and Harrodsburg ran smack through the site until something like 1965!

The community focused on a simple life, and believed in taking care of the land as much as their own health. As a result they grew their original settlement from 140 acres up to 5,000 acres of property and over 200 buildings. Pleasant Hill was naturally more agriculturally focused than the communities in the north who are more famously known for their furniture. The Shakers of Pleasant Hill were locally known to provide the highest quality seeds in the area as well as jams and preserves.

Their lifestyle was one focused on optimization, routine, and their strict religious beliefs. Perhaps their most controversial belief was that they were living in the millennium, meaning the last 1000 year reign of humanity because Christ had already come and gone. Following this train of thought, they saw no reason to procreate because there would be no inheritance for families. To encourage this sentiment men and women were rigidly separated, and yet treated as equals, and families ties were dissolved when entering the community. Instead there were dormitories of a sort on site that housed “families” akin to houses of Hogwarts. The dorms were massive houses that contained both sexes, but they were restricted to their respective sides of the house. Buildings that both sexes used even have 2 doors so that men and women are always separated. Women ate on one side of the dining room, men on the other. An elder/eldress and deacon/deaconess resided on each floor to encourage propriety. Men and women could talk to each other, but it was an organized planned event discussing business of the settlement, monitored by elders, and partners were frequently rotated to prevent undue connection. Occasionally connections couldn’t be denied and diaries reveal one person leaving the settlement and a member of the opposite sex soon following. At least they left before they were caught, right?

Both sexes lived in each family house, but each house was a miniature village in its own right with independent orchards, kitchens, chicken coops, wash houses, etc. To maintain the families, lives were run like clockwork with efficiency always at the forefront. Meals were eaten in silence to discourage lingering so that everyone could rotate through the dining rooms in time. Cabinets were often built into the walls or shaped to exactly fit behind an open door, covered cauldrons were reminiscent of crockpots, and kitchens had running water- the first west of the Allegheny mountains and before the White House. Air conditioning was long in coming but the houses were built with central staircases that went straight up to a dormer in the roof. The dormer window could be opened to allow the riding hot air to escape. Ceilings of rooms used for worship or discussions were vaulted to maximize acoustics. Windows were placed directly across from other windows and doors to provide cross circulation of breezes and wind. Walls were built several feet thick to not only support the massive structure but to also regulate the temperatures. Nearly everything was hung on a peg so that floors could regularly be swept. Chairs were hung upside down so that road dust from the open doors (remember the main highway traveled straight down the middle of the town) would settle on the bottom, leaving a clean seat for your bottom!

Generally the Shakers are famous for their Spartan plain lifestyle. When building the Center Family House the “mother colony” denied the request for a front porch, an essential piece of southern architecture, because “there is no time for sitting.” Pillars inspired by the old capital building in Frankfort had been bought in advance and were repurposed in the dining room. Additional flair and inspiration is evidenced in the several interior windows that are fan shaped instead of the traditional square. When the house was built it was the second largest building in the state. It’s freaking huge.

Not only were their homes big, but the doctors also oversaw medicinal gardens the size of several football fields. To prevent rapid spread of illness in what were cozy living conditions (6-8 people per room), those suspected of illness were immediately moved to rooms in the back of the house to provide the maximum distance from the general population. The doctors also had more formal offices and quarters in their own buildings and eventually even had a dentist.

All the careful consideration given to the design of every aspect of life and the dedicated preservation of the land made my little hippie engineering heart so happy. I could have literally skipped around all day. I can imagine that a lot of “backwards” scientists and tinkerers would have found the Shaker lifestyle a welcome refuge and place to safely express revolutionary ideas. Visitors from “The World” stayed separate from the Shakers in a building built for business interactions called “The World” so that the religious community could remain pure of outside influences. If one wished to join to community you were introduced to the lifestyle in a family house of other interested people and given a trial period of several weeks to make a decision. We passed the house on our way to a trai lhead and it was quite a bit farther than the other family houses… I suspect the community still wanted distance until members were fully committed.

Much is known about the Shakers from their vigilant business like journaling about their daily activities. Being able to walk through the restored grounds and know how truly it was restored was awesome. Even the floors and paints are original! The floors would have been covered in rag rugs, but left naturally bare and unstained you’d never realize how old they were. Even awesomer is the site’s dedication to community education and involvement. There are all kinds of activities going on throughout the day, month, and year. Trails are free, river access is cheap, and it’s a stunning area. Side note: we took the palisades river boat tour, and I don’t think it was worth the $20 a piece. A quick hour ride up the river, general commentary on wildlife and average views of the rocks due to tree coverage. Nothing spectacular. I’d easily get an annual pass if I lived just a little closer. Heck, I might next summer anyway. This summer I’m still bopping around too much on weekends, so until the next weekend adventure I will leave you here!

 

Mothers’ Day with Mother Earth

I’m a smidge late in the telling, but for Mothers’ Day we took the trailer out for her maiden voyage and made the short trip to Natural Bridge. Mom had taken Steven and I camping years before, but I barely remembered it and Dad had never been to the Red River Gorge area. With weather finally cooperating it seemed like a perfect trip. There’s a lot more hiking in the gorge, but nowhere for trailers really. There were plenty of trails at the park that I hadn’t hiked so I was none too disappointed. I’ll get to the gorge again and rent a cabin with friends or something. Not many are hardy enough to do tent camping with me ;).

The hardest logistic was what to do with the trailer during the day Saturday. Check in isn’t until 2, but I didn’t want to waste half the day at home when I could be hiking. The parking at the skylift is pretty full on decent days but we lucked out and got there early enough to park the trailer. If we hadn’t I guess we could have left it at the rest stop off the highway… but I don’t know if you’re allowed to leave something unattended like that…

Anyway. Up the skylift we went and I highly recommend taking it up and hiking down. If you’re really up for the challenge you could hike up the mountain, but hiking down is no piece of cake either. Save your energy and take a long trail down. The sky lift is something like the lift down in Gatlinburg. Just a chair with a bar on a motorized pulley system. Not the place for wiggling kids unless you bring ratchet straps to tie them down. It’s a great casual ride straight to the top. The arch itself is 5 minutes down the trail, or you can go along the ridge for more lookout points. Really anywhere will give you a fantastic view. We went at the right time that although things weren’t fresh in bloom, they were still young and lush after recent rains.

On our way down we took the Rock Garden Trail around the ridge then hooked onto Low Gap to drop elevation back down to the parking lot. The ridge trail was long enough that Mom was doubting my abilities to follow the trail. I am admittedly hard of seeing and can get wrapped up in my own world, but I don’t think I’m going to miss a new trail peeling off.The lady at the ticket counter had told her to look out for stairs, those will come right before we turn onto the descent trail. I was thinking along the lines of literal wooden staircases like what track down the other side of the ridge, but what she really meant were teeny step-like carvings into the rock. My big feet barely fit. They necessitated mincing steps on the way down in perfect weather, and it’s not something I’d want to try in wet weather. Unless I had waterproof pants and could scoot my butt down the rock. Maybe then. After hiking our way down, I’m not ever sure I’d want to hike up. I’d have to spend a few hours up top resting before coming back down and by then I might lose all motivation and spring for a skylift ticket again.

Side rant: it is a pet peeve of mine that parks hand out trail maps that have no scale. I’ve underestimated trails a few times and it could get dangerous for someone more ambitious than I. I also hate that they don’t show elevation contours. Especially in mountainous areas! I can hike on flatish terrain 3 times as far as I can on hills! Uggghhh. End rant.

After hiking we came to the real purpose of the trip; scoping out campgrounds and what spots are ideal. Who has shade, space, and easy access? Mark those spots on the map and add them to our records. Now that it’s 2 weeks later I hardly remember what the good spots were, haha. I do remember that several were just not large enough for our trailer, especially if it were busy and parked cars took up a lot of maneuverability space. I’m glad I let Mom and Dad situate us this time. I did terrible at parking it at home, but if I want to go out bad enough I feel like I can handle things. It was surprisingly easy to hook up and clear out the trailer. The worst part was the noise from the AC. I don’t think I could stand it for long during the day, but it certainly drowned out all sound at night. I didn’t hear snoring from Dad or the dog and I think I even missed some pretty severe storms.

All in all it was a fantastic weekend and it served it’s purpose great. I can more or less use the trailer, Mom and Dad worked out a few kinks (like discovering an entirely new water tank we didn’t know existed), and weather more or less held out. That being said, for such a short trip I could have survived in a tent and bypassed the hassle of the camper. I’ll take it on longer and maybe farther trips once I feel brave enough. Until then, back to the city.

Biltmore

Seeing Christmas at Biltmore has been on my bucket list more or less since I discovered it was a thing. I love me a big old chateau and some Christmas overload! My ever faithful travel buddy was more than willing to go with me. I think we may have awoken quite an appetite for travel. I’d been itching to go somewhere for a few months, even if it was somewhere reasonably close. We picked a date and bought our tickets several months in advance anticipating large crowds during school breaks. It’s at least a 4 hour drive for us to get there, but our evening tickets allow for grounds access the following day if we enter on the day of our ticket after 4:30 pm. With this in mind we decided to spend the night in Asheville. We could wander the town Saturday afternoon, see the house that night, and then wrap up anything we missed the following day.

This plan was pretty fluid because we’d gotten several different stories on how reentry worked, but the man at will-call where we picked up Alli’s tickets was exceedingly helpful in his clarification, and even gave us some recommendations on what to do around town, most importantly was the food. Pairing this with some recommendations from a sorority sister, we had us a decent day planned.

Downtown Asheville was quite a shock to both of us. It’s nice, but nothing like what we were expecting. If anyone has been to Berea, Kentucky it reminded us a lot of the artsy vibe there, but Asheville was more like Berea on crack. Downtown is about half the size of Lexington, and jam packed with all kinds of art booths and stores. They also have a lot of great restaurants, which were totally packed all weekend. With so many great places to eat we wanted to avoid chains so we suffered the hour plus waits and super later reservations. We had lunch at the quintessential Asheville restaurant, Tupelo Honey Cafe, before an early check-in at the hotel and a power nap before visiting the estate.

We were repeatedly impressed at how organized and prepared that Biltmore was. The one thing that did annoy us were the roads. For the most part they’re several miles one way, and inconvenient to travel between sites without going all the way back to the entrance. Totally worth any frustration to see the estate at sunset.

Inside it was of course decked out for the season, unfortunately pictures were not allowed. Now I remember why I bought the pictures last time I was there… Anyway! The house had 65 decorated trees and hosted performers (piano, singing, dulcimer, etc) in the main level atrium, and  the second floor living hall. The french styled chateau built by Mr. George Vanderbilt features 255 rooms and 2.4 million cubic feet of space, including a bowling alley, swimming pool, and walk in refrigerators. In order to build such a place they built a rail spur to bring supplies and workers to the site. A village was set up right out the front door to accommodate the army of artisans.

The house was considered state of the art for its time and built to last as evidence by the lack of timber in the roof in order to reduce fire risks. Even the landscaping was state of the art and a foremost example of forestry in the nation. The landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, considered it his last great project (Central Park and Niagara Reservation being earlier in his career). Vanderbilt hired the best of everyone, from farmers, to masons, to carpenters, and chefs. The logistics of running such a house always fascinate me. The basement held a room specifically for rotisserie so that the smoke and humidity would affect other dishes. I could get used to having those kind of resources at my disposal.

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After our tour we wasted some time wandering yet more shops before heading to Antler Village to meet our dinner reservations at Cedric’s Tavern. The tavern is named for the family St. Bernard and features some amazing pub food. Alli and I gorged ourselves again and trudged back to the hotel for some much needed R&R. We had picked up some facial masks from Urban Outfitters earlier that day and literally exhausted ourselves with laughter because we looked so ridiculous.

We spend a few hours Sunday taking a leisurely stroll through Antler Village and an exhibit about the Vanderbilts’ travels and involvement in their community. We were bummed that the winery wasn’t open yet (I guess people frown upon drinking before noon on Sundays??), and didn’t feel like waiting for another hour to eat at the Carriage House Cafe, so we took a stroll through the greenhouses then drive by the house one more time for some daytime photo ops before heading home.

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All in all we called it a good weekend, if a bit tedious with numerous long waits and on the expensive side ($90 for weekend tickets $20ish per small meal). We both agreed that we’d do it again, but not for a few years and probably not the last weekend before Christmas.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Hard to believe, but this was my first day alone on the trip. It was a little weird realizing that when I got back to the hotel, there was no one there. There might be people awake at home, but probably not. I had visited most of the city years before with my mom and cousin but I had a few places that we didn’t see and made those my top priority. Well, second priority. First priority was me, I was getting quite exhausted after 3 weeks of hard travel and very much enjoyed sleeping late. I felt like I was starting to fight off a cold or something as well so I decided to make it a short and easy day by staying in my neighborhood. Lovely enough was a place on my to see list and only a metro stop away; Sacre Coeur or Sacred Heart. Mom visited it on her first trip and insisted that I see it myself.

I do always love to visit churches, palaces, and castles when I travel. I think most of that is because such sites are usually the widest collection of art, history, and architecture in one place. Sacred Heart was another beauty of a church, and a very light one. It’s said Notre Dame is light because of the flying buttresses, but Sacred Heart was light in the sense of brightness. It was definitely the brightest church I have ever visited (maybe National Cathedral in DC is just as god), and had a more midcentury vibe to the decor. The bummer was that you weren’t supposed to take pictures. I snuck one quickly during a service, but was pretty disappointed to see the majority of patrons blatantly ignoring the rule and no curators stopping them. I got some postcards to replace the pictures, but they just don’t scan very well. Sorry.

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After sitting through a mass with a choir of nuns (who sounded decades younger than they apparently were), I walked back outside in search of an art market. Again, no idea where it was, but there were enough people to follow the flow. Speaking of people, let me backtrack a bit.

The area around Sacred Heart was one of the most touristy places we visited, almost as bad as the Louvre, but nowhere near so crowded. There were lots of people and lots of panhandlers, I suspect lots of pickpockets as well. Some may to force buying something on you, but just tell them no. If you ask me, there’s no reason to be nice after telling them once. You will have to be firm or they will keep asking. Be aware.

Anyway! I did find the art market! It’s a few streets left of the church. Along the way are plenty of Cafe’s and mass produced art shops, but keep going and you’ll come to a small square. There are tents for restaurants in the middle and artists set up around the outside selling originals of all styles. They’re not a bad price either. I took my time strolling the neighborhood and then headed back to the hotel for an early evening. I did however need to find food, and what do you know what just a few blocks from the hotel…AU FORUM!!!!!

I totally went back for more magic taco things. The man was very nice and recognized me from a few days ago and asked if I wanted the same. I eagerly smiled and nodded and shortly headed back to my hotel almost skipping. I was so excited to be a bum, watch some TV and eat some epic Asian fusion food. Not so epic was his memory :(. I ended up with the vegetable rice bowl of stuff. It was still very good, but not as divine as those tacos I had my heart set on. Regardless I went to bed full and happy. I had wandered most of the day but never considered myself lost.