Friday, July 19, 2013

Louisville, Lexington, and other parts of Kentucky

The rain outside reminded me that I never recapped our Kentucky trip over 4th of July.  We headed down to Lousiville, spent a night in Lexington, and then spent the weekend camping in the Red River Gorge.  We came back to Louisville for a night at the end of the trip, and it was an interesting vacation.

We booked the trip because we had a free roundtrip flight on Southwest and it had to be used before the 18th of July.  The only destination available in a way that worked for us was Louisville, and we had been thinking about going there sometime anyway.

Lodging
- Hampton Inn Louisville Airport - nice hotel, super convenient to the airport, pretty close to downtown.  Louisville isn't necessarily a town where you really need to be in the middle of everything that is happening, and staying at the airport is significantly cheaper, so I would recommend this hotel.  The only problem is then you have to rent a car, but if the cost difference is big enough to cover that, you'll be okay.

-Hilton Lexington Downtown - this was a really nice hotel, although no free breakfast (but sometimes it's nice to go out for breakfast).  It was very close to where the fireworks were (we were in Lexington for the 4th) and very close to a bunch of gastropub type restaurants with yummy looking menus.

-Marriott Springhill Suites - If you are going to stay in downtown Lexington, this hotel is located pretty easy walking distance to the downtown park and the downtown working area.  It was a pretty easy walk to the river and was on the public transit rout.

-Natural Bridge Campground - this was a pretty good campground, but we stayed at site A-20 and it turned out we were right in the drainage canal for the entire rest of the campground, which became very obvious once it was pouring rain (which it did for most of the trip) so we actually had to unstake the tent and move it to higher ground.  We wound up leaving early to go back to Louisville just because the weather was so awful.

Dining
-Against the Grain Brewery (Louisville) - we really liked this place.  The beer cheese dip was excellent.  The bbq seitan wings were okay, and it's so cool to see vegan food on the menu.  Their drinks were very good.
-Eiderdown (Louisville) - the pretzel sticks here were great, decent beer/wine selection although no cider on tap.  Not as much tasty German wine as I was hoping for.
-Bluegrass Brewing Co. (Louisville) - tasty beverages, extensive tap menu, and really good sandwiches.
-The Village Idiot (Lexington) - this place was great.  I got the spring pea ravioli. Their menu seemed pretty seasonal, and they had an extensive beer selection.
-Doodles (Lexington) - we went here for breakfast.  It was amazing, and a fun little place, and the walk there was a nice walk through a cute neighborhood.
-El Camino Real 4 (Winchester, KY) - this place was gross, do not eat here.  Ever. The food was bland and even the Margaritas were totally tasteless.
-Miguels Pizza (Red River Gorge) - this place is a popular pizza spot in the gorge, and while I can see why, I wasn't terribly impressed.  The pizza was okay and the collegial atmosphere was nice - I would certainly camp here, but it was lacking in something.
-Red River Rockhouse (Red River Gorge) - had we known how awesome this place was in the beginning, I think we would have eaten at least four meals here.  They had board games, their homemade veggie burger was fantastic, they had other local fresh seasonal foods, the whole place felt cozy.  Highly recommend.

Drinking
-Buffalo Trace Distillery Tour (between Louisville and Lexington) - we are not bourbon people, but the tour was actually interesting.  You get free tasting at the end but the bourbon balls were the best part.
-West Sixth Brewing (Lexington) - any brewery that brews their own soda is a-ok by me.  They had pomegranate ginger ale. M. really liked their Amber ale and we had a really pleasant time there.
-Toasted Barrel (Lexington) - this place was a dive bar near where they did the fireworks.  The drinks were cheap, but it was pretty empty and just okay. If you are looking for a good spot to watch the fireworks from, they were a nice dry place, but otherwise, I'd skip this in favor of another bar.
-Country Boy Brewing (Lexington) - M. really liked this place, and I was just happy to be outside in the sunshine away from the rain that pounded on us in the gorge.
-Grimes Mill Winery (Lexington) - I really liked this place.  It was $5 for a tasting with 3 wines and you got to keep the glass, which I thought was steep but the tastings were pretty big - much bigger than standard tastings.  Be sure to look at the map on the website for directions, because the Google Map ones are wrong.
They had friendly horses at Grimes Mill.

-Talon Winery (Lexington) - I would pick Grimes Mill over this one.  Talon didn't anticipate that people would come by on the 5th, and they were just slammed.  We waited 30 minutes for their tasting, and then it took forever to actually get all of the wines we wanted to try.  Based on the reviews, they are not better organized when they have more staff.

Things to Do:
(Something you should know about Louisville: they close a LOT of stuff on the 4th of July.  I was surprised by this because I assumed people would come downtown on the 4th so stuff would be open. I was wrong.)
-Red River Gorge - the Gorge is really cool.  But if you have been there for three straight days of rain, it washes out.  By Sunday, the hiking trails were impassable at parts because of how much the creeks had overflowed, everything was slick, muddy, and possibly hazardous, and we were just tired.

There seriously was a trail there.  We couldn't find it.
 We managed to mostly hike in between torrential downpours, and we spent a lot of time driving the park loop and hit the visitor center and a number of overlooks.  It's all very cool and pretty, but I think you need to have good weather to spend more than 2 days at the Gorge.

-Shakespeare in the Park - we saw Twelfth Night in Louisville's Central Park by the Kentucky Shakespeare Co. It was free and well done, so no complaints.
-Walking in Louisville - we walked from Museum Row to Waterfront Park and back our first day, in the rain, which got somewhat dreary after awhile.
-21c Hotel and Museum - this was a free museum, and it was pretty cool.  It was mostly art, which is not appealing to me, especially not modern art, but some of the photography and artists they had on display were really cool, and they have these puffer things that we watched for a good 10-20 minutes.
There were three, and they would send out a puff of air at different intervals.  Fascinating.
-Big Four Bridge - this is a passenger bridge and it connects Louisville to Indiana across the river.  I mainly wanted to walk it because I thought it was cool to walk over the river to another state.  Watching the river after 4 days of downpouring rain was interesting as well.
The Big Four Bridge.


Overall, I recommend Louisville and Lexington as a long weekend destination, and I definitely recommend spending some time at Red River Gorge - it's beautiful and not too far away.  I think renting a car in Louisville was a good idea, and Lexington was definitely worth a stop.  Driving through horse country was also fun, at least for the first hour or so.

Anyone else have recommendations for Louisville, Lexington, and any other fun places in Kentucky?  Any other favorite restaurants?

2 comments:

  1. I thought about you guys that weekend and wondered how the weather would affect your camping trip. :/ Glad to hear that it was an overall good time, though!

    We went to Louisville for a weekend last fall and had a blast. We got a great deal on a fancy historic hotel from hotwire (http://www.brownhotel.com), which was fun treat. We ordered room service one night, so we could try the famous "Hot Brown" sandwich and also the derby pie. There was also a fancy-shmancy wedding reception going on in one of the ballrooms and we nosily walked by a few times. This place was one of our favorites for breakfast: http://www.toastonmarket.com, though there were other places that sounded good that we didn't make it to (http://www.wildeggs.com, http://www.hillbillytea.com). That whole area (NULU http://nulueastmarket.com) is very fun to walk around - just a few blocks that have been revitalized, but some very cool stores and restaurants, including http://www.garageonmarket.com and http://www.muthscandy.com.

    We also stopped in the 21c Museum Hotel (I really enjoy modern art). Did you use the restrooms? We got a kick out of the fact that you could see the people on the other side (esp. as we discovered this by accident... B said the men's room was even freakier, since the window/mirror was right over the urinals!), the "puffer" piece, and the falling letters by the elevators, especially... also really liked the "tornado" piece that spanned two floors (just looked it up - Wheel of Fortune" by Anne Peabody).

    We didn't do any of the Bourbon-related tours, but we did spend a long afternoon walking up and down Bardstown Rd. (http://www.thehighlandsoflouisville.com), lots of fun shops. Favs: http://heinebroscoffee.com (the one attached to a bookstore) and a vintage/hipster-y store that had an '80s video game that you could play. :) Would totally go back and visit Louisville again... we've also talked about renting a cabin at Red River Gorge someday, too (and maybe going zip lining: http://www.redrivergorgezipline.com).

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  2. LOL, sorry for all the links! Just had a bunch saved from all the research I did before our trip last year (researching vacations to death is one of my specialities ;)).

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