Indianapolis, Indiana 4/14 – 4/21

Indianapolis, Indiana:  Population =  853,173 (metropolitan area= 2,336,237), elevation = 715 feet, Average January low temp = 20.5º (4.7 days below 0º), Average July high temp = 85º (18 days over 90º), annual snowfall = 25.9”, annual rainfall = 42.4”

From the rolling hills of Kentucky, to the flat plains of Indiana, we keep tending North for the summer.  Indianapolis is a very large, sprawling city, surrounded by a ring of freeways.  Our next rental is just off the freeway on the Northeast corner of the loop: Castleton.  The distinguishing thing about Castleton seems to be the malls.  The Castleton Mall is a huge enclosed mall, surrounded by strip malls.  You can travel for miles on 86th street and never run out of malls.  Every American franchise is probably represented here.  All the restaurants too.  Good food! You have seen lots of malls so you don’t need photos.

Leaving the Bourbon Trail behind, we find ourselves back on the Craft Beer Trail.  That trail runs most everyplace these days, and Indy is well represented.  There are a great many well stocked breweries and taprooms all around the city.  IPAs are very popular, but there is a great selection of fine Belgians that we enjoyed too.

Whenever we enter a new state, we ask around to find out what the local favorite foods are.  Lobster rolls in Maine, po’boys in Louisiana, hot browns in Kentucky, BBQ in Tennessee.  In Indy it is pork tenderloin sandwiches and sugar cream pie.  We tried one of the reputedly best pork tenderloins in town at Squealers and it was awesome.  The tenderloin was the size of a hubcap, juicy, tender, and flavorful.  The regular sized bun it was served on was comic in comparison.  For the sugar cream pie, we went to kind of a handcraft-y sort of place: Locally Grown Gardens.  Yes, creamy and sugary, with a hint of cinnamon, on a great crust.  Nice!

Giant pork tenderloin with all the fixings and chips.
Sugar cream pie

The most famous site in Indianapolis has to be the Motor Speedway.  This is the 2 1/2 mile long oval that hosts the Indy 500 race.  We visited the museum and were awed by the collection of racers.  They have the first 500 winner, the Marmon Wasp, which won in 1911.  They have racers of every style since then, including some very rare exotics.  From the Museum, you can only see a little of the track.  We were a little disappointed until we realized that that is because the track is so huge.  To see it all, you would need a helicopter.

The Marmon Wasp blistered the track with an average speed of 74.6 mph
The main grandstand is just visible over buildings in the infield. The museum lies within the oval. To get to it, you drive through a tunnel under the track.

Indianapolis is the capitol city of Indiana.  The Capitol building is classic and beautifully decorated.  The dome and the hallways are elegantly decorated in simple classic patterns with tastefully applied colors.  The House and Senate were in session when we visited, but we did manage a peek into the chambers and they appeared to be utilitarian and business-like.

The dome over the rotunda
Hallway to the Senate chambers

Our 23rd president of the USA was Benjamin Harrison.  His Indy home has been nicely preserved and hold many of his actual possessions.  When his term was over, everything was boxed up and delivered here, where it has been carefully stored and maintained.

The home of Benjamin Harrison.
The parlor contains Harrison’s actual possessions
The bed where the president died in his sleep

Probably our biggest surprise in Indy was the Scottish Rite Cathedral.  This is an amazing building built by and for Masons.  I expected the usual cathedral setup: nave, transept, apse, and so on.  This enormous castle of a building has ballrooms, lounges, a cafeteria, and a huge auditorium.  The carved woodwork and marble are beautiful, but it is the glass that really stands out.  Much of the glass here is German art glass.  To make these windows, colored glass is finely ground and painted onto clear glass.  The whole piece is then baked so the glass and colors fuse.  Look closely and you can see the brush strokes, feel the textures.  The rest of the glass is “ordinary” stained glass, but it is also wonderfully realized.

The main entry into the building is dazzling with its cast concrete ceiling decor, its elaborate marble flooring, and the crystal chandelier
Looking up from the floor of the auditorium

The Indianapolis area is a huge metropolitan area.  We spent most of our time out in the suburbs, taking care of tasks that build up while on the road.  Our forays into the city were relatively painless, even considering construction, haphazard one-way streets, and massive numbers of aggressive commuters.  Whatever you are looking for in a big city, they have it.

Next up: Springfield, IL

Bardstown, Kentucky 4/7/17 – 4/14/17

Bardstown, Kentucky:  Population =  11,700, elevation = 646 feet, Climate = same as Louisville, KY, just 41 miles away

Following the Bourbon Trail through Kentucky, we decided we needed to make the pilgrimage to Bardstown.  This is the “Bourbon Capital Of The World”.  There are three distilleries in town and many more nearby.  Many of the local businesses have “Bourbon” in their name.  And it is a pretty nice little town.

Historic City Hall / Visitor’s Center

We started our tour on Heaven Hill.  This is a huge campus where they make several brands of bourbon.  It was not exactly a distillery tour.  Their distilling plants are huge buildings where the public does not usually visit.  We sat with a “Bourbon Professor” who told us about mash bills and oak aging and the history of distilling in Kentucky.  There is a legal definition of bourbon that has to be followed exactly, otherwise it is just whiskey.  He also demonstrated proper bourbon chewing technique and lead us through a fine array of tasty bourbons.

Next on our trail was the 1792 Barton Distillery.  This is a small batch (comparatively) company that only makes a few brands.  This time we did do the walking tour.  We saw the gigantic distilling towers, tucked tightly into a plumber’s nightmare of piping.  We got a peek into a giant rickhouse, where 19,600 barrels of whiskey sleep, waiting for its bottling day.  And, of course, we got to taste the results.

An industrial sized distilling column
Inside the rickhouse it is cool and dim as flavors slowly build. You can smell the “angel’s portion” as it evaporates from the barrels
It takes about three sips to properly taste bourbon. Add a drop or two of water to cool the burn and bring out more flavors.

Given a lovely spring day, we went for a drive though the rolling Kentucky countryside, on the Bluegrass Parkway.  The highway cuts through cliffs, both dark with coal and light with limestone.  It is the limestone filtering the groundwater that makes it iron-free and perfect for whiskey making.  Our stops include the distilleries for Four Roses and Wild Turkey.  Our timing was just right; we missed the walking tours and went right for the tastings.  The Wild Turkey site was probably the prettiest distillery we saw.  The visitor’s center is fresh and new and perched on a bluff overlooking a scenic river valley.

In the gift shop at Four Roses
Wild Turkey comes in many flavors and proofs
The river valley behind Wild Turkey is crossed by old girder bridges for cars and trains

Our last distillery was Willett, right in Bardstown.  This was the most complete tour we had.  Our (very!) talkative hostess ran us through every aspect of the distillery and the family that proudly owns and operates it.  We saw the corn being loaded into the bins, the mash fermenting in the tanks, a small pot distiller working a batch, and finally, a rickhouse.  The rickhouses are cool inside, a steady 60 degrees this time of year.  Which makes it a good place to age country ham.  We saw dozens of hams hanging in the rafters.  This is a family business.

Cooking up the mash
Loading the fermenting tank with the cooked mash
A pot still in action

Just off Stephen Foster Avenue (named for the author of “My Old Kentucky Home”) we found the Oscar Getz Museum Of Whiskey History.  Apparently Oscar was an avid collector who finally donated the whole works for a museum.  Today the displays cover an entire floor of what used to be a boy’s dormitory.  The memorabilia and posters are lots of fun, but the collection of bottles is amazing.  They have everything from the oldest backwoods moonshine jug, to whimsical figurine bottles, to bottles of Pappy Van Winkle’s 23 year old bourbon.

Carrie Nation still gives me nightmares

OK, so enough about Bourbon already.  What is Bardstown like?  The downtown is quaint and historic.  The buildings are made of solid old brick that has been well maintained.  Placing the city hall in the middle of a traffic circle was, to me, a questionable choice, but the town seems to deal with it.  We found beautiful old churches, stately old mansions, cute little cottages, a nice mix of old and new.  Drive out of the city center a little ways and you find all the big box stores that it takes to satisfy the American shopper.  Overall, a very nice town, I would be happy to visit again sometime.

The old Talbott Inn and Tavern was one of the first buildings here
Downtown Bardstown
The wide avenues hold many a fine Southern home
Even the smaller homes have that Southern charm

Next up: Indianapolis, Indiana

Louisville, Kentucky 3/31 – 4/7

Louisville, Kentucky :  Population =  760,026 (metropolitan area= 1,269,702), elevation = 466 feet, Mean January low temp = 34.9º, Mean July high temp = 89.3º (38 days over 90º), annual snowfall = 12.7”, annual rainfall = 44.9”

After spending some time in a cute little town like Paducah, it is somewhat of a culture shock to jump into the heart of a big, sprawling metropolis like Louisville.  Our rental is on a street densely populated by bars, pubs, restaurants, breweries, and assorted small shops.  Big signs over the 4 lanes switch traffic flow to and from downtown for the rush hours.  We are about a 10 minute bus ride from downtown.

Fourth Street Live is a semi-enclosed entertainment district

Kentucky is the birth place for America’s only native spirit, bourbon.  While we were in Paducah, we learned about the Bourbon Trail.  This is a string of distilleries spread across Kentucky that invite the public to stop on by and have a taste.  Louisville lies right in the middle of the trail and has about 10 distilleries, counting Moonshine U, where you can learn how to make it.

Jmi Beam has a tasting room right downtown, but they distill elsewhere
The Experience includes a museum tour and tastings
A big pot of mash bubbles and ferments before going into the still at Evan Williams

Louisville is also home to a multitude of craft breweries; big industrial buildings, intimate little pubs, bustling restaurants, and eclectic hangouts.  And if they don’t make it, they still sell it.  Taprooms are very popular and a wall of 30 or more taps is easy to find.

Another big claim to fame for Louisville is the Louisville Slugger baseball bat.  Those bats are made in the factory right downtown by the river.  We are not really baseball fans ourselves, so we did not visit the factory or the museum.  Wandering the town though, we found many a famous name in baseball along Main Street.

Probably the two biggest minutes in sports is the annual running of the Kentucky Derby.  This is a championship horse race that takes place here in Louisville at the Churchill Downs racetrack on the first Saturday in May.  The race itself comes after a two week festival, capped with the biggest display of fireworks in North America.  We toured the Kentucky Derby Museum, which included a tour of the track, a wealth of horse racing information, a 360 degree theater, and many fun exhibits.  A big part of the Derby is wearing silly hats and they have some great ones on display.

The theater in the Kentucky Derby Museum puts the viewer in the center of an oval with the film clips running completely around

Louisville is not especially famous for their food, although one of Kentucky’s most famous chefs was interred here.  We found lots of good food of all types, styles, and ethnics.  One of our new favorites though, is a dish that was created here in Louisville; the Hot Brown.  It is a simple dish, but the combination of ingredients is perfect.

Meeting the Colonel
Fresh and hot out of the kitchen, still some of the best chicken around
Hot Brown: toast covered in roast turkey, tomato, bacon, mornay sauce, and cheddar, baked until browned.  Yum!

There is a lot to see in Louisville: museums, parks, the river, a multitude of great places to eat and drink.  We asked for another week in our rental, but it was already booked so we have to move on.

Next up: Bardstown, Kentucky

Paducah, Kentucky 3/24 – 3/31

Paducah, Kentucky :  Population =  24,864 (micropolitan area= 98,765), elevation = 341 feet, average January low temp = 25.8º (13 days below freezing), Average July high temp = 89.3º (48 days over 90º), annual snowfall = 9.1”, annual rainfall = 49.8”

After our adventures in Memphis, the plan was to head East to Nashville to see how the Country & Western music scene lives.  Unfortunately, Nashville has been very hard-nosed about AirBnB rentals in the city so rentals are few and very expensive.  We decide to just skip Nashville and move on.  We spread our net wider and found a nice little town to the North with lots of character, Paducah, Kentucky.

The City of Paducah was named after Chief Paduke, pictured here in a massive woodcarving

Paducah is located at the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers, not far from where the Mississippi also joins the Ohio.  When it was officially incorporated as a town in 1830, it was a major port of call for the steamboats traversing the rivers.  When the railroads came through, it became a manufacturing and transportation hub.  The Historic  Downtown retains many of the beautiful old buildings from that era.

There is a lot to do and see in Paducah.  There are two breweries that we found right away, with great beer selections.  One has a good selection of bar food, including fried pepperoni chips.  Why not?  The other has barrels of free peanuts and is next door to a pizza place.  Tough choice.  Unfortunately, we are missing the Beer Fest in June.

Must.. obey…! Make it a dopplebock.

There are even a couple of moonshine distilleries.  Tennessee may be the music state, but Kentucky is the distillery state.  We learned the difference between vodka and moonshine: whiskey and bourbon.  We were also treated to a tour of a distillery, some information on the process, and a distilling museum with fine examples of antique stills.  Did I mention free tastings of all the different liquors, both flavored and plain?  In my limited experience with moonshine, it has tasted mostly like vodka.  Not so down here where this is a recipe and technique handed down from father to son many times over.  The flavor is very distinctive, strong but not harsh; sippin’ liquor.

Moonshine made right!
Butter pecan flavored moonshine runs about 30% alcohol and is a nice dessert drink.
Back in the old days, you might find a rig something like this out in the woods.
This still is a lot more modern and sophisticated

Paducah is the home of the National Quilt Museum.  They even have a Quilt Festival that takes over the town at the end of April and, by all accounts it is a pretty rowdy crew of needle-wielders.  We visited the museum and they are very strict about no photos inside so all I am able to show is a couple of the simple, basic works fro the lobby.  Make no mistake, the quilts inside are intense works of art and patience.  Some of them are the result of years of dedication.

This is a work in progress from a local quilting circle

In January of 1937 Paducah paid the price for being a river city.  Eighteen inches of rain and blocks of ice came together to raise the river ten feet over flood stage and inundate the town.  As a result, the Army Corps of Engineers built a flood wall to protect the city.  Having all that blank wall inspired Robert Dafford, a renowned mural painter.  Now over 50 murals celebrate Paducah’s history along the wall.

Downtown Paducah in the 1950s
The Great Flood of 37
An afternoon at the farmer’s market

We had fun exploring Paducah.  Unfortunately, it was kind of a soggy week, with a few days of wind and rain, so we did not get to see everything we wanted to.  Maybe next time.

Follow this link for more info and a fun video.  Scroll down to the “Signature Experiences” box to start the tour.

Next up: Louisville, Kentucky

Memphis, Tennessee – part 2

In my last blog, I talked about the King of Memphis: Elvis Presley.  Actually there were two Kings here.  Martin Luther King was the second and probably the most influential.  We visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, which includes the Lorraine Motel where MLK was assassinated.  The museum was crowded on a warm Saturday afternoon so the tour was a slow shuffle past the many exhibits detailing the rise of civil rights from the Civil War through Reconstruction through Jim Crow through the Vietnam era.  The displays are gruesome, saddening, sometimes provocative.  As an old white guy from a mostly white suburb in Minnesota, I can only imagine what all of the Southern black people around us are feeling.

The site of Martin Luther King’s assassination is marked with a wreath and memorial
This is the actual bus where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat.
Freedom riders on their way to a demonstration were firebombed and killed in this bus

Our next trip downtown brought us to the Rock and Soul Museum.  This was a fun museum! The audio tour led us through the early days of soul music; workers singing in the fields, gospel singers in church.  Then the start of radio led to recording studios that recorded the singers and musicians that were the roots of American music.  Country, soul, rock, rockabilly, blues.  At several points of the tour, we were presented with the jukeboxes of the era and a list of the songs from that era we could listen to through our headphones.  At each jukebox, the songs got more familiar to us Boomers.  If you grew up in the 50’s or 60s, this is a great place to visit!

Roots rock and blues a century ago
Early recording stars
The classic old Wurlitzer juke box held the music that made us dance
B.B. King’s famous guitar Lucille

After the whirlwind tour of classic Americana music, it was time to go see something more current.  The heart of Memphis is Beale Street.  This is an entertainment district famed far and wide for the music and the food.  These places have bands of all stripes that rock on through the night.  The ends of Beale are blocked off so the middle of the street becomes a party zone with herds of go-cup carrying revelers ambling from one pool of music to the next.  We found an early show, but most of the music and merriment continues long after these geezers have found their beds.

On stage at B.B. King’s Blues Club
These guy were played everything: Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, BB King, Eric Clapton, ZZ Top, and ended with a nice tribute to Chuck Berry

Memphis is probably just as famous for its food as its music.  This is one of the main founts of American barbecue.  Maybe the whole pig is involved, but, for Marylu and me, the proof is in the ribs.  Around here the ribs come either dry or wet, are seasoned spicy hot, and the smoke runs deep.  Sauces tend toward red, sweet, thick, and medium to extra spicy hot.  We hit around six BBQ joints and all were pretty great.

Our favorite was Central ribs dry, with sauce on the side
Half a slab with beans and deviled eggs
Half slab with beans, slaw, and a side of BBQ spaghetti from The Bar-B-Q Shop
Famous but closed the day we were there

Memphis is a great town for music and food and fun to explore.  It is also a big city with big city problems and crime.  Mostly though, it would be the heat in the summer that would keep us from dropping anchor here.  Make it a good winter stopover.

Next up: Paducah, Kentucky

Memphis, Tennessee 3/11/17 – 3/24/17

Memphis, Tennessee:  Population =  653,450 (Metro area = 1,317,314), elevation = 337 feet, average January low temp = 41.2º (43 nights below freezing), Average July high temp = 82.7º (64 days over 90º), annual snowfall = 3.9”, annual rainfall = 53.68”

Memphis is renowned for its music.  The music has evolved from early gospel, soul, country, rock, and blues.  Musicians who got their start here include a Who’s Who of American legends: Jerry Lee Lewis, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, B.B. King, Otis Redding, and many others.  And, of course, The King, Elvis Presley.

Elvis and his family moved to Memphis when he was 13.  When he was 19 he recorded his first music at Sun Records.  Just two years later, in 1956, “Heartbreak Hotel” was released and went to number one on the charts.  The same year, he starred in a movie, “Love Me Tender”.  By 1957 he was apparently very successful, since he gave his parents $100,000 to find a new home with some farmland.  They bought what was to become known as Graceland.

The famous gates to Graceland
The living room has a custom built extra long sofa for the many visitors
The dining room is still used by the Presley family occasionally
Not much of a drinker himself, Elvis kept a well stocked bar for friends
The recreation room featured three TVs so Elvis could watch all 3 networks at once
The jungle room, showing Lisa Marie’s favorite chair and teddy bear
Elvis and his parents lie in a memorial in the back yard

We visiting Graceland was an all day project.  Besides the tour of the mansion and grounds, across Elvis Presley Blvd lies a whole campus of museums.  We skipped the tour of the airplanes, but we did see a lot.  Here are some photos:

A 1973 Stutz Bearcat with custom red leather and gold interior
A wall of gold and platinum: 90 gold, 53 platinum, 25 multi-platinum
Famous for his iconic jumpsuits, this was the last one he wore

Elvis is just one of the musical giants to get started in Memphis.  More on them next week.  And on the other thing Memphis is famous for: barbecue.  Best ribs in the USA?

Next time: more Memphis

Shreveport, Louisiana 3/2/17 – 3/9/17

Shreveport, Louisiana:  Population =  199,311 (Metro area = 441,000), elevation = 144 feet, average January low temp = 36.2º (35 days below freezing), Average July high temp = 93.4º (91 days over 90º), percent sunny days = 63, annual snowfall = 1.4”, annual rainfall = 51.38”

Our plan for the Spring is to gradually work our way back North so that we can spend some quality Summer time in Minnesota.  From Houston our road took us to Shreveport.  It will probably be a while before we see Louisiana again so we want to savor some more good Cajun food.  As it turned out, we hit the jackpot on our first day there.  There are only three breweries in Shreveport and the closest one was Great Raft Brewing.  Loved the barrel-aged Old Mad Joy, a dark lager that weighs in at 10% ABV.  We also loved that the next day was Crawfish Boil day, a fundraiser for the YWCA.  Nuthin sez Cajun like a mess of mudbugs!

A single serving of three pounds of crawfish

After our Mexican adventure, we were due for a few new clothing items.  Shreveport has a nice big, sprawling shopping area on the North side of the river.  Looming over the lesser shops, we found a Bass Pro Shop.  If you have never seen one of these, they are worth a look even if you are not shopping.  They are outfitters for sportsmen; hunters, campers, and fishermen.  The store is huge and decorated with taxidermy displays of game animals, a room sized aquarium of large fish, and various odds and ends of rural-looking stuff.

Guess that is a hunter’s cabin?

The Louisiana State Exhibit Museum in Shreveport is a big round building with a wealth of historical displays.  The dioramas are incredibly detailed and reflect centuries of Louisiana history.  There are also many Civil War artifacts and documents.  My favorite display was the 1921 Bour Davis Touring Car that was built in Shreveport.

Rice farming
Picking cotton, old school
At the farmer’s market

The big draw to Shreveport are the casinos.  I am not really a gambler and I hate the stink of cigarettes, so we did not visit any casinos.  We did visit the R.W. Norton Art Museum.  They have a nice collection of bronze sculptures and oil paintings by Fredrick Remington and many other artists, Civil War firearms collections, WWII enlistment posters, and lots of other interesting items.  Sorry, no photos allowed.  We also visited the “Once In A Millennium Moon” mural downtown.  This is 14 stories tall and covers two sides of the building.

From Shreveport, we traveled on to Little Rock, Arkansas.  This was going to be just a two day stopover on the way to Memphis.  The plan was to see the state capitol and Little Rock has a beauty.  It is based on the building in Washington DC.

State Capitol at Little Rock, AR
The rotunda is simple but elegant
The grand marble staircase to the Senate
The Capitol contains the state Treasury vault. We are inside it, holding $400,000 in cash. OK, I’ll distract them, you stuff some into your purse.

Little Rock is also home to the Clinton Presidential Library.  Exploring the Library is like stepping back in time, to the events of those days.  Looking back, we are reminded of all of the great things Clinton and his Congress did for us back then.

Clinton’s oval office

Gifts to the president

Little Rock surprised us.  There is a lot more to see and do, to eat and drink, than we thought there would be.  Maybe next time around.

Next up: Memphis