My Old Kentucky Home

It’s not Lou-e-ville, it’s Lou-uh-vull.

I found that out very quickly during this weekend’s roadtrip, which took me to Kentucky and Ohio. Four cities + three baseball games + two friends = one happy camper.

Frankfort

One of the best decisions I made all weekend was to avoid major highways on the 340-mile drive from my apartment in Blacksburg to Frankfort, the state capital of Kentucky. No traffic, no exit signs, no monotony. Only gorgeous countryside through the farms, hills, and mountains of southwest Virginia and eastern Kentucky. Charming small towns that have been bypassed since the creation of the Interstate Highway System are delightful to visit. While my time in Pikeville, Mount Sterling, and Georgetown was short, my morning was made by walking around colorful Main Streets, witnessing architecturally stunning county courthouses, and experiencing life quite literally in the slow lane.

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Main Street, Mt. Sterling, KY

My personal quest to visit all 50 state capitol buildings in the United States is going well — I’m at 30 now. I’d been to Frankfort at the end of a spring break roadtrip last year, but it was on the way to my end destination Friday night so I stopped in again. Construction was completed on the current capitol in 1909, and it was done in the Beaux-Arts style that was very common in the US around the turn of the century. The rotunda is dominated by a statue of Abraham Lincoln, who is probably better known as a resident of Illinois but is also claimed by Kentucky, where he spent the first seven years of his life. The Governor’s Mansion is right next door to the capitol, built in the same French Neoclassical style with a beautiful garden out front.

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Interior of the Kentucky State Capitol

Lexington

A scenic drive through horse country took me from Frankfort to Lexington, the home of the University of Kentucky and the second-largest city in the Commonwealth. The campus is sprawling, which is unsurprising given an enrollment that exceeds 30,000 undergraduates and grad students. That large campus and a 100-degree summer afternoon made for some uncomfortable walking — my sweat was sweating. Compared to other major universities I’ve visited lately, UK’s campus was relatively disappointing in terms of its attractiveness and charm. Everybody knows Kentucky for its basketball program, which is a perennial national championship contender, but the fact that Rupp Arena, the world’s largest basketball-specific arena, is (way) off-campus would also have been a turn-off for me as a student.

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Main Building at the University of Kentucky

Lexington itself was not a disappointment, though. A thriving restaurant and bar scene downtown made the dinner hour quite lively, and a few blocks away neighborhoods of elegant Victorian-era homes gave the city some additional character.

I concluded my time in Lexington at a baseball game (of course) where I was on the verge of witnessing history as the Lexington Legends’ starting pitcher had a no-hitter going through the sixth inning. He was pulled for a reliever, though, who promptly served up a long home run to the first Columbia Fireflies hitter he faced. Womp womp.

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Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the Lexington Legends

Louisville

No-hitter over, I headed westward to Louisville. This was homebase for Friday and Saturday night, and I was very excited about this portion of my trip. One of the numerous advantages of studying abroad is having friends scattered across the country, and I was graciously hosted by Anna and Katherine, who I had never met in person but had talked to for several years as they are friends of another Anna I studied with during my time in London.

Friday night brought some of the most captivating people-watching I’ve ever done. We first went to a pool party that we’d heard about and knew would be well-attended, but weren’t sure what the crowd would be like. Suffice it to say that if you didn’t have multiple tattoos, you were in the minority. Some interesting bathing suit choices for guys and girls, some fascinating hair styles, and some questionable activities going on in the pool. We left after an hour and got all kinds of fried food at a local bar. Mozzarella sticks and chicken tenders are never a mistake at 1 AM.

Saturday brought more delicious food and drink, which were essential since the heat index and humidity were stratospheric. Higher than Creed in 1999. Higher than Wiz Khalifa and Snoop on a good day. We started off at Silver Dollar, where I got chilaquiles verdes — tortilla chips with salsa verde, queso cotija, over-easy eggs, sour cream, and shredded chicken. Brunch nachos, basically. From there we moved to another neighborhood bar, where a peaches and cream wheat beer and iced sprinkle doughnut were partnered with competitive Candy Land and Scrabble games. A rum-infused blue raspberry slushie was the perfect way to fight off the afternoon heat at Feast, yet another local establishment. We went separate ways Saturday night, as I went to a Louisville Bats game before joining some other new friends at an Irish bar.

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Love blossoming at Silver Dollar

I was impressed with the different neighborhoods in town, particularly the St. James-Belgravia Historic District within Old Louisville and some of the surrounding blocks a short distance off campus from the University of Louisville. Late 19th-century houses that more closely resemble castles and chateaus mark these residential areas, which maintain their pedestrian-friendly traditions (at least during daylight hours) and provide a nice contrast to a downtown currently in the midst of major construction projects, both expansions and renovations.

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St. James Court Fountain

Cincinnati

Sunday morning came quickly, and after not getting to bed until 4 AM I was thankful for a short drive to Cincinnati. It was my first visit to the Queen City, and I got my steps in for the day by walking back and forth across two bridges over the Ohio River that connect Northern Kentucky to Cincinnati.

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The John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge was the longest of its kind when it was completed in 1866

Gushing fountains and flowers of every color fill the riverfront parks on the Ohio side of the river, just outside Great American Ball Park with a great view of the Cincinnati skyline. I was thrilled to go to my first Major League Baseball game this season as the homestanding Reds easily defeated the Miami Marlins in front of over 20,000 fans. What started as a dreary, rainy day improved steadily as the game went on, and I headed back to Virginia under blue skies and warm sunshine.

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Hello, Cincy!
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Reds get the W!

The blog goes international in August! After another quick stop in Ohio — Columbus and Cuyahoga Valley National Park this time — I’ll be Canada-bound. A wedding in Toronto should make for some memorable adventures, eh? Can’t wait to get back on the road!

Carolina in My Mind

Much has changed since I last blogged about my travels, just over two years ago exactly. New job, new city, a few new life goals. What will always stay the same, however, is my passion for exploration. Places I’ve never been and want to experience for the first time, places I’ve already been and want to visit again, it doesn’t matter. There is so much in the world to see and do and nothing motivates me more than adventure.

Last week I combined the old and the new into a Carolina-themed roadtrip, hitting Raleigh, Columbia, Charleston, Wilmington, the Outer Banks, and Greensboro along the way. I soaked up the sun, consumed history, took in a few baseball games, and even did some work for my university. Have to make the most of your time on the road!

Raleigh

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Couldn’t have said it better myself!

I’d been to Raleigh briefly a couple years ago, just to check out the state capitol building and walk around the campus of NC State University. This was my first extended experience, and I fell in love with the city.

I was there in my capacity as an Admissions Counselor for Radford University, recruiting the best and brightest from North Carolina Governor’s School at an event held locally at Meredith College.

I took advantage of my off time, though, to have one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had at Big Ed’s City Market, located a few blocks from downtown Raleigh in a market area filled with appealing restaurants and charming shops. If the South does one thing well, it’s cuisine in general and breakfast in particular. I had local salty country ham with red eye gravy, two scrambled eggs, homemade buttermilk biscuits, and my personal favorite when down south, grits. Perfect.

From there I indulged another passion by heading to the North Carolina Museum of Art. Their collection was strong in Renaissance and Baroque paintings from Italy and Northern Europe, which are not particularly my area of expertise, but I was thrilled to see some quality examples of American Impressionism. I was hoping to see more Hudson River School works and pieces that depict American expansionism, but the American galleries were largely being renovated. Still, a worthwhile experience, and free!

I also stumbled upon the mural pictured above on the side of a local diner. More than simply striking me with its aesthetic appeal, I thought it was the perfect response to a controversy that made national headlines. When North Carolina’s House of Representatives passed HB2 in March 2016, the law eliminated anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community, legislating that individuals must use restrooms and changing facilities that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate. The mural advocates universal inclusion, and I certainly second that notion.

Columbia

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South Carolina State House

From Raleigh I moved onto Columbia, the capital of South Carolina and home of the Palmetto State’s flagship university, which I had visited on numerous occasions in the past. This time, though, I was on my own and in town primarily to attend a Columbia Firelies baseball game. When I planned this trip, former Heisman Trophy winner and national champion Tim Tebow was still struggling miserably in his transition from the gridiron to the diamond, and Columbia seemed a near certainty to be his home for the entire 2017 season. Imagine my shock, then, when I found out two weeks ago that the ex-University of Florida star had actually been promoted to a higher level of minor league baseball, and I’d be missing him.

No worries, though, because it was still a stadium I’d never been to before, and what better way to spend a Friday night than three hours at the ballpark? Unless it rains, and you’re sitting in the stadium when the game gets cancelled. In that case you go to Carolina Ale House and get beer and French onion soup before going back to your Holiday Inn Express. Good times, good times.

The one positive from this stop was my dinner at Cantina 76, just a few blocks from the capitol. Having been there before, my expectations were high, and it did not disappoint. The best tacos I’ve ever had – chicken pesto, BBQ shrimp, and chicken teriyaki.

Charleston

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Rainbow Row

The most anticipated stop on my roadtrip was Charleston, a place I’d never been but about which I’ve heard nothing but incredible things. After visiting for a full day, I largely echo that sentiment.

I made the short drive from Columbia down to the Low Country on Saturday morning, getting clutch free parking near the Battery, which has protected Charleston’s harbor since the Civil War but is now famous for antebellum and postbellum homes that more resemble Mediterranean villas than any domestic architecture that comes to mind.

I spent the entire morning and afternoon walking around Charleston, beating the stifling heat, humidity, and summertime crowds by ducking in and out of the various high-end stores on King Street. Shout-out to Steve Madden and the 50% off discount I got on my new pair of work shoes.

Charleston is filled with color and character…and also with tourists, especially in the summer. Tourists who walk slowly on narrow sidewalks, fill restaurants, and overwhelm a Colonial-era town not designed to handle the masses that now pour in since every travel guidebook you’ve seen over the past ten years has hyped Charleston as a hidden gem. Not anymore, trust me.

In general, Charleston is a fabulous city. Stunning architecture, roaring fountains, leafy squares, beautiful people, plenty of ways to spend a weekend. This includes going to a Charleston RiverDogs baseball game near the campus of The Citadel and on the banks of the Ashley River. The view pictured below is from the stadium concourse, and it’s one of the finest you’ll get at any sporting venue.

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Beautiful, right?

Wilmington

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Wilmington Riverwalk

After another night in a Holiday Inn Express (racking up those IHG points!), I headed back into North Carolina for a quick stop in Wilmington. Wilmington, the site of filming for so many late ‘90s-early 2000s TV shows and movies, most notably Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill, has captivated me since middle school. Other than visiting the university there once, though, I had never been, and it was about time to change that.

Wilmington has been recognized as having one of America’s best riverfronts, and this coastal city on the Cape Fear River utterly charmed me. I couldn’t stay for long – I had a pressing engagement (cough cough, a baseball game) in rural Kinston later that afternoon before arriving at my aunt’s house at the Outer Banks for the night – but I perused a city market that was established in 1880, walked along the river, and thoroughly enjoyed some quality people-watching.

Outer Banks

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Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

I usually visit my aunt for Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is the perfect time to visit the Outer Banks because the weather is still warm and you’re not overwhelmed by thousands of obnoxious beachgoers from North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland.

Suffice it to say that the prospect of visiting over the July 4 weekend had me panicking, but my time got off to a good start when I struck up the most pleasant conversation with a couple bartenders over a burger and a beer at Lost Colony Brewery in the heart of downtown Manteo, a safe distance away from the holiday crowds flocking to Corolla, Duck, and Nags Head. One of my favorite things to do is talk to strangers. You never know who you will meet, and some of my most interesting encounters come where I’d have least expected them. After finishing dinner and getting an ice cream cone at a nearby establishment, I caught up with my aunt, an elementary school principal who had just returned that same night from her summer vacation in San Francisco.

Early next morning, we drove down to Cape Hatteras – fun fact, Cape Hatteras is the nearest landmass to Bermuda. Hat tip to Wikipedia for that knowledge. The lighthouse at Cape Hatteras has been in use since 1870, when it was absolutely critical for maritime navigators. The large number of ships that ran aground because of shifting sandbars near here led to the area being nicknamed the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” The lighthouse was moved to its present location in 1999 due to erosion and the ocean coming too close to where it had been positioned near the shore. It rises 210 feet above sea level and can be seen from 20 miles away in clear conditions.

Greensboro

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First National Bank Stadium, what a gem!

I left my aunt’s around noon, stopping in the small town of Plymouth to see another lighthouse on my way to Greensboro for the fourth and final baseball game of the trip. I was very excited for this one, knowing that it would be a great atmosphere in a stadium sold out for July 4 festivities, and because the visitors that night were the Asheville Tourists, who I have now seen play over 40 times dating back to my time living there as a summer intern in 2012.

I got goosebumps hearing the national anthem that night, with a crowd of 9,189 singing along to every word. Nothing is more patriotic than hearing the Star-Spangled Banner while enjoying the national pastime, and in that moment, I experienced a surge of ecstasy and contentedness that is rare for my nomadic spirit.

Asheville was manhandled 12-4 by the homestanding Greensboro Grasshoppers, and it rained nonstop for the final three innings. Even with that, there was no place I’d have rather been that night, and it certainly made arriving back home in Blacksburg around 1 AM much more tolerable.

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Roanoke River Maritime Museum and Lighthouse

So another trip down, and another one awaits in a couple weeks. I’ll be headed west this time, to Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky before finishing up in Cincinnati, Ohio. My hope is to be more consistent with blogging moving forward, as the experience of writing is therapeutic for me and allows me to remember all the little things about a trip that I value so incredibly much. Until then.