day trip to Louisville: Derby time!

Derby City has a long, illustrious history of horse farms, and of course, the Kentucky Derby, but there’s so much more to the city.  It’s the hometown of the Greatest, Muhammad Ali, Louisville Slugger and great southern eats like Kentucky Fried Chicken. Come on, you know you love those 13 spices.

I only got to drive through this city, but the roadtrip through this part of the country is serene and beautiful.  There’s fields of bluegrass for as far as the eye can see and pastoral scenes of horse farms and billboards advertising bourbon distilleries and caves.  It does not get more southern than this.  If you’re coming from the South, you will pass Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, too.  Louisville sits on the banks of the Ohio river and for that, was/is considered the gateway to the South.  And in fact, if you cross the river, you’ll be in Indiana.

Louisville, even though steeped in Southern history, seems very vibrant and young, maybe in part due to the college atmosphere.  There are a lot of trendy coffeeshops, I really liked Quills and local chain Sunergos.

IMG_7089.JPG

My first must see in the River City was the Muhammad Ali Center, a cultural museum dedicated to Cassius Clay, the man who would become the greatest American boxer of all time.  This center has interactive displays, movies and even a boxing ring.

IMG_7078.JPG

There’s tons of paintings and art featuring him, including this gorgeous piece by LeRoy Neiman.

IMG_7082.JPG

It’s not for profit, and celebrates the life of a man who inspired so many.

IMG_7077.JPG

The center sits on Louisville’s waterfront, which features a large lawn and green area, with playgrounds, paths and an outdoor event venue.

Louisville’s downtown is actually larger than I expected, with the center being the KFC YUM Center, where the Louisville Cardinal NCAA team plays basketball.  You are in Bourbon country, so there is a Woodford Reserve Club in the arena, and just down the street is one of the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail, Evan Williams.

The buildings in the West Main District and Whiskey Row have facades in the cast iron revivalist style, similar to those in SoHo in NYC.  There are tons of art galleries and museums, hotels in this walkable area.  It’s also home to the arts district of Louisville, with the Center of the Performing Arts and Actors Theatre.  Inside the Actors Theatre is MilkWood, one of severeal Top Chef allum Ed Lee’s dining experiences in the city.  I wanted to try this place so badly, but it was closed when I was passing through.  Louisville has a ton of high end dining options: maybe you’ll run into Tom Brady at Decca or the Fat Lamb, you never know.

IMG_7098.JPG

Behind that large gold replica of Michelangelo’s David (not sure the reason for that), lies Proof, a funkily decorated dining room that features everything from catfish dip to bourbon pie.  And of course, they’ve got juleps, which you’ve got to try when you’re in Kentucky.

Just a few blocks down is the Louisville Slugger museum.  You can’t miss it, it’s the one with the 120 foot tall baseball bat in front of it.

IMG_7115.JPGThis museum also serves as an active factory and you can take a 20 minute tour where they show you from start to finish how the bats are made.  Everyone gets a free mini-bat, but just remember not to put it in your carry on if you’re flying (it will be confiscated).  There’s a wall of famous “slugger” autographs and batting cages, of course.  There’s also famous bats that you can hold.  It’s kitschy, but I’m into baseball, so I liked it.

IMG_7130.JPG

This was a super quick trip, but that’s a good starting point to your Derby weekend.  Even though Churchill Downs is the main event, don’t forget to explore the other amazing attractions this city has to offer.

Famous Louisvillians: Muhammad Ali, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lawrence, Hunter S. Thompson, Diane Sawyer, and Rajon Rondo (a motley crew if there ever was one)

Listen to: Nicole Scherzinger, My Morning Jacket, Patty Loveless and Bryson Tiller (Louisville gets more and more interesting as this list goes on)

Souvenirs: umm, Bourbon and a Louisville Sluggers — that should make for a fun night?

Rome if you want to…

IMG_3243.jpg

Rome is a polarizing place.  For some, it represents the peak of romance, beauty and charm. For others, it’s a crowded, tourist-laden nightmare.  I think its real appeal is that it’s both; it’s a city of contradictions.  There is a mix of ancient and modern, sometimes seamless in execution (turning on a busy street and seeing the Parthenon) and others not so much (the futile attempt of expanding the Metro due to delays in the name of archeology). It’s very urban, but yet has simple charms similar to those found in Italy’s most rural countryside villages.  There are so many relics and ruins; it’s often a little overwhelming! But, if you take a step back to enjoy the moment, it’s a city that can leave you breathless.  You will understand why it’s called the Eternal City.

Take a Roman holiday…

Continue reading

3 days in New York

Picture 002.jpg

New Year, New York.  Sometimes I feel it’s a little futile to write a guide of New York.  Obviously there’s a lot to do, see and eat, that you couldn’t possibly cover everything in 3 days or 3 weeks or even 3 years.   The magic of New York is that I find something new every time I’m there, often by just wandering around aimlessly.  It’s the easiest city in the world to do that, you can meander for hours and be entertained by just that simple action.  That’s why I love it so, there’s so much to take in, it keeps the flight of ideas going.

Here are my must sees when I’m in New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made.

Start spreading the news…

Continue reading

4 tres magnifique days in Paris

297399_10100389832070360_1103948_n.jpg

There are not enough adjectives to describe the wonder of Paris.  No one needs a guide to this city, there are a million ways to enjoy it, and the little discoveries down every alleyway are what makes this place special.  You don’t need a ton of money, you don’t even need to see any of the popular tourist attractions.  You could walk around for days and not spend one cent and be content.  It’s all splendor.  The air is different when you arrive in this city of light and magic.  You feel different, you get a new lease on life– nouvelle joie de vivre.

I’ve been all over the world, and there is no city that causes my heart to take flight like Paris.  No city that comes close in terms of architecture and art and food.  It’s the ultimate muse for any travel fantasy, it puts the lust in wanderlust.  There’s a romanticism that cannot be recreated anywhere else; it’s no wonder that Paris salons attracted the best in art and literature to a bohemian lifestyle in the capital city.

To get a true sense of the city, you have to at least spend 4-5 days here.  My first visit more than a decade ago lasted for almost two weeks.  I saw the entire city as a 16 year old, and even though we did not have smart phones back in the dark ages (le horreur), I’ll never forget the moments during that trip.  It started my love affair with France and gets reignited every time I come back. C’est magnifique.

la vie en rose

Continue reading

3 days in Toronto feat. Niagara Falls

IMG_8572.jpg

As far as bucket lists go, Niagara Falls is typically a popular featured destination, for good reason.  I can’t believe I’d never been until now!  It’s one of the most beautiful natural wonders of the world, and it’s right in our own backyard.  *Whispers: the Canadian side is better. Sore-y, not sore-y.

Of all of the places I’ve been in our great neighbor to the north, Canada, I had never made it to the eastern side of the country.  But, with all of my immediate family out of the country for Thanksgiving, no time was better to seize the moment and head across the border to Toronto.  I traded turkey for Tim Hortons, and I regret nothing.

Oh Canada…

Continue reading

how to leave your heart in SF

IMG_4786.jpg

San Francisco is one of the world’s great cities.  Sitting up high on the tip of a Northern California peninsula, it’s natural beauty and cooler climate is as unique as the citizens that inhabit it.  For being such a small area in terms of acreage, SF packs so many things to see and do in every square mile.  There’s no way you can see everything, or afford everything, as it is one of the most expensive places in the world.  But, there’s also many free or affordable things to do as well, which we’re all about.

One visit, one dozen visits are not enough to experience the entirety of “the city,” but this what I like to do on a weekend visiting the city by the Bay.

save me, san francisco

Continue reading

3 days in Seattle

IMG_2410.JPG

Seattle is one of my top five destinations.  The drizzly climate suits me, there’s an abundance of arts, music and food, and it’s just so damn cool.  The people here are hip, tech savvy and seemingly pave the way for the rest of us without caring if we know it or not.  It’s also so close to the effortlessly amazing Vancouver.  I love the Pacific Northwest.

That being said, it’s hard to do a city guide for a few days because there’s just so much to see.  I could probably do a half dozen guides representing each trip I’ve taken here in the past 5 years, and maybe one day I will.  I’m a true believer that you should do the touristy things on your first trip to get them out of the way so that you can start exploring the local vibes of a city, but in Seattle some of their tourist spots are the best and I like to visit them every time I’m in town.

SO much to do, you’ll probably be left sleepless in Seattle…

Continue reading

3 days in Copenhagen

IMG_5164.jpg

I can safely report that there is nothing rotten in the state of Denmark.  In fact, I can certify that Denmark is 100% fresh after spending a few days there (rotten tomatoes reference for us nerds).

Danes are known for their convivial spirit as embodied in the trendy term hygge (pronounced who-guh).  There’s no corresponding English word, but it is approximated to cosiness in life, i.e. drinking hot chocolate with your friends by an open fire with a wool blanket while wearing yoga pants.  Hygge is also personal responsibility: the Danish are have a great deal of respect and care for their homeland and fellow man.  They’re said to be one of the happiest peoples in the world and it’s probably because of this trust and friendliness.  People don’t lock their bikes up. This blew my mind.

I spent a culture, food, art, architectural jam packed three days here, and it left me wanting to go back and experience more of that hygge life.  Read my itinerary and tips after the jump.  Hygge down!

I wanna Dansk with somebody…

Continue reading