My Old Kentucky Home

My skyping home went unanswered for hours, filling me with more and more dread as the hours ticked on. Finally, nearing 8pm in Spain, my sister picked up and spoke the three words I had dreaded from her (besides “The dog’s dead.”): I’m moving away.

Now, I have little to say: I live in a country seemingly halfway around the world and was hours from moving into a 26th Century monastery for a few weeks. I asked where she was going.

“Loo-a-ville.” Wait, as in Kentucky? I hadn’t so much as driven through the place, and now my little sister was going to live there and work as a teacher.

A year later, my mother and I took off, dog in tow, towards Lullville. I expected cowboy boots, country music and a whole lot of fried chicken. After all, this is the South (Interestingly enough, the KFC Yum! Center, a stadium which hosts concerts and sporting events, is the first legible sign after Kentucky welcomes you as you drive over the Ohio River). Strangely enough, Louisville is able to retain its southern flavor while bringing residents cutting-edge art, interesting museums and a whole new meaning to the Bluegrass state.

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Margaret’s residence, the front apartment of a stately house with a brick porch and wrought-iron gate, lies in the Highlands district of Loiusville. Quaint, friendly and central. As I lugged my old desk up the concrete steps to the house, countless joggers and dog walkers offered a warm hello or a hand to help. As frigid Yanks, this was the kind of down-home goodness I wanted.

After a night in, we set out early to a mystery location my sister wanted to take me to. I assumed it would be something totally touristy, as the signs were directing us towards Civil War Battle sites and bourbon distilleries. Instead, she took me to her favorite Louisville attraction: the Zappos Outlet. For someone with just 20 kilos of allowance on her bags back, I went to town, slipping my toots into Badgley Mishka pumps, eyeing satiny eggplant flats that would get no use and scanning boxes looking for deals. I left with three pairs, totaling less than $70, and already thinking what I’d be leaving behind to make bag allowance. As we left the store, I asked the salesperson what would be worth seeing. A Louisville newbie herself, she simply said, “21c is so fun after a few drinks. It’s right on Museum Row, so look for the red penguins.”

Being avid Chicago Cubs fans, my sister and I toured the Louisville Slugger Museum, a must-see for those who love America’s National Pastime. We watched as bats were cut from trunks, sanded and measured for players, dipped in wax and engraved. I was itching to see the gallery the girl has mentioned at Zappos, not listen to an old man speak about thick, wooden sticks.

The Museum Row of Downtown Louisville is just steps from the mighty Ohio, chock-full of quaint coffeehouses, fleur-de-lis homages to the city’s French past and, of course, museums. Following the fleur-de-lis road, 21c’s red penguins popped against a slate grey building. Statues were scattered around the corner where the hotel rests, and we went inside to find a gallery dedicated to modern art about Cuba. The long, white walls of the atrium came alive with sculptures, photography and paintings depicting a modern state. I could have easily had a mint julep and done more wandering, but modern art is clearly not my mother’s thing.

We broke from the tourism for an ice cream cone, pedicure and later dinner at an outdoor eatery far down on River Road. The next morning, Margaret took us to a breakfast spot that reminded me of the hippie communes in Los Caños de Meca back in Spain. Lynn’s Paradise Cafe not only took its dishes to the next creative level, but also the space. Booths and tables stand underneath indoor trees, and the wildly vivid colors kept my eyes moving. Trivia cards, crayons and even plastic dinosaurs littered the table, proving to be entertaining while we waited for coffee and omelette.

But it wouldn’t be Kentucky without the bluegrass, the booze and the horses. Our tour of my sister’s New Kentucky Home had to end with a trip to Churchill Downs to see the Twin Spires of the Kentucky Derby. In the end, we got what we wanted – Southern Hospitality, horses and a whole lot of charm, but Louisville is so much more than that. A place where, like Sevilla, the old can exist with the new.

It feels like home.

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If you go:

Louisville Slugger Museum: Look for the big bat right on Museum Row. Pricey, but you get your very own lil’ Slugger that you can have personalized while you take the 30-minute tour. A must-stop for baseball fanatics. http://www.sluggermuseum.org/visitorguide.aspx

21c: Whimsical, thought-provoking and anything but expected. There’s a swanky bar attached if you’re just interested in a mint julep and a walk through the free galleries. http://www.21chotel.com/hotel/default.aspx

Lynn’s Paradise Cafe: Rumored (well, by my little sister) to be a place where jockeys load up on carbs before race days, Lynn’s is famous. We waited for a table and then waiter for our food, but the helpings were plentiful and so, so good. Sundays and race days have the place full, so think ahead before going on an empty stomach, or call ahead.  http://www.lynnsparadisecafe.com/

Churchill Downs Racetrack: Easily the most notable site in Kentucky, the famous track that saw Barbaro win the Derby and then break his leg hosts about 800 races a season, including “Derby After Dark” contests. Grab your funny hat, tour the incredibly informative museum and listen for three-year old horse hoofbeats. http://www.derbymuseum.org/

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living among pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she wrangles babies at an English Language Academy and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.

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  1. [...] my sister announced she’d be moving to Kentucky, I passed along the news to my Spanish boyfriend. He guffawed (his only way of laughing, really) [...]

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