Our Fantastic Journey – Day 2

Day 2: Nashville, TN

We got up very early so that we could eat at The Loveless Café. You may recognize the name from several television shows. Most notable, probably, was the “Throwdown” Bobby Flay had with Carol Fay “The Biscuit Lady.” We had made up our minds that The Loveless was going to be on our itinerary after watching this show. Carol Fay was such a charmer! I really looked forward to watching her during our visit.

Sadly, this was not to be. Carol Fay passed away quite suddenly in early April. So, I could eat the wonderful biscuits (previously, lovingly made by Carol Fay) that were now being made with care and reverence by one of her “disciples,” and some of the best jams I ever tasted. Those HAD been made and jarred by Carol Fay in past years. I knew, immediately, that I would have to buy some of those wonderful concoctions and bring them home.

After a stop in the Loveless store for t-shirts, mugs, and – of course – JAM, we were on our way back to the hotel to drop off our goodies. Seems we probably should have just gone directly to, but we wanted to pick up materials for, The Hermitage (Andrew Jackson’s home). Wouldn’t you know, Betty took us right back to The Hermitage which was on the way to The Loveless.

 The Hermitage is beautiful. The household furnishings, photos, carriages, implements, and other exhibit items were all very well set up. I learned a lot about the Jacksonian presidency and the history of those times. However, I’ve always been more interested in the physical plant (the landscape and lay of the land) when visiting historic locations. I get more out of seeing the trees, gardens, barns, sheds, pump houses, and slave quarters than I do from exhibits and home furnishings (although learning that the Odyssey mural on the upstairs walls was a teaching tool was really cool). Those who have taken on the extreme chore of restoring and caring for this important, historic, landmark have done a tremendous job. They were having to deal with the flooding that brought such devastation throughout the Nashville area. Pumps were going, and a few of the outbuilding were closed, but all-in-all, it was a peaceful, beautiful and fascinating place to visit.

Our final sightseeing stop for the day was at the Tennessee State Museum. We just beat a pretty big storm. We had heard about this museum from some really nice people we met at Jim Beam. They told us that the museum was definitely worth the visit, and with Monday being Memorial Day, we knew we’d have to take in as much of it as we could on Sunday.

There’s a whole lot of walking involved, and I must admit I was pretty walked out, but it’s definitely someplace I’d like to go to again – with more time. Admission is free and there’s plentiful parking.

The highlights of the museum for me were actual belongings of Daniel Boone and the bench built by Davy Crockett. There were lots of early, native-American artifacts that I barely did justice to, and we virtually zoomed through the materials from the War Between The States. Again, this is someplace I’d like to visit often to really take in the different areas.

Early dinner at Caney Fork Restaurant was fun. The restaurant was on Music Row, but it was just high enough that the water didn’t reach there during the flood. They have really big catfish swimming around in the water feature inside. Would you believe that those fish actually BEG? We were warned not to feed them and complied, but it was more than a little disquieting to see a fish beg.

We headed back to the hotel and a well-earned night’s rest.

Our Fantastic Journey – May 29 – June 5, 2010

Fantastic is was! We travelled to Enterprise, AL for our adorable niece Caitlin’s high school graduation. We made several stops along the way and had a thoroughly enjoyable time.

 Day 1: Brighton to Nashville, TN

 We left early in the morning. Instead of taking I-75 through Ohio, we decided to take I-94 west to I-69 and head south past Indianapolis. This might have backfired on us terribly as it was the weekend of the Indy 500, but we lucked out and traffic wasn’t bad at all.

Our first real stop was at the Joe Huber Vineyard in extreme south Indiana (just across from the KY state line). We had intended to eat at the Joe Huber Restaurant, but the crowds were outrageous. Instead, we made a quick trip to the Vineyard to pick up a bottle of sparkling wine and a bottle of Huber brandy and high-tailed it out of there. I must say, though, that I had not remembered how beautiful that part of Indiana was. The Huber compound is in a very hilly part of the state. I hadn’t remembered that from the last time we were there (I think it was in 1987). The Hubers are doing very well for themselves as they have a little empire now. Back in ’87, it was just the vineyard and some pick your own vegetables and fruit. We found out the reason for all the crowds was that it was Strawberry Festival, and that is apparently a huge deal for the surrounding area.

 So, how many are asking why on earth we went through all this? Why was it so important to get “HUBER” wine. No, it’s not one of the top wines of the world (although it’s quite good – much improved over 22 years). Well, my maiden name is Huber and it’s Caitlin Huber (my brother’s daughter) whose graduation we were traveling to attend. I also had an Uncle Joe Huber (and within my family of cousins there are at least 4 or 5 other Joe Hubers).

Our next stop was at the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, KY. We took the tour of the home. While our guide was going over the family history and pointing out some of the interesting items in the front room, there was a loud knock on the front door. She went to tell whoever was there that they’d have to take the next tour. Funny thing, there was no one there. So, our guide went back into her talk. Once again, there was a knocking on the front door. Again, no one there. This time, the guide had a rather pale appearance and was visibly shaken. She told us that she had been told that there was a <whisper> “ghost,” but she had never had any experience. We all said – almost in unison – “until NOW.” I’d been feeling that there was something a little “off” ever since we’d been ushered into the other parlor for the movie. I kept feeling as though someone was standing over my shoulder. I was sitting in the back of the room, so there really couldn’t have been anyone (of this world) standing there without me seeing them. It wasn’t a scary or bad feeling at all. It was just that there was someone else there. None of us (that I know of) ever saw anything, but there was no mistaking the knocking on the door. Sure didn’t stop us from getting our free tastings of Red Stag and Bookers over in the tasting/sales room.

 Red Stag is the newest rollout from Beam. It’s got black cherry in it. Neither Jim or I much cared for it, but I thought of the kid that I’d been communicating with on Fat Freddy’s Blog who wondered which bourbon he should try but he mixes everything with Dr. Pepper (sorry – YUCK!) Bookers, on the other hand, is at least 127 proof (68.5% alcohol) and is as easy to drink as one could possibly imagine. Of course, it’s to be sipped very prudently. Jim and I both decided that we are going to have to invest in some (but decided to wait until after the trip as it’s pretty pricey and we wanted to make certain we didn’t overspend). So, we purchased a bottle of Basil Haydens, some cool glassware, a couple of hats, and various gifty-type things. There are those on blogs who have said that Red Stag is good in baking. Probably is! I think I might use it as a baste for pork or venison on the grill.

 Our next stop was Elizabethtown, KY. Again, this isn’t the normal-type stop for most people on their way to Nashville, TN. Elizabethtown is only really important to those in the Army (Ft. Knox is nearby), those who are fans of the movie (Orlando Bloom, Paula Dean, etc.), or to those who spent the first days of their lives there – like me. The last time I was in E’town I think I was 16 and the family was only there for a short time. We had visited Ft. Knox and the Patton museum. I hadn’t remembered that the area around E’town was as beautiful as it is. Of course, it’s Kentucky, so it follows that it’s pretty.

 We stopped in town to finally get something to eat. The restaurant was a converted old building. The décor was great and the people were wonderful. The food – not so much. I will say that the fried green tomatoes and the frickles were pretty darned good, though. Then we were off again.

Our final stop <PHEW!> on a busy day was the hotel in Nashville. The hotel (Alexa) was adequate. The location was excellent – easy access to everywhere. The only drawback was that the room was rather tattered and exceedingly small for a king room. It was clean, mind you, just needed refurbishing. The seat of the desk chair was losing its “leather,” and the rug had been ironed on several times (melting the rug in the shape of an iron). It had one very slow elevator (and, naturally, we were on the top floor) and no interior stairs.

After a quick, light dinner at the Mexican restaurant just up the street (was tickled to see the waiters feeding stale tortilla chips out the back door to the local mallard duck population), we headed for the room for the night. We took a few minutes to plan our next day, and then were asleep at the flick of the switch (think I was out before the light left the bulb).

Let me take a moment to praise “Betty” our GPS. I would never have known how incredibly valuable one is until this trip. Anywhere we wanted to go, she took us there with no problems. As long as we programmed the right address into her, we were directed quite easily. I know it would have been a much more difficult trip without “her.”

Our Fantastic Journey – Last Day

Day 7: Louisville – Home

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have been, am now, and will always be crazy about horses. I don’t know if part of it’s because I was born in Kentucky, or if it goes further into my genes. (One of my far-back ancestors was known in Ireland as a “horse-witch.”) No matter why, I am completely drawn to horses like a moth to a flame. So, going to the Kentucky Derby Museum was a part of the trip that I was anticipating with great joy.

The museum had sustained a great deal of damage in a flood last year. I was anxious to see how the restoration had gone. I must say, that if you didn’t know that they had been shut down for months and had lost some of their treasures, you would never know that they had missed a beat. Even more importantly, their new “racehorse in residence” is my personal favorite from the past several years – Perfect Drift! Perfect Drift is a son (like Barbaro) of Dynaformer (who we bred our mare to on two occasions with no resulting foal – long story).

As we arrived at the museum at around 6:45 a.m. (we had called to reserve seats on the barns and backyard tour), I was greeted by a magnificent sight – the amazing Alexa King statue of Barbaro in full flight. It is an incredibly heroic statue of the best horse to look through a bridle since Secretariat (in my humble opinion). I guess you can tell that I am a huge fan of the great horse and tears immediately sprung to my eyes. His wrenching, premature death still hurts, and knowing that his ashes are entombed under this great memorial made it even more awe-inspiring.

 The one thing that we found that still needs some work at the Derby Museum is the coordination of tours. We arrived in plenty of time for the 7 a.m. (earliest) barn tour, but there was no one there. We went from door to door trying to find out if the tour was, indeed, going. We’d just about given up all hope, when a really nice, young woman asked if we were supposed to go on the tour.

What a tour it was! Of course, we had to stay within the vehicle except for a planned rail visit for morning works. As we drove by Steve Asmussen’s barn, I happened to spy a remarkable sight. Walking through the shedrow was the great, 2009 Horse of the Year – Rachel Alexandra! As you can see in the photo I was able to snap as I dove through the window of the van, this 4-year-old filly is a very distinctive-looking animal! She is massive! That marking on her face is also diagnostic. Even at the distance we were at, you could feel an amazing presence. She absolutely knows that she is all that and more. It really helped that there was a photographer taking photos, so the hotwalker was slowing down and actually stopping. I was shocked that we had really gotten an amazing opportunity to see this spectacular horse. The photographer smiled at me and asked if I’d gotten a photo. I told her that I thought I had a couple that were pretty good.

 The next stop after that was the rail visit. The funny thing was that we were actually schooling the guide as much as she was us. We have the insights as being former owners and breeders. She asked us so many questions and was really happy to be able to learn about a facet of the industry that she knew nothing about. While we were there taking in the beauty, sights, and sounds of morning works. We saw D. Wayne Lukas leaving the track on his “pony.” I had hoped that we might see 2009 Kentucky Derby winner, Mine that Bird, work on the track. (He’d just moved to Lukas’ barn.) We didn’t see him, but saw some gorgeous horses from Lukas’ and Pletcher’s barns.

 Then it was back to the museum and as we arrived, “my horse” – Perfect Drift – was being led to his enclosure. We got several good photos both on lead and while he was getting his bath. It’s almost impossible to explain, but he and I developed something of a bond. It’s funny how some horses will take to some people – even biters like Drift. He kept coming over to the fence (away from his food which is really unusual). I guess he knew he had a real admirer. I developed a huge lump in my throat. I really wanted to go over and rub on his head and neck (they, wisely, have a double-fence between Drift and the public), but knew that this would be frowned on hugely by the folks at the museum. Again, I can’t explain it, but I know he wouldn’t have bitten me and he would have enjoyed the attention as much as I would have enjoyed giving the attention.

 I might have even chanced it, at that, but there were three other people (other than Jim – who would have been mortified) standing there. I guess I gave them a real schooling in the virtues of Perfect Drift. I told them about his races and his strength to race for many years. They asked intelligent questions about why a horse that had won so much money wasn’t at a stud barn. I explained about geldings and that Drift may not have been the racer he was without being gelded and that, at the time he was gelded, the industry (except me and a few others) wasn’t aware that Dynaformer would turn out to be the sire he is OR that Drift would win $5 million!

After Jim dragged me away from Drift, we went in and saw more of the museum, but that was all secondary. We’d seen most of the exhibits in an earlier trip and Jim was really getting tired. It was time to go.

We’d planned to stay at Churchill for the races (it was Belmont day), but the trip had been long and had started to take it’s toll on poor Jim. We decided that we just weren’t up to the crowds and we missed our “kids.” So, we decided to leave a day early and head for home. The hotel was really good about the early checkout (of course, we’d prepaid so they wouldn’t lose money), and they even told us that we beat the checkout time and they would tell Travelocity to refund one night’s stay (which, by the way, Travelocity has yet to do).

A word here about Travelocity… Don’t use them! Their customer service is abysmal! They may have really cute commercials, but they should use some of that budget and hire people who know what they are doing, and – even more importantly – have some concern for their customers.

We got home in plenty of time to pick up our dogs and bring them home. After a week and (roughly) 2300 miles – Jim driving the whole way, we were home in time to have a nice, quiet Sunday and recuperate before heading back to work. It was a great trip, and got to do just about everything we set out to do. It’s not often that you can come home from travelling and say that!

Our Fantastic Journey – Day 6

Day 6: Enterprise to Louisville

We had hoped to be able to stop at Maker’s Mark distillery on the way to Louisville. Unfortunately, this was not to be as we got stuck for several hours sitting stock still on the highway just a few miles from the exit (glad we weren’t IN the accident). So, we decided that this would have to wait until our next trip to Kentucky.

Our hotel was, once again, in a very good location. The Best Western was the nicest place we stayed in. We will probably use it again in the future. It was especially close to Churchill Downs and allowed for easy access to highways.

Another great find in Louisville was Flanagan’s Ale House. It’s a great little restaurant that features over 150 beers. They have a fun menu, good specials, delicious food, and great service. We’ve decided that this will be a regular stop on our future trips to Louisville.

Our Fantastic Journey – Day 5

Day 5: Enterprise, AL

Cait’s class was the only class at Enterprise High School to never have had a physical building for a school. Enterprise High School was destroyed by an EF4 tornado in 2007.

They had attended some classes at the Community College and other classes elsewhere. It’s remarkable that so many opted to continue with Enterprise High when they could have attended other schools who had been unaffected by the storm. These kids had to have a real drive and showed a sense of community that is rare in this day and age. Appropriately, they were the last class to be allowed to hold their graduation ceremonies in “The Hole.” The Hole is the stadium of the previous school. Since it was a dug-out stadium, the tornado had not destroyed it other than tearing some of the metal seat stripping out and depositing in the trees. Those trees still standing, still have pieces of the school and the stadium stuck in them. It’s an eerie sight.

There were all kinds of nasty storms in the area the day of graduation, but it cleared out and was beautiful by 6:00 p.m. on Thursday for the graduation. Again, I think it was only appropriate that these kids were allowed by the system AND by Mother Nature to graduate in their old stadium. The next class will graduate in the new stadium at the newly-built school which is a few miles from the destroyed school.

Our Fantastic Journey – Day 4

Days 4: Nashville to Enterprise, AL

Our last stop in Nashville on the way out of town was the Pancake Pantry! This place had gotten terrific reviews in Urbanspoon, and Rachel Ray had gone there in one of her shows. We’d been warned that there are always huge lines, so we planned to get there just after they opened. We hoped that getting there early on a Tuesday after a Monday holiday would be the trick to not having much of a wait. We were right. We had absolutely NO wait. We were seated immediately and the place was virtually empty. It surely had to be the timing, because it wasn’t their food. The pancakes were delicious and enormous. Pancake Pantry isn’t inexpensive, but it was worth a visit.

We got right back on the freeway and headed south. Next stop…Enterprise, AL!

I guess at this point, I should mention that Caitlin didn’t know that we were coming down for her graduation. She had told her parents that she really wanted us there, but understood that we both work and that it’s an awfully long way from Michigan to Lower Alabama. What she didn’t know is that we’d been planning this for a very long time and that there was no way we would miss her high school graduation. This became extra important when she was invited to attend the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. We knew that it would be even more difficult to spend time with her once she headed off to the Academy.

Our hotel in the area (the Jameson Inn) was actually in Ozark, AL which was about 25 or 30 miles from my brother’s house. Naturally, Cait’s grandmother, Molly (Megan’s mom), would be staying at their house so we found the closest AVAILABLE hotel. Normally, it would have been much closer, but this was also the week-end of Bama Jam, and almost everything was sold out. The hotel was fine. What was exceptionally good was the staff. The front desk was amazingly helpful and housekeeping was exceedingly friendly and conscientious.

Bama Jam is a modern-day, country-music Woodstock. (We’d never heard of it – go figure.) Apparently, this started out as a rather small deal a few years ago in Enterprise that grew like kudzu into a huge affair. People come from all over the country and the world for the music. Acts are the Who’s Who of current country music (such as Hank Williams, Jr.).

When we arrived at the Hubers’, Caitlin was surprised. She was also very happy. I don’t know how on earth we managed to keep her in the dark, but we’re so glad it worked out that way. We had such a lovely visit with everyone. The first night, we were the only out-of-town relatives to have arrived. All of Megan’s family was due the next day. We enjoyed our entire visit.

Our Fantastic Journey – Day 3

Day 3 (Memorial Day): Nashville, TN

 Our last day in Nashville. It was rather surprising to find out that Nashville traditionally doesn’t have any large Memorial Day functions. All the little suburban areas are left to do their own things. This year, I’m sure due to the floods, we didn’t find anything of note going on.

 Our sightseeing target for the morning was Belle Meade Plantation. This was especially interesting to me as it was one of the earliest – and best – thoroughbred nurseries in the U.S. The entry foyer was jam packed with portraits of the stallions who stood at Belle Meade. Our guide told us how the master of the house would invite guests in and spend 4 hours extolling the virtues of each of the stallions. I imagine I would have been enthralled by the whole thing, but understood that the majority of those there that they would have run screaming. This was the home of Bonnie Scotland who is one of the most important American foundation sires. His blood runs (what little there is from all those generations back) in every Derby ENTRANT for the past 10+ years. The house was really very nice, but the BARN… Those horses had lights (gas) and running water even when the house barely had them. The stalls were absolutely enormous and so plush – even by today’s standards. We could surely see that the real focus of the whole endeavor here was on the horses.

From there, we went to lunch at a restaurant we’d read about in “Urbanspoon” (an on-line website that has reviews of restaurants in cities all over the place). Havana Grill is a Cuban restaurant that had received excellent reviews in Nashville. We both love Cuban food, so we were anxious to try it out. The restaurant is in a decidedly Hispanic part of town, so we expected we were in for a treat. The building was pretty non-descript, but the food… DEVINE! We had Cuban sandwiches (which we should have split because they are HUGE) and split some black beans and rice. Everything was so good! Going to pay attention to Urbanspoon suggestions from here on out.

On to the Ryman Auditorium! The Ryman Auditorium is the former home of the Grand Ole Opry. Growing up, I’d never had any exposure to country music. The closest thing would be hearing the barn dance caller when we would visit Aunt Jean and Uncle Frank in North Carolina. In the evenings on weekends, we could hear the music and the calls from down the road. I always remembered that as part of the most idyllic times in my life, but had never cultivated an affection or real knowledge of early American music or country music. Of course, later on I’d heard of the “Opry” and many of the performers (such as Patsy Cline, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Loretta Lynn, Minnie Pearl, Johnny Cash, and others), but was still not really a fan. I guess I still am not a huge fan of “Country,” but I do love Bluegrass. The Ryman is the “home” of bluegrass music.

We took the full tour, and it was completely enjoyable. However, the highlight of the whole Nashville experience might just have been when Jim got up on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium. The look on his face was one of pure joy! He tried to get me to go up on stage with him (God bless his heart), but this was HIS moment. He really does play guitar pretty darned well, and this is his favorite music to play.

I think he looks right at home on that stage!

After our exhausting day, we went back to the hotel to pack and get ready for the continuation of our trip south. There was only one more dinner target we had to hit. Martin’s Barbecue! We had heard about this place on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,” and it sounded like just the kind of barbecue we love. We were both anxious to try the “red-neck tacos” that they had featured on the television show. Their “taco” is a large, cornbread, fry-cake filled with massive quantities of pulled, smoked pork and topped with really excellent coleslaw! Again, I think there was easily enough food in one “taco” to split, but we didn’t and were completely stuffed. They also advertised that they had Cheerwine! Cheerwine is a memory from North Carolina. It’s still made in the small town in western NC.