Day 3: Sinking holes and heading South #KentuckyTour14

The Caves

At the door to the cave entrance, our dry-witted Ranger announced a few do’s and don’ts.

“And finally, guns are forbidden inside the cave. So if you’ve brought your gun with you, you can’t come in” came John’s sardonic precaution.

mammoth cave, kentucky, bowling greenIt tickled the three of us to great length. But looking around the 60-strong tour group it appears we were the only ones who’d consider bringing a gun to a tourist attraction rather inappropriate.

The caves were pretty goddamn cool, but still as a source of written coverage they can prove hard as inspiration. But it’s more the grand size of these caves that provide the most wonder.

It’s estimated that these caves could stretch in total (i.e. not in a liner direction) to around 200 miles, but in reality they have absolutely no idea how big this range of cave is. One of the park rangers back at the hotel told us that she was on an expedition a few years ago when she stumbled into a large cave that appeared to be lit up with diamond and crystal coated stalagmites. However after going back with the rest of her group, she was unable to relocate it. They’ve been looking for it ever since.

They’re no better placed in finding out the reach of these caves. The soft rock means new caves could be opening up all the time.

About 30 miles down the road in Bowling Green (our next destination) a 40ft wide and 25ft deep sinkhole opened up at the National Corvette Museum, swallowing 8 models. This was just last February, with the last one being fished out only last week.

Bowling Green

As often the case with the human psyche, the day is broken up by food stops. We get to Bowling Green by 3pm to have some lunch. It’s perfectly placed between our starting position this morning and our final destination of Nashville where we’ll be reuniting with Dad, Auntie Mary and Uncle Kev who’ve been travelling south from Washington DC since last Saturday.

Dad (who did this trip last year on the way to Luke and Ellen’s engagement party) describes Bowling Green as “just like the town from Back to the Future”.

He’s got a point. The central square and clock tower could easily have been where we’d expect Marty to come whizzing past us on a hover board. And just like the film, you’d be just as likely to see somebody still using a fax machines in some of the older looking office buildings. The place seems to range very much from the past to the future, with nothing in between.bowling green, back to the future, chaney's ice cream, kentucky

We find a pizzeria called Mellow Mushroom (est. 1974) not too far from the central green. We’re drawn by the pink and turquoise exterior and its psychedelic interior. You can’t move on the backpacking trails of South-East Asia without stumbling on a pizzeria with the words ‘mellow’ and ‘mushroom’ in the title. And often the case you leave unable to walk, coming to terms with the possibility your mind will never return to normal service again.

Though this place was actually more committed to a puritan existence, just with individuals pizzas the size of car tyres and a drinks list dominated by 12-15% alcoholic lagers.

Then on to Cheney’s Ice Cream dairy barn before cracking on to Nashville.

Nashville

Joe and Kate have joined the AirBnB movement and have a nice little house sorted near the Five Points for the weekend. I’m sharing with Dad, Auntie Mary and Uncle Kev. After helping to get Joe and Kate settled, Dad and Kev pull up outside the front lawn and after getting an executive summary of their trip, I jump in to dump my stuff off at the ground floor flat we’ve got over near the German Quarter.

nashville, peace love little donutsThe city skyline gives you the butterflies that only a famous one can seeing for the first time. As I listen, Dad speculates that the dominant AT&T building was used for several Batman films.

I’m not too sure. I mean he’s got a point in that the design certainly does resemble Batman’s helmet. It’s just I don’t ever recall the covert superhero ever needing 33-stories of office space in the middle of a Southern city.

We meet Joe and Kate at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, an aptly suited country music bar on Broadway. Reunited at last!

The next few hours are spent doing exactly what we were advised; let Broadway guide you, and don’t stay in any one place too long.

The older three of our sextet have picked up some new buzzwords since hitting the road last weekend. Dad has been guilty of adopting buzzwords into everyday parlance before, albeit a good solid decade after they’ve first entered the public’s lexicon. But him, Kev and Mary are all at it. It appears with social media, adoption of such language has been exacerbated, as they’ve skipped all the way to ‘Selfie’ and more disturbingly ‘Twerking’. Strange, as neither of them know who and what Miley Cyrus and Instagram are.

Anyways, as long as they remain words and not actions, I’ll be happy this holiday…

Day 2: Ticking all the right boxes #KentuckyTour2014

Breakfast with Mrs C.
lexington, bardstown, waffle house, kentucky, all-americanMrs C is Ellen’s mum. Ellen is the soon to be married fiancé of my soon to be married Brother. Luke and Ellen have yet to arrive from New York, but we get up early to catch Mrs C for breakfast before hitting the road.

She’s already with Joe and Kate in the hotel lobby, who both met her when they visited New York last Christmas.
“Robert, Robert, Robert” she welcomes me in with her cheery southern lilt.

We head to the nearby Waffle House for the all-American breakfast. Even this early in the trip I know the phrase “all-American” will be used as a lazy expression to describe anything that we’re familiar with solely from the world of Hollywood films.

Breakfast with Mrs C is just what we’re after, as she fills us in on the wedding plans and what to expect at the upcoming event of the year.

Given we’ve got suit and shirts which would have little chance of surviving a pre-wedding weekend tour in a suitcase, she’s kindly offered to look after our wedding get-up until we’re back in Lexington in a weeks time.

We head out to Bardstown, a town where time has stopped. Very much like the fictional Castle Rock from Stand By Me. In fact we’ve been overcome with comparing everything to films on this short drive from Lexington. Every passing farm barn is the one from Jeepers Creepers, every white picket fence is from a range of US suburban films. Even the option for “grits” at breakfast stokes memories of My Cousin Vinnie.

We also make an effort to see Fort Knox. It’s an inaccessible security vault, famous for barbed wire fencing and “no photo” signs. Kind of surprising why it’s a tourist attraction at all really? But still we did the 50mile detour, as it apparently featured in a James Bond film none of us had ever seen.

Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace memorial

Next on the hitlist was the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, which is just south of Fort Knox and accessible via Elizbethtown. Here you’ll find a beautiful woodland area centered around a memorial building that encases a hut similar to the one Lincoln was born in.

In 1894, a New Yorker purchased Sinking Spring Farm and moved the log cabin that he believed to be Abraham Lincolns here. He believed that former landowners had initially moved it, and this was the original spot. In the late 1800s it was dismantled and taken on tour by a travelling road show, before ending up in New York where it was deconstructed and left in somebody’s basement. It was then bought back by the Lincoln Farm Association after a huge fundraising mission, with the cabin being scaled down to fit inside the memorial building.

In the latter years, tests proved that it was highly unlikely to be the actual hut of Lincoln, but sod it, don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Kentucky produces the world’s bourbon, the finest racehorses and the most unique countryside. But so far we’ve mainly concentrated on a few old barns, a giant safety deposit box and a reconstruction of a mud hut from a travelling circus.

I just hope that one day somebody will reconstruct a suitably sized version of Edgware Maternity Ward to mark by early beginnings.

Cave City

White picket fences. Rolling green hills. Clock towers. What’s not to love about crazy golf? And where better than Cave City to satisfy this need. It’s home to several courses. People may say “but you can do crazy golf anywhere”. But really, when was the last time you played?

Cave City is a tourism town that sits just outside of the Mammoth Cave National Park. It’s mainly one long road that is flanked by fun-for-all-the-family institutions and fast-food joints. For a bright and sunny day the strip is extremely quiet. There’s supposed to be a Cowboy shoot-out when we arrive but eerily there’s no sign of any existence. Why aren’t the crazy golf courses open? I know it’s a Thursday afternoon, but where else can you play 9-holes with your Grandma in under an hour? And so we look for alternatives, though unsure we really want to step out of the car into this town.

At one end of the road sits Dinosaur World. The other, atop a slight hill, the Haunted House amusement ride. Not sure what 150 life-sized dinosaur models would bring to our trip, we decide to head up towards the house.

Despite the ‘open’ sign, The Haunted House is obviously closed for business. Though perhaps looks scarier than the original designers had ever imagined it, laying here in the afternoon sunshine.

Cave City Kentucky alpine slide Next to it is a chairlift, which has evidently succumbed to rust and a lack of interest. The sign suggests visitors can take this up the mountain where they can then slide back down via a ¼ mile alpine slide. However, while most of the chairlift is in place, there’s no evidence to suggest any fun as been had here in years. The last recorded evidence can be found on this family video footage (c.2008).

After a closer inspection of the Haunted House, I notice a truck from a parking lot further down the hill creeping up towards our car below, the sunlight reflected from his front grill catching my attention. Not keen to get blocked in, we head back down to the car. The drivers keen to know what the hell we’re playing at, but is okay when he sees we’re tourists.

According to him, the main attractions have been through hardship of late. The last owners went bankrupt following dwindling visitor numbers, however he’s optimistic that when summer comes, so will the paying public. He’s owns a small convenience store on the main strip.

Mammoth Cave National Park

Having given up on good organized fun, we pulled out of Cave City and delved into the Mammoth Cave National Park to check-in to our hotel, the Mammoth Cave Hotel. After dumping our bags off just after 6pm, we head to one of the entrances of the nearby caves to do a bit of bat spotting, but are a tad too early.

After dinner at the hotel we head back out to Cave City where we’ve been told, according to one of the local rangers, sit a few decent hotspots for a nightcap. We’d anticipated an all-American tavern complete with pool table, neon Budweiser signs and a big hairy biker grinding his younger biker chick. But what we got was El Mazatlan, a Mexican restaurant chain, one of only two restaurants/bars in Cave City with a liqueur license. Though actually this is no huge surprise given local voters only passed a referendum allowing bars and restaurants to serve alcohol in November 2005. Providing they meet certain criteria, restaurants were able to serve alcohol for the first time in 50 years.

So we decided best to head back and get an early night for the cave tour tomorrow.

Day 1: The deltas between an Airline and an Airway #KentuckyTour14

carole disalvo, american airlinesThere’s been a mix up and it turns out that my flight to Lexington (KY) has been moved to just after 12noon, whereas brother Joe and girlfriend Kate will be on the later one. Not a particular major problem. However being switched from a British Airways plane to an American Airlines one is.

We’re heading out for my Brothers wedding in Kentucky.

I was instantly startled by the dated interior of the aircraft. It appeared to be near identical to that of a film set inside a long-haul flight. The seats were well worn with an ever-present gloss of dandruff to them. There was no inflight magazine detailing the film listings, nor was it even possible to select and be in control of the few films that were present. That really threw out my flight entertainment schedule (a Frat Pack comedy sandwiched between the year’s cult film and an episode of Curb). And not even a Super Nintendo controller wedged in the recess of the armrest!

I was a bit annoyed, but not enough to cause a scene. But then again with Twitter, even the lazy and apathetic can get in on the action. And so, I tweeted both airlines for an explanation whilst still sitting on the tarmac at Heathrow.

“Our cabin staff will do all they can to make your trip an enjoyable one” came the quick reply from AA.

Problem being that the staff weren’t actually the problem. In fact they were the one redeeming feature. An incredibly attentive fleet of airborne dinner ladies who made sure our glasses never remained dry for too long.

My personal favorite was Glenna, as stated by the stitching on her apron. Though could’ve been a random apron she picked out of the lost property box given all the staff had various apron designs, from London Buses to Disneyland Paris. She told me I looked like a young Tom Cruise and then called me Tom for the rest of the flight. I’ve still got it. But still no cocktail.

I watched American Hustle and had a little nap (sod your inflight films and poor sound system) using the pillows that resemble little puffs of air coated in that flimsy material that line your pockets. And drifted away.

big book of british smiles, bad teeth, british teeth, american smileThe Comfort Suite hotel wasn’t too far from the airport, on the outskirts of Lexington. There wasn’t much to see or do amongst the neighboring retail units in the adjoining power center of big box retailers and strip plazas, but I did visit an impressive pet shop and paid homage to a Liquor Barn. Here I was given a one-on-one wine tasting session by Kathleen, the all-American sweetheart with good chat and an even better smile. Her flawless row of pearly whites reminded me of a seamless row of Georgian town houses. A stark contrast to mine, that bore the same characteristics of dilapidated council terracing in need of a lick of paint and change in energy supplier.

She was studying at the University and had the whole Amanda Knox look going on, minus the euro-murderer edge.

Then back across the highway to the hotel for a few laps of the indoor pool and an accidental piss in the Jacuzzi.

I’ve always thought the travelling salesman and roadside hotel life would suit me down to the ground. But I’m pretty bored come 6pm, eagerly awaiting Joe and Kate in my hotel room when they arrive just after 9pm.

Tomorrow we set off for our Kentucky Tour, with Mammoth Caves National Park the next stop. Before meeting up with more family in Nashville. From here we’ll take the long route back up to Lexington for the wedding in 10 days time.