It’s a tradition that when my parents and I travel, Mom packs a cooler full of bottled water, fresh fruits and meat and cheese options to fill homemade buns. This trip was no different. We’ve learned we can save quite a bit of money those first few days of the journey by making up ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch, paired with grapes, sliced apples and baked chips.
So, after arriving in the parking lot at Churchill Downs – a short drive from our first travel stop at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory – we had a quick little picnic lunch in the car.
When we walked inside the museum, however, I was wishing we’d taken advantage of the café there. Mostly, I was curious about the Kentucky Derby tradition – the Mint Julep. I don’t know if it was available on the menu, but it would have been an interesting experience to try one.
Then again, it was best I didn’t imbibe, considering I was doing all of the driving outside of Minnesota and Iowa, and there was a long road ahead of us.
Now, I’m no connoisseur of horse racing – Churchill Downs was actually on my Mom’s wish list of places to go and things to see during our travels – but the entire museum and grounds tour was rather interesting.
My favorite part of the exhibit, aside from standing right next to the race track, was walking through the display of zany hats and outfits worn by some famous, and not-so-famous, attendees of the Kentucky Derby.
Full outfits, from hat to dress to boots, were displayed alongside photos of the people who wore them on Derby Day – like Cyndi Lauper, Anna Nicole Smith and Debra Messing.
The museum is filled with interactive exhibits. In one area, we were able to watch a video of a Derby in which the horse that won was owned by a Minnesota woman (this suggestion came from the guy working at the front counter, after he learned we were from Minnesota). In another area, three life-size horse models (minus the legs) were set up in front of video screens and kids both young and old could pretend they were racing in the Derby.
On the grounds tour, we saw the paddock where 2012 Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another was prepped for race day, and walked under the grandstand to see the signs marking betting lines and places to order a Mint Julep.
While we took the basic tour of Churchill Downs, there were other, more detailed tours offered – tours that included a walk through the barns to see some of the horses that are housed there (none of the big-name horses, but race horses nonetheless).
We spent a couple of hours touring the place, though we could have spent an entire day if we wanted to watch the movie in the museum’s theater or take part in more of the interactive exhibits.
As curious tourists, we saw what we wanted to see, climbed back in the car and turned Greta Garmin back on to help us get out of Louisville and closer to our final destination.
Our remaining drive through Kentucky that afternoon was filled with magnificent views of horse pastures and white fences that seemed never-ending. We saw thoroughbreds nibbling on still-green grasses, and others frolicking in the distance.
Some day, when we have more time, we decided perhaps we should return to Kentucky and visit one of those thoroughbred farms. While we’re there, maybe we can tour a tobacco plantation.
Kentucky, that’s where we saw our first field of tobacco on this journey. More about this southern U.S. cash crop will be written about in an upcoming blog about our travels.
Meanwhile, we made it through Kentucky and a portion of West Virginia on Sunday. That night, we found a place to rest in Beckley, a town steeped in coal mining tradition. While taking a trip deep into a coal mine was one of the tourist opportunities of this quaint town, my folks and I decided that wasn’t quite our cup of tea … or perhaps I should say our shot of Mint Julep.