Where to Stay on a First-Class Kentucky Bourbon Tour

IMG_2163September is National Bourbon Heritage Month and so it is only fitting for this week’s post to celebrate that great Kentucky whiskey:

Our whirlwind Bourbon Tour involved 3 other couples, a rented van, and a lot of details, but it was worth every second of the planning. We had great weather and in just four summer days drove through beautiful horse country, ate incredible meals, and tasted some mighty fine bourbon. Our travels took us from Buffalo Trace (home of Blanton’s and the famous Papy Van Winkle), to Woodford Reserve (official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby), Makers Mark, Heaven Hill and Jim Beam (where my favorites Basil Hayden and Knob Creek are distilled), and last, but not least to the Craft Distillery, Willetts.

 21c Museum Hotel | Lexington, Kentucky

Bourbon flight at the Lockbox Bar at 21C.

Corner room, 23c Museum Hotel, LexingtonThe 21c Museum Hotel is a great hotel with a contemporary vibe and a focus on historic preservation and art; what a winning combo. And yes, there is an art museum. This is one of several art museum/hotels in renovated sites by this innovative company. I loved the rooms in this repurposed historic bank building. I particularly enjoyed the fun the designers had with color and art. Bright colors were used as accents in the rooms and public spaces, and photography by one of the owners was beautifully featured in the room.

The room was comfortable, bed great, shower excellent. We had no trouble getting feather pillows. Our corner room was on a high floor and the views of the city were terrific. I arranged the trip for a group of friends and we enjoyed the bourbon package. Breakfast was excellent and our bourbon flight was a lot of fun, with a super bourbon steward. Valet was efficient and the staff was very friendly. The only hitch was check-in which was very slow and disorganized, a contrast to everything else about the hotel and our stay.

The Brown Hotel | Louisville, Kentucky

Entrance to The Brown Hotel, LouisvilleThe Brown Hotel was a real step back into another era. We loved the hotel’s colorful history. We were traveling with a group of friends and enjoyed the Club Level service – it proved very convenient, and was more than adequate for breakfast and afternoon wine, beer, (no hard liquor) soft drinks and snacks.

Chef's Table at The Brown Hotel, LouisvilleOur Chef’s Table dinner in the kitchen of the English Grill was a wonderful and memorable occasion. Under the direction of English Grill Manager (and Sommelier/Bourbon Steward extraordinaire) Troy Ritchie and Chef Dustin Willett, we enjoyed a first-class event. I had worked with Troy in advance to put together the details and he was delightful, creative, and very easy to work with. Read the rest of this entry

2 Hotels in India Where Adventure Meets Luxury

Brijrama Palace in Varanasi India all lit up for Diwali.

Brijrama Palace|Varanasi

The Brijrama Palace is a luxurious heritage hotel on the ghats (high embankments with steps leading into the river) in Varanasi. More than 200 years old, it’s been open since 2016, after 18 years of restoration.  It is beautiful and opulently furnished with antiques and 18th-century art. Located on the Darbhanga Ghat, the only way to get there is by boat. Following a fascinating hour-long drive from the airport to the Mahishasura Assi Ghat, we took our first trip on the sacred Ganges. Luckily for us, once at the Brijrama, it’s the only hotel on the ghats with an elevator (the first in India). When we arrived, we were met by a priest who anointed our foreheads and gave us each a traditional marigold garland.

If you must consume alcohol and eat steak nightly, this is not the place for you. Since the Ganges is a holy river, there is no alcohol or meat served in facilities along its waters. Several kilometers inland you can eat and drink whatever.

An Indian feast at the Brijrama Palace, Varanasi.This is one of the best ways to experience India as it has been for thousands of years and we were happy to forego cocktails, wine, and meat.  From a culinary standpoint, the elegant restaurant Darbhanga at the Brijrama was wonderful and we really enjoyed our dinner of the traditional vegetarian Banarsari Thaali. It was actually more like a feast, delicious – I wish I knew what everything was. Read the rest of this entry

Off-road in America: The House of Mugs

The House of Mugs, located in Collettsville, NC

If you enjoy the quirky side of Americana you will love the House of Mugs (aka The Collettsville Cup House). Located in Collettsville in rural western North Carolina, near the Wilson Creek Recreation Area, about 12 miles from Lenoir. The house is a testament to something – I’m just not sure what.

The House of Mugs, located in Collettsville, NCIt’s estimated there are 25,000 mugs covering the house, fence, and arch; feel free to bring one along to add to the collection. It’s free and there is a guest book to sign. We didn’t see anyone around when we visited and it doesn’t look like anyone actually lives there. It’s a really nice country drive and we crossed at least three single-lane bridges until we reached the lovely setting along a pretty riverbank. Read the rest of this entry

At the Summit of Mount Mitchell

Top of the world, Mount Mitchell State Park, NC

Observation deck at the summit of Mount Mitchell State ParkIt’s pretty easy to get to the highest point in the eastern US; visit Mount Mitchell in western North Carolina and most can easily maneuver the 285 yards paved Summit Tower Trail to the top observation deck.  It is handicap accessible.  But be prepared for chilly weather with temps about 20 degrees cooler than lower elevations, experts say the climate is more like Canada than North Carolina.  At 6,684’ you will be rewarded with a 360-degree view for up to 85 miles of the surrounding Black Mountain Range and the On he trails, at Mount Mitchell State ParkPisgah National Forest.  There are many trails of varying levels throughout the Park and several easy trails from the summit. The informative signage about wildlife, plants, and geology make it a particularly enjoyable, educational experience for families. Read the rest of this entry

Golf and Non-golf Perspective: Erin Hills and Kohler

Straits Course, Whistling Straights, Kohler

This post marks the first time I have ever uploaded copy I did not write. After reading an email from my friend KC, I thought it was just too good not to share. KC and her husband are life-long friends of mine and he is a serious golfer, she doesn’t play but knows her stuff.  Together they raised three children who all became golfers at the University of Florida. So, you get the picture, they know golf. Enjoy the read.


If you haven’t yet played golf in Wisconsin at Erin Hills and/or the Kohler courses (site of the 2020 Ryder Cup), I can vouch for both that they are fabulous. We read that the lodge at Erin Hills is in the top few lodges for golf in the country and we found it to be nice, though not extraordinary. Our room was minuscule and had no internet access, though it was well decorated and nicely appointed. There was much needed bottled water on tables in the hallways, in the rooms, and elsewhere around the resort for guests to take as needed. This was definitely appreciated as the sun was surprisingly intense and there is limited shade, so even with relatively mild summer temperatures, we felt parched.

We stayed only one night and that was plenty given the small room and limited non-golf activity options. King beds are a rare find here. For larger groups, there are some cottages with multiple bedrooms and a common area. We arrived the day before hubby’s tee time and he played the warm-up holes (Kettle Loop) in the late afternoon.  We both tinkered around on the putting course, and had a delicious dinner and chatted with a lovely family at the table next to us.

The staff at the resort was wonderful – friendly and helpful and good at their jobs.  We almost felt like we were visiting the home of a very gracious and hospitable friend.  Erin Hills is out in the middle of nowhere and a bit pricey for the room we had and lack of amenities beyond golf-related activities, but there aren’t very many other options nearby except lower end hotel/motels some 8-15 miles away.  However, the entirety of Erin Hills is like a giant playroom for those who love golf with a brand new cool 12 hole putting course, a 5-hole warm-up course, a great practice area, and the course itself, which has hosted multiple USGA championships in recent years. The course looks like the moon with grass on it. You will walk many miles up and down hills to play or observe and there isn’t a tree in sight! Hubby’s caddie was a darling girl whom we just loved having with us on the course. Caddies generally pull a double loop unless you request a caddie for a single. Read the rest of this entry

Best Casual Waterfront Dining in NYC

Brooklyn Smorgasburg

Only seven types of velvet cake available this day; I wanted to try their Praline Bourbon.

Only seven types of velvet cake available this day; I wanted to try their Praline Bourbon.

On Saturdays during the warmer months, NYC locals swarm the Smorgasburg held in the Williamsburg neighborhood by the East River State Park just off the ferry landing. Dubbed by the NY Times as “The Woodstock of Eating”, it features more than 100 gourmet booths offering every imaginable type of food. We sampled Texas-style moist beef brisket, Maine lobster rolls, hummus, red velvet cake, and a salted chocolate ice cream sandwich.  All delicious.

Details:  From Manhattan take the East River Ferry @ 34th St, to East River State Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The Smorgasburg event has expanded throughout the boroughs on different days with different names.  Can’t vouch for the other locations, but you can find more food on Sundays in Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 5 (near Manhattan’s NY City Hall); and Long Island City, Queens on Saturdays.  All open 11 AM – 6 PM. Since these events seem a bit transient, Google before you go.

The Frying Pan, Hudson River Park

Historic waterfront dining and bar in NYC, The Frying Pan.This popular local spot started its life as a Lightship in 1929, keeping ships from running into the Frying Pan Shoals (thus its name) 30 miles off Cape Fear, NC. In 1965 she was abandoned in the Chesapeake Bay and apparently sank, spending three years underwater before being rescued.

Today, the Frying Pan is a floating historic lighthouse, permanently docked at Pier 66a in the Hudson River Park, West 26th Street, and 12th Ave. The food is average but I hear the evening bar scene is lively; plan to visit for the history and the incomparable setting.

Only open seasonally, table service is available in the summer months, starting around Memorial Day, 11:30 AM – 11:30 PM.  The best thing to do is follow them on Twitter and/or Instagram to make sure they are open and check the hours. Their Facebook page, Frying Pan-NYC, also has information, but, be forewarned, some of the info on their website is incorrect. Read the rest of this entry

Madison County NC has Barns, Not Bridges

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about buying a painting at a fundraiser for the Appalachian Barn Alliance, a group dedicated to documenting historic barns in this part of western North Carolina.

My husband and I decided to take one of their self-driving tours and visit the barns of Walnut Township in Madison County. Once in Madison County, we followed winding country roads for about two hours to nine different barns the preservation group researched, including the one featured in our painting. There were many other old barns and farm buildings along the route, turning our drive into a sort of barn-treasure-hunt.

A few of the barns were not exactly where we thought, but the directions got us close enough to figure it out. Most of the structures were eventually used for tobacco drying of some sort, and many were originally built to house livestock. The history of each barn was as interesting as its deteriorating appearance and we could soon spot the distinctive monitor roof and gambrel roof designs. Along the way, we learned about many used as flue-cured tobacco barns and converted in the 1920s to air-cure burley tobacco (used primarily for cigarette production). Many early barn-owners sold (or bartered) their barn roofs for advertising . . . maybe our first billboards? Does anyone else remember those “See Rock City” barn ads?

The group has several self-guided tours. guided van and private tours, and other special events you can read about on their appalachianbarns.org website.

It was a wonderful way to spend a beautiful day.

 

Holy Shark! Gansbaai Delivers Big Time

I'm in the cage ready to see my first Great White Shark.

In honor of Shark Week, I’m reposting one of my very first blogs from 2010. Getting in the water with Great White Sharks was one of the most thrilling things I have ever done. Today sadly, Great White Shark sightings are down due to the arrival of Orcas who have killed some of the sharks to feast on their calorie-rich liver. In 2017, several Great White carcasses (sans livers) washed up at Gansbaai and there is speculation the sharks have left to avoid the Orcas. Two brother whales, given the names of Port and Starboard due to their flopped dorsal fins, have been named as the likely predators.  As a result, additional Orcas have now moved into the area to hunt.

I’m glad I have this memory to treasure.

Great White Shark viewing, while in the water in Gansbaai, South Africa..

Shark in front!

We Star in Our Own Episode of Shark Week.  While some of you were sleeping soundly, we were up at dawn and ready for our next great adventure – getting in the water with Great White Sharks. I know I speak for both of us when I say, this has been one of the most exciting and incredible experiences we have ever had. Read the rest of this entry

Get the Royal Treatment in Ireland

 

One part of the massive Ashford Castle in Ireland.Probably like many little girls, I have had a fascination with castles and country estates that has stayed with me for a lifetime. My first stay in such royal surroundings was the wonderful Castle Sababurg about a 45-minute drive from Kassel, Germany, in Brothers Grimm territory.  It is widely believed the brothers were inspired by Sababurg, using it as the model for the castle in Sleeping Beauty, and I believe it. Sadly, it has recently closed.

When our daughter was young, we stayed in a delightful luxury family hotel, Woolley Grange near Bath in England.  One huge benefit was the on-site nanny to watch over children so parents could enjoy a quiet gourmet dinner. And one of my all-time favorite memories was a stay in the English Lake District at Farlam Hall Country House Hotel, a beautiful Relais & Chateaux manor home with resident cats Gin & Tonic and amazing dinner service.

On a more recent trip to Ireland, we loved our visits to Ashford Castle (pictured at top), Dromoland, and Ard na Sidhe. Read on.

 

Ashford Castle | Cong, Mayo

 

I can’t even think of enough adjectives to describe Ashford Castle. Dating from 1228, this property did indeed start out as a castle. In the mid-1800s it was owned by Sir Benjamin Guinness. In 2013, the property was rescued from receivership by the Red Carnation luxury hotel group. They bought it for less than half of its previous sale price and then proceeded to invest somewhere between $50-70 million in renovating the hotel and estate. Read the rest of this entry

Hummingbirds Rock & Roll

In the North Carolina High Country, I have never seen so many hummingbirds flying in and out of the trees to the feeder and nearby flowers. Dipping and diving too fast to get a good still photo. They were magical.