Welcome to week 3 of our 8-week trip through America, starting in Atlanta and ending in Dallas in November. I want to write this weekly blog to keep people up to date on what we've been up to and share some thoughts and reflections on America. Happy reading y'all!
Day 14 - Monday 25 September - Lexington to Bardstown
Monday is famously "work day" for us on our trip and we decided to work this week in Midway, so-named because it is midway between Lexington and Frankfort. Creative. It just so happened that we were travelling from Lexington to Frankfort, so we just had to stop by. It is a town that was specifically built because of the railroad and was pretty unspectacular but had a nice cafe to work from. We were hoping for trains but saw none.
Feeling productive, we left after lunch for a quick visit to Frankfort. At least that was the plan. We arrived and were struck by how nice this little town was – which is a weird word to use, given that Frankfort is also the capital of Kentucky. It is famous for its bourbon (then again, pretty much every town in Kentucky is). We stopped by a cafe (I got a sticker) and the owner told us to visit his friend next door in the "House of Commons". Feeling patriotic, how could I resist?
You can imagine my disappointment when we discovered that the House of Commons is a brand new bourbon library, rather than a room full of middle-aged white men. The owner took his time to explain the intricacies of bourbon distilling. Neither of us really like bourbon that much, but we didn't tell him. He also showed us a beer that can only be bought in Wisconsin, so we will try and find that when we hit Milwaukee next week – stay tuned!
Onwards we drove to our final stop – Bardstown, named as "America's most beautiful small town". We shall see. We were staying with Kim and Olli (yes, Olli of Nashville fame) in a suburb of Bardstown and we were struck again by just how crazy Americans seem to go over Halloween. Seriously, it is over a month away and people were already putting 10ft tall skeletons in their front yard, possibly stolen from a theme park.
Kim and Olli were keen to show us the sights and sounds of America's most beautiful small town, so we headed to the centre and – yeah, it's pretty nice! Particularly cool is the old tavern where Jesse James stayed. There we encountered Chad who used to run the bar in the tavern. He took us to the room Jesse James stayed in and told us the story of how he shot bullets into a mural of birds on the wall to show what a good shot he was. Pretty cool. I didn't get a sticker, they were too expensive. I did end up in the stocks though.
Nothing opens on Mondays in Kentucky aside from the local dive bar, so naturally we ended up there. And who did we bump into? None other than Chad! He was on a first date that seemed to be going pretty well, so he bought us all shots. He also hooked us up with a friend who runs speakeasy tours in Austin, so let's see if that works out! After too many weird shots and beers, we made our way back home. I had a sneaky suspicion how tomorrow might turn out, especially after we opened the whiskey when we got home ...
Day 15 - Tuesday 26 September - Bardstown (mostly the sofa)
We woke up feeling pretty hungover. Goddam Chad and his first date. Luckily we had very few plans for that day. We went into town briefly to get food from the local diner (located in a pharmacy, so they could claim to have "healthy" food) and promptly returned to the sofa and Kim and Olli's puppy, Mochi (the cutest dog in the world). We each managed to do a little exercise in the afternoon and cook some food, and that was about it. Here are some pictures anyway.
Day 16 - Wednesday 27 September - Bardstown to Cincinnati
Ever since Olli met us in Nashville, he had been going on and on about "how good Cincy is". Very keen to prove him wrong, we decided to make the 2 hour journey from Bardstown to Cincy and check it out. Kim works there on a short-term contract as a nurse, so we were able to stay at their place for a few nights, and we NEVER say no to a free bed.
A quick check of the map also showed me that one of America's prime attractions was located on our route. Called "the Ark Encounter", it is a "life-size" version of Noah's ark, and the largest timber frame structure in the US (and therefore the world). I had some questions about the historical accuracy of the ark, but unfortunately we didn't have time.
What Kim and Olli failed to mention was that their place is located right on the Ohio river with stunning views across to the city, technically still in Kentucky in the beautiful suburb of Covington. It is also right next to the John A. Roebling bridge, built by a German-born engineer and the prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge.
In a bizarre twist, many German immigrants came to Cincy in the 1800s due to the meatpacking and shipping industries, and in 1860 one third of the population was of German stock. This meant that there were odd German references all over the place, including the "Mutter Gottes Kirche" and the wonderfully named "Mainstrasse". Also – the train station is up for sale if anybody is interested.
Mainstrasse was our destination for the evening, and it started strongly with the second Goodfella's pizza of our trip. Next stop was OKBB, a bourbon bar with a ridiculous amount of whiskey. Ralf spun the mystery wheel to get a bourbon for 5 dollars, whilst Olli and I tried a Kentucky mule for the first time. The bartender did not hold back with the bourbon in our drink, and you'll hear about the consequences tomorrow.
I got a sticker.
Next stop on our Mainstrasse tour was Mike's music, which had a HUGE open mic stage. I started chatting to the sound engineer and he asked if I wanted to go upstairs to check out the recording studio. Ummm ... yes please! It was a treasure trove of vintage and modern instruments and had a really cool vibe. At $50 per hour, I am going to try and persuade the band to move here. I wanted a sticker, but they didn't have any.
We were then joined by one of Olli and Kim's friends called Nicole, fresh from her shift in the hospital. She was still in her scrubs, and didn't care – and we liked that!
Our final stop of the night was the Gypsy pub on Mainstrasse, and oh boy – what a place! Strong drinks, and even stronger karaoke! You can tell how drunk we already were when we decided it would be a good idea to sing "Im Wagen vor mir", a German classic. Other hits we belted out included "Bring Me To Life" (Ralf and Dan) and "Beer Never Broke My Heart" (Ralf solo). And wait – what's this?
For those of you with any morbid curiosity, here are a few videos of the karaoke. Please turn the sound off.
We stumbled home around 3am, and I still managed to take this great photo of the skyline at night.
We had little clue what would await us the next day ...
Day 17 - Thursday 28th September - Covington (mostly the sofa again)
I am just going to come right out with it. This day was AWFUL. We were woken at 7:30am by the sound of the apocalypse. I thought the entire house was going to collapse on us. The flat above the one we were staying in was being renovated and, by the sounds of it, demolished at the same time.
I also realised that I had the hangover to end all hangovers. My head felt like it was being pounded by a jackhammer, whilst I was lying there listening to the sound of the apartment above us being pounded by a jackhammer. My stomach was also not super happy. Whenever this happens, I turn to the best medicine I know: Coca cola. Works every time.
I stumbled out of the house and found the nearest cafe to get a litre (or gallon, who knows) of the good stuff. Coca cola must be different here, because I still felt awful. I will spare you the grizzly details, but let's just say that Olli and I took turns visiting the bathroom all morning. You can get a pretty good idea of how it was below:
I felt vaguely human by around 1pm and decided to cross the bridge into Cincy itself. In a further nod to its German heritage, Cincy has a district called Over the Rhine, or OTR, which is home to one of its excellent breweries, Rhinegeist. What better place to nurse my hangover. The brewery is MASSIVE and has some excellent views over the city from its rooftop bar.
I bought a sticker.
The OTR area itself is fascinating, and one of my favourite districts of the trip so far. Street art on every corner, beautiful buildings ... thank you gentrification. It was fascinating to us that the districts can change so quickly, from boarded up houses and people clearly below the poverty line to nice bars and renovated homes within a block or two.
We also discovered something about Cincy that really shocked us. Not only does it have public transport, but it has a totally free tram called the "Connector" that follows a big loop through the city. Yep – you read that right. FREE public transport. In America. Ralf and I had to experience that, so we jumped on and headed back home to complete the hangover process.
Day 18 - Friday 29th September - Covington
With all of us feeling human once more, Olli insisted on taking us to Jungle Jims. For those of you that don't know, Jungle Jims was a chain of children's indoor play areas in England, so I thought Olli was pretty creepy. But Jungle Jims is so much more here. I don't really know how to describe it. It is part international supermarket and part ... theme park? Highlights included a giant hot sauce section with a fire truck, and a British section complete with marmite. You can get a vague idea from the pictures but I cannot stress how huge and utterly weird this place was.
Nicole was with us once again, this time in normal clothes, and we decided to go back to OTR to experience a Friday night in this lively district. The bars were nice (one hidden amongst abandoned buildings, with no stickers, and one in an old German church, with stickers).
However, my favourite had to be an old bar with a roots/jazz band playing. We got another Kentucky mule (danger, danger) and listened to a few songs. Suddenly, the band started playing a beautiful version of "La Vie en Rose" and many of the older couples got up and started to dance together. I am not joking when I say we all had a tear in our eye. I won't be forgetting that in a hurry.
As mentioned, Cincy has a thing for free public transport. Another great initiative I discovered they have is the free taxi service to take you from Cincy across the river to Covington. The catch – it is a large golf buggy. You literally call the driver, let them know where you are, and they come pick you up. What a service!
Cincy – you ain't bad!
Day 19 - Saturday 30th September - Covington to Sturgis
We had quite a few miles to cover today, as we wanted to knock off a large part of the distance between Cincy and Chicago. We had been warned that the landscape was fairly monotonous along the way, and boy they weren't wrong. Corn, a barn, and some more corn. Nevertheless, we were excited to head to Fort Wayne. Not to see the fort itself, no sir-e-bob. We were making the pilgrimage to Sweetwater, the largest music store in America.
I have to say, it was a very pleasant experience. Everything is nicely spread out and you can play all the instruments. I was like a kid in a candy shop. A particular highlight was playing the best instrument ever made, the key-tar!
I got a sticker.
On we went, heading towards the Indiana/Michigan border. Slowly but surely, we once again encountered more and more buggies on the roads as we entered an area with a large population of Amish and Mennonites. We came to the town of Shipshewana with high hopes of an Amish dinner. These hopes were quickly dashed by the insane amounts of tourists.
A quick google found us a little diner a few miles away and we ended up having the best food of our trip so far! We were sat next to a table of Amish people, and it was fascinating to see how they interacted with each other. The manager of the place was a character from Greece and insisted on showing us his gun. Outside, there was parking for cars and parking for buggies – see if you can spot it in the picture below.
Full and happy, we stayed in an Airbnb in Sturgis, a very small town in Michigan, and prepared ourself for the second city of America (with the third largest population) –Chicago!
Thanks for reading, and get ready for the next weird leg of our journey, back down South!