03 APR 2012: These Kentuckians who live along the Ohio River straddling Indiana in the old steamboat belt are proud folk who don’t swagger when they walk. It’s that down-home hospitality, the kind you hear about in those old southern songs that makes you feel like you’ve come home.


Maybe it was being there post-tornado that made folk closer than before but I don’t think so. Good talkers all around, the yarns spun from a few reminded me of the old Maritime gift of the gab.

They say Louisville is the Possibility City.

Foodies


Rated the number three best foodie city in the world by none other than the discerning folks at Zagat (The Wall Street Journal dubs this book ‘the gastronomic bible’), independent restaurants are clambering up the ladder, beating some of those tried and true chains like KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Papa John’s, which are ironically headquartered in Louisville.

One night a bunch of celebrity chefs dragged out their secret sauces for a pre-taping of a popular local TV show “Secrets of Louisville Chefs.” It was neat to be sitting in the audience, clapping at designated clap times. (Watch the episode here: www.NewLocal.TV)


What’s happening


It’s got to be noted about all the testosterone raging there. No surprise GQ magazine in its March issue anointed Louisville as the “Manliest City of America.”

There’s the upcoming Kentucky Derby on May 5th. Considered the oldest, continuously run sporting event in America it began in 1875.

Hoop action is alive at the KFC Yum Center. The 22,000+ seat sporting venue is a new build and hosted Mr. Margaritaville himself, Jimmy Buffet, the night before the Travel South USA Showcase.

Don’t forget Bourbon. America’s favourite spirit is spilling from the bars and the city’s old Whiskey Row on West Main Street is currently in restoration mode. (www.BourbonCountry.com)

Muhammad Ali

Tour Guide extraordinaire Leslie Burke who started City Taste Tours a couple of years ago is not shy on dishing about her city’s gems as she drove her glittery lit fun bus across the Ohio River but slowed down when we got in the middle of the Jefferson County Bridge for a fascinating flashback on The Greatest aka Muhammad Ali.

Ali, a local Louisville native, was all ga-ga with a gold Olympic medal he won in 1960. But the story goes when the prized boxer returned home to celebrate he was quickly denied entry into one of the local restaurants (it was ‘whites only.’)

Ali was not exactly sentimental, Leslie describes his next action. “Suddenly I knew what I wanted to do with this cheap piece of metal and raggedy ribbon,” she quoted from a famous Ali line then described how he flung the medal from the middle of the Jefferson County Bridge into the murky Ohio River where his gold medal has rested ever since.

“He was so sickened that his hometown denied him this after bringing home this gold medal. He famously said, ‘This is supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave’.”

Today, sports buffs and fans around the globe arrive to discover the greatest fighter of all time at the Muhammad Ali Center; while scuba divers are still hot on the prowl in search of his gold medal.

But if baseball’s more your game, the Slugger Museum and Factory undoubtedly has the world’s biggest baseball at its entrance.

Historiana

Being a Niagara Falls born gal, I have my fair share of The Falls sightings under my belt so when a friend of mine mentioned the Falls of the Ohio that caught my attention.

Okay, they forgot to mention these falls are a series of long rapids staggered across a 2 mile span but it’s got a 24-foot drop. So on this March afternoon, the murky water had no semblance to an actual falls, but Mandy Dick, a local staff member at the Falls of the Ohio State Park in neighbouring Clarksville conveyed a fascinating story about the region.

“Did you know these parts have coral reefs?”

“Now how is that possible from this freshwater Ohio River?” I asked like a Fifth Grader.

“Remember 387 million ago there was an ancient sea called the Devonian Ocean here. We were totally submerged and the warm shallow waters left the limestone and all the coral fossils.

These high outcroppings became elevated and have actually been used as a footpath by bison,” she notes all wide eyed.

Yup, bison hooves are still noted in this old buffalo country.

Another chap Mr. Fred James from Prestonsburg mentioned how the daring Scots who fled Scotland planted their roots in this wild frontier and brought with them their old fashioned penchant for whisky. “It’s because of their rebel mentality, we got these spirits in the first place,” he chuckles.

Fun Thrills

Guaranteed free screams are included as you zip in a pitch black cavern deep beneath Louisville’s terra firma. The world’s longest underground zip-line is smack in the middle of a decommissioned limestone quarry. Those Kentuckians are an ingenious bunch! www.LouisvilleMegaCavern.com

As Leslie signals and stops the fun bus on Spring Street in front of an old timey shop in next door Jeffersonville, Indiana, she lets out a clue on this slice of Americana. “You’ll find kids of all ages going into Schimpff’s.”

One of the oldest, continuously operated, family-owned businesses in the United States, G.A. Schimpff’s Confectionery first got started in Louisville but Mr. Schimpff hopped over the river (it’s literally a 10 minute drive from downtown) to continue his enterprise, and the shop’s been busy making handmade candy ever since Warren Schimpff’s great granddaddy started it in the 1850s. The store’s been in the current location for 120 years.

Now the retired environmental chemist from Chicago, Warren, says his uncle’s business was on a lifeline when he passed away. “I returned with my wife to keep the family business afloat,” he says holding a tray of freshly made candies with wife by his side.

There’s a museum packed with Americana and some packages are as old as the Civil War itself – the Schimpff’s are avid collectors – but the best part about it is you can still swing your legs around the milkshake counter and order your favourite soda as you sit in a time locked shop full of love and trinkets.

The store uses antique equipment. The stove is over 85 years old and the table is 120 “It’s the same age as the store,” says Jill. You might have seen the shop on the History Channel’s Modern Marvels. “It’s played 39 times but every time they show it we say “show it again.”

Jill takes you down memory lane in her fun-filled free tour espousing some of the neat factoids about the shop, the area and America’s love for candy. (www.schimpffs.com)

Banner Image: Churchill Downs

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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