In Louisville, Ky. I got to pay tribute to one of my heroes, Muhammad Ali. I visited his center and walked around the grounds. I love him because he was confident and beautiful when society wanted him to blend in and shut up. He was a boxer, but he was eloquent.
"I wanted to be a good boxer and a heavyweight — a beautiful scientific, artistic and creative boxer," he once said.
Here is another quote from the noted humanitarian and Louisville native:
Lexington contains a weird mix of cultures and history. There are two large universities in town, but it doesn't feel especially young or urban. There are blatantly poor neighborhoods within walking distance of glass skyscrapers and cemeteries with gravestones from the Revolutionary War era.
There's a new courthouse complex, with a fountain, where this 5-year-old boy escaped the heat one August day and an old courthouse near a district called Cheapside, where his ancestors may have been sold as slaves.
"It's a very conservative culture," says Janet Scott, a theater producer who moved to the city in 2001 from Manhattan.
"It's the last place I'd ever thought I'd be," she tells me.
"But slowing down I found to be a healthy problem. It takes a long time not to get pissed off at the grocery store in line."
Horses are a big deal here, too, of course, and this life size sculpture at Thoroughbred Park was probably the highlight of the city for me:
I used to hate whiskey, until a friend bought me a hot toddy containing Maker's Mark. So, while I was in the bourbon hub of our country, I decided to visit the distillery, which is located on a beautiful stretch of land with a spring-fed, limestone-filtered lake.
I learned lots of interesting stuff about the distillation process and saw (and smelled) the giant Cyprus fermentation vats, some of which are 100 years old. The distillery also uses stainless steel and my tour guide said it doesn't produce a taste difference. The vats are empty because the plant is on its annual mandatory shut down period, which lasts about a month.
Maker's Mark produces 850,000 barrels of whiskey each year, compared to 10 million at Jim Bean. Its largest consumer demographic this year has been Australia; last year it was most popular in Japan.
I got to watch factory workers hand dip the bottles with the brand's patented dripping red wax.
And a taste test, of course. The paler liquid is called "white dog" and it's what the whiskey looks like before it's been aged for several years in white oak vats — before it may officially qualify as bourbon.
They say it's sharper and more bitter, and they would never put it on the shelves. Maybe I've had too much Italian desert wine, because I still thought it was drinkable, either way!
This one is from My Old Kentucky Home state park in Bardstown.
And a shot of the estate gardens:
Kentucky is a great place for cars lovers. I think it goes along with the horse thing. At least the parts of my personality that led me to be horse crazy, likely made me car crazy, too…
In Bowling Green, there is the Corvette Museum with plenty of red, white and blue:
And just northeast, in Elizabethtown, dealership magnate Bill Swope, 87, houses about three dozen vintage cars in a free museum located beside one of his car lots.
His collection includes a 1914 Renault taxi, completely original 1928 Packard and several other rare models. Each car runs and gets driven.
"That's just the kind of person he (Swope) is. He loves for people to come in and see him. He is what I call an old-time gentleman," says part time museum hostess Judith Asbury, pictured with a 1956 Thunderbird from the collection.
Asbury is one of three widows that work two days at the museum "just to get out of the house." She found out about the position through a friend from church.