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America's Secret Gem: Louisville, Kentucky

What I find endlessly fascinating about our country, that I feel sets us apart from much of the world, is the vast array of climates, terrain, small towns, big cities, and consequently, the people who inhabit these sections of America. I love to travel. I think I’m addicted. I came back from a three-year dream, hopping from country to country, conversing with people in any number of languages, eating amazing, weird foods, absorbing lifestyles and history, and just going nonstop. Coming back to the States I was eager to return to efficiency, options, and ease. Almost immediately I missed what I had. I knew I would, but it was tremendously difficult, the culture shock returning was a billion times worse than leaving in the first place. Poor me. Not complaining, just explaining. Since returning, I lived in NYC for Yoga school, explored Michigan and their “great lakes”, visited many cities in my home state of Florida, and recently made my way back to New York, New York; up to Rock Island, Wisconsin; Minneapolis, Minnesota; back down to Florida, over to Baltimore/DC area and just recently went to a personal favorite in this gigantically strange bizarro world we live in, Louisville, Kentucky.

I miss real travel big time but I’ve also recognized that exploring our own country is important and can be just as educational as international adventures. There’s an endless stretch of land and even some random additions that I’ve yet to stand in that I know are the most heavenly, breath-taking states this planet has to offer. I’ll make it to Hawaii and Alaska soon enough, but for now I’m grateful to take some road trips and quick flights to places many would assume to skip. Louisville, most widely known for housing the Kentucky Derby, is a quirky, artsy town, with all the nuances of a big city packed into a very charming, beautiful package. If you’re unaware of Louisville’s magic, you’d probably be very surprised given we are talking about a city in Kentucky, a state encompassing both the midwest and the south, rolling hills, babbling brooks, trees painted like an exquisite, autumn rainbow, and stereotypically some pretty rural, regressive people.

Similar to New Orleans or even Birmingham, Alabama (a place I’m looking forward to visiting, home to some of the most remarkably interesting people I’ve ever had the fortune to connect), Louisville and Mammoth Caves are the reason to visit Kentucky. My drive through Indiana (in my top 5 worst states in this oversized country) was dull and redundant, but once I crossed the bridge into Kentucky, just miles from Louisville, I saw the cavalcade of color and dimension, and soon the distinctive Louisville skyline emerged and I felt excitement and ease. I’ve been visiting since childhood, frequenting the likes of the Louisville Slugger museum, Churchill Downs, and the beautiful suburbs where my honorary father and his brothers grew into men. It’s where I experienced my first snow, a white Christmas at 9 years old, an important experience every child should have. What you feel immediately, whether you have familial ties to this city or not, is soul. This place has character, oddities, artists and athletes, small town humility and big city happenings. Sharing the flour de lis symbol with New Orleans, Louisville can be proud to hold a piece of America’s highest appeal, and a large chunk of my modest but growing heart.

Exploring downtown, you’ll feast your eyes on a wide spectrum of architecture, old brick, northern style homes, a handful of unique skyscrapers and a slew of truly badass bridges. You’ll notice distinctly painted horses on random street corners throughout the city, along with shops run by local artists, family run restaurants, and enough bars to entertain you to the point of memory loss. Beyond a great university with one of the most consistently successful NCAA basketball teams, a historical event like the derby, and this very special southern/midwestern appeal, Louisville is best known for some of the most incredible human beings this world to offer, both known and unknown. Muhammad Ali is from Louisville. Enough said on the known. And I may be biased, but the unknown are the brilliant men taking up one-quarter of my family. The Bressoud men are highly intelligent, achieving and interesting. The one who challenged my typical school of thought, broadened my mind and heart, and inspired me to be an artist is still giving his gift to this small but wonderful city. His name is Ted Bressoud. He’s a masterful, creative architect, a truly innovative thinker and artist, and someone I’m proud to call family and my friend. Any human being would be lucky to know him. He could light any city on fire, but his loyalty and appreciation of his home town kept him there to improve upon the architectural landscape and to keep Louisville weird. The city is fortunate to have him and vice versa.

One of my closest and dearest friends is gracing U of L with her presence. Someone with a full lifetime of experiences, good and bad, Hope retains her optimism, her lust for life, her tremendous integrity and her essential goodness and is giving and getting from her city and her school with the utmost of her ability. Having the same appreciation as I for the city and the university’s vintage style structures, the respect for artists and for food, I was eager to see two of Louisville’s many fantastic people. Summer of 2010, the four of us went to the Forecastle Music and Arts festival, and suffice it to say we had such a memorable time and I’d go back in a heartbeat. I’m not fan of outdoor concerts, Woodstock sounds like a dirty, rapey nightmare, but this was unlike any other, situated downtown right on the river, the same location as the greatest fireworks show in the world, Thunder over Louisville. Needless to say, this city is replete with everyday fun and a years worth of events to satisfy any enthusiast. Give this place the gift of your presence, you’ll both benefit and thank me for it.

To name and describe each of Louisville’s worthy establishments would fill a long, detailed book. For now, I’ll just quickly recommend a few gems based on my recent experiences. Just know there are hundreds more worth exploring, all to be written in a mastic8onthis: Louisville someday in the near future.

Homemade Ice-cream and Pie Kitchen, need I say more? Almost any restaurant and/or bar on Bardstown road is worth stepping into, for now I’ll recommend Ramsi’s for a mind-blowing menu, Cafe 360 for a quirky hookah bar, and something else. For breakfast either hit up one of two Wild Eggs locations or Toast on Market street for some of the best breakfast you’ll ever taste. While you’re waiting for your table at Toast, walk across the street to the Red Tree and 4-5 other local shops. I bought this awesome hand-painted flour de lis clock that now hangs proudly in my Chicago apartment. I hate shopping, especially clothes shopping, these are shops with fun shit to look at, discuss, people watch and support. Whether you buy something or not you’ll have a good time looking around. Skip William Sonoma and peruse something interesting, made lovingly by passionate artists.

One of the greatest attributes to Louisville is the existence of almost every genre of food. I had a crazy delicious Ethiopian dinner (and you may recall my grandmother grew up there so I have fairly high standards) at Queen of Sheeba on Taylorsville Road. If you’re craving southern bbq and seafood, hit up Doc Crows on Main Street for some succulent pulled pork, crispy, light catfish, and a pretty top-notch Po-boy. And for bars, I’ll only recommend one, Starbase Q. Q resides in a bustling part of downtown and was designed by my very talented, amazing uncle, Ted Bressoud. Being a modern woman turned off by the typical club or bar scene, I enjoy gay bars more than any other and this is the best of the best, and I’ve been to many throughout America and Europe. Just step in to see Ted’s remarkable work if nothing else. There are plenty of bars downtown and on Bardstown if Q isn’t your cup of tea, but if you’re moderately interesting and intelligent you’ll enjoy a couple of reasonably priced drinks in an excellent atmosphere, and you're sure to be entertained 7 nights a week.
What is to be revered and appreciated in this world you cannot take with you. You hug it. You digest it. You absorb it. It lives in your bones, in your soul, forever, but it will not bring you wealth or diamonds. I implore you to spend your money on memories, on experiences that will enrich you as a human being, leaving an imprint on you, painting on your ever-evolving canvas. I have very little money in my bank account, few diamonds or expensive pieces of jewelry, no designer clothes, no car, no home, but I feel so full, so whole, so grateful. I have memories that feed me through my tough days. I have conversations every single day with people who inspire me, make me better, and I have some serious mileage racked up on planes, trains and automobiles. I wish the same for you and the rest of the world. Louisville will stimulate and motivate you, something intangible in it will linger and you’ll have to go back. I’m so proud to have a history there and grateful to share it with others.

Pack your car. Drive somewhere. Try something new. Eat and laugh. Enjoy.