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Trip Report: Kentucky Derby

The first weekend in May I fulfilled a longstanding desire to watch the Kentucky Derby in person, taking a few members of the NoVA Travelers group with me.

It had been a while since I’d put together a road trip and it seemed silly to do a simple out and back just for the Derby, so I created a three day tour itinerary featuring highlights of the state. Four of us made our way around the state via car, sharing meals, a hotel room and a lot of laughs along the trip.

Thursday evening we tackled the long (long!) drive to Kentucky and checked into our hotel.

Friday we visited the horse park in Lexington (which brought back a lot of memories for Literary Elly May since she used to frequent the park for to compete in horse shows when she was younger) in the morning and then spent the afternoon at the slugger factory in Louisville. I’m not a big sports fan but participating in the tour and listening to stories about baseball woven into American history made me feel a little more patriotic and nostalgic and likewise I’d recommend the tour for you even if you don’t care for sports. Dinner on this night was enjoyed at Varanese, an upscale establishment in an up and coming section of Louisville.



one of the racehorses buried at the Horse Park (just the head and heart are buried I believe)


Jenni poses before the giant bat at the Slugger Factory entrance


clever ad for the glass shop next to the factory



random Red Bull car we saw driving around Louisville


Cat, Jenni, Dani pose for a pic after dinner

Saturday we spent the entire day at the derby. I lost every race I bet on, but still squeezed out as much fun as possible from the event. We spent most of the day in the paddock area with hundreds of others like us – 20s/30s+, well dressed, articulate folks with a jovial attitude. At one point we thought it would be entertaining to visit the infield and found it to be a conglomerate of thousands of rowdy, drunk and loud college students. We felt old (and dirty after the depths of the infield mud splashed against us) and hightailed it back to the paddock for the rest of the day. It was a great experience but I’d love to revisit the derby with actual seat tickets instead of general admission passes. I’m definitely getting old I guess.



approaching Churchill Downs and its iconic steeples


Literary Elly May, Marty, Jenni, Cat pose for before heading to the derby for the day


my guess is that this bus of Derby attendees were guests of the infield



the Derby hats get pretty wild



checking the horses over before the race


jockey leads his horse to the racetrack


as you get closer to the infield, the antics of the guests get a little stranger…


and by the time you make it onto the infield it’s descended into mayhem



a parting shot from inside the paddock area, surrounded by flowers


Sunday we spent the morning at Mammoth Cave and had the luck of experiencing a twice-every-century torrential rainstorm that flooded into the caves (hence no pictures), creating a dramatic cave waterfall. Quite spectacular! That afternoon we made our way to Cumberland Falls to hike and take photographs of the falls and surrounding landscapes. We had a lovely dinner at Dino’s in Corbin, KY. If you find yourself passing through the area you owe it to yourself to stop by for a bite – authentic Italian cuisine and the service is exceptional.

Monday we made the return trek back to northern VA through southern KY. The roads are very scenic which made the ride go easy.

While I had a great time touring the sites and enjoying the open road, what I liked best about the trip were the friendships I strengthened over the course of the trip. I got to know Literary Elly May and Catherine even better than before and made a new friend in Marty. I’m very blessed to be married to a kind and understanding husband who gives me the space to enjoy a weekend ‘with the girls’ from time to time. I’ve made so many new friends on trips with the travel group and I think that’s one of the strongest draws of NoVA Travelers for our member community – a chance to not only travel affordably without the hassle of being responsible for handling reservations and planning itineraries but also to build friendships.


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