China and Cambodia: Part 5

That morning, I was determined to have more red bean paste. We stopped at the bakery where we had the egg bean paste thing. This time I chose poorly. One of the things was filled with dried chicken (I thought it tasted like dry lotus paste – awkward) and another with pork. Sad panda.

We decided to go on a little journey on the far side of town to Qibao. It’s supposed to look like what a river village would. So we took a few train changes to get there (saw some amazing surreal vegetable and fruit advertisements). I tried what I think was a red bean and chocolate bubble tea from a kiosk in the train station. It was pretty good.

Qibao was amazing. The bridge was beautiful. You saw boats hanging out in the water. Old buildings surrounded it. It was worth the side trip. It also had great tourist shopping; it was less chaotic than Yu gardens area. We had fun looking at the vendors, bought some canvas shoes. And there was a food area! There were lots of meat on skewers but the heat of the day made me want for something refreshing. We bought pickles from a vendor sold them from vats. I also got this tasty gooey red bean paste thing. We hung out in a tiny cafe next to the water to cool down from the heat. I watched amazing ice cream concoctions being made but I wanted to wait for the real prize that afternoon.

Qibao

Skewers

After we felt sufficiently cooled down, we decided to wander a little bit more in the area to see the little museums. We found the Shadow Puppet museum that we had to go to. Sadly, we were not there on a day with a show. It was tiny but we saw the intricate shadow puppets. Not a lot to read but it was a cute little pit stop.

Then we decided to head back to the French Concession for one last hurrah. My goal: ridiculous ice cream. Before we explored the warrens of the Tianzifang, we found a little market that sold fruits, veggies and meat. We got several fruits including: dragon fruit, clementines, and these lychee like fruits. I tried eating one of the lychee like fruits and it exploded over me.🙂

Then it was time to find my crazy ice cream. It was ice cream with cotton candy and fruit pebbles. It has to be one of the most insane things I’ve had. I’ll admit the sight of it was better than the actual taste (the ice cream was akin to soft serve but not quite). But it was worth the experience. We wandered around a bit more, taking in the other ridiculous things to eat.

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Panda egg tarts

Then it was time to head to the train to meet my family for dinner at their apartment. We ended up in the food court of a mall where the train station had an entrance. Again, we saw amazing food experiences but we had to pass them up since we were going to dinner.

That’s all for now!

China and Cambodia: Part 4

The following day was our day trip to Hangzhou. It’s a city about an hour by train from Shanghai. The attraction there is West Lake, considered one of the most beautiful sights in China. Naturally, we had to go.

To get there, we had to get to the Hongqiao train station on the other side of Shanghai. It was about a forty minute train ride. I love riding the public transit of cities; I feel that I get a better sense of the city that way. I love seeing the people; I love the advertisements you see in the stations.

Once we got to the train station, we had to figure out how to buy tickets. Unfortunately, since we were not Chinese citizens, we could not buy tickets from a kiosk. We waited in a long line and eventually got tickets to take us to the Hangzhou East Train station. It’s further away but it had more frequent trains. Soon we boarded our train and were zooming through China to our destination.

It was pretty cool to see the area outside of Shanghai. I had never been anywhere else in China. I saw people working in the fields, I saw large towns with amazing architecture. It was rather lovely. The train was pretty awesome too. Somewhere there was a hot water spigot for tea or soup preparation. That’s amazing. I wish we had something like that in more common areas in Chicago or the US at large.

Once we got to the station and waited in the cab line, we debated where to go. The guidebook was surprisingly vague about where to go in West Lake. We ended up choosing something randomly that we thought we could ask the driver to take us to.  It may have been the farthest point on West Lake from Hangzhou but that’s okay. It was neat to see tiny glimpses of the area as we drove to it. Mountains surround it on three sides.

And then we were finally at our destination. We understood why it was so popular with the Chinese. The combination of the lake, the mountains, pagodas in the distance. This was a marvelous place. We bought some popcorn with the intention of feeding it to creatures we saw. However, we would soon learn that none of the fish or birds were interested in the popcorn. Very strange. But we saw this amazing pond with 100s of koi, swimming in bulk. We walked along the causeway taking in all of the nature. Lotus blossoms, trees, occasional astonishing birds. We watched the boats go out on the water and saw the amazing party boats shaped like dragons and other mythical creatures.

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We decided to hire a boat to take us out on the water. We climbed into a wooden boat where we tried to talk to our boatsman/captain. He paddled us out and around. We got an even better view of the area including a pagoda that is apparently on the RMB bills. Very neat! I’m not entirely sure if we were ripped off. The ride was only a half hour instead of the expected hour. But the language barrier made it hard to figure out what was going on. Then again, it was a small amount of money. It was still worth the brief excursion on the water.

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We continued to wander around the lake. I saw lots of people eating fresh watermelon so I naturally desired it. For about a dollar, I got a container of fresh watermelon with toothpicks. It was absolutely refreshing.

On our journey, we came across the Tianfeng Pagoda on the water. We decided to check it out since we were there. It was a very tall pagoda. There were several flights of stairs just to get to the base of it! There were seven more floors to get to the top. But it was worth it. (Every tower must be climbed!) The view was astonishing. You could see the mountains, the lake, and the actual city of Hangzhou! What a glorious place!

As the day continued, we realized how hungry and hot we were. We hadn’t really seen places to sit for food. We did have some walking lunches but we sometimes elected for sit down meals because of the heat and humidity. We studied the insufficient map to figure out where we were. We had planned to walk to the nearer train station to go home since it was about .5 mile from Hangzhou (supposedly). We learned that the lake is really really big. But we eventually figured out where to go and found a little place offering coconuts. And air conditioning. We went in and had the most refreshing coconut of our lives. It wasn’t coconut water; it was a jellied coconut served in the shell. It was what was needed after hours of walking. And we had WiFi.

That’s when I got messages about the impending super typhoon that was on its way to Shanghai. Not something you necessarily expect on a trip. We had been alerted to it a few days before by my mother but hadn’t gotten a lot of information. All I could determine was that it was going to hit Taiwan first and make landfall on mainland China at some point. Shanghai would get the last wave of the storm. I was a bit worried that we might have some issues leaving for Cambodia but that was the extent. Still it was strange to get messages about the typhoon from concerned family members while in a coconut shop in Hangzhou.

After our stay at the oasis, it was time to get to the train station. I was concerned about getting tickets on a train back since it seemed to be filling up per the website. We tried walking but the map got very difficult and ended up taking a cab.

The experience in the train station was something out of Monty Python. A sign told us that the foreign friendly line at teh station was aisle X so we dutifully stood in line. Just as we got to the front of the queue, the woman at the front put up a sign in Chinese and waved us away. Apparently, it was closed. Very frustrating. We waited there for about 5 minutes hoping she (or her replacement) would help us but to no avail. So we waited in another line. THen it closed. Another line. Same thing. Eventually we got in a fourth line. This time as we stood at the front, a Iranian adult son and father asked if they could cut in front of us to get a ticket thing figured out. We obliged (common bond of travelers in foreign lands). The ticket lady helped them reprint tickets. THen it was our turn. She took one look at us and said, “No, you have to go to the FOreigner’s line.” (At this point, it had reopened). We were spitting mad. So my friend pointedly said, “You helped the Iranians. You can help us.” The woman didn’t respond but took our passports and eventually gave us tickets. However, we had 15 minutes to get to our train. We had to get through security, find our gate, and get on the train. And we did. The train was once again a smooth breeze, easy, air conditioned and hassle free.

Once we got back to the hotel, I decided to venture on alone for some dinner. I was hungry and keen to find some good eating. It was tricky since a lot of the places around the hotel were open during the day. They were not many sit down places. I found one but it served American style food that was not for me. I was in China and I was going to each Chinese food.  After a little walk, I found a place with a crab on the logo. It was sit down place. It was perfect. The menu was a placemat where there were pictures of animals. You chose the type of animal you wanted. The waitress tried to help me through it. Through miming, we decided the size (small). She even creatively asked me how spicy I wanted it. Thanks to the guidebook, I indicated a small amount of spice.

And then I received the most magnificent plate of crabs, chicken feet, and tofu. It was amazing. More food than I had hoped for but totally worth it. I wasn’t sure how to eat the small crabs so I watched people around me. After a few minutes, I realized I was gnawing on the distinctly wrong part of the crab. But it was still delicious. The sauce was amazing. The crabs (once I figured them out) were succulent. The chicken feet were a nice complement and the tofu was delicious. I did accidently ate a pepper that made my face go completely red. One of the waiters rushed over with cold tea that helped a bit. That’s when I used the phrases in the guidebook to order white rice! It was honestly the best meal of the trip despite or even because of my misadventures.🙂

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That’s all for now!

China and Cambodia: Part 3

On our third full day, we decided to check out some markets in Shanghai. We had read about an antique market. There was also a Flower, Fish, Bird and Insect market near the antique market so we were especially keen to go. When we got there, we found the Flower market first. It was surprisingly loud. Several vendors sold crickets in little wooden cages; the sound was the 100s of crickets singing(?). THe market was true to its word. There were lots of birds, including parrots and even house sparrows. There were various fish and amphibians. It was pretty neat. THe market was a pet market for people of Shanghai. Cute fuzzy scaly winged creatures!

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Cricket baskets

Then we decided to find the antique market. We wandered around a construction site; there were bulldozers everywhere. Then we realized looking at the directions in the guidebook; we were where the market used to be. All the bulldozers were taking out the remains of the neighborhood. This we knew was pretty typical. Things changed quickly in Shanghai. One local told us how he saw a store open in the morning to bulldozed a few hours later with no warning. I should also mention that my guidebook was from 2013…so not exactly up to date. (The subway in the map was our guide but had several lines missing!). So we skirted the place and found two holdouts.

After our adventure with the antique market, we decided to head back to the French Concession for some exploration and shopping. We ended up in the very posh area called Xintiandi. It has lots of very upscale stores and restaurants; it’s meant to mirror the other area of the French Concession, Tianzifang. It has echoes of historical architecture but it’s like a reinterpretation. On the way from this fancy area back to Tianzifang, we found a vegetarian place where we had incredibly fresh food including skinned cucumbers, vegetable dumplings, and a salad of bananas and dragonfruit.

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Xintiandi

 

We wandered around Tianzifang again, taking it all a bit more. We got another dumpling from the dumpling shop with all the characters. This time it was shaped like a penguin with custard inside. It was prettier than it tasted. It was fun but that was the last time we got a dumpling from the place.During our time there, I accidently ended up trying a $3,000 embroidered shirt and then a $500 shawl. Eep!

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After trying on such expensive outfits, we decided to check out the Shanghai Liuli Art Museum. It was opened by  Chang Yi and Loretta Yang and features art glass all over the world. They had a special exhibition of Toot Zynsky. She pioneered this fiber optic glass form and made these vibrant vases. Very cool. My friend described them best: “It’s like the glass version of Georgia O’Keefe.” In their permanent collection, Loretta Yang displays her ethereal pieces influenced by Buddhism.  The outside of the building is this beautiful LED light flower that fades from color to color.

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Liuli Shanghai Art Museum

Then a downpour came upon us. We ended up hiding under the awning of a local hospital. So it was naturally more museum time! We found a cab that took us to our next destination (and a personal favorite): the Shanghai Propaganda Museum. I had been there before on our first trip because propaganda. It’s a lovely gem of a museum. It is housed in the basement of an apartment complex but worth going. It has a collection of posters starting with the Shanghai girl posters to the present day. You’ll see how the styles and ideology changed. And some of the images are truly spectacular. Lots of space babies, babies riding wheat, even a poster on Einstein!

Afterwards we walked a bit around this residential area of the French Concession. We stopped at a cafe channeling retro France with old school refrigerator and 1960/70s movie posters. We had a snack of pickles including pickled apples. Very refreshing! I had a red bean tea latte that was tasty. IT had red beans in the bottom!

For dinner, we had dinner at a Yunnan restaurant that was amazing. I’ve never had minced meat that was so delicious before! Everything was amazing. We ended the night hanging out in a Carrefour because grocery stores in foreign countries are a lot of fun. We bought lots of haw snacks, a sweet red plant based candy, that we devoured quickly.

A great day!

China and Cambodia: Part 2

The following morning, we were up super early because of the jet lag. But that was okay. We walked around some more in our neighborhood. There was a bakery where we got little baked balls of red bean and egg that was quite delicious. I am obsessed with red bean and have been since high school. I endeavoured to have as much of it as possible on this trip. And rank it!

After our morning tea and coffee, we decided to take a long walk to the Shanghai Museum. It’s one of the top museums in Shanghai; it has a very impressive collection of artifacts including bronzes, ceramics, and more. It’s free but they limit the number of visitors each day to 8000 (I think). So go early if possible to avoid disappointment. Shanghai in July is hot and sticky as we found out. But the walk was nice. We took a detour along the Bund, an area next to the riverfront called the Wall Street of Shanghai. I think it was part of the English and American concessions when Shanghai was colonized. We watched the boats in the harbor, saw the crazy buildings on the skyline.

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The Skyline

We stopped by for a cold drink at one of the many Family Marts we saw in China. The labels on the drinks were amazing and surreal. My favorite was the one with a bird living in a teacup.

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Me in label form

The Shanghai Museum is shaped like a Chinese cooking vessel called a ding. I really love that fact especially since they have several dings inside the museum! We got there when it opened but there was already a line. Thankfully it moved quickly and we were in the air conditioned embrace of the museum. We started from the top floor down. The first area we went to was the Exhibit of Ethnic Minorities in China. Yes, that’s what it is called. While we can talk a lot about the politics of such a place and some inclusions, there were some really amazing outfits and masks.

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My favorite area of the museum remains the ceramics. I came to love ceramics later in life. As a kid I found them moderately interesting. Now, I find them endlessly fascinating. My favorite era of Chinese pottery is Tang. The sculptures are so full of character and life. I love the color scheme, full of greens, yellows and oranges. One sculpture was a woman seated on a horse.

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Tang Dynasty – Female rider

We also had a fun moment with a guard. I happened to notice an interaction with a guard and another museum patron. This guy was holding a series of empty wicker baskets. Apparently, you can bring almost anything into the museum. He had just thrown them down on the floor to look at something and the guard, rightly so, yelled at him. Moments later as I was looking at something else, my friend grabbed me and said, “The guard impishly pointed a bowl. You should check it out.” I saw the bowl at hand and if you peeked into it, there were painted butterflies. Same guard. I love it.

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The Impish Guard Butterfly Bowl

We also made a turn around the Bronzes and the Sculptures, which were also wonderful. It’s a really nice collection. And yes, I saw the many dings! There’s a tea room in the museum so we had a little pit stop with tea and macarons, including a sesame one. Pretty good!

Then we decided to walk to Yuyuan Gardens. Of course, it was the hottest time of the day. The area around Yuyuan Gardens is a bit hectic, a bit unpleasant. But the gardens are a wonder. It’s like a labyrinth, little narrow walls lead you to unexpected pools and trees. It’s fun to get lost here.  We spent some time gazing out on the pond filled with koi amongst some beautiful buildings.  There’s a zig zagged bridge in the middle; there’s a belief that ghosts can only walk in straight lines so they can’t walk on a zig zagged bridge.

When we left the peaceful confines of the garden, we eventually found ourselves back in the hubbub around the gardens. We decided to get a snack at a dumpling place nearby. I ordered a variety of dumplings including a Hello Kitty inspired dumpling. Inside was custard. I also had a dumpling that was kinda like baklava, nutty and sweet. The red bean dumpling was okay. Alas!

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Hello Kitty Dumplings

We ended up meeting family for dinner near the hotel at a mega mall at a stir fry place. It’s a bit like Benihana where the chef cooks it all at the table. I had this crystal pork that was delicious (but dangerous). Dessert was a warm pancake filled with red bean paste. It was really wonderful. Can’t decide which red bean thing I liked better: the red bean egg ball in the morning or the stir fry pancake in the evening. Decisions!

After dinner, we decided to try a foot massage at a place near the hotel. I had never had a foot massage in China before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I love massages as a rule so I was very curious. I sadly was not a fan. It hurt a lot, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but my feet still hurt the following day. I feel that suggests that the foot massage was not for me. Oh well. It was worth a try!
That’s all for now!

China and Cambodia: Part 1

Hello Readers! It has been a few weeks since I’ve last written. I have just returned from most wondrous adventures in China and Cambodia that I will relate to you in the upcoming weeks! We spent a week in Shanghai and six days in Cambodia.

Our trip began in Shanghai where I had family. We flew Eastern China Airlines, which actually was pretty good. I always appreciate it when airlines have personal TVs with lots of movie options. Our fifteen hour flight, however, got a little tricky. There were storms in Shanghai so we couldn’t land at the airport. Then we were going to land at a different airport in Shanghai but the storms were impacting flights there too. So we ended up in Nanjing, about 45 minutes away. However, we learned that Nanjing didn’t have customs so they couldn’t process us. Fortunately, the storm ended in an hour and we eventually landed in Shanghai.

We got into our hotel around midnight. Before we went to sleep, we decided to walk a little bit outside and checked out the 24 hour Family Mart next door. It was great. We picked up a bunch of tasty looking things and ate them in the room. I got these marshmallow things that I had hoped had red bean paste inside of them. Instead it was chocolate. It was pretty good. I also had this bun that had phyllo dough and cream (like Twinkie cream) inside of it. It was a pretty awesome way to say hello to Shanghai.

The following morning, we took a stroll around our hotel. It was on a side street that had recently touched up cobblestones and statues of famous Shanghai citizens. There were little shops and a church claiming to be the only church in a Chinese style in the city. We had coffee and tea at the Koala Garden House, which was pretty good. There were lots of little hole in the wall places all around the hotel that made me super happy. So much street food!

Our first stop of the day was the Jade Buddha. I had been there previously in 2014 but it’s a classic place. It’s a wonderful place. There are beautiful statues in various temples all over the complex. I loved all the flags in the temples. Some statues seemed relatively old while others looked very recent. The Jade Buddha itself is housed in the second floor of one of the buildings in a serene room with an elaborate ceiling of about 500+ Buddhas. The complex seems bigger this time since there were additional rooms behind it including a dining hall.

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Flags and pagodas

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Statues at one pagoda

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Newer statue in another pagoda

After our wanderings through the Jade Buddha, we had some lunch at a random place nearby. The king of all the meals was a bean curd and bean dish that was out of this world.

Our next stop was M50, a former factory area turned into art gallery complex. There had to be at least 50 galleries that had set up shop. It’s like a contemporary art museum. So many different styles to see. Our favorite was island6 that had a lot of light and sculpture installations. One piece had three guys sleeping in chairs at a conference table and a phone number. Naturally, I called the number, causing the painting to start ringing. The three men wake up and start picking up their phones. Sadly, the recorded person on the line spoke in Chinese so I have no idea what was being said. Another painting showed a ship and if you triggered the sensor, you’d see and hear explosions. There was a stuffed parrot that would yell insults at you and a box of Chinese take out that said really naughty things. The gallery was lots of fun.

As we left M50, we found a series of walls covered in graffiti that made me very happy. I love how art spaces seem to go hand in hand with street art. The same is true in Paris too. There were even artists out adding to the wall! We found a coffee shop where we had some tea and cake. It was a perfect place to relax after our wanderings. There was a mural of Lhasa and another map of China…and a series of license plates from the US. A neat little space.

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Street art near M50

Our next stop was Tianzifang in the French Concession. It’s like a warren of little shops, some touristy but many are boutiques. It was fun wandering around. I had a soup dumpling that I drank with a straw and then ate the dumpling with my hands. So much fun! Dinner was at an Indian restaurant with juice drinks. It was a good way to handle our first day in Shanghai.
That’s all for now!

Southern Illinois/Kentucky: Part 4

On our final day in Southern Illinois, we opted to go ziplining in the Shawnee Forest in the morning. We saw a fridge magnet at our B&B and decided to try it out. I had tried ziplining once or twice. At my old job, they’d have a block party for the students, faculty and staff twice a year. A few times, they hired a company that would set up a zipline in the middle of the street in downtown Chicago. Of course, I had to do it. It was always terrifying stepping off the platform to zipline down the street but it was fun.

The ziplining place was not very far away from where we were staying. It was a bit further in the forest; the roads turned from pavement to gravel very quickly. It was astonishingly beautiful at the site. It was a perfect hot day.

We loved it. We had tour fantastic guides who led us through the course. Safety was always their number one priority; we always had two clasps to wires to keep us from falling even when we were just standing on the platform. The guides were funny and knowledgeable too. There were 7 courses where the largest was over 1000 feet! I’ll admit that I was super nervous on the first two lines (the shorter ones). But then when I did the third one, which was over 300 feet, I had enough time to actually relax and enjoy the ride. Needless to say, I was hooked. That feeling of rushing through the air was astonishing. The last line was the longest and it had a radar gun to determine your speed. My husband and I tied at 42 mph. What a rush! I can’t wait to do it again!

Then we had a long drive back home to Chicago. We stopped at a Steak & Shake on the way, which was nice. I’ve only been three or four times. I try to avoid fast food places as a rule but that’s a bit hard on road trips. We ordered a birthday cake shake which wasn’t bad but the Oreo Cheesecake place from Sonic was better. On the way home, we briefly stopped at Lincoln Log  Cabin Historic State Park. It’s not exactly well marked from the highway. Google was yet again on “Adventure Mode” so we were on some gravel roads frequented by golf carts.

The park was pretty neat. Unfortunately, we got there after it closed but so the visitor center was not open. Alas. We could wander the grounds and see this cabin and the farm. There were real animals housed in the farm including sheep and a cow. At one point when I was focused on the disgruntled cow, my husband called out to me. I turned around and on the path was a black snake making his way to the cabin behind me. With a healthy distance between us, I was fascinated by the snake. We watched as the snake crossed the sidewalk, got to the cabin wall and found a little hole inside. (The cabin looks closed off so I think it’s a good place for the snake).

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Lincoln’s cabin

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Snake friend

Near the park was a cemetery where Lincoln’s father and stepmother, Thomas and Susan Lincoln, were buried. We made our respects, leaving a penny each.

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The rest of the trip home was most uneventful despite watching a thunderstorm erupt around us at one point.

What a wonderful trip!

That’s all for now!

 

Southern Illinois/Kentucky Part 3

It was the day to drive to Mammoth Caves. A glorious day. I had been keen to go to Mammoth Caves for several years. We had done a road trip to Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. We opted to go to the lesser known Cathedral Caverns State Park in Alabama, which was super cool. But Mammoth was the big time. So when my husband originally suggested this trip to Southern Illinois, I was excited about the prospect of visiting Mammoth Cave as a side trip.

It was about a three hour drive, mostly through Kentucky since we were staying about thirty miles from the border. On the way, we were astonished to see the seeming lack of billboards all over Kentucky. There must be a law. Or maybe they just don’t put up many billboards in the part of the state we were in. We had lunch at a Sonic on the way. I had never been to one, only knowing about it from the strange commercials back when I lived in Madison, WI. (There were no Sonics in Wisconsin at the time). It was a little unusual for us; we didn’t realize you needed to stay in the car. The cheeseburger I ordered was okay (I prefer Culver’s better). But the milkshake of Oreo Cheesecake was awesome. And so emblematic of our country’s problem with food. Mmm.

After a few hours, we got to Cave City. We had about an hour before our ticketed tour (I highly recommend getting tickets ahead of time). My coworker had mentioned a most magical place near the Caves: Dinosaur World. So that was our first stop. It is the best tourist trap ever. You pay about $16 and then hang out with these supposedly lifesize dinosaurs. It was so fun to wander a forest with dinosaurs all over (and giant spiders). There’s even a Mammoth grove. On the way, you see this giant T-Rex advertising for it. In the park, you can walk out to it and take photos. It has to be 3-4 floors up. There’s a little museum with a mix of artifacts and plaster casts of artifacts. Nothing like the Field or anything but neat. It was totally worth a side trip.

Dinosaur World

We then hopped in the car to get to Mammoth Caves in time for our tour. On the way, we were impressed with the amazing amount of tourist traps: Old West Towns, ziplining, horseback riding. This was tourist trap central. We got to Mammoth Cave, picked up our tickets, and made it to our tour just in time. (Seriously don’t be late). I had opted for the “Domes and Dripstones” tour. We boarded buses to get driven to the “New” entrance in the forest. We entered through a door into the dark. Once inside the cave, the temperature dropped to about 50 or so degrees, a relief from the 90 plus outside. It was impressive. We had to travel down about 100 stairs to a giant room.

Our the tour, we learned about George Morrison who concluded that there must have been other entrances to Mammoth Cave. He bought land and used explosives to expand some sinkholes. His team quickly discovered a giant cavern and then a section of the cave that was dubbed “Frozen Niagara.” He started leading tours down there, trying to take business away from the old Mammoth Cave entrance. He apparently hired people to dress up like troopers and create roadblocks to encourage folks to go his entrance over the other one. They would claim that the old entrance was closed because of cave-ins and other awful things. Apparently, there were the Kentucky Cave Wars where competing caves would sabotage each other (even destroying one another’s caves). There were allegedly some altercations. Eventually, people banded together to end the madness and bought the lands to consolidate it all, the root of the caves becoming a National Park. Pretty sweet. I look forward to reading more about the Cave Wars.

It was an impressive cavern. It was all smoothed naturally; there had been a river flowing through. With the exception of the lights and the benches and the ground, they hadn’t done much to the area. Along the way we saw gigantic boulders that just laid on the floor or at the bottom of chasms, clearly they had fallen from above. Crazy times. The guides turned off the lights at one point so we could experience pure darkness. I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. They tried to get us to not make any noise too but that failed for the most part. They said you could hear your heartbeating. Freaky!

We wandered through the cave to Frozen Niagara. It was an area with many stalagmites and stalactites with some columns. It looked a bit out of a horror film. The stalactites had this weird webbing look to them, made it look organic. Very cool and creepy. The guides told us that part of the reason that Mammoth Cave  could be so large was that it was dry. Caves with stalagmites and stalactites eventually will collapse from the weight on the ceiling.

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Frozen Niagara

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Frozen Niagara at Mammoth Caves

 

After Mammoth Cave, we decided to spend a bit more time in Cave City. We had a lot of tourist traps to choose from. We decided to check out Kentucky Down Under, which advertised petting a kangaroo. We got there around 4:50 and were told that they had sold their last ticket at 4pm. They closed at 6. Boo urns.

 

Instead, we ended up in a magical amusement park. We took a turn in Go-Karts, which was not my speed. Then we signed up for an hour horseback riding. I’ve been horseback riding twice before; the last time was a ten minute ride two years ago in Argentina. My horseriding skills are basically non-existent. But it’s fun and worth trying again.

So I’m terrible at leading horses around. My horse was tired and really didn’t want to take the longer path around. (It was the last ride of the day) Despite my best attempts, the horse ended up getting turned around. It was awkward. After some frustrating yet funny shenanigans with the horses in, we eventually got them on the right path. And then we galloped. It was amazing and terrifying at the same time. I don’t have much of a seat so I bobbed up and down, terrified that I would fly off the horse. It was only for a short time but it was amazing. After about thirty seconds, we went back to walking and I got to appreciate the scenery. Kentucky is gorgeous.

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After the horseback riding, we decided to fit in some fun on a chair lift and Alpine Sled. There’s something about trips to Kentucky and chairlifts. When we went to Natural Bridge State Resort Park, there was a chair lift you could take to get to the top of the park. It’s a great way to relax, check out the sites, and feel the wind in your hair. The Alpine slide was fun but somehow my sled started to lose speed. For once, I wasn’t touching the brake much. Eek!

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What a day in Cave City!

THe ride home turned out to be much more of an adventure than either of us wanted to be. We missed our exit to the next major highway so we let Google recalculate. Well, Google really decided to change the setting to adventure for us. We ended up on seventy-five miles of backroads before we got back to a major highway. At one point, we were on this little road between farms and houses when we saw debris on th way. We avoided hitting it with the tires but it got caught underneath the car. We ended up having to pull over where it was safe. It was stuck. It was a cardboard box with a plastic diesel tank. Thankfully, some nice local folks pulled over and helped us getting it out. After they left, we realized there was a little trail of liquid coming from the car. We had no idea what it was. It didn’t smell like fuel. Since it was a Sunday night of Memorial Day weekend in rural Kentucky, our only real option was to get to the major highway and find a gas station where we could find a mechanic. So we had this sixty mile ride of dread. The car seemed fine. Nothing indicated loss of fuel. But there is nothing like the fear of being broken down in a cell-phone dead zone in rural Kentucky at 9pm at night. Any time the car made any noises (ie. the radio) or we smelled anything funny, we both got very anxious. We did see some Amish buggys at one point with battery powered caution signs on the back of their buggys.

Eventually, we got to the highway and found a gas station. I asked if there was a mechanic available in the area. The people said that they could call one in for sixty bucks. They asked what the problem was, so we explained what happened. They offered to look at the car. So the gas station attendant and his friend checked the car, even tasted the liquid (still dripping, ever dripping). He was about 90% sure it was just air conditioning condensation. He said it could be antifreeze so he said get a gallon of water just in case it was. It was a relief.

We ended up at a Huddle Grill, a seeming knock off of Waffle House. It was strange. There was someone occasionally shrieking behind us. The waffle I ordered was okay. Alas.

We drove the additional 100 miles home and were fine. We were really happy to make it back to our B&B that night!

That’s all for now!