What is Kentucky famous for? Being from Indonesia, I’m going to state the obvious: KFC! And what else? Well, a few more things come to mind: bourbon, Mammoth Cave National Park, and the Kentucky Derby. While Johnny and I have yet to tour the distilleries and descend into the caves, during our fifth-year wedding anniversary Canada-US road trip we were able to squeeze in a little time to admire some pretty horses and drop in at the cafe where the world-famous Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) got its start.
Keeneland in Lexington, KY
On the last leg of our journey back to Atlanta, we spent one night in a city that’s dubbed the “Horse Capital of the World”– Lexington, Kentucky. I was determined that we were not going to leave Lexington without visiting either the Kentucky Horse Park or the Keeneland Race Course. Keeneland won over, and we thought we would just casually stroll the grounds and have a firsthand look at a horse racing venue.
Once Johnny and I arrived at Keeneland, we were in for a surprise. There was a lot of commotion and the grounds was quite packed that we had a hard time finding a parking spot. It turned out that we could not have timed our trip more perfectly, as on that day Keeneland was having its September Yearling Sale. I had no idea that Keeneland is known not only for racing, but also as the world’s largest Thoroughbred auction house. Quoting their website:
“As the world’s leading Thoroughbred auction house, Keeneland has sold more champions and stakes winners than any other sales company, including 83 Breeders’ Cup World Championship winners; 19 Kentucky Derby winners; 21 Preakness winners; 18 Belmont winners; 11 recipients of the Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year; and five Epsom Derby winners.”
I’m a novice when it comes to horses and anything equestrian related, so I was beyond elated to be in the company of so many gorgeous (and expensive) yearlings. First, Johnny and I walked around the barn area, where horses from various farms were kept before they were shown to potential buyers. Boy, you could tell these animals were worth a lot because handlers and caretakers were constantly grooming and looking after them to look their best.
From the barns, the young horses were led out and taken to a detached holding ring behind the Sales Pavilion. Handlers walked the yearlings around so that agents and buyers could inspect and analyze them before the bid. Monitors at the holding ring showed the auction live, and we could see the exorbitant amount these prized horses were selling for.
Johnny and I then made our way to the Sales Pavilion. There was another paddock that leads directly into the auction house — a place for the horses to be paraded around for the last time before going on stage.
The auction ring itself is reserved only for buyers and sellers. Everyone else can sit on the benches right outside the sale ring and watch the bidding through the windows. While snapping a few pictures Johnny warned me not to make any hand motion unless I wanted to go home with another huge loan.
We used the remainder of our time at Keeneland to head out to the Grand Stand and the race course. Seeing this amazing venue piqued my interest to attend a major racing event even more. I can imagine all the excitement coming from the crowd cheering on the horses. Right before we left, I couldn’t resist to purchase a classic Christmas ornament from the gift shop to remind us of our day at beautiful Keeneland.
Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum in Corbin, KY
You can’t call it a Johnny-and-Nanette road trip if it doesn’t involve taking a detour to an unknown town in the middle of nowhere just so that we can take pictures at a random roadside attraction most people would rather pass over. But Sanders Cafe is not just another roadside attraction. I mean, are you going to tell me that you’ve never seen the friendly face of Colonel Sanders that graces every Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant around the world? Growing up in Jakarta, I sure couldn’t tell you where Kentucky was on the map, but I knew where to find the nearest KFC to my house.
Harland Sanders Cafe in Corbin, Kentucky, is not to be confused with the first KFC franchise, which is located in South Salt Lake, Utah. The story of the founding of the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants began in 1930, when Harland Sanders was tapped by the Shell Oil Company to run a service station across the street from the present location of the Sanders Café along U.S. Route 25. In addition to selling gas, he also started serving homemade country cooking, such as fried chicken, ham, steaks, and biscuits in his own small dining space. In 1935, the Kentucky governor awarded Sanders the honor of being a Kentucky colonel, and shortly after that Sanders Cafe was established.
Sadly, the first cafe was burned down in 1939. But the tenacious Colonel Sanders quickly rebuilt his business, and on July 4, 1940, a new motel and a restaurant were once again opened to customers in Corbin. Twelve years later, Sanders franchised “Kentucky Fried Chicken” for the first time to Pete Harman of South Salt Lake, Utah.
Today Sanders Cafe has been converted into a museum where visitors can take a look at KFC memorabilia, a replica of a room from the motor court, the kitchen where Colonel Sanders came up with his original chicken recipe, and a dining room that resembles the restaurant in the 1940’s. And of course a modern KFC has been added next to the museum, which was perfect for the hungry travelers like me and Johnny.
When I first planned our road trip through Kentucky, I had no idea that the Bluegrass State could be so much fun and that it offers unique travel experiences. Next time we come back to Kentucky it better involves some bourbon shots!
This post is a part of the #WeekendWanderlust, a source of travel inspiration from around the world.