Scavenger hunt in Louisville

For more than a year, we kept the Louisville news clippings on our refrigerator. Their maps and recommendations touted the best ways to spend a weekend in the city just 3 hours north of Nashville. Before we finally made the drive for my birthday, we prepared two handmade books to help capture the road trip.

In my sketchbook, I would write and draw, and eventually tape in a green leaf. And in a small booklet my husband kept in his pocket, we created a self-imposed scavenger hunt for the city, embracing a bit of eavesdropping on strangers, looking for things "decidedly southern" and "unequivocally northern" in the sort of in-between city, and leaving space for the kinds of scraps that accumulate on the road.

One of our scavenger hunt challenges was to find a handmade sign. Of course, we found a few. Perhaps the most intriguing was a series all around the "NuLu" district, where some mischief-maker posted small "This is art" signs to be discovered. 

sidewalk art Louisville

Kizito CookiesJerry's Junk, Louisville, Ky.

We like to think we've got a knack for really exploring cities. Part of that comes from my husband's obsession with maps. But we also share in a love of wandering. We spent a lot of time along Bardstown Road, where highlights included our visit into a long-running leather shop, Leatherheads, where the owners were quite friendly. We also got some jumbo cookies from Kizito Cookies (above) and examined the amazing hodge podge that makes up Jerry's Junk (our second Roadside America recommendation).

The first overheard conversation that amused my husband went:

"Call me."
"You call me."
"That means no one calls anyone."

Later, when I bought a handful of non-serrated antique knives — which I hunt for to use for tearing paper — he jotted down what the clerk said at the register: "Now you can butter your bread."

Katie Gonzalez sketchbook 

Louisville's food scene lived up to expectations, and led us to what would be the strangest discovery of the weekend.

We started with a lunch at Lilly's, where my gnocchi was my single favorite dish of the trip. My husband is obsessed with a dive restaurant called Hammerheads, where the fried mac and cheese balls and the garlic fries stole the show. We also overheard another favorite quip there, when a man asked about the taste of the elk burger. "It's not very gamey," the waiter replied, "you're not going to taste the forest or anything."

Later that night, we happened across the name of a place that would prove to be a wise adventure. The Vernon Club is a practically ancient bowling alley where we must have rolled about five games. Along the way, we befriended a bartender in a three-cornered hat. He asked if we liked beer, then gave us the ultimate local's recommendation. Go down the block, he advised, and find Sergio's (World of Beers). He seemed serious, even offering to walk us over there. We declined the escort. As we walked outside, I wasn't sure we would follow through, but something said we should.

When we crossed through the next intersection, we came to a storefront with slivers of light peeking out from the edges of a large Brazil flag that obscured the front picture window. After a triple-take, my husband spotted the funniest business sign. There, just above the handle of a standard door, was a small printout from a label maker. Sergio's. Inside, we found a cozy crowd and sampled from what has been ranked among America's best beer bar menus.

Ohio River view from Galt House HotelCamille Utterback installation at 21C

Despite our relatively short notice before traveling, we found a place to stay at the Galt House, an historic hotel on the Ohio River. Of course, the most well-known hotel in town is the 21C, which doubles as a modern art gallery. The gallery houses a responsive video installation by Camille Utterback. We used the self-timer to capture some rambunctious photos (above).

Somewhat lesser known, although just as visually entertaining, was the Kentucky Science Center, which is just across the street from 21C. Although the center was closed on that Sunday, we were able to play around in the reflective dome that greets people out front.

Then, before heading back south, I collected some leaves from Main Street for my sketchbook, a reminder of our travels.

science museum reflection Louisville