Roy A. Barnes found some of Louisville's best gems using a variety of transport means. In the process, he fulfilled a childhood wish.

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A Childhood Wish Come True – Louisville, Kentucky, USA

I found a variety of ways to explore Louisville, Kentucky, from walking to flying, making my time there fun and adventurous.

Aerial View of Churchill Downs
Aerial View of Churchill Downs

Romance in the sky
Commercial airline travel has changed: more security, longer waiting time… With Classic Biplane Tours you can have an experience that will rekindle the romance of flying. I found myself over Louisville at 1,500 feet in a replica open cockpit 1935 WACO YMF that was built in 1993 (with more technically advanced features for safety). It’s also known as “Big Red”. Top speed can reach 90 miles per hour. I felt the wind in the back of my neck as I took in some incredible views: Churchill Downs, Louisville’s skyline, Indiana farmlands. Bowman Field was Louisville's first major airport; now used for smaller private planes.

I flew for almost 30 minutes; wearing a helmet that was equipped to hear the control tower. My 37-year experienced pilot, Steve, told me that marriage proposals have been made where I was sitting (the passenger area can accommodate two). People in their 90s have enjoyed this flying experience; nerve-racking when Steve turned the plane right or left (no upside down is allowed). I didn't take his offer of doing a Steep Lazy 8; his most “roller coaster” maneuver. Passengers have the option of flying the plane themselves, with a pilot's help, of course. There's no danger of being without fuel; the plane holds 72 gallons and uses an average of 16 gallons per hour. No tour is longer than an hour.

Several different tours are offered including sunset tours. One is as short as the 15-minute Barnstormer Express. The flight prices cover up to two people, with the second passenger experiencing the friendly skies for free. “Big Red’s” flying season runs from mid-April through sometime in November, weather permitting, seven days a week.

Louisville Trolley
Louisville Trolley

A lot for 50 cents
When I visit a place, I like using public transportation. I see much of the city for a decent price, plus I might discover something that tour guides and guidebooks don't publicize. Louisville’s two downtown trolleys are called TARC, usually costs 50 cents per ride. The Main & Market Street Trolley runs in a long rectangle on the two eastbound and westbound streets, going by the Louisville Slugger Museum and Louisville Slugger Field, with stops at the Louisville Science Center and the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft.

Two blocks north of this route is the Thomas Edison House, where you can see many of his inventions, including light bulbs, phonographs and dictating machines. The Louisville Visitors Center has a life sized figurine of Colonel Sanders, along with KFC exhibits; it's on the divergent part of the route that goes down Fourth to Second Streets.

A Victorian mansion
A Victorian mansion

The Fourth Street Trolley runs from the edge of the Ohio River, south through the heart of downtown all the way to Spaulding University. It stops by the Theatre District and the Spanish Baroque-inspired Louisville Palace. It opened a year before the stock market crash of 1929.

Parts of my favorite novel, The Great Gatsby, took place in Louisville. I went into the Seelbach where the wedding scene was held. It is now the Seelbach Hilton. I went inside and wandered around the public areas of this landmark, while old time jazz style music emanated through the speakers. The lobby and second floor sitting rooms contain antiquated books.

A few blocks south of the most southern point of the trolley route is the 1,200-acre neighborhood known as Old Louisville, a gateway to the largest collection of restored Victorian homes in the nation. It’s simply one incredible place to explore. Even with the crickets chirping incessantly, I felt a tremendous peace here, shielded by the tall magnolia and oak trees.

The jewel in this gem of a neighborhood is something inspired by the Olmsted Brothers (one brother, Frederick, designed Manhattan’s Central Park). It's Louisville’s own Central Park, not as big as New York City’s, but still, full of trees and ambiance. The park’s centerpiece is a long colonnade with wisteria vines. Informative brochures are available at two visitor centers in the neighborhood.

Ohio River sunset
Ohio River sunset

Childhood song
As a child, I was exposed to a song that had these words: Down the river/Oh, down the river/Oh, down the river we go/Down the river/Oh, down the river/Oh, down the O-hi-O. The lyrics stayed with me. I had never gone down the Ohio River until I boarded the Spirit of Jefferson riverboat dinner cruise – a godsend on a muggy night. The two-hour cruise ended with an ensuing appearance of a cherry-colored moon! The riverboat runs year round, and offers a variety of cruises. Its larger steam-powered sister, The Belle of Louisville, is a National Historic Landmark, but runs less often.

Because the Louisville area is on the Ohio River, riverboats have been a big part of its history. Across the river in Jeffersonville, Indiana, you’ll find the Howard Steamboat Museum. It is in a 22-room Romanesque Revival house that was built in 1894 using Howard’s hired hands. It contains a Victorian interior full of original furnishings, which partly came from the World’s Fair of 1893. This home contains the museum’s vast collection of steamboat memorabilia, showcasing a litany of scale models, pictures, riverboat equipment, even an 1898 tattered U.S. flag from the Spanish-American War.

Roy A. Barnes writes from the windy plains of southeastern Wyoming. He is a frequent contributor to Bootsnall.com.

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