Something about inching closer to 30 triggers the urge to enjoy some of the finer things in life. The Kentucy Derby has always seemed little beyond reach and if you had asked me five years ago if I ever thought I would be going to one, let along blogging about it the answer would have been “no.” Yet after planning our trip for our first derby, I honestly wonder why we did not go this sooner. Contrary to popular belief you don’t have to break the bank to get there. The biggest booster for us to finally make the trip was our friends, Steph and Mina. We met Steph and Mina almost a year ago to the date on our trip to Florence, Italy. They were on their honeymoon and we were all part of a Fiat 500 tour group cruising through Tuscany and we immediately hit it off. I’ll share more about that story in a post dedicated to Florence. Steph and Mina let us know a few months ago that they were planning a trip to visit the US since they’re from Australia and we knew at that point we had to come up with a plan to meet up again. They mentioned the Victoria Cup which is like an Australian version of the Kentucky Derby and we all agreed upon taking on Kentucky Derby.
Ryan and I began looking for flights to Louisville, but the price of the tickets for direct flights were more than what we were willing to pay. So we opted to fly into the Cincinnati Airport which actually sits in Kentucky. Steph and Mina were to fly in shortly after us the Friday leading into the Derby and the four of us would stay in Cincinnati at Symphony Hotel which is located right across from the Cincinnati Music Hall and close to Cincinnati’s young and growing area, Over the Rhine. As usual this was another one of Ryan’s great hotel finds. The rooms are all named after famous composers and the hotel boasts of a jazz bar and lounge with live music on weekends, a restaurant, and tasting room.
As beautiful as the hotel is, the real icing on the cake was by far the hotel’s parking garage. It is called Mozart Parking Garage and access appeared to be limited to hotel guests and diners. Thank God for that Chevy Silverado Ryan rented because we had all the access we wanted to the garage. This garage easily was the definition of home chandelier goals. I will let the picture speak for itself.
Since Steph and Mina were not going to arrive until much later, Ryan and I spent our first night wandering the streets near the University of Cincinnati which has a beautiful campus and one of most incredible sunsets I have seen in a while.
We grabbed dinner at the Elephant Walk which is a blend of Indian and Ethiopian food. The portions were massive and I would highly recommend splitting a meal if you decide to dine there. Ryan ordered a meal from the Indian menu as it had been forever since we had had good biryani and I ordered from the Ethiopian side because I was craving injera. To wash it all down, we split an ice cream cookie at Insomnia Cookies
Steph and Mina got to the hotel past my bedtime, but Ryan was able to catch up with them that night. I, however, had to wait until the morning of Kentucky Derby to see their faces at breakfast. We also had the pleasure of meeting Mena B., Mina W’s cousin, and just like with Steph and Mina, Mena immediately became like an old friend. The morning started with laughs that didn’t cease throughout the day.
After breakfast we hurried to head out the door and some how we all managed to color coordinate. We all looked quite dapper if I might say so myself. We were hoping to grab a picture together before we drove down to Kentucky when another guest at the hotel who happened to be a professional photographer offered to snap our picture. This is by far the best picture of us all day because the rain was relentless.
Nothing could have prepared us for the rest of the day. I take that back. Mena pretty much had us prepared for the rest of the day. I cannot thank him enough for being such a wonderful host, tour guide, and friend. He was a true lifesaver. We had tickets for general admission and despite all of our paranoia based on all of the awful reviews we had read about general admission, we had an absolute blast. One thing to know about general admission is it is a free for all. There are no seats. You just park it wherever you can find a spot. Mena brought chairs and umbrellas. We could not bring umbrellas in and were forced to leave them at the gate, which didn’t help due to the ridiculous amount of rain, but we did all manage to grab some ponchos. Once we were in Churchill Downs, the guys grabbed us a few mint juleps and we set up camp in front of a screen… And the rain and drinks continued.
We spent about a few hours down at Churchill Downs and managed to catch two races. We did not make it to the Run for the Roses which was at 6:30 PM. Despite the rain, we could not have asked to be in any greater company than these three. The picture above is the epitome of the mood anytime we spend with Steph and Mina and now Mena!
After my poor feathers turned from what I call being happy peacock to droopy peacock and the rain would not let up we decided it was time leave the race and head back to Cincinnati to clean up and celebrate Cinco De Mayo. None of this could be done without first introducing Steph and Mina to a true American staple…Chick-Fil-A. Naturally they loved it!
Once we all got back to Cincinnati and freshened up, Mena and his sister Maria arranged for us to have dinner at a Mexican restaurant called Bakersfield located Over the Rhine. The tacos were incredibly fresh and delicious. If you’re ever craving, Mexican while in Cincinnati, I would highly recommend this place. It has a really cool atmosphere and in honor of Cinco de Mayo they were screening Three Amigos on the tvs which was a nice added comical touch.
We apparently have created a ritual with Steph and Mina which involves finding a Hookah Lounge. This goes back to our wandering the streets of Florence late a night to find a shisha lounge and old habits apparently don’t die. Luckily, between Mena and good old Google we were able to find a few places. It only took three tries for us to find the right one. The experience was a lot like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. In the first we all felt like we were”those old people” and their VIP area in the basement wasn’t exactly our idea of VIP, the second was not quite our cup of tea either, and the third, after a bit of Mina finessing the owner in Arabic, turned out to be just right. Once the guys had their fair share of shisha and all the activities from the day began to wear us out, we finally called an Uber to take us back to our hotel and call it a night. As if the day had not already been one for the books, we encountered what might have possibly been the MOST EPIC Uber Ride EVER! Our Uber driver pulled up in a mini van with colored lights strung from the ceiling. The five us piled into the back. Naturally I asked the driver, “If this was the cash cab?” His response was “No, but [he] had a trivia question for us. According to Journey, what is everyone looking for?” The five of us were baffled and then…. he queued the music. “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey began to play. The next thing we knew lyrics were popping up on a screen mounted in the dashboard and not one, or two, but four microphones were being passed back to us. The five of us began to belt out the lyrics like we were on a cab version of American Idol. After a round of “I Want It That Way,” by the Backstreet Boys and “24K Magic,” by Bruno Mars, we found ourselves back at our hotel and not wanting to leave the Uber. We were all wired at that point. To answer the question about what everyone is looking for… The answer is THRILLS. And by far those were the realest words to have been spoken all day. It was the best way to summarize our day.
I certainly cannot end this blog without giving credit to this Uber driver that gave us this awesome experience. He works for a company called Singrs who not only drive for Uber and Lyft, but they pride themselves on being known for their karaoke cab experience and take bookings their services. If you’re ever in the Cincinnati area and looking for some thrills while cruising around the city, be sure to call these guys. It was honestly luck and fate for us and a wonderful end to the night of our first Kentucky Derby with our amazing friends.
There are a number of things that we learned about preparing for Kentucky Derby. I did a lot of Pinterest browsing and found out a lot of info. However, if you would like to know some does and don’t based on our experience, let me know. If you have ever been to Kentucky Derby I would love to hear some of your advice or suggestions.