Travelogue: ‘Rural Kentucky Adventures’ by Maya Ova

After about 34 hours of flying and transit through Amsterdam and Atlanta, I finally arrived at the rural Lexington town of Kentucky. The airport was pretty efficient – there wasn’t really anyone there and thus, my bags arrived quickly on the carousel. I picked them up and waited for half an hour before a black Ford Explorer arrived to pick me up from Cincinnati.

Inside the SUV were a few folks from California and DC – all coastal people. They were friends I had met seven years ago in Malaysia. Now we were on our way to explore the small town of Danville, Kentucky. Everyone I met asked me, “What the hell are you doing in Kentucky?” with a smirk, and sometimes, laughter. Given the fact that all my American friends in the car had never been to Kentucky, I could see why. We were going to Janice’s and Quentin’s wedding! It was an opportunity for a lot of us to see what rural Kentucky would hold for us.

We drove straight to a bar in Danville, a 55-minute drive away from Lexington. The scenic route was filled with temperate climate cypress, oak and hemlock trees. The smell of summer filled the air, pleasant to my olfactory nerves as I closed my eyes. With temperatures close to home, it was an easy adjustment. We arrived at the Bluegrass Pizza and Pub on the Main Street to greet a bigger group or people including the bride and the groom. I ordered my regular Indian Pale Ale (IPA) and had some of the most satisfying chicken pizza before calling it a day. I was beat and ready to call it a day, crashing at the Holiday Inn.

I decided to venture to the Danville Dollhouse Museum the following day with a new person. It was, hands down, one of the weirdest and creepiest museums I had ever visited. The doll houses were of course, decorated with dolls in them. These dolls looked very realistic, some were fine, while others looked like they went through a botched taxidermy job, as if these exhibitions were once real humans cast into dolls. I didn’t stay too long at the museum but it sure was a novelty.

Dollhouse Museum in Danville, KY. Picture by Maya Ova

I decided later that I wanted to do something more uplifting, and so I went for a drink. I was not just drinking any ordinary drink but the finest Kentucky drink: the Bourbon whiskey. It’s the only drink not made outside of Kentucky. I went to the Woodford Reserve distillery to see how they were made. The huge cookers, steaming structures and wooden barrels decorated the visitor’s center. I loved the last parts of tours like these because I got to taste everything the distillery guides spoke about. We sat at a table at the end with different kinds of Bourbon, with ice cubes and chocolates right in front of us.

Bourbon tasting at Woodford Reserve distillery. Picture by Maya Ova
Bourbons, chocolate, and a taste chart. Picture by Maya Ova

I must admit that I am no whiskey connoisseur but I actually loved Bourbon so I ordered one on the plane on my way home! There was a hint of a caramel aroma to the whiskey and still packed a big punch. Nothing was short of amazing.

After a long day of drinking, we decided to head back to the hotel but we had to try the famous catfish that the locals spoke about so frequently. We stopped by a random diner by the side of a rural road and ordered the catfish sandwich. I enjoyed the crisp consistency of the fried catfish as its flavor was brightened up with locally-made horseradish. And fries. Never forget the fries.

On the way back, I was looking for something synonymous with Kentucky: its fried chicken. Unfortunately, I found none. This was one example where a global brand is more prominent than where it came from. After giving up on my quest, we went home. As the world knows, the distinct and stereotypical American habit is to have pizza and beer all the time, and that’s what I did with my American friends before we hit the sack.

Kentucky delicacy: Fried catfish sandwich. Picture by Maya Ova

This was the first American wedding that I had ever attended. It was no regular wedding though as Chinese-American and Southern Kentucky cultures intersect. The wedding was held at a historical house in Danville. The details of the location seems to have escaped me but it was no further than ten minutes of drive away from the hotel. The wedding was officiated outdoors with friends and family from all over the world, making it the most global location in Danville at any given time.

The bride and the groom in a traditional Chinese culture . Picture by Maya Ova

The wedding of course did not end after the marriage officiation. The reception was held at a barn of the house after we all had a few drinks. This may sound peculiar to some, especially to those who do not reside in the U.S but it has become more common for people to have wedding parties in the barn. The wedding was spectacular. The food and the drinks were the highlights of the reception and that was what we did. We ate and drank so much. There was a DJ who played great music such as Richard Marx, Spice Girls and Berlin which appeased my 90s music taste. Everyone, including the parents of the couple, were dancing and that was what I did the entire night, drinking and dancing until the break of dawn.

I started my morning late but amazingly with zero downtime after the previous night’s party. My friends dropped me off in Louisville where I ventured into other parts of the south on my own. Given the poor public infrastructure in Kentucky, and the U.S in general, I had to rent to car to get to my next destination: Owensboro. I did my research and knew that as a Malaysian, I do not need an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) to drive in Kentucky as it varies from state to state. After getting the keys to the 2019 Toyota Corolla from Hertz, I was on my way. I’d never driven on my own in the U.S and it was always helpful to have someone to remind me that I was driving on the wrong side of the road. I was glad though, that the lane-assist radar of the car always kept the steering back into my lane each time I forgot. Why we do not have this in Malaysia baffles me. It took me a while to learn how the traffic light worked. It was a challenge even though I’d gone through this drill so many times. But I was happy to arrive safely after hours of driving through the picturesque countryside of the eastern Kentucky landscape.

As I arrived, I had to sadly part way with the car that I had just gotten fond of. I met my dear friend Kendall in downtown Owensboro who graciously hosted me. She greeted me with her impeccable southern charm and manners and introduced me to her family. She also showed me to my room in her mansion. I was served with fresh and ice cold pina colada before being taken to a pub and a restaurant nearby for some taste of the local cuisine. Chicken wings, catfish, fries and Bourbon seemed to be the common theme but I wasn’t complaining. Not once have I ever gotten close to being famished in the land of great southern hospitality. The food was always excellent. My host knew everyone in the neighborhood. It was an amazing experience.

More food: fried chicken, fries and more! Picture by Maya Ova

The quaint town of Owensboro was not disappointing. It has a great small town vibe and is a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of huge cities. Behind the home of my host was a large corn field. With its background painted with clear blues skies and orange hues, this snapshot made the end of my trip a very memorable one.

About Maya Ova

Maya Ova is an international education professional graduated from Sheffield Hallam University in the UK. She is a big fan of adventure travels. Apart from working on a book about her life as a transgender woman, Maya also produces music that can be found here. She currently resides in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.