I haven't been on an airplane during COVID and it's been four years since I last step foot on an airplane. I know people who have traveled including one of my regular clients who recently convinced me to book the flight. I've hesitated for so long and kept my vacations limited to road trips because of everything I've been hearing in the news about flying these days. It's expensive. When there were mask restrictions, passengers were violent and combative. Luggages gets lost (which is still happening frequently). My cousin recently came back from a wedding in NYC and got COVID.
My mom and her husband were in West Virginia so I decided to look at my options for flights to Charleston, West Virginia. The rates were high as expected for the major airlines except for an airline I didn't know much about -- Spirit Airlines when running a Google flight search at airports surrounding Charleston, West Virginia. The surrounding city that looked most interesting was Louisville which I didn't know much about other than the Kentucky Derby.
The flight to Louisville would be only be four hours and a non-stop flight so it would minimize the risk of lost luggage. Being the adventurous person that I am, I was game to try this "questionable" bare bones airline because it was so inexpensive.
After researching Louisville, I discovered it is a serious food and drink city. There were plenty of local restaurants to explore and it's the epicenter of bourbon production. I've seen a few people venturing off to Kentucky for bourbon distillery tours, but it didn't sound appealing until now. I've given up drinking alcohol here at home for health reasons, but it was vacation so I made an exception to go on a distillery tour and tasting.
With inexpensive airfare and being vaccinated against COVID, I decided to take the leap with the following COVID safety protocol checklist while at the airport and airplane: N95 mask - check. Face shield - check. Hand sanitizer and wipes - check.
Once I got to the terminal at LAX, most people didn't have masks on and no one had a face shield on. Luckily, no one laughed or took an obvious double take at this point during the pandemic. It was my first time flying so taking these precautions was my security blanket.
The flight wasn't that bad on Spirit. I met someone in West Virginia from LA who callled a shith*le airline. I'm pretty low maintenance so I thought flying Spirit was fine with me. I can fly more often now since their prices are so low.
I wanted to see Nulu, one of the areas known for its nightlife in Louisville so I located Gertie's, a whiskey bar with a speakeasy (open on weekends). I wanted to try Pappy Van Winkle and the bartender told me they stock it inside the speakeasy. The area was quiet with a couple bars and restaurant packed with people.
My mom's husband, Dave, has been encouraging me to visit his homestate, West Virginia, so I finally booked this trip while they were there. They wanted to tag along with me on my road trip adventure. My mom's laughs at everything I say to make her smile for the camera. You don't know how hard it is to make that man smile for the camera! I drove 2 hours to the mountains to eat locally made cheese at a historic Swiss enclave in the Appalachian Mountains. The sacrifices I make for interesting experiences! | The Hütte Restaurant in Helvetia, West Virginia
Alma Bea in Shepherstown, West Virginia. This restaurant is too cool to put any signage outside (insert rolling eyes emoji here). I read that people drop old family Appalachian recipes in a mailbox outside the restaurant. Their menu is inspired by these old Appalachian Mountain recipes. The owner is Mary Ellen Diaz and her mom is from West Virginia and wanted to open a restaurant in her mom's home state. Diaz worked at Lettuce Entertain You, a restaurant group in Chicago and Las Vegas. Diaz is bringining her big city restaurant expertise to this small "cool" town. Diaz, spent time training for the restaurant business in the United States and France.
All I need at a hotel is for it to be spotless and clean! I don't care about luxury because I am never sitting in a hotel all day. The attractions are outside the hotel! The bed and pillows were very comfortable at this hotel. The room was very modern and updated -- stylish for design aficionados like myself. I usually book "design or boutique hotels" whenever I am in Europe. An excellent value for the the price! Perfect one-night stay to see Fallingwater.
Who did Fallingwater better -- Summer or Winter?
New River Gorge is America's newest national park established in 2020. Behind the visitor center is the view of the bridge. You can take the stairs down to the bottom for a view of the bridge from below or take a scenic drive that will probably take around an hour to 1.5 hours to complete with stops for photos. The bridge is known for base jumping and world-class whitewater rafting. There's also kayaking and ziplining available. It is a outdoor adventurer's paradise.
I was struck by the beauty at Grandview. It was truy grand and awe inspiring. I was not satisfied with the bridge view and the park ranger recommended driving to Grand View which is about 45 minutes away from the main bridge visitor center. This view did not disappoint! I recommend starting off here and doing a hike. Hardly anyone was here! We were the only ones here. I loved it.
Last stop before I boarded my plane to head back home was the famous Churchill Downs, the site the Kentucky Derby. There's a museum, but I'm not a fan of horse racing. If you're curious and have time, you can stop by the museum to learn more and take a peek inside Churchill Downs. There's also a diner across the street where all the jockeys and trainers eat.
My week in the South was an amazing travel experience. It opened my eyes to a different culture within the United States. Yes, visiting the South to me is like visiting another country!
Most of the people were (not surprisingly) warm and friendly except one "redneck" woman (my mom's husband called her that, not me) at the toll booth that gave me major attitude once she saw my LA Dodgers baseball cap. I've always been afraid to travel to this part of the country because I was afraid of possible hatred for people who look like me and where I'm from. It was not on my absolute travel list because I have been scared of the South. Maybe I was asking for it wearing that LA cap.
I really enjoyed visiting Kentucky and plan to return again one day to visit Mammoth Cave National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. My travel bucket list revolves around that UNESCO list. West Virginia seems to be on the verge of becoming a popular vacation destination with Lonely Planet shining the spotlight on West Virginia as a "Place to Visit in 2022."
I didn't have enough time to see Pittsburgh as planned so I already want to return to Pennsylvania to visit both Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and probably explore the Pennsylvania Amish culture. I only got a taste of Virginia visiting the historic Old Winchester area. There's still so much explore in Virginia as well. I don't think visiting Arlington National Cemetery when I was seven years old counts. I need to see more. I definitely need to plan a return trip to D.C. solo and as an adult.
With a taste of air travel again, I already want to see more of the United States that I haven't seen yet. I'm not brave enough to do any long haul travel during the pandemic as I'm taking baby steps right now. I definitely don't want to lose my luggage on a connecting flight. I've already experienced losing luggage and it really does ruin your first few days of travel plans. The odds of losing your luggage are much higher now than before.
My mom got COVID on her flight back to LA as she is an anti-masker like everyone else (but me). Everyone is tired of the mask. I am too, but I don't want to experience symptoms of never ending LONG COVID. Some people are experiencing symptoms after catching COVID in 2020. I don't want to deal with that and the chance of permanent disability. I'll keep using my mask in crowded indoor situations. I can buy mom boxes of N95s, but of course it's her choice to wear an N95 or not. I hope she learned her lesson not wearing a mask at the airport and on the airplane. I read that the most dangerous time to be unmasked is while entering and exiting the aircraft when everyone gets up at the same time while the HEPA filters aren't running. If someone nearby has COVID, you'll probably get it.
After returning from my first trip on an airplane in four years, I can't wait for my next travel adventure to eat good local food, learn something new, create memories with new experiences, and to meet new people. Perhaps I will get on an airplane again for my birthday coming up soon? Stay tuned..
Hello, I'm Anne.
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I love exploring Los Angeles like a tourist. I have as much fun in my hometown as I do traveling in another country. I live to eat (good food) and travel!