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Journal Entry:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 08:04:06

CHINA 2012: 1 - Preparations & The Derby

May 2012

The China and North Korea part of this trip was put together and organized by friend Lifeng Liu of CSITS (China Sea International Travel Service) in Beijing.  If you are planning a trip to China Lifeng is the person to contact to organize it for you.  Email:, telephone: 0086-10-5876-6942.  It was Lifeng who got my Rolls into China when everyone said it couldn't be done.

We left Costa Rica on May 4 to fly to Louisville, Kentucky via Dallas where we had a 6 ½ hour connection.  On arrival Derby fever was in full swing.  A live band and a lady handing out bourbon balls greeted us.  A luggage belt starting was signalled by the bugle call used to start horse races. There have been Derby parties & events in Louisville for the past 3 weeks.

We were met by John Faith who drove us through a blinding rainstorm accompanied by non-stop lightening to their home on a lake about half an hour away.  His wife Helen had a beautiful two bedroom suite all ready for us, and John got me started on sampling quality bourbon for a nightcap.  Bourbon is a traditional accompaniment for the Derby, along with hats for the ladies.  Helen had created an amazing hat for Marilynn.

In the morning we joined one of the lines of cars streaming onto the Churchill Downs grounds.  We arrived early to have time to look around, and fortunately our hosts had a permit for valet parking, allowing us to drive right to the entrance.  As we approach the track people had signs in front of their properties that started at $20 to park and increased to $90 as we got within half a mile of the entrance.

John & Helen had our expensive entrance tickets.  Just to access to the third floor for food concessions, betting facilities and washrooms (no seats, and it is not even possible to see the track from here) cost $259 per person.  The alternative is to scramble with thousands of race fans to use the general public washrooms and concessions.  Their six seat private box is right in front of the finish line, where we met another fun couple, Richard and Kimberly

It was a great day, with perfect weather.  Mint juleps were downed, along with ample quantities of beer available from circulating vendors or one of the many concession stands.  Alcohol consumption is definitely part of things!  We were given a tour of Churchill Downs, visiting the paddock and other areas.  We didn't go to the infield, which is apparently quite rowdy as the day progresses and much booze is consumed.  The stands are massive! When I went for drinks on my own it took me an hour to find my way back to our box! There were ten races before the 138th running of the Derby.  It didn't start until 6:30 PM.  The many bets placed by our group had absolutely consistent results - we managed to complete the day with no wins between us.  The only advantage was that we didn't have to stand in line to collect our winnings after the Derby; we were able to head straight for the car and get away before the worst of the traffic.  Dinner was at a great riverside restaurant.

In the following days we toured old Louisville (Pronounced Loov'l or Lowv'l), the historic section of the city where original mansions have been restored in a park like setting of shade trees and lawn.  In the evenings we set sail on the lake where John & Helen's home is situated.  They have a pontoon boat furnished like a comfortable living room.  Only electric motors are permitted on the lake, and John's is programmed to follow a course on auto pilot, so he didn't have to drive as we cruised around the shores of the lake.  En route we hooked up with various residents, turning the cruise into a super floating party with lots of laughter and singing.  It was great fun.

We were treated to a private tour of a large, beautifully groomed horse farm, where friends of Helen had the fellow in charge of breeding take us on a private tour.  He was incredibly knowledgeable about bloodlines, breeding and caring for his valuable charges.  We learned a great deal.  He ensured we were able to pet and make friends with the colts and their mothers.

We also visited a winery, where neighbours who were on the boat with us ensured we were well taken care of in the tasting room.  The winery makes everything from a selection of red and white wines to ports and brandy.  At a farm restaurant we had a big meal of Southern cooking served family style.  There was so much food that we took home enough for another full meal. Our last night was at the Crown Plaza Hotel at the Louisville airport, as we had to be at the airport. by 4:30 AM to fly to Dallas, Seattle and then Victoria. After farewell drinks, including a bourbon martini, we managed about 3 hours of sleep.  We'll now be in Victoria until our China flight leaves on May 30.