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Until Next Time, Idaho

Overview Of All Of Our Idaho Posts

When we announced Idaho as our next For 91 Days destination, the reaction among friends and family was almost unanimous: “Seriously? Idaho? Why?!” But after spending three months exploring the state, sharing our pictures and stories, we started to hear a lot of… “Oh, that’s why”.

Road-Trio-USA

Idaho was the last of the fifty states to be “discovered”, and it’s still among the least-appreciated in the country. A land of sparkling lakes, unforgettable mountain scenery, some of the country’s wildest and most rugged forests, raging rivers, hot springs, strange lunar landscapes, and abundant wildlife, Idaho is heaven for the outdoor enthusiast. We’ve never done so much adventuring, from whitewater rafting to mountain biking and hiking, zip lining, hot air ballooning, horseback riding, and more. While in Idaho, we might have technically achieved Eagle Scout status, without realizing it.

But while the natural beauty might be the most compelling reason to visit Idaho, it’s the human element that could convince you to stay. The people we’ve met here have been friendly and welcoming, almost without exception. Sometimes a bit on the eccentric side, often loud and boisterous, and usually with a dead deer in their truck bed, but always eager to chat or help out with a problem. Idahoans are notably proud of and knowledgeable about their state — as soon as we’d start talking about our project, we’d always get an enthusiastic interrogation about where we’d been, and a litany of suggestions for yet more places we had to see.

And Idaho is not lacking for places to see. I was shocked by the variety offered by the state. Whether it’s the pristine wilderness of the north, the rattlesnake-infested canyons along the Oregon border, the historic reservations, the rugged mining towns of the Silver Valley, the earnest Mormon communities of the east, the dusty deserts of the south, or the comfortable city life of Boise and Coeur d’Alene, there’s something new around almost every bend.

Three months is too a short time to truly exhaust the possibilities in a state as grand as Idaho, and although we made a good effort, we could never truly have hoped to see it all. There are some big sights we completely missed (looking at you Hell’s Canyon) and smaller towns we’d have loved to see. And we never had a chance to experience Idaho in its wintry glory. We left just before ski season: a real shame, and reason enough to come back.

Before checking out, we have to deliver a big “thank you” to Visit Idaho, the state’s tourism commission. Without their ready assistance, advice and friendship, our exploration of the state would have been far less enjoyable.

We were sad to leave Idaho, but also anxious. This was our eighth location, totaling up to two full years on the road, and it was time for a short break. But that didn’t necessarily mean less travel: Jürgen and I call a lot of places “home”, and we visited them all over the holidays: Thanksgiving in Ohio (where my family lives), Christmas in Germany (Jürgen’s family) and New Year’s in Valencia, Spain (our adopted hometown). Three months of friends, family and Spanish sun were just what the doctor ordered. With fully-charged batteries, we’d soon be on our way to our new temporary home: Istanbul, for 91 days.

Coming Soon: Our Idaho Book

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Good-Bye-Idaho
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January 10, 2013 at 11:11 am Comments (3)

The Boise Fry Company

Low Fat French Fryer

The Boise Fry Company is the best potato joint in the capital of America’s potato state. How could it be anything other than amazing? We visited on our final day in Idaho, eager to fill our bellies with greasy goodness, and were not disappointed.

Boise-Fry-Company

Boise is blessed with a lot of excellent restaurants. During our two weeks in the city, we enjoyed great meals at Chandler’s Steakhouse, Bar Gernika, Cobby’s, The Fork, Goldy’s, Bardenay, Mai Thai, Cazba and the Red Feather, among others. Seriously, if you’re looking for good eats in Boise, check out any of the aforementioned. But the restaurant we’ll most remember is probably the Boise Fry Company.

There’s a sign out front which says “Burgers on the Side”, and that’s no mere witticism. Here, the french fries really are the main course. You get to choose between seven different sorts of potatoes, each of which can be cut in a variety of ways. There are nine various dipping sauces available, from ketchup, to chipotle aioli, to marshmallow sauce.

Yep: marshmallow sauce. That might sound revolting at first blush, but just try dipping one of the thick sweet potato fries into it. Heavenly. We ordered a bunch of different baskets, trying out everything from Russet to yam to pretty purple potatoes, and had a blast experimenting with various combinations of sauces. Yeah, there were burgers and homemade root beer, too; delicious, but almost an afterthought. Our attention had been completely captured by the fries.

Location on our Boise Map
Boise Fry Company – Website

-The French Fry Cookbook

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January 10, 2013 at 10:11 am Comments (2)

Boise’s Basque Block

Basque Shepherds and Arborglyphs

One of the most idiosyncratic aspects of Idaho, and Boise in particular, is its connection to the Basque Country. Because of geographic and climatic similarities to their homeland, thousands of emigrating Basques chose Idaho as their new home. Their influence remains strong throughout the state, but nowhere is it more celebrated celebrated than in Boise’s Basque Block.

Basque-Block-Boise

A wonderfully-realized mural on Capital Boulevard welcomes visitors into the block. For the uninitiated, the painting works as a visual introduction to the Basques and their history in Idaho. Scenes from the homeland mix with representations of Idahoan pastoral life and even a recreation of Picasso’s Guernica, which depicts the tragic destruction of the important Basque city by Nazi-backed fascists.

The block itself centers on the Basque Heritage Museum and House, both of which we took a tour of. The museum is excellent, with exhibits that throw a light on the Basques, their homeland, language, history and present-day situation. Basques are a fascinating people, thought to be among Europe’s oldest cultures, with a language whose roots can’t be traced to any other. Though its history has been fraught with hardship, the Euskal Herria, as they refer to it, has become one of the most prosperous regions in Spain.

The Basque Boarding House is one of the oldest surviving houses in Boise, owned and run by the same Basque family for decades. It’s remained largely unchanged over the ages, and is now filled with artifacts and furniture dating from the early 1900s. We were given a tour by the museum’s director, Patty Smith, who (despite the very English name) is of Basque heritage and knows practically everything about the culture. She also showed us into the block’s pilota hall, where the fast-moving sport is still frequently played.

Outside the museum and boarding house, there’s a lot more to discover. Public art, like the larger-than-life laikas (Basque farm implements) which crown the entrance to the block. Basque poems and songs inscribed into the sidewalk. And restaurants like Bar Gernika, which serves up traditional fare such as chorizo sandwiches and a delicious lamb grinder.

No visit to Boise is complete without a tour of the Basque Block. The fascinating and surprising connection to the Old World is one of the city’s defining characteristics.

Location on our Idaho Map
Basque Cultural Center Boise Idaho – Website

-Buy A Basque Beret Here

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January 10, 2013 at 9:58 am Comments (3)

The Boise Art Museum

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Founded in 1937, the Boise Art Museum has a premium riverside location in an Art Deco building just off Capitol Boulevard. We took a quick tour of the current exhibitions, and had the chance to meet an artist at work on her latest installation.

Looking-At-Art

The Boise Art Museum consists of fifteen rooms, most of which host temporary exhibits, and a sculpture garden. The permanent collection focuses on art of the Pacific Northwest, ceramics, American Realism, and a surprisingly heavy emphasis on Asian Art. We saw some of the collection in an exhibition called Eastern Traditions / Western Expressions: pieces from Japan, China and Korea nicely juxtaposed with works from America and the west, in order to highlight just how deep the influences of the Orient reach.

We were quickly finished with our tour of the museum; the permanent collection was rather small, and there weren’t any temporary exhibits at the moment. But this left us more time to watch installation artist Billie Grace Lynn at work on her White Elephants. In the museum’s Sculpture Court, her team was busy arranging a collection of bags. Once fans were attached, we watched as the empty white bags inflated into enormous white elephants.

Billie noticed us and, after approaching to introduce herself, invited us to crawl inside one of the elephants. I went in with a member of her team who was busy attaching the fan from the inside. It reminded me of our elephant adventures in Sri Lanka, and that’s the story of how I came to be sitting inside an giant nylon elephant, chatting about Sri Lanka with a total stranger. Not exactly how I envisioned my day when waking up that morning!

Location of BAM on our Idaho Map
Boise Art Museum – Website
Billy Grace Lynn – Website

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Boise-Art

Hung Liu – Mandarin Ducks, 2005 (Oil on canvas)
Museum purchase with funds donated by Anita Kay Hardy in loving memory of her parents, Earl M. and LaVane M. Hardy – Courtesy of Boise Art Museum

Roger Shimomura – American Infamy #2, 2006 (Acrylic on canvas)
Museum Purchase – Courtesy of Boise Art Museum

John Takehara – Akebono, circa 1968 (Porcelain with red copper glaze)
Gift if the artist – Courtesy of Boise Art Museum

Export Potiche, decorated with peonies, roses and butterflies (Chinese, circa 1680)
Gift from Clyde R. and Helen M. Bacon Collection of Asian Art – Courtesy of Boise Art Museum
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January 9, 2013 at 6:42 pm Comments (2)

The Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa

Airplane Models

Dedicated to America’s military past, the mammoth Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa is a privately-funded collection of wartime memorabilia, stories and airplanes. It’s the kind of place you could spend days at, and still not see everything.

Warhawk-Air-Museum-in-Nampa

A few people had recommended a visit to the Warhawk Air Museum, but we just couldn’t get excited about it. I’ve never been too interested in military history and, as a German, Jürgen is naturally disinclined to the glorification of America’s fighting prowess. But the museum won us over completely. A collection of antiquated fighter planes joins memorabilia, uniforms, posters, photos, postcards, toys and even a recreation of the Berlin Wall within two hangars adjacent to the Nampa Municipal Airport. Ambitious, exhausting and utterly fascinating.

We were given a tour of the grounds by Sue Paul who, along with her husband, founded the museum in 1997. It’s a non-profit, and all of its treasures have been donated privately, from the pilot jackets to the planes themselves. The goal is the simple preservation of military history, with exhibits organized by conflict: the two World Wars predominate, but there’s a growing section dedicated to the Cold War.

The airplanes are the most impressive attractions in the museum, and not all of them are American. There’s a beautifully restored German Fokker DR-1 from WWI, gleaming blue with an Iron Cross stamped boldly on the tail, and the body of a Mig-17: the famous Russian fighter which caused our boys so much trouble during the Vietnam War.

Boise Bee

My favorite was the Boise Bee, flown by Idaho’s own Duane Beeson. During WWII, Beeson was one of America’s deadliest aces, but was taken prisoner after being shot down over Germany. Luckily, the Germans respected enemy pilots, and Beeson was treated well, returning home a highly-decorated hero after the war’s conclusion. He continued working for the Air Force in experimental flight labs, before suddenly developing a rapidly-growing brain tumor which killed him at the age of 26.

These kinds of stories abound in the Warhawk Air Museum. Every display includes at least one binder replete with photographs and stories from the war. So, you’re not just looking at the clothes of a particular soldier, but seeing his face, reading the love letters he sent to his sweetheart, learning about his family, his career, where he fought and how he died. Or whether he’s still alive.

Indeed, many soldiers honored here are still kicking, and they’ve found a friend in Nampa. The museum has recently kicked off the Veteran’s History Project, which endeavors to interview as many veterans as possible. Already, over a hundred former soldiers have sat down in front of the camera. Such a cool idea, giving these fighting men and women a place to record their experiences, before it’s too late. And you can tell they appreciate the chance — just watch the beginning of the interview with the personable Sgt. Frederick Hill, who’s so thrilled to share his story that he can hardly contain himself.

Nampa’s Warhawk Air Museum truly surprised us. The sheer amount of items on display and the amazing stories make it an absolute must-see for anyone, even those of us not normally interested in military history.

Location on our Idaho Map
Warhawk Air Museum – Website

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January 8, 2013 at 2:48 pm Comments (2)

The World Center for Birds of Prey

Read About Falconry

On a hilltop just outside Boise, the World Center for Birds of Prey introduces visitors to some of the planet’s wickedest raptors. Established in 1984 by the Peregrine Fund, the center not only contains a wealth of information about hawks, owls, falcons and more, but also breeds them in captivity.

Idaho-Owl

The first thing you’ll see when pulling up to the center is Condor Cliffs, home to two magnificent California Condors. The largest birds in North America, the condors were almost driven to extinction: down to just 22 in 1987. But they’ve made a resurgence thanks to the work of organizations like the Peregrine Fund. Today, there are over 200 in the wild, many of them bred here in Boise. And the number is growing.

I had never seen a California Condor in real life; they’re impressive birds, with a wingspan nearly 10 feet long, and hideous faces. We watched with malicious glee as the condors flapped around their enclosure, chasing a terrified child on the other side of the tarp. The kid was screaming, too young to understand that he was completely safe and could just walk away. This spectacle alone was easily worth the price of entrance.

But there was much more to see. Around twenty birds who are either too old or too damaged for release have been designated as Avian Ambassadors, and occupy cages both outside and inside the center. These birds of prey range in size from the tiny American Kestrel to the majestic Bald Eagle, with plenty in between. There was a Great Horned Owl, an Arctic Falcon, and a richly-colored Bateleur from South Africa. At lunchtime, we watched a Harpy Eagle named Luigi rip apart the corpse of a pheasant. Yum.

Besides the birds, there are a number of displays in the main hall and regular exhibitions throughout the day. There’s also an extensive library dedicated to falconry, with an entire wing about the sport’s history in the Middle East. Among the things one doesn’t expect to find in Idaho: world-class modern dance and a permanent exhibition about Arabian Falconry.

Most of the Birds of Prey Center is used for breeding, completely off-limits to visitors, and even to any staff whose presence isn’t absolutely required. Every effort is made to ensure that the birds hatched here remain as wild as possible. By visiting the center, you can support this important endeavor, and have the chance to meet some fascinating birds. This was an unexpected highlight of our time in Boise.

Location of the World Center for Birds of Prey
Link: World Center for Birds of Prey

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January 7, 2013 at 5:16 pm Comments (2)

The Trey McIntyre Project

Read About Modern Dance

Yep, it’s just like I thought. Idaho: nothing but potatoes and world-renowned modern dance. It’s so tiring when a place conforms exactly to the preconceived stereotypes you have about it. I mean, come on, Trey McIntyre. Boise? How conventional.

The-Trey-McIntyre-Project

Alright, so Boise is a completely unexpected city in which to find an award-winning modern dance troupe. And, five years ago, when he announced Idaho as the base for his new project, Trey McIntyre caused a minor sensation in the world of dance. Not San Francisco? Not New York? What could Boise possibly have to offer one of America’s premiere choreographers?

Turns out, a lot. The Trey McIntyre Project is a big fish in Boise’s tiny cultural pond, and the city has eagerly claimed the troupe as its own. Mr. McIntyre and his dancers enjoy something akin to celebrity status in Idaho. They’re recognized on the streets. Their shows sell out. And they have sponsors falling over themselves to shower them in funds. Unlike most companies, Trey McIntyre’s dancers are individually sponsored by private patrons, and Boise’s cultural elite have signed on with enthusiasm.

Though they’re based in Boise, the Trey McIntyre Project spends much of its time travelling around the world. So it was a lucky coincidence that they happened to be putting on a show during our short stay in the city. The company had just returned from a four-country tour of Asia, and had picked up a couple dancers from Korea in a cultural exchange. The Koreans and Americans spent weeks working together on a new piece called The Unkindess of Ravens, whose premier performance we had the chance to see.

Trey McIntyre’s choreography is instantly accessible. I’m not any kind of dance fan, but found the show in Boise’s Morrison Center captivating. Of course, I had no idea what was happening during The Unkindess of Ravens, and I won’t bore you with any ridiculous attempt at critical insight… but gosh were it pretty to look at. The other pieces performed during the show were just as compelling, and I couldn’t believe that after 90 minutes of dance, my attention hadn’t wandered a bit.

The Trey McIntyre Project – Website

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January 7, 2013 at 2:21 pm Comments (2)

The Capital City Public Market

Cheap Flights To Idaho

On Saturdays, traffic in downtown Boise comes to a standstill for the Capital City Public Market, which brings vendors together to sell organic veggies, clothing and artwork. It’s a popular weekly event which we got to experience shortly before the onset of winter.

The-Market-In-Idaho

The market has been a Boise tradition since 1994, and runs throughout the year. During the summer, up to 150 vendors put up stands, spreading out over six city blocks. It was much smaller than this on the chilly mid-November Saturday we visited, but a surprising number of shoppers were in attendance.

We did a couple loops of the market, hungrily accepting the samples which almost every food vendor was offering, filling our bellies one delicious bite at a time. The veggies, fruit and wine on sale here are locally-grown, usually by families or small co-ops, so you’re probably not going to find outrageous bargains. But quality counts. One should be willing to pay a bit more for fresh, local produce; judging by the crowds and amount of cash we saw changing hands, much of Boise agrees.

-Book Your Boise Hotel Here

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January 7, 2013 at 9:06 am Comments (0)

Freak Alley and Boise’s Public Art

Check Out The Street Art In Buenos Aires

When you think of “Boise”, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t a thriving public art scene. But perhaps it should be. On almost every corner of the city, hidden in alleys, plastered across electrical boxes and even engraved in sidewalks, fascinating artwork can be found. There are bold, unmissable sculptures and paintings, but also subtle pieces which you might not even notice unless looking for them.

Public-Art-Idaho

We took a tour of Boise’s public art, starting in the aptly-named Freak Alley between Bannock and Idaho Streets. Graffiti is a part of life in any city worth its salt, but usually it’s not all collected in one place. Boise decided to give the city’s street artists a huge canvas to play on, and the result is an open-air gallery of some exciting work. Although the artists have to apply for permits to work here — an act of buerocratic compliance not often seen in the anarchic world of graffiti — they’re given free rein. One of the more striking works features a blood-thirsty Uncle Sam ripping the heart out of a US soldier; a piece of political agitprop that I can’t imagine the city fathers are thrilled about.

Freak Alley houses the most visible of Boise’s public art, but there’s much more to be found throughout the city. Artists were commissioned not just from Idaho, but from all around the country. Look at the bus stands, which have been individually designed in modern patterns. Or the electrical boxes all around Boise: each one has a different painting wrapped around it.

On 9th and Idaho, look at the ground; there’s a string of leaves etched into the concrete, leading from tree to tree. At Grove Plaza, take a second glance at the statue of herons fishing in the river; if you get on your knees, you’ll find something hiding in a log. On Grove and 9th, there’s a wonderful tribute to the city’s canals which glows green at night. And nearby, a series of streetlamps contain miniature robots which play music as pedestrians pass by.

Idaho-Spud-Tile-Art
Alley History by Kerry Moosman

Upside-down trouts, disembodied bear heads, multi-paneled postcards, a gold prospector made of barbed wire… we saw a lot of fun art during our tour. Perhaps my favorite was a piece called Alley History, by Kerry Moosman. This giant mural on the 9th Street Alley between Bannock and Idaho combines old street signs, ceramics, Chinese calligraphy and more in a wonderful tribute to the city’s history.

Boise’s commitment to the arts is amazing. I always made sure to keep my eyes open while walking the streets of the capital, and spotting new art became almost like a game. It can be found everywhere, and life in the city is undeniably better for it.

-Graffiti Art Books

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January 7, 2013 at 7:57 am Comments (3)

Old Boise Penitentiary

Prison Break

A window into the not-so-distant and none-too-glorious past of America’s prison system, the Old Boise Penitentiary is probably the city’s most popular historical site. Up until a riot forced its closure in 1973, the Old Pen is where Idaho’s worst criminals came to serve their time, get shanked and wait for the gallows.

Old-Penitentiary-Boise

The prison opened in 1872 when Idaho was still a territory, and was in use for almost exactly 100 years. A stay here was no cakewalk. The Pen is as cold, cramped and harsh as morally tolerable: tiny cots packed two to a room, buckets instead of toilets, isolation holes and even an on-site gallows.

A self-guided tour leads you around the grounds, through the cell blocks, and into the recreation yards, the laundry room, and the bone-chilling isolation chambers. There are exhibits and historical information posted throughout the Old Pen, all of it fascinating. You can read about the more notorious inmates, and how they were executed. There’s a section about the female prisoners of the Pen, one about prison weapons, and a gallery of inmate tattoo art. Admirably, the Old Pen doesn’t shy away from stories which cast a negative light on the penitentiary system — we read about the racism of territorial Idaho, when a Chinese man was imprisoned for months on the charge of “an excessive appetite for chicken”.

There are over a dozen buildings to explore, and we started at the old cement cellblocks. The temperature dropped noticeably when we stepped inside. Some of the cells were open and we entered, imagining being locked up here. Terrifying. The newest cell block, built in 1954, held the Death Row inmates and had a gallows built into the second floor; the condemned would drop through a hole in the ground into a “swinging room” on the first floor. Convenient.

The prison was abandoned following riots in 1973, and the cells were left untouched. Even today, they look just as they did almost forty years ago, just a bit more weather-beaten. Many are still infused with the character of their last tenant, with artwork, decorations, or witticisms carved into the wall, some of them touching, some banal, and many profane.

The Old Pen is one of Boise’s top highlights; we spent hours there, making it well worth the $5 cost of entry.

Location on our Idaho Map

-Comfy Hotels In Boise

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Unmatched socks were tied here until their pair could be found
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January 6, 2013 at 9:11 am Comment (1)

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