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Boise’s Basque Block

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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.


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

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

The Trey McIntyre Project

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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.


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

The Capital City Public Market

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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 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.

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

The Boise State Broncos and Their Smurf Turf

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Bet On American Football Here

With over 23,000 students, 200 degrees and 100 graduate programs, Boise State University is the largest institute of higher learning in Idaho. But rather than for its academics or gorgeous urban campus, BSU is most famous around the country for its football program. And, of course, for the crazy blue turf of its field.


BSU games are among the most popular events in the state. On matchday, every single person in Idaho smears on blue and orange face paint and crashes the nearest bar, while everyone lucky enough to be in Boise heads to the stadium. We didn’t want to miss out, and bought tickets for a home game as soon as they became available. The Boise State Broncos vs. The Aztecs of San Diego State — capable rivals from the Mountain West Conference in which BSU plays.

We had been invited to a pregame tailgate party by a Twitter friend known to us only as the BSU Pimp. Any doubts we’d harbored about recognizing our host disappeared as soon as he sauntered into view. Decked out from head to toe in blue and orange pimp gear, from a cowboy hat to a sparkling sequin robe, from sunglasses to some outrageous bling that included a Bronco-colored Grill for his teeth, there was no mistaking the BSU Pimp.


I’ve been tailgating before, but never like this. The parking lot was filled to capacity with trailers and thousands of fans working diligently on their intoxication levels. We hopped around to a few parties — the Pimp is well-known and much-loved in the scene — and were astounded by the set-ups. Huge TVs with satellite reception, boxes of liquor and restaurant-worthy food. We met fun people, ate tamales, shot tequila, and were actually a little disappointed when the time came to enter the stadium.

Of course, I was already grudgingly familiar with BSU’s famous blue “Smurf Turf”. Like 98% of American football fans, I’ve always found it a bit irritating. BSU’s was the first football field in the nation not colored green, and since it wasn’t my team’s blue turf, I was never able to appreciate it. But Idaho was our home now — we were even wearing newly-bought Broncos gear — and I saw the turf with new eyes. Especially when viewed live, it’s actually really cool.

The game, though, wasn’t nearly as exciting as the turf. The Broncos never looked strong, and despite leading at halftime, went on to lose 21-19 to the unranked Aztecs. We were seated in the northern end zone and the crowd’s energy, which had started strong, slowly and steadily ebbed into silence. But Jürgen and I were very transitory BSU fans and, unlike the crestfallen crazies around us, didn’t care all that much about the score. Despite the loss, it was a great night out.

Location of Broncos Stadium

A Visit To Jackpot, NV

Mega Pimp
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January 4, 2013 at 3:43 pm Comment (1)

Welcome to Boise

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Great Hotels In Boise

With just a little over two weeks remaining of our 91 days in Idaho, we pulled into Boise. We had originally planned on using the capital as the base for our entire three-month stay, but decided Idaho was too big to be stationed in just one spot. So we went on a road-trip through the state, and left our exploration of Boise for the journey’s end. Did we save the best for last?


Even by western standards, Boise has a young history. It was founded in 1834 as Fort Boise, 40 miles west of its present-day location. When silver was discovered in Bogus Basin, the fort was moved in order to act as a staging area for the booming Idaho City. Fort Boise soon became a thriving community in its own right, and was incorporated as a city in 1863. Although dwarfed in size by the northern city of Lewiston, and not nearly as influential as nearby Idaho City, Boise took the mantle the territorial capital in 1866 — a controversial move (or theft) that sent the Panhandle into a tizzy. Lewiston even threatened to secede from the territory and join Washington.

Boise’s capital coup isn’t the only thing controversial about it; there’s also the matter of its pronunciation. Idahoans say “Boise” differently than the rest of us. To most of America and the world, it’s boy-zee. But here, everyone uses the soft “s”: boy-see. The difference is unmistakable, and I suspect that locals are doing this deliberately so as to identify outsiders.

The name comes from the French for “the woods” (les bois), but the forests which impressed early Europeans have now been largely cleared away. Still, Boise is a remarkably green city. On our first day here, I saw a few deer grazing along the banks of the river, next to the Museum of Art. The city’s lively downtown centers around 8th Street and Idaho, with an expansive selection of restaurants and shops. There are more bikers and pedestrians than in most cities and, especially as home to Boise State University, the city feels young and vibrant. Boise is slimmer and better-looking than most cities of comparable size. It likes the great outdoors, and strolls along the river. It’s probably a fantastic kisser.

Boise frequently appears on lists like Outside Magazine’s “Best River Towns” or Forbes’ “Best Places to Raise a Family“. It’s not hard to understand why. Not only is there great culture within the city — concerts, museums, theater, dance, public art — but recreational activities abound in the near vicinity, from skiing to mountain climbing to whitewater rafting.

It didn’t take long for us to regret the fact that we had so little time to spend in Boise. Two weeks was nowhere near enough. Seeing the rest of Idaho was wonderful, and we probably made the right decision, but 91 days in Boise wouldn’t have been bad.

Location On Our Idaho Map

Cheap Flights To Boise

Gem Block
Pink Car
Play With Me Boise
Falls Fight
Fall River
Icy Boise
The Boise Wall
Old Boise
Cute Boise
Pink Boise
Shopping Boise
Rocca Idaho
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January 3, 2013 at 4:40 pm Comments (3)

The Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic

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Hot Air Balloon Models

“Which one is it going to be?” I whispered to Jürgen after the pilots had finished up their morning briefing and were beginning to mingle with the passengers. “Hopefully that guy with the handlebar moustache!” As luck would have it, it was. The awesome dude with the handlebar moustache had seen his name on the placard we were holding, and approached us. “Quinn”, he said, putting his hand out. “Eric Quinn”.


We were at the Spirit of Boise Baloon Classic, and had just met our pilot for the day. He introduced us to his team, which included his wife Tara, and then put us to work preparing the balloon. Tara is a pilot, too, and we would later learn that the Quinns’ incursion into the world of ballooning had been her idea to begin with. She was the one who had become enraptured of the idea, and was also the first to obtain a license. And the balloon we’d be riding in, the Millennium Spirit, had been a birthday present from him to her. (Which, I hate to point out, makes the sweater I got last year look pretty lame, Jürgen!)

Setting up the balloon was a lot of fun, and enough work to keep the eight members of our team busy. After filling it with air, it was time for Jürgen and I to step into the basket. At this point, the butterflies seriously began tickling my stomach — I was just about to fret to Jürgen about the take-off, when I realized that we were already airborne. It had been so smooth, I hadn’t even noticed leaving the ground. The whole trip, in fact, was more serene than I had expected. We were just floating; there was nothing the least bit jerky or jarring about it.

It was amazing. This had been something I’d always wanted to experience, and now here we were, soaring above Boise. Eric could raise the balloon by blasting the fire, or lower it by letting air into the top. He was even able to roughly control the direction in which we floated by monitoring the air currents at different altitudes. At one level, we’d be going west, and then we’d ascend twenty feet and be pushed toward the south.


We weren’t alone in the sky. There were about thirty balloons participating in the Classic, which has been held annually since 1991. One of Eric’s friends, who was piloting a balloon similar in design to ours, approached and gave us a “kiss” — which meant bumping the balloons together. “Hey Eric”, he called over from his basket, “That was nice, but I would have rather kissed your wife!”

After we had landed and everything was packed, Jürgen and I began to say our goodbyes, but the Quinns stopped us short. “Whoa, you’re not going anywhere yet!” Oh, no? “Nope. You’re first-timers, and that means you’ll have to complete… [boom boom boom] The Ceremony!!!” They took us into a grassy field and laid out a small carpet. We knelt before Eric while he related the tale of history’s original balloon trip. Then after swearing an oath, we bent over, took our paper champagne glasses between our teeth, and drained them without using our hands.

It was an incredible day out and we couldn’t have found a better team to ride with than the Quinns. Hot air ballooning is now something I can scratch off my life’s “to-do list”. Although, maybe I won’t. I wouldn’t mind the excuse to do it again. Floating silently through the air, carried by the wind, looking down on the tiny people waving up at me… it’s something I could get addicted to.

Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic – Website

Great Hotels in Boise

Count Down
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Double Balloon
Hot Air Balloon Set Up
Balloon Workers
Balloon Festival
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City Balloon
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Hot Air Balloon Coming Down
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September 3, 2012 at 9:14 pm Comments (6)
Boise's Basque Block 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.
For 91 Days