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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

Buy A Basque Beret Here

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

The World Center for Birds of Prey

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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.


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 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.

Book Your Boise Hotel Here

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

Freak Alley and Boise’s Public Art

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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.


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.

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

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

The Capitol Building and Boise Train Depot

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Read About The Union Pacific Railroad

At either end of Capitol Boulevard sit Boise’s two most distinctive buildings. To the north is the stunning State Capitol, while on a bluff to the south, easily visible from the capitol’s steps, is the Old Train Depot.


Of the two, the Capitol is the older building, completed in 1912, 22 years after Idaho gained statehood. It was built in the Renaissance Revival style, using sandstone from local quarries, and has a dome which reaches 208 feet into the air. Perched on top of the dome is a huge bronze eagle meant to keep watch over Boise. The Capitol building was recently renovated and its gleaming white interior is open to the public. On the bottom floor is a permanent exhibition about Idahoan history.

Just over a mile due south is the Old Train Depot, built in 1925. During the city’s early years, the nearest train connection was in Nampa, twenty miles to the west: a significant distance in those days. So the railroad finally coming to Boise was a momentous occasion. The depot, built to resemble an early Spanish mission, was immediately hailed as one of the most beautiful stations in the west.


We took a peek in and around the Old Depot. The last train rolled through in 1997, but the hall still has a board with schedules and a few small exhibits reminiscing about the past. Today, it’s mostly used for weddings and corporate meetings. With a hilltop view stretching out over Boise and the lovely Platt Gardens spread out across the front yard, it certainly lends itself to special events.

The Depot is only open to the public for a few hours on Sundays and Mondays, and otherwise sits on top of its hill empty and unused. A little frustrating for those on a rigid schedule, but you can always visit the Platt Gardens, and see Big Mike: a 2-8-2 Mikado steam locomotive built in 1920, and one of the last still in existence.

Locations on our Idaho Map: State Capitol | Boise Depot

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January 5, 2013 at 10:36 am Comment (1)

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
Hot Air Balloon Pilot
Double Balloon
Hot Air Balloon Set Up
Balloon Workers
Balloon Festival
Looking Down
Ready Set Go
Good Morning Boise
City Balloon
Low Riders
Hot Air Ballon Hear
Hot Air Balloon Coming Down
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September 3, 2012 at 9:14 pm Comments (6)

The Western Idaho Fair

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With a history stretching back to 1897, the Western Idaho Fair is one of the state’s biggest annual celebrations. Concerts, competitions, rides, games, crazy food and an overabundance of stinking, dusty farm animals occupy the large fairground for a week on the northern end of Boise. We couldn’t resist checking it out, and showed up on the fair’s final day.

Bending Over

We started at a horse show, which we hoped might involve trick riding or barrel racing. But it was more like the Westminster Dog Show for horses. Riders simply walked their steeds around in a circle while a panel of experts them on… something. Their gait? Musculature? I have no idea and apparently wouldn’t make a good horse judge, seeing as how my favorites finished dependably in last place.

The entertainment factor picked up considerably at the next event: the Mountain Boarding Big Air Show. Three extreme dudes put on a death-defying performance, hurtling down a steep ramp and leaping over a truck. We had missed the fair’s concerts earlier in the week, including Styx and Weird Al Yankovich, but this was a decent consolation prize. And I needed it! Because after realizing that we’d lost the opportunity to see Weird Al live, I was practically inconsolable.

We headed deeper into the fair, past stands selling Idaho Tater-Dogs (hot dogs shoved into potatoes) and wound up at a petting zoo. A wide variety of creatures were on-hand, from baby pigs to the giant Brazilian Zebu. I’m not much of an animal-toucher, but enjoy petting zoos because there’s nothing better than watching a toddler with a cup full of food pellets get too close to the goat cage. Curiosity, bravery, glee, terror, anger and disappointment, all in the span of about five seconds.

A giant exhibition hall in the middle of the fairgrounds held the arts and crafts competitions, with photographs, pumpkins and quilts joining ceramics and floral arrangements. And we made sure to tour the various animal halls, where I saw what must be the world’s largest rabbit, and tried to figure out the qualities that make for a blue-ribbon chicken.

Hotels In Idaho

Fair Tickets
Waiting For Business
Real Cowboy
Clean Horse
Happy Cowgirl
Horse Show Idaho
Mounting A Horse
Idaho Cow Girl
Talking Horse
Cowboy Fashion
Golden Horse
Idaho Belt Buckle
Cowboy Idaho
Texas Longhorn
Talking Cow
Water Buffolo
Happy Petting
Fuzzy Cow
Nose Ring Bull
Not Trusting Cowboy
Egg Hatching
Feeding Goat
Staring Contest


Antique Washing Machine
Milk Machine
Drunk Cowboy
Extreme Idaho
Mountain Boarding Idaho
Juggler Idaho
Idaho Clown
Fair Dude
Western Idaho Fair
Insane Ride
Rides In Idaho
Dumbo Ride
Starship 3000
Idaho Rodeo
Waiting For The Ride
Food Stands Idaho
Basque Food Idaho
Corn Dog
Easy Rider
Idaho Bear
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August 31, 2012 at 6:13 pm Comments (0)

For 91 Days on Boise’s Own KBOI 2

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We woke up at 3:30am in order to make the drive from Cascade to Boise, to appear live on AM Extra on KBOI 2. Check out the video… you might be able to tell we’re not accustomed to being on camera, but it went pretty well. Especially considering that at this early hour, we’re normally fast asleep.

Thanks so much to the news crew: J Bates, Stephanie Smith and Adam Behrman (who hails from my corner of the world: northwest Ohio!)

KBOI 2’s AM Extra – Website

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August 31, 2012 at 1:49 am Comments (4)
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