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The Boise Fry Company

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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

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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.

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 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.

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 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-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

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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.

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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Egyptian-Theater-Boise-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.

Fall-In-idaho

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.

Boise-Depot

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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Boise Poster
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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.

Stop-Touch-Down

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.

The-Real-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

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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?

State-House-Idaho-Boise

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

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Rocca Idaho
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January 3, 2013 at 4:40 pm Comments (3)

Don Aslett’s Museum of Clean

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Cleaning Products

Tucked away in the otherwise uninspiring town of Pocatello is one of the most bizarre museums we’ve ever visited. The Museum of Clean is the ambitious venture of Don Aslett: America’s undisputed Cleaning King.

Don-Aslett

Don Aslett has been battling dirt and grime for over fifty years. In 1957, he established a janitorial service called Varsity Contractors to help finance his studies at Idaho State University. The business grew quickly and eventually became one of the country’s biggest cleaning services. Today it boasts over 30 offices around the country.

That might be enough accomplishment for the normal person but, as we would soon discover first-hand, Don Aslett is anything but the normal person! Cleaning is not just his profession, but his obsession. His mission. He’s written over 360 books on the subject, with titles like Clutter’s Last Stand: It’s Time To De-junk Your Life! and Is There Life After Housework?: A Revolutionary Approach to Cutting Your Cleaning Time 75%, and has been on TV hundreds of time, including appearances on QVC and Oprah. He wants to clean up the world. And by creating the Museum of Clean, he’s put his money where his mouth is.

I had been expecting something small-scale, perhaps a collection of old vacuum cleaners. So when we pulled up in front of the massive six-story museum in Pocatello, I was floored. All this, for the history of cleaning products? Well, not quite. This isn’t the Museum of Cleaning but the Museum of Clean — an important distinction. Mr. Aslett is building a shrine to the very concept of “clean”. Clean floors and houses, yes, but also clean living. Clean energy, clean morals and a clean world. And why not? We’ve visited museums dedicated to potatoes, illusions, Evita Perón, and whores. Why not a museum of clean?

We were lucky to find Don Aslett inside, hard at work on yet another exhibition. He’s in his seventies but has the energy of a teenager, and gave us an exhaustive tour of his new museum, constantly cracking jokes and detailing his life philosophy. He’s got one of those larger-than-life personalities, and the time we spent with him was highly entertaining. And surreal.

The museum is truly something else. The first thing you’ll notice is a gigantic playground in the foyer that brings to mind a Motorcycle Death Globe, where kids can sweep up toy coins or squeegee windows (our vacuum-obsessed nephew would love this). Scattered about the museum are old Amish bath tubs, toilets, dental equipment, a library dedicated to “Clean”, artwork, video exhibitions and more. Much, much more. The scary thing is that the museum is only a third complete. Four of the six floors have yet to be filled out… I can’t imagine what the place will be like once finished. You’ll need three days to fully explore it!

The keyword for our time in Idaho has been “unexpected”, and Don Aslett’s Museum of Clean provided yet another absolutely unpredictable surprise. It’s strange, amazing and inspiring all at once … just like Don Aslett himself. Do yourself a favor and check it out. And if Don’s around, as he probably is, make sure and say “hi” from us!

Location on our Idaho Map
Link: Museum Of Clean

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December 28, 2012 at 9:12 am Comments (0)

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