Idaho - Boise

As one sign read... "Boise, birth place of United Airlines" C'mon tourist board, you can do better than that


Library! Surprise!

Idaho may conjures up images of potatoes, Josh Ritter songs, and an old River Phoenix movie. But I urge you to scrap your fanciful bucket list of far flung places, toss your potato peeler in the bin, turn low ‘Hello Starling’ and tear down that poster of Keanu Reeves in your mind. Boise Idaho is the best kept secret in the Pacific Northwest. Would I live there? You bet your sweet yams I would!

It surprisingly has the sophistication of a bigger city with ballet troops, opera galas and every type of theatre, yet it keeps its small town charm of tree lined streets and friendly folk who nod hello. It’s a vibrant city fueled by the energy of its university populations and easy access to outdoor pursuits. A luscious greenbelt wraps around the city for cyclists, runners, walkers and general lolling (nothing like a loll). The nearby mountains host the non-lollers during ski season.

I know I’m going to like a town when I see restored olde worlde movie theatres with names like “The Flicks” and “The Egyptian”. After a chatty breakfast in the centrally located Moons (everyone and their granny stopped to jabber to our little Miss Smiles) we eased ourselves off their funky green leather armchairs and set off to explore Julia Davis Park (where Dom would knock out a 70.3 triathalon the next day).

Pretty lady in a pretty park
During our June visit it was hotter than the hinges of hell out there but thankfully a silky breeze kept us cool. The park was very relaxing and pretty. It’s also home to an art museum and a history museum which the breeze blew us past.

It was too hot to stay still so we kept on movin’, we must have walked the length and breadth of the city limits and I can firmly say I didn’t see a “dodgey area”, if there is one, Boise keeps it well under wraps (or far out of town). It’s a classy, well heeled, elegant city, when we got off the plane I had fully expected to arrive in a town out of Little House on the Prairie with dungarees, banjos and potatoes as far as the eye could see (which, would have been delightful, might I add).

However, the map of Boise is quilted with buildings in the Art Deco style, creating its vintage elegance. Main St is brim full of chic boutiques and cheeky hipster shops with quirky signs to draw in the ironically cool. 8th St and Grove Plaza is the buzzy dining & shopping centre. The State Capitol building was just like every other State Capitol building but for some reason (supporting war veterans??) it was tied up in massive yellow pretty bows.

Speaking of veterans I was swallowed up by a vintage store and promptly spate onto the pavement in a 1940s petite military peacoat with a broken 1900s Singer sewing machine under my arm. I was modeling the coat for a weary and sun boiled husband and child. I was so close to buying the coat and machine (despite the impracticality of wool in the 90 degree heat, don’t even get me started on the impracticalities of the broken antique Singer) but my own petite-ness near tore the arms right off the jacket, which the (broken) sewing machine was never going to fix.

We dripped (coatless) past the cutesy homes with their lawns and picket fences as we headed to a tri race briefing. In the glorious shade of a merchandise tent I chatted to a local lady while Dom faffed about with bikes and pedals. She told me the Idaho summer heat doesn’t kick in until after 5pm <gulp> I wilted some more. We took to the shade for the rest of the day.

Check out the view

Right outside our hotel I spotted an old fashioned binocular stand (does anyone ever pay to look through those things?!) it was oddly pointing directly at a brick wall. I had noticed a few of them on our walks, always pointed at unremarkable vistas like a traffic sign, a parking lot, etc. I grabbed the binocular pole, pressed my eyes against its metal rim, and to my shock, stared back in time at Boise’s biggest secret….

It turns out Boise once had a thriving Chinatown! This is surprising if you visit present day Boise as its Asian community is not an obvious one. Chinatown vanished in the 1970s at the hands of urban renewal. There is literally zero trace of it. To rectify this absence the city has erected these binoculars around town which allow you to see a snapshot of how that very spot looked back in the old Chinatown days (for example you might be standing in a car park that was once an opium den and busy house of ill repute). If you read the side of the pole it will give you more history about that spot, there are even links to websites if you want more info (not about houses of ill repute, tsk tsk). They call it the “augmented reality experience” tour (only in America, Irish people go to the pub to augment their reality!).

To give the idea its dues, I thought it was a very clever way to add a virtual dimension to a self guided walk. The Irish idea of the pub also has its merits ;)

A river flows through it

After the tri, Dom joined us in our lolling as we strolled along the city’s highlight -the greenbelts river. Not surprisingly Boise is known as the ‘city of trees’. Bikes whooshed past us. It was funny to see the city bike scheme used solar powered bikes. I think I prefer the old fashioned man powered bikes (despite those pesky hills in SF, it is a badge of honour to pound up them on my work commute) but I do applaude Boise’s ingenuity.

Fake entry number if ever I saw one!
To escape the relentless heat we slipped into the local Basque museum. Probably not something that would normally have caught my eye, who on earth associates the Basque people with Boise, then again, who knew about the thriving Chinatown! Every day is a school day.

Back to Basque, they came to Idaho to be shepherds in the New World and simply grew in number. There are Basque pubs and restaurants dotted about town. Vive la Difference!

The old ball and chain
On our last day in Boise we set out on the 3 mile walk through residential Boise to the Old Penitentiary. I love gawping at houses so the walk was worth it. The houses are All-American picture perfect, I felt like I was watching a movie, granted a silent movie about houses wouldn’t be a blockbuster but I’d probably sit down with my popcorn to watch. (I’m all about the ‘augmented reality’ now).

Idaho went down the toilet
The Old Pen is no Alcatraz, but there was an interesting room devoted to the history of prison tattoos. Dots on the knuckles represent blocks of time served, and European prisons tend to have tattoos that are more blasphemous than American prison tats. Some small talk for your next soiree in the H Block.

There was also a space devoted to the history of guns, both fascinating and frightening.

We ubered it back to downtown, and on the advice of a local, we headed to a microbrewery for lunch (apparently no trip to Boise is complete with a tipple of microbrew). I let the triathlete tuck into the beer while we stuffed ourselves with farm to table grub. We ate like kings and it was still cheaper than our local café in SF.

I would highly recommend Boise Idaho, where augmented reality ‘just-got-real’.

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