The End of the Bucket List

Simply put, this has been one of the best and most rewarding summers of my life. At the start of the summer, I laid out four goals that I wanted to work towards in the months before I left for Austria:

  1. Bring together and spend time with people I care about.
  2. Appreciate Idaho and all the things I know I will miss.
  3. Do the things I should have done by now as an Idahoan.
  4. Don’t go bankrupt in the process.

To accomplish these goals, I made a Very Idahoan Summer Bucket List. There’s a simple little quote that encapsulates my attitude about adventure and my list, and that is “bloom where you are planted”. It doesn’t matter where you are, how far away you go, or for how long, or how crazy your activity is. “Adventure” is a mindset. This list was about living with the intent to explore, celebrate, and appreciate your surroundings, and to share that with others. I feel like we accomplished that this summer, and it has been an journey I will always treasure.

With the support of my friends and family, the original list grew from around ten little ideas to more than thirty adventures. I was challenged to creativity and actively seek out new things to try and places to visit, and was lucky enough that the people I care about also committed to my bucket list and helped me add to it. Each adventure below marked with a * is an adventure I didn’t plan or come up with the idea for. Having the input and enthusiasm of the people around me has been incredibly special, and I want to thank everyone who helped me come up with ideas or who went with me on all these activities.

Here are just some of the things we got up to this summer, and when I say we I mean any combination of Molly, my mom, my dad, Charles, Alethea, Brent, Malik, Emily, Jacob, Cody, Harbor, Olivia, Vanessa, Jade, Jake, my grandmother, my grandfather, Jim, Shona, Saul, Kasie, Tawnya, Grace, Tyler, Melissa, Jessica, Jerry, and Sarah, and more!


APRIL 15 We kicked off the adventures with a mini-road trip to celebrate my being accepted into the USTA program in Austria. Talking to Molly on this adventure inspired me to write the original Very Idahoan Summer Bucket List.


MAY 25 We visited St. John’s Cathedral to admire the stained glass windows.


MAY 28 We got a little chilly in the Shoshone Indian Ice Caves.


JUNE 4 We brought our fiercest legging game to the Nampa Rollerdrome.


JUNE 10 We rode the motorcycle to the site of the failed Evel Knievel jump at the Snake River Canyon.


JUNE 10 We watched BASE jumpers leap from the Perrine Bridge, which was the highest bridge in the world in 1927.


JUNE 11 I flew to Seattle and back in a single day to complete my Austrian residency permit application.


JUNE 17 Boise celebrated World Refugee Day and the Pride Festival.


JUNE 23-25 We endured awful views like this in the Sawtooths.*


JUNE 27 I got first aid, CPR, and AED certified at Young Hearts Education.


JULY 8 We jumped at Jumptime.



JULY 11 We took advantage of the photos ops at Zoo Boise to recreate some old favorites.


JULY 15-16 We were adorable at the Pendleton Whiskey Fesival.*


JULY 18 The Snake River Stampede wasn’t our first rodeo.


JULY 20 We celebrated her birthday at Aloha Tattoo, and she learned that rib tattoos are no joke.


AUGUST 6 We road tripped through the smoke to McCall just for fun.


AUGUST 10 We braved the famous habanero pizza at Flying Pie Pizzaria.


AUGUST 12 We paid Shoshone Falls a visit.*


AUGUST 12 We went to the Shoshone-Bannock Indian Festival on the Fort Hall reservation, and got very lost on the way.*


AUGUST 13 I celebrated being vegetarian for 1 year and we had a big dinner party.


AUGUST 14 We went to Roaring Springs water park after hours.*


AUGUST 19 We tried not to go overboard with Cascade Raft and Kayak.* (Professional photo by Cascade Raft and Kayak)


AUGUST 20 We had too much fun at the Western Idaho Fair.


SEPTEMBER 1 “We looked good” at the Lady Antebellum concert.*


SEPTEMBER 2 We wandered the Saturday market and got the best sandwiches in town at the Boise Co-op.


SEPTEMBER 3 We watched a pre-Austria essential, “The Sound of Music”, which I had never seen.


SEPTEMBER 10 We strode in memory of Peggy to find a cure for pancreatic cancer.*

SEPTEMBER 9 We sampled eight of the Sweetest Things in Life at the STIL. 


SEPTEMBER 10 Molly and I enlisted some help in our quest for a series of truly ridiculous photos at my farewell party.


SEPTEMBER 12 We took in a performance of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” under the stars at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival.

It has been one heck of a summer, and I’m thankful I got to spend it seeing and doing so many things with my favorite people. I highly recommend making your own list, or just remembering to make adventures out of the little things as well as the big things. I intend to continue on in that mindset as I start a whole new chapter of adventures on Saturday, when I move to Austria. I look forward to a whole new round of adventures, and I’ll be taking you all along with me!


All photos taken by Sandra Walker and friends unless otherwise noted. Idaho, 2017.


Party in Pendleton

A few months ago, my best friend Alethea called me up and asked if I wanted to join a trip with her dad and his girlfriend to see Maroon 5 at the Pendleton Whisky Music Festival. Oh, and it would be free. Um, yes, of course, sign me up. Last weekend had basically everything I enjoy the most: time with Alethea, road trips, concerts, food, and new experiences.


Saturday morning we set out on the easy road trip to Pendleton, which is only a few hours away from Boise. It’s not difficult to understand how we get massive wildfires every summer when you see how dry all the brush is in the hills! I don’t usually head further West on my road trips, so when we got to the hotel I was shocked that it seemed to just appear and exist in the middle of nowhere. You look out the window and there is nothing but low hills in every direction. I imagine it’s quite a sight in winter!

We stayed at the Wildhorse Resort and Casino on the Umatilla Reservation. I always like new experiences, and this was my first time on a reservation and at a casino. Alethea and I had planned to at least try to cash in on our beginner’s luck at a slot machine or something, and we wandered around the casino for a while. Eventually we decided the casino was too overwhelming for us and we wandered out without placing a single bet.


Having failed to win big at the casino, we popped up to the room to get done up for the evening and for a glass of wine before dinner. We were treated to an amazing dinner at the Plateau in the resort. As a vegetarian, I have noticed that fancy restaurants usually aren’t worth bothering with because most of their fancy and expensive dishes are so expensive because of the steak and seafood in every entrée. At the Plateau, they had a total of zero vegetarian entrees, but I was able to get a pasta without the meat elements and it was actually very impressive for a simple alfredo! I don’t know what makes the sauce so tasty, but I suspect I’d rather not know.


The view from the restaurant.

After dinner it was time for the main event: the Pendleton Whisky Music Fest. Maroon 5 headlined the music festival, and it was a great performance! You can’t tell from the photo, but the venue was huge! The festival was held at the Pendleton Round Up grounds, which apparently is known for the grass arena and for being huge.


After only one night in Pendleton, it was time to head back. We had a slight detour on the way home though, and we stopped by the Sumpter Nugget in the town of Sumpter to visit Alethea’s uncle. The Sumpter Nugget just so happens to be a marijuana dispensary, which is legal in Oregon. Here’s Alethea and I looking very entertained after a brief lesson in all things weed.


Entertaining, but I like my drug-free life as is. We joked about the weekend as a weekend of vices- alcohol, gambling, food, and weed- but we stuck to the food and drink only. After that quick stop we headed back through the hills to Boise.


Since we still liked each other after spending a whole weekend together, Alethea and I decided we should check out the grand opening of a new ice cream parlor in downtown Boise. We picked up her husband and headed to “The STIL”, which stands for the Sweetest Things in Life. I had a scoop of Huckleberry Lavender, and I was really impressed and would definitely go back! It was a sweet end to a fun weekend adventure.

Things may have been quiet here on the blog the past two weeks, but they have been anything but quiet for me. My brother has been in town on leave from the Army, so in the last two weeks we had several family dinners with both sides of the family, we went to the zoo, we went to Jumptime, we celebrated the 4th of July, the family came together to send of my cousin to the Navy, I got to hang out with my friend Olivia at last, my friend Emily and I went to 1st Thursday downtown to hang out and practice German, and last night I watched the Game of Thrones premiere with my dad and his girlfriend’s family. It has been a great couple of weeks, but having plans almost every evening for two weeks straight is exhausting. The fun isn’t slowing down any time soon though, so stay tuned for more summer adventures!


P.S. Less than two months to go until Austria!

I Love Kyiv

Kyiv, Ukraine will always hold a special place in my heart, and going through the photos made me want to go back again! It was the first place I visited when I went to Europe, and I got to go back with some friends six months after my first visit. A quick fun fact: Kiev is the Russian spelling, Kyiv is the Ukrainian spelling. Ukraine officially asked the media and other governments to recognize the Ukrainian spelling, but it has been ignored often because news sites worry their readers won’t recognize the spelling. I encourage you to use the Ukrainian spelling going forward to recognize the independence of Ukraine from Russia.

Kyiv is a city where anything can happen, and I’m excited for the future of Ukraine and hope to go back to see more of the country someday. This post contains photos from both my summer and spring trip to Kyiv. I went alone the first time, but met a couple girls in my hostel that I hung out with who you will see in a few photos. Here are some photo mosaics highlighting some of my favorite things about Kyiv!

One thing that really struck me was the beauty of the churches. These are some of my favorites:

It was also interesting to see different phases of construction on some buildings, like this church. This is St. Andrew’s church in summer and then in spring.


Aside from being the first place I visited, I think part of the reason  Kyiv stands out to me is that so many of the things I did there were unlike anything I did while abroad. The city and country are changing rapidly as Ukraine distances itself from Russia and moves towards becoming a part of the EU. Here are some photos from my visit to the ousted-President Yanukovytch’s estate called the “Palace of Corruption”, the “Arc of Friendship” between Russia and Ukraine, the House with Chimeras, a Ukrainian bathhouse where we were beaten with leafy branches, the zipline across the Dnipro river, seeing mummified monks beneath the churches, failing to escape from an escape room, the mind-bogglingly enormous Mother Motherland statue, and seeing all of the sights around the main square- the center of the revolution in 2014.

The sights were incredible, but so were the people. The strangers were friendly, and I felt really welcomed at my hostel. Many people have asked me if Ukraine is scary or dangerous, and my answer is always no. I didn’t worry about my safety in Kyiv more than I did in any other city. Be aware of your surroundings, stay in groups, and be wary after dark just like anywhere else and you should have no problems. Kyiv is beautiful, interesting, fun, and budget friendly if you’re willing to go off the beaten path and are up for an adventure. Pay Kyiv a visit, and make sure you check out the deepest subway in the world, the “Palace of Corruption”, the Pechersk-Lavra, make a trip up to Chernobyl, and go to a bathhouse!



Photos by Sandra Walker or helpful strangers. Kyiv, Ukraine Aug 2015 and April 2016.


SEA You Later

Long story short, I had to make a sudden dash to the honorary Austrian consulate in Seattle to submit my residency paperwork on a Sunday and I had to be back at work Monday morning. Future USTAs, don’t be like me. Make sure you plan ahead for the fact that you will have to go to one of the Austrian consulates in person to submit your Bestätigung paperwork. My flight touched down right at 06:45 in Seattle and my return flight took off at 14:55, so I had about 8 hours to make my appointment and enjoy Seattle.

I didn’t have much time, but I made the most of the time I had! Navigating airports, taking public transit, using maps to find my way around the city, seeing new sights, and all the other little things that come with travelling really awakened my wanderlust and made me that much more excited to go to Austria. My trip started off with one of my favorite things in the world, which is to be in the air during a sunrise or sunset. Our flight took off just as day was breaking over Boise, and the views were stunning.




I love plane wing photos. After I landed in Seattle, I made my way to the light rail to get from the airport to the city center. I’ve always like the light rail. It’s easy to use, and it has big windows so you get to see all the sights on the way, like this view of downtown.


Unfortunately, the bulk of my free time on this trip was between 07:30 and 09:30 on a Sunday morning, well before anything opened. I still managed to accomplish two goals: see the ocean and pay Pike’s Place Market a visit. It was nice wandering the streets while it was still quiet in the city.







Since I was one of the first tourists wandering around Pike’s Place I got to be one of the first to snag some mini doughnuts. That also meant no one was around to see me get absolutely covered in powdered sugar like a kid.





So that is all I saw on my mini trip to Seattle! I had eight hours on the ground, minus the time for the light rail trips and airport time and my appointment, so I was pretty pleased. I managed to walk almost six miles before 10 am, I saw some pretty views of Seattle, and most importantly I got my paperwork submitted without a hitch. It was one giant step towards going to Austria and a lovely day trip all in one.

SEA you in September, Seattle.


Photos taken by Sandra Walker. Seattle, WA. June 2017

Chernobyl and Pripyat, Ukraine

If you could go anywhere, where would you go?

This is the first blog post in a series showing the highlights from cities I traveled to or experiences I had while I studied abroad in 2015 and 2016. I’ve adapted these blogs from my original study abroad blog. When I booked my tickets to Europe, I realized I had a chance to do something purely selfish. I was travelling by myself, and I realized I didn’t have to fly straight to Germany. If I could go anywhere, and no one could stop me, there was one thing I wanted to see: Chernobyl.

I quickly learned that there were two general reactions when I told people where I was going. There were the “WHY?!” people and the “that is so cool, take me with you” people. Chernobyl interests me both socially and biologically, and I wanted to see the Exclusion Zone and the original sarcophagus of reactor #4 before the new sarcophagus was slated to be completed in 2016.  I knew it was a now or never kind of opportunity, and I am glad I seized it. Here are a few facts that stand out to me:

  1. The accident happened on April 26, 1986. An error in operation caused an explosion, and withu
  2. If a wildfire were to break out in the forests in the zone it would kick up so many radioactive particles that there would be another widespread nuclear disaster.
  3. The radiation exposure I got in two days in the zone was about the equivalent to a long-haul flight.
  4. It is possible to get contaminated with radioactive particles, but you would have to be doing something dumb like rolling around in the brush where the particles linger more easily.
  5. The first responder firefighters to the disaster went to fight the fire without any protection against radiation, and many suffered fatal cases of Acute Radiation Sickness.
  6. The disaster was not disclosed by the USSR for several days, until pressure grew from scientists around the world who noticed increased levels of radiation and pressed for a cause.
  7. There are a few elderly people who still live in the zone, and we got to meet two of them.
  8. The original structure encasing the reactor was only designed to last 30 years, and deteriorated faster than expected. The new sarcophagus was assembled on rails next to the old one, and was completed and slid into place in 2016.
  9. Workers on the new sarcophagus spend only 1-2 weeks in the zone and then a mandatory period of time outside of it so that their bodies can process the dose of radiation.
  10. The new sarcophagus is strong and built to  withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters, but if the old structure were to collapse inside it would tear the new sarcophagus apart and result in Chernobyl disaster #2. For this reason the next step is to slowly dismantle the old sarcophagus inside of the new structure.

I booked my tour through SoloEast, and I spent two days and one night in the Exclusion Zone. I had an amazing time, and I definitely recommend doing the two day tour instead of the one day if you can. My group was composed of a tour guide, a government appointed guide, and six tourists including myself. Our guides were really friendly, funny, and knowledgeable. You can even request certain guides who are radiologists, scientists, botanists, or biologists. And please, spare yourselves and don’t rent a Geiger counter unless you are a full blown scientist and want to take readings of every object. The guide has one and will show you any hot spots, and no one wants to listen to two Geiger counters clicking and croaking away. I do however advise bringing two clif bars.

Chernobyl, and Ukraine in general remains in my top five favorite places that I have visited. Feel free to comment below with any questions you may have! Here are thirty of my favorite photos from my tour of Pripyat and Chernobyl.




Photos taken by Sandra Lyn Walker, or fellow tourists, or the tour guide. Chernobyl and Pripyat, Ukraine. August 2015. Post updated from previous blog.