That Thermopolis Junket, Part 4

Sunday morning in Riverton, Wyoming. My work here is complete. It’s time to head back to the Command Center and hope I don’t have a full-on feline insurrection on my hands.

But first, a nine-hour drive home awaits. Unlike Friday’s journey, I get to see the rest of western Wyoming in daylight. I’ve been looking forward to this.

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Jackalope museum? Now we’re talking!

My first stop on the return trip was the hamlet of Dubois, unfortunately named for a rabidly anti-Mormon U.S Senator from Idaho after the post office vetoed the preferred local name, the much more entertaining “Never Sweat.” The jackalope museum doubles as a convenience store, offering plenty of swag lampooning the Forest Service, but unfortunately no Oberto Bacon Jerky. Oh well, the A.1. Steak Sauce flavor will have to do. The helpful clerk apparently hadn’t heard of EBT before (hey, I’m a starving artist type), so I dutifully paid cash.

Grand Teton National Park looks much, much better during the day. Even if you’re not particularly impressed by mountain views, you really should check this one out someday. It’s quite stunning. You’re also not going to encounter a herd of bison grazing along the roadside in Center City Philadelphia, that’s for damn sure. Like in the dinosaur museum in Thermopolis, I sent Beachy pictures.

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“Daddy, pet them!” Um … no.

Once in Jackson, I managed to correct the navigational mistake I made on the way out Friday evening. While the Teton Pass offers a more direct return to Idaho, it isn’t all that much quicker than the more circuitous route I inadvertently took Friday night. Being tailed by a Jackson cop all they way to Victor didn’t exactly expedite things either.

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But then again, there’s no speeding through here in a 2004 Ford Focus to begin with.
Image credit: Dana’s Rocky Mountain Excursion

After a quick bite to eat in Idaho Falls (which never seems to be quick enough there), I passed through increasingly familiar territory. Although I drove with the “check engine” light on from Carey onward, the staff car didn’t appear to suffer any ill effects. It’s done that before for no good reason, some sort of cryptic transmission complaint which mysteriously clears itself up after awhile. Anyway, the Pyramid Brothers were particularly glad to see me upon my return.

And thus concludes my Wyoming saga. My next trip of note is scheduled for late July, when Beachy and I head to the Vancouver, Washington, area to see Rush. That’s just as well. Frankly I’m a bit tired of feeling my inner Rick Steves for the time being.

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And no, that’s not a pot reference.
Image credit: Andrew Bossi

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That Thermopolis Junket, Part 3

At some point after passing through Shoshoni, it dawned on me that the highlight of this trip wasn’t going to be in Thermopolis after all, but in Riverton. Yes, Riverton. A town I didn’t even consider until I checked out the hotel rates in the area. The small-town weirdness I was looking for on this trip was there.

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A place where they take their building materials VERY seriously.

With a population of approximately 10,000, Riverton is the largest city in Wyoming’s expansive Fremont County. It looks larger than that, as it reminded me somewhat of the 2T back in the 80s. The downtown area near my hotel proved to be very walkable. Shortly after returning from Thermopolis I came across a secondhand store known simply as the Flea Market. It had all the stuff you’d expect to find at such a place, and the pricing policy seemed to be very simple. “When in doubt, it’s 20 bucks.”

Nothing really caught my eye until I wandered into the back of the store and came across a complete 1970 Fisher-Price Play Family Garage, with its original box no less. I had one of these as a kid, but unlike the Sesame Street play set – which after me was owned by my sister, my cousins, Beachy and now by my twin nieces in Portland – the garage is long gone. I seriously considered picking this one up.

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But alas, I don’t have enough storage as it is.
Image credit: Judy’s Vintage Fisher Price Toys

Eventually tiring of picking through brick-a-brac, I noticed it was approaching twilight on a Saturday. Although my hard partying days are well behind me, I remain a sucker for a good craft beer. There are plenty here in Boise, and even the 2T is beginning to produce some good local stuff. I figured Wyoming couldn’t be too far behind.

I figured … incorrectly. I don’t touch the ubiquitous American style pale lagers such as Coors and Bud, and trying to find anything more highbrow than a Michelob Amber in Riverton is an exercise in futility. I came across a single bottle of Guinness, but it was so old it must have been brewed by Arthur himself. Blech.

While on this wild goose chase a woman came in and ordered a martini. Despite it being a long-established standard, I could tell right away the barkeep wasn’t familiar with this particular cocktail. I was a bartender for a short time in Center City Philadelphia, so I cheerfully offered my assistance. First, use the right glassware (which they obviously didn’t have).

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Eh, close enough.

Second, if you’re going to make a gin martini Bombay Sapphire is the way to go. “Tanqueray will be fine.” Well, whatever.

Finally, use just a little bit of dry vermouth. “Vermouth … vermouth …. We don’t have that. Would you like some gin in a glass, ma’am?”

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Wait, seriously?
Image credit: fortinbras

And thus this junket’s moment of Zen was attained. Me, the kid from the 2T who lives in the teeming metropolis of Boise, Idaho, is now the big city asshole. With that, it was time to call it a night. Oh, how I looked forward to seeing that teeming metropolis again.

To be concluded on Saturday ….

That Thermopolis Junket, Part 2

I’m almost never awake at 9 am anymore, especially after a horrendous multi-state drive which took several hours longer than expected. Ah, but this is Wyoming. I’m here to do things and see stuff!

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But not everything though. Drive-through Bud Light? Nah, not my style.

Although the original intent of this journey was to stay in Thermopolis, the lodgings there proved to be just a bit spendy. I stayed in Riverton instead, which is about an hour away. The drive from Riverton to Thermopolis is quite nice. In particular the last part of the drive through the Wind River Canyon. It’s a must for all you armchair geologists out there. And tunnels? Yeah, they have those too.

The first thing I do when I visit a town for the first time is check it out as much as I can. Thermopolis struck me as kind of two towns in one. The “real” Thermopolis, which anyone who grew up in the American West would find very familiar, and the “tourist” Thermopolis. Yeah, the geography and the hot springs were cool, but even on this Saturday morning in early May the swimming areas were jam-packed. Once the summer season hits I imagine it’ll be cattle call time. In short, I was underwhelmed. When it comes to hot springs, for my money Lava Hot Springs out by Pocatello is a better choice.

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“Sulfur? Pfft, seen it.”

Fortunately I didn’t go there to relive my Hydrotube days (even though Thermopolis still totally has one). I went for more Thoreau-esque purposes, to suck the marrow out of life or something. Speaking of marrow, Thermopolis has plenty of bones for public perusal. Where? At the Wyoming Dinosaur Museum, silly!

“Dinosaurs,” I thought to myself. “Of course!”

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“Wyoming is world-famous for dinosaurs!”

OK, I went to the dinosaur museum mainly to take some pictures to send to Beachy. Still, I was quite impressed with the place. They have a triceratops, a T-Rex, a nest of baby dinosaurs and even an aptly-named supersaurus. It was actually worth the $10 admission.

The gift shop? Not so much. Damn. Beachy is lucky I found something for only four bucks.

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Good thing there were baby dinosaurs.

I spent about three and a half hours in Thermopolis, which as it turns out was about as long as I wanted to be there. My curiosity sated, it was time to head back to Riverton to check that town out. Riverton turned out to be a rather surreal experience.

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Thermopolis was just the warmup.

History Wednesday is tomorrow, so, um … continued on Thursday!

That Thermopolis Junket, Part 1

Another pointless vacation is in the books. I’m glad to say my trip to Wyoming inspired all sorts of great material for SB. I’ll be spending the better part of this week writing about it. So settle in, this entry is the first of one of those muliti-parter deals.

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Grab a snack or something.

As mentioned earlier, I have an an atrocious sleep schedule. This bit me in the ass in a big way on Friday. Late Thursday night I had everything packed and ready to go. I set an alarm to wake up at a reasonable time for what I expected to be an eight-hour trip to Riverton. However, a few minutes later I said to myself, “Nah. I don’t need an alarm. I’ll be OK.”

Next thing I know it’s 2:30 pm. Dammit!

After scrambling around the Command Center for a full half hour looking for my glasses (the cats hid them), I bolted out the door. Taking care of the standard going out of town tasks (i.e. gas, cash, Oberto Bacon Jerky, etc.) took another half hour. Oh yeah, I was looking at a late night.

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With only big buttes to keep me company.

The first half of the trip to Idaho Falls was uneventful. I’m very familiar with most of southern Idaho; directions to Idaho Falls weren’t necessary. However, I had never been east of Idaho Falls in this manner, so I printed out some Google directions beforehand. This is all fine and good, as the directions tell you what street to turn on. What they don’t tell you is what TOWN said street is located in. That would be helpful, Mr. Google, especially when in unfamiliar territory at twilight.

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As I found out later, the answer in this instance was “Swan Valley.”

Having missed the turn, and not realizing it until well over an hour later, I found myself traveling through areas not on the itinerary, such as Irwin, Palisades Dam and finally an unexpected entry into Wyoming at Alpine in Lincoln County, nearly 40 miles south of where I expected to be.

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Dammit.

As it turned out my detour cost me 30 minutes at most, but that was no comfort given I pulled into Jackson well after dark. Although it wasn’t THAT late, and Jackson is a fairly large city by Wyoming standards, I had difficulty finding an open store. This proved to be a recurring theme.

Immediately past Jackson is Grand Teton National Park. Being stupidly late I didn’t find this terribly interesting, especially considering I couldn’t see anything anyway. I found this even more annoying:

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The last thing I wanted to see.

Increasingly tired and in an unfamiliar area, by the time I exited Grand Teton I was ready for this drive to be freakin’ over. It was still well over 100 miles to Riverton, though. Driving across the Continental Divide at the snowbound-even-in-May Togwotee Pass is a challenge even in the best of conditions, but even worse when sleep deprived and attempting to pass a clearly confused motorist bearing Iowa license plates. Iowa not being known for its mountain passes, you know.

At 1:30 am I finally reached my destination, the extremely small and basic Riverton Motel 6. No one should be that glad to see a Motel 6. This day is OVER.

Continued tomorrow ….

SB is Wyoming Bound!

The time has come. Tomorrow morning I leave the Command Center for a couple days to go on my annual pointless vacation. Last year, it was to Salmon, Idaho. This year: Thermopolis, Wyoming.

“But Lane,” you might say, “you’re a city guy. Why the hell would you drive eight hours to a small town in Wyoming where you don’t even know anyone?” Well, the main reason is because I’ve never been there before. While I’m unquestionably more city than country, I also like to go off the beaten path every now and again. Why did I go to Salmon last year? It was because it was the largest city in Idaho I had never been to. I believe that distinction now belongs to Orofino.

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Home of the Maniacs (and a state mental hospital too).

Speaking of crazy, that’s main reason I chose Thermopolis this year, because of its crazy name. Of course, the town is actually so named because of the hot springs surrounding it. It’s in Hot Springs County, after all. Duh. I should have realized hot springs make the place somewhat touristy, which in turn means lodging in the area is a bit pricey. The best rate I could find was $70 a night, and that was at one of those places where I suspect the mattresses are older than I am. Yeah, I don’t want to go THAT bad.

Nevertheless, I’m still going to Thermopolis. I’m just not staying in Thermopolis. Instead, I’m setting up camp at the Motel 6 in the lovely town of Riverton, about 50 miles away. That’s as large as I wanna live right now.

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Yee haw.
Image credit: MoEaFaTi

So what am I going to do there? Same thing I did in Salmon last summer: avoid the touristy areas and just hang around. I’m pretty easy to entertain.

What has me really jacked about the trip is the route I’m taking. Instead of going through the 2T, I’m taking a more direct route through locales such as Fairfield and Arco. I’ll be visiting some places I haven’t been to in nearly 20 years and others I’ve never been to at all.

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Gives you kind of a warm feeling inside, doesn’t it?
Image credit: Squelle

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter for real-time snark updates. A full travel diary will appear next week.

Friday Crap Roundup XII

For the 12th FCR Mau Djoser gave to me, a clawing and a case of TB!

OK, not really, but I often wake up with scratches on my hands. Sneferu does it too. They’re brutal.

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“I know you’ll do the honorable thing.”

A’ Junketing I Will Go

I’ve made references to it over the past month or so, but now it’s really gonna happen. Next weekend SB goes on the road to visit the teeming metropolis of Thermopolis, Wyoming! Why? Because Daffy Duck told me to, that’s why.

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“You will do my bidding, you despicable persimmon!”

So what will I do there? Who knows? Who cares? Remote blogging might be a challenge though, as my laptop has no WiFi capability and a battery life of approximately 38 seconds. I guess I’ll work on those logistics as I go.

An Important Announcement

Mother of crap! This is absolutely shocking. Switch to hydrogen peroxide before it’s too late!

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Rocket fuel? You fiends!

Track of the Week

Spike Jones merited a comment here this week. Although he and his City Slickers are long gone, they left us plenty of atrocities against the classics.

“Beetle Bomb!”

History Wednesday: Kingdoms for Fun and Profit

Back when I wrote about the Deseret alphabet I mentioned in passing a place called Molossia. As it turns out, y’all are somewhat interested in the micronation near Carson City, Nevada. I can tell because the link repeatedly turns up in the “clicks” section of my blog dashboard.

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I can see why. It’s a happening place.
Image credit: Kevin Baugh

That said, today’s History Wednesday isn’t about Molossia or micronations. That story has been covered elsewhere. Although inspired by Molossia, today we’ll take a look at the Kingdom of Sedang, one of the more bizarre chapters in the never-boring history of Southeast Asia.

This story has its roots in the mid-1880s when colonialism was all the rage throughout Europe. After a relatively successful war against China, France established control over the majority of Southeast Asia east of present-day Thailand. They called it “French Indochina.”

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This caused some problems later on, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Anyway, shortly after the Sino-French War in 1888 Chulalongkorn the Great, king of the independent Siam, began claiming lands on his border with French Indochina. Unsurprisingly, this prompted the French to take steps to bolster their claims to the areas in question. Enter a certain Marie-Charles David de Mayrena, a rather sketchy character who owned a plantation in the area. Prior to his involvement in French Indochina, Mayrena worked as an arms dealer. He was suspected of embezzlement back in Metropolitan France. He had also been kicked out of the Dutch East Indies, which we know today as Indonesia.

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In other words, a 19th Century Destro.

Ever the opportunist, Mayrena convinced the Governor-General of French Indochina that he was the perfect guy to negotiate treaties with people in the area who weren’t definitively subjects of the French-controlled Emperor of Annam. Upon arrival he magnanimously negotiated fair treaties to everyone’s benefit.

Heh, no. He totally took advantage of the ambiguous political situation in the immediate area. In June 1888 he was somehow elected by several local tribal leaders as their king. He took the title “Marie the First, King of Sedang.”

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Because nothing says “Vietnam” more than a guy calling himself “King Marie.”
Image credit: Andrew Dinh

Mayrena rather incongruously declared Roman Catholicism Sedang’s state religion despite the fact most of his subjects in present-day central Vietnam were Muslims. Eventually recognizing his demographic error, Mayrena converted to Islam himself and promptly took advantage of the religion’s liberty regarding plural marriages. He also set about to create a flag, print postage stamps and establish a national award, named after himself of course.

Now Mayrena wasn’t the first random foreign dude to take over a distant land on charm and bullshit alone. He was, however, somewhat more pragmatic than some of the others. Much like the leaders of the short-lived Republic of Texas and the even more short-lived California Republic, Mayrena’s Sedang almost immediately resolved to negotiate a union with a stronger power. However unlike Texas and California, Sedang was, shall we say, less than successful.

He first tried his native France, offering the country to them in exchange for “monopoly rights” over the area. He also told the French government that if they weren’t interested, the Prussians might be. Predictably, Paris – infuriated this guy created a kingdom in “their” territory in the first place – passed on his offer.

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As for Prussia’s Bismarck, he reportedly asked if the day’s Wienerschnitzel was properly tenderized.

Next Mayrena tried the British up in Hong Kong. They were similarly disinterested. Finally Mayrena went to Belgium, where he convinced another shady character named Somsy to provide him with money and arms in exchange for mineral rights. Finally fed up with his shit, the French refused Mayrena’s entry into Vietnam upon his return and seized his arms shipment in Singapore. The erstwhile king spent his last days in exile in present-day Malaysia, where he died in November 1890 under mysterious circumstances.

And so that was the end of Sedang, even though today a Canadian group wants to inexplicably revive it. As for Molossia, there may be a story there if I went to visit. Indeed, it’s on my shortlist after my planned junket to Thermopolis.

The SB Travel Guide

When I’m bored, which happens a lot, I like to peruse travel sites such as Lonely Planet and Wikitravel. You see, I’ve lived all over the United States, and I’m not content to park my ass in Idaho for the rest of my life. I want to get out and see stuff.

Does that mean I’m going to sign up for the first package tour to come through my e-mail? Oh, hell no! My travel philosophy is very similar to Mojo Nixon‘s. One of the truly great American prophets, Nixon had this to say back in 1999:

I like the local place. I like Billy Bob Bubba Junior’s burger place on the edge of town with the B sanitary rating. Local promoters will ask me where I want to go eat, and I’ll say, “I wanna go eat at the place where your drunk uncle goes to, that your mother doesn’t like.”

So today I’m sharing a few travel destinations on my bucket list. As of this writing I haven’t been to any of them, but I hope to change that one of these days. Flight prices are based on what I found today at Kayak departing 7 May (a Tuesday) from Boise Airport (BOI) and returning the following week. If you were to actually do this, however, I recommend taking a longer vacation. Many of these destinations take up to two days to get to, if not longer.

Tirana, Albania

The Albanian capital is still a bit off the beaten path, but it’s nowhere near as hard to get to as it was 35 years ago. Back when the Enver Hoxha regime was in power, Tirana was right up there with Pyongyang in terms of mysterious, remote cities. Pyongyang would be interesting too, but the whole point is to get away from guided tours. In North Korea, you don’t have a choice.

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Even the 2T has better nightlife than Pyongyang.

Anyway, in sharp contrast to Kim Jong-un’s stomping grounds Tirana is said to have a very vibrant night life. According to Wikitravel, Albanians “are very hospitable towards foreigners,” and crime rates are quite low. Once I have my druthers, I’m definitely going.

From BOI to Tirana (TIA): Fairly straightforward. $1,458 with layovers at Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) and Munich (MUC).

Other places to consider: Ljubljana, Slovenia; Sofia, Bulgaria; Skopje, Macedonia; Podgorica, Montenegro.

Bangui, Central African Republic

The more astute among you know I’ve already written about the Central African Republic here. From my standpoint sitting here in Idaho Africa seems very remote, and Bangui seems remote even by African standards. I wouldn’t be terribly interested in going on safari there or anything like that (although I understand the region is well-suited for such things). Like most other places, I’d want to hang out with the locals and see what they do to spend the time.

The problem with the CAR is that’s it’s constantly in turmoil. I mean, constantly. The government there was overthrown by rebels less than a month ago. I’d want to go when it’s a bit safer, but when that actually happens is anyone’s guess.

From BOI to Bangui (BGF): “No matching results were found.” Wusses. I know Air France has a flight from Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to Bangui. Looks like that would be 687,500 Central African francs, which is, um, around $1,360. Add another $1,204 from BOI to Paris – with a layover in San Francisco (SFO) – and that’s $2,564.

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Nothing like burning an entire flight going backwards.

Other places to consider: N’Djamena, Chad; Antananarivo, Madagascar; Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; Timbuktu, Mali.

Rabbit Flat, Northern Territory, Australia

Speaking of remote, few places are as out of the way as the Australian outback. In the outback itself, there are places even the locals consider remote, particularly in the interiors of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Rabbit Flat is one such place. Hundreds of miles away from any significant settlement, Rabbit Flat is not much more than a roadhouse on a long, seldom-traveled road. I understand the roadhouse closed down, too.

Ah, who cares? There are times when I’m feeling my inner Ted Kaczynski and just want to get away from it all. I very much doubt I’d stay in Rabbit Flat for very long, but the trip there and back would certainly be an adventure.

From BOI to Rabbit Flat: No airport to speak of there, so I’d have to fly to the closest city of any size, which would be Alice Springs (ASP). $1,815, with stops in San Jose (SJC), Los Angeles (LAX), and Sydney (SYD). That, plus a 375-mile one-way trip on roads that make Nevada 318 look like Manhattan. I’m sure they aren’t giving those away.

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Regardless, that’s gonna be a long-ass trip.
Image credit: Nachoman-au

Other places to consider: Coober Pedy, South Australia; Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.

Longyearbyen, Svalbard

Svalbard is the mirror image of Rabbit Flat. While the Australian outback is excessively hot and remote, Svalbard is excessively cold and remote. How remote? How about 78° North latitude, well north of the Arctic Circle?

Although officially part of Norway, Svalbard has also been occupied by the Soviet Union and later Russia for decades, which makes for an interesting cultural mishmash. In Longyearbyen, the capital and largest city, the sun rises in April and sets in November, with only a few weeks a year experiencing a normal day and night cycle. Temperatures rarely go above 45° F.

Who’s up for volleyball?

From BOI to Longyearbyen (LYR): Kayak wusses out again. $922 from Boise to Oslo (OSL) with stops in Denver (DEN) and Newark (EWR). Then on Scandinavian Airlines to LYR, $467. Total: $1,389.

Other places to consider: Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada; Nuuk, Greenland; Belushya Guba, Novaya Zemlya, Russia.

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales

Many people (myself included), find even simple words in the Welsh language difficult to pronounce. How about this one? Apparently it sounds like this.

Located on the island of Isle of Anglesey just northwest of the Welsh mainland, the town has the distinction of being the longest place name in Europe. I suspect no one on the local train misses the station.

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“Yeah, that place.”

From BOI to Llanfairpwllgwyngyll-whatever: Northern Wales is apparently lacking in sizable airports, so I looked eastward into England, specifically Liverpool (LPL). Evidently LPL isn’t big enough either, as Kayak directed me further east to Manchester (MAN). That’s $848 with stops in different locations each way (but not through London, go figure). A rental car or train ticket would probably put me a bit north of $1,000, which would make this my least expensive international trip.

Other places to consider: Venkatanarasimharajuvaripeta, Andhra Pradesh, India; Tweebuffelsmeteenskootmorsdoodgeskietfontein, South Africa; Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu, New Zealand.

Thermopolis, Wyoming

The seat of Hot Springs County, Wyoming, may not strike you as all that special. Indeed, I suspect it’s like any other town of its size in the western United States (around 3,000 if you’re interested). It’s still somewhere I want to go, perhaps because it was once mentioned by Daffy Duck.

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Another great American prophet.

Unlike the other places I mentioned today, I have concrete plans to visit Thermopolis in the near future. It’ll probably be May or June. I want to make sure winter is truly done and over with around here before I make the trip.

Besides, it’s much closer than Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

From BOI to Thermopolis: I suppose the closest commercial airport is in Cody (COD), but I’ll be driving this one.