Biffy Clyro @ HiFi Bar & Ballroom

Biffy Clyro @ HiFi Bar & Ballroom

First gig abroad last night, last week when wandering though the streets of Sydney (actually think I was coming out of an arcade), I saw a large ticker tape across the street and the word “Clyro” going past, followed by “One Man Starwars”. Popped over, sure enough Biffy Clyro were playing there the night after I left, typical. A quick check on the poster and I saw the Melbourne date a few days later, perfect.

The Melbourne venue was The HiFi Bar & Ballroom, a small rock/indie venue similar to the Barras. Inside was a tied set of curved steps, the bottom level good for standing very close to the stage, though it was flooded with a large puddle of water, which ended up splashed over the bottom half of my legs.

Support came from Blueline Medic, who seemed to improve later in their set (they were drinking, maybe relaxing was helping them out) but nothing worth looking up.

Biffy came on at 21:45 and played for ten minutes before leaving the stage due to power problems, a five minute break (just enough time for a pee and a beer) came to an end with them playing though a mixture of the Puzzle and Blackened Sky albums, a few new songs seem to appear in the set list, sounded not bad – will be intresting to here more from that.

The gig finished just before 11, a bit short for the price (£22) and a few key songs missing from the set, especially 57…. Worth going along to but not as good as last years three gigs in Glasgow. Shall catch them again at this years T in The Park.

Sydney

Wet Sydney

The flight from America was never going to be easy, coming from eight hours behind to nine infront means a day was going to be lost in the post. The flight left LAX at 23:50, I had no trouble getting some sleep (the usual) and after a while got stuck in to the on-demand system, picked out a few movies to watch (August Rush & Cassandra’s Dream – both very good and passed the time well).

As the plane came though the thick cloud – the weather conditions came in to view – wet, wet, wet, or “Pishing Doon” as we say at home. As it’s autumn here, the rain has been around for a while and was hammering down, where did I pack that jacket.

Checked in to the hostel, put on the jacket (with just T-Shirt under) and hit the streets. Even though the weather wasn’t great, it’s still very warm. People in shorts and t-shirts with umbrellas is a common sight, the rain came in stints and bursts so you could get around without too much hassle.

The Opera House and BridgeI started by heading to the north of the city, to the opera house and bridge – even in the rain it was a nice sight to see – I decided to skip on the bridge walk as it’s £85 and you can’t take your own pics. I spent the rest of the day on foot, wandering the city, finding what I could: two decent arcades was a nice little surprise, I can smell them from blocks away.

Later in the evening Jet lag took it’s tole – I started to feel like a zombie walking the streets, but refused to give up until a reasonable time. Dinner and a few beers at the hostel, I crashed at nine leaving the next day for a fresh start.

As part of my running, I fancy getting across the major attractions on foot – I didn’t get my trainers in time to do San Fran’s Golden Gate Bridge but was ready to do Sydney’s Harbour Bridge. Leaving the hostel and heading west, I ran the streets slowly crossing the junctions and heading to where I presumed the pedestrian access was. Coming on to the bridge, I was curious why it looked different from below, then I saw it – I was on the Anzac Bridge, dammit the Harbour Bridge is miles away, oh well it’s a nice run and view.

In the afternoon, feeling tired after the mornings run, I went for the city tour bus – got a decent run around the area and avoided the constant rain, took note of a few things I wanted to do and headed back to the hostel for some evening drinks.

Bondi Beach

Last day today, I had quite a bit to pack in, first up was a trip to the famous Bondi Beach, with the rain comes good waves, so the ocean was partially busy with surfers galore – I felt rather jealous, the waves looked superb and it all sounds like a lotta fun. Hoping to start surfing lesions next week but just don’t have time here in Sydney.

HMB Endeavour ReplicaAfter the beach, I went down to the Maritime Museum, the sight of three ships and a submarine had me curious. I only had two hours to get though them all, so had to do an express tour of them. The HMAS Onslow submarine was partially intresting, really small and cramp but loads packed in. A full size Endeavour replica was popular with the tourists, seems it’s fully working and used for cruses once a month. Well worth the £15 entrance fee, the volunteer guides were partially enthusiastic about their hobby and really made it worth a visit.

And that brings me to the end of Sydney, it’s a better city than I expected – more to do that I got around to but once again I’m shattered and heading to bed early – got a midday flight tomorrow, Melbourne awaits…..

LA: The Return / Goodbye America

Mel's Dinner

With the previous night being in the pub till the small hours and a eight hour bus journey, even with daytime sleeping I wasn’t feeling overly energetic. Friday night at the hostel is BBQ and beer night (unlimited beer for fiver dollars), I made it till nearly midnight but passed on the buses out to the LA nightclub area – not going to last long up there so its time for some sleep.

Saturday… Getting the most out of the day, and the fact it was overcast – I put the trainers on and headed up town. A gradual hill made my run rather hard, heading in to a park which seemed to be dog walking HQ, I made my way up the Hollywood hills for a damn hard run. Worth the effort for a cracking view, I’d loved to try and make it up to the Hollywood sign this weekend but a) I would struggle to get all the way there and b) you wont be able to get close to it.

Kodak TheatreIn the afternoon I went back up to Hollywood Boulevard and hit the remaining tourist attractions, first up a tour of the Kodak theatre. Everyone has saw this Theatre on the TV as it’s where they host the Oscar awards and things like the emmies and the American Idol final. The tour was intresting, good to see how all the plans come together for the Oscars, what the stars see from the stage and the backstage area. No photos were allowed unfortunately (they claim due to homeland security) so I got none, nada, didely squat.

Next up was a walking tour of the main strip, first in a drama school, then along to Gramuman’s Egyptian theatre, heard about the origins of the red carpet, good stuff. We got to go inside El Capitan Theatre, now owned by Disney, they use it for their own premiers and only show one film at a time, just now it’s “Sing Along with the Little Mermaid”, no thanks! Be nice to see Wall-E in there when it’s released.

After a few more sights I headed back to the Hostel for the evening’s fun, another BBQ and beers to finish off the night.

The next day I got on the bus and headed to Venice beach. Wasn’t expecting much of a difference from Santa Monica as that’s just along the road but I was so wrong, straight away you can’t miss the bucket loads of people lining the strip of shops, stalls and street acts.

I sat and watched some fantastic entertainers, the best had to be these five guys (as in the video) who weren’t far away from a boyband, a well rehearsed act started with an amazing show on a pogo stick (back flips and all sorts) and the finale was this jump over eleven people – seriously good entertainment.

My final evening in LA went down fab. after drinking a bit too much – a bunch of us headed to a recommended nightclub to catch this 80s act The Spazmatics, the flyer looked a bit naff but we decided to give it a bash – so glad we did as they were fantastic. Straight in the door and we heard a fantastic cover of a-Ha’s take on me, they are a little bit like the Barenaked Ladies with their improv, I loved their cover of Journey’s – Small Town Girl. Night became a bit of a blur later on but it was well good.

Filming of I Love You, ManQuiet day today, but I stumbled upon the filming of I Love You, Man with Jason Segel & Paul Rudd at the "Farmers Market", was intresting to watch the filming process – serious amount of extra’s around for that scene.

Now sitting in LAX, waiting for a long flight to Sydney, I’ve had such a great time in America – the hostel scene has been superb, met loads of fab people and just had a ball. Feeling a bit sad to leave it behind, but looking forward to the time ahead – just hope my trip hasn’t peaked yet!

Until Wednesday…. Seeya.

San Francisco… cheerio!

San Fran From Colt Tower

After Alcatraz, we headed up hill to Colt Tower, which sits upon one of the cities many high points (steps after steps) luckily the actual tower itself contains a lift! Views from the top are superb, seeing over the whole city from a nice perspective.

A visit to an Indian restaurant (hard to find in the states) provided a rather crap curry, we noticed “Goats Brain” on the menu, I passed on the dare to eat it – I’m open to new foods but that’s taking the piss, I half expect it to turn up in a Goats head – ala Indiana Jones.

San Fran Cable CarOn Thursday I went for a wander downtown and tried out the Cable Cars – definitely a tourist method of transport, they are really awfully slow at loading, getting ready and seeing off – but a visit to the city wouldn’t be the same without checking them out. I love the way two people are allowed on each step, hanging off the sides of the car, wouldn’t have anything like that in Blighty. The “Gripman” who controls the car shouts when they need to pull in to avoid any incoming obstacles, crazy but fun.

I popped in to the museum to see how it all works, which is also where all three lines run from; miles of cables running in a large loop under the city coming back to one building to be wound up.

Lazying about at Fishermans WharfI got off down at the end of the run, down at the Fishermans Wharf and had a relaxing ponder about. An eery fog came in covering the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, made good viewing.

On the return journey the car passed the crookedest hill (so steep that the road has to wind down, rather than go direct) but as the cars were packed in I dared not get off as I’d never get on any of the following.

The return walk passed along Union Square which holds a lot of the main shops. I popped in to the Niketown shop and came out with far too many purchases for backpacking, a shiny new pair of Nike+ trainers and running gear, two weeks of drinking every night is starting to take its tole on me, time to hit the road, plus my old trainers at home are well in need of a replacement.

Running from the hostel though China town, up to the pier and along the wharf, I saw loads of the city in no time. Resting at the WW2 ship and submarine I stumbled on the mechanical museum, it’s a bloody arcade… my last evening in the city and I had no cash on me at all – typical. Really intresting to see arcade games from the last 200 years, all fully running and ready to play, I had a wee go on the Adams Family Pinball which was left with a credit in it, result. Finished my run though a park then up some cracking hills, superb city for running in, glad I bought the equipment – shall get some good use over the next few weeks, back in training for the Glasgow 10k… maybe half marathon.

The hostel in San Francisco, Pacific Tradewinds is rather small but very clean and friendly. There’s only a small communal area, but that brings all the travellers together. Every night there it was easy enough to find up to ten people to hit the pub with. On the last night we took almost everyone, fourteen in total on a restaurant and pub crawl, was great fun though not so easy to find a table. Seems every traveller uses Facebook, keep getting asked what my name is on it, erm… seems to be your full name.

Myself and Chris left on Friday, got the Greyhound back down to LA, final weekend in the states – final weekend of partying ahead…..

San Francisco: Alcatraz

Alcatraz

Went over to Alcatraz yesterday, have always fancied having a nosy around the Jail but unfortunately couldn’t get in on Sunday as you have to book, it’s very popular. Took the ferry over, its about a ten minute ride and gives some nice views of the island and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Me in Alcatraz JailThey offer Audio tours, but we decided not to bother and wing it on our own. First impressions reminded me of Edinburgh castle, far too many “out of bounds” areas, I want to climb the guards towers, see where the residents lived – but alas this was not an option.

The main prison ward was worth seeing, very busy with tourists taking photos of everything. Still managed to get in, have a nosy about and escape. Was interesting to read up on the inmates who lived there (I had no clue) and how the island worked.

San Francisco

Leaving behind the party scene of LA, it was time to head to San Francisco. One of the fellow guests in LA had a car and spoke about seeing San Fran, I rounded up another traveller and we hit the road – preferable to the Greyhound (which was leaving super early). The 7 hour drive was easy enough, usual American roads, long straight lanes and not much to see – a stop in the middle of the California desert reminded us how hot it was, back in the car and on the road ASAP please!

Arriving in San Fran we hit major traffic coming over the Bay Bridge, we thought we had a good view of the well known San Fran fog, but it turned out to be a boat on fire, poring smoke over the bay. My hostel is just at the side of China town, a wander though the city really showed how lovely this place is – lots to see and do from an initial walk though – this is going to be a good week.

Golden Gate BridgeA heatwave has hit California just now, Sunday was very hot and good for seeing the major sights – my friend Rachael picked me up from the hostel and we toured the city in her car. First stop was Pier 49, lots of boats, docks and shops – nice area and not far from where the boat to Alcatraz will leave tomorrow (whoop!).

Next stop was the bridge, the guides always advise leaving the car and walking or cycling over it – after a few attempts we found a close by car park and hit the bridge. Being a Sunday it was very busy with tourists left right and centre. The walk was great – the bridge is massive and gives a great view of San Francisco’s Bay area.

After the bridge we headed to the Golden Gate Park, not a far drive away but seriously massive (as I found out today) and home to quite a few things. Loads of people were heading down with BBQ’s and carryouts for what looked like a fun day, some serious music coming from many parties. I was also introduced to “Disc Golf” which the park hosts a course…

Disc Golf!Disc Golf, which myself and Chris went to play today involves a Frisbee (or disc), a basket in the picture and a lot of throwing. Same principles as Golf, start at the tee off point, take your throws and aim for the basket. It’s great fun and works rather well, I sucked at it though – we decided hitting the basket was enough as it took us well over an hour to find the course.

Just checked up on UK Disc Golf, it seems there’s three courses in the UK, shall need to check that out in the summer!

Really enjoying my time in this city, it’s smaller than LA and therefore better to walkaround – plenty to see and do, pubs are a bit thinner on the ground (have been to a pathetic excuse for an Irish bar, a sports bar and a Chinese bar), heading to what I believe maybe an English bar tonight, hmm….

Tomorrow got tickets for Alcatraz, damn it’s a busy attraction – no way of getting in there on the day.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles from The Hills

Goodbye to the east coast and the cold weather, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Chicago and Minneapolis, glad I changed the dates around so I had more time in Chicago – the hostel really made it. Minneapolis was fine for the few days but I’d be shit bored if I stayed much longer.

The flight over to LA was decent, I booked it outwith my round the world ticket, was only £50 so I expected Sleasyget standards. Alas the plane was comfy, lots of leg room and they even gave out free soft drinks, no sales pitch there. Arriving in LA, I made my way to the hostel via a shuttle bus, quickly realising (as kind of expected) and this city is huge, it took about 45 mins to get here.

I felt spoilt with the previous hostels, wasn’t sure what to expect from LA. Initial impressions weren’t so good, it seemed a bit run down and lots of people just vegging on couches watching TV. After a good nights sleep and heading to the organised BBQ for beers and food, I started to realise the hostel is top notch. Seriously good vibe going on, everyone’s up for a chat, beer (or ten) and a laugh, only downside is the lack of free WiFi – a trip to the sister hostel down the road (where I am now) and I’m on-line at last. Location is also fab, West Hollywood and about 10mins on a Bus to the Boulevard….

A trip up to Hollywood Boulevard to see the well known sights was first on my list, the main strip is rather tacky… a cross between Blackpool and New York. The theatres look good – I’ve got a ticket for a tour of the Kodak one but will wait until I return to LA in a week’s time before doing that.

Bel-AirI took a bus tour today around the Celebrity’s homes, Beverly Hills, Bel-Air etc – was great to see all the stars homes, from a distance… The house they used for Wayne Manor and loads of things like X-Men looks fantastic, if I get a chance I’m heading back there for a tour. We also saw the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air home – nothing special really.

I popped down to Santa Monica yesterday to see the beach and pier, they have free wireless which covers the area – but boy is was slow, I barely got Gmail opened before loosing the will to live. Tons of shops, annoyingly tempting….

Tomorrow I’m heading to San Francisco, either bus or possibly with a fellow traveller… looking forward to seeing the city…

Minneapolis

Arrived in a warm Minneapolis, wandered though the city and found the hostel without any real issue. I was initially impressed by the main street as I walked down, spotted an arcade (more on that later) and quite a few interesting stops.

Chicago had such a fantastic transport system I was concerned I would be spoiled and struggle in other cities, alas here things are though not quite as extensive, it’s easy enough and once again dirt cheap ($1.50 for a ticket that covers bus and train for two and a half hours).

I found the hostel easy enough, with help from a few nice locals and checked in. This hostel is basically an old big town house, with various rooms and proper beds! No bunk bed for me to fall out of here (did my right foot an injury with a mistimed jump at the Chicago NI).

Yesterday I popped to the local shop, picked up some long overdue Fruit Loops for breakie (e-colour tastic!) and went back to plan the day. The heavens opened, just like sunny Glasgow it was pissing down – there goes navigating the streets. A plan was quickly made to visit Mall of America as it’s a short train journey away.

Nascar Silicon Motor SpeedwayI’ve been to America quite a few times, shopping has always been on the cards – things are so cheap and compared to the UK high-street, their style is right up my street; never stuck for a surf/board shop to fill my credit card with.

The malls in Orlando and Miami never ceased to amaze with their sheer size (the Orlando Mall has a Van’s shop with a full skate park in the back…) so I wasn’t expecting to be overwhelmed by MOA, I wasn’t.

First impressions were a bigger version of Newcastle’s Metro Centre, due to it having a theme park right in the middle. Though it looked a bit better than the Metro Center’s, with a new Nickelodeon theme – it was just layer and layer of shops. I made a few purchases (couldn’t not) and had a good time. The Nascar Silicon Speedway caught my attention, almost full scale cars connected to three screens, a race was to be had. I sucked, got up to 9th position then spun out on the last lap, leaving no time to recover, it was damn fun though.

Finished the night at the hostel with the guests, cooked some food and watched Big on their 80’s movies channel, superb movie.

Today it was cold, snowing in the morning. I had a well needed sleep in and then did some Laundry before heading to the down town area to find out more about this arcade I saw yesterday. I got off the bus and thought I knew where I was going, American streets are all based on a block system and are therefore normally easy enough to navigate but…. in Minneapolis all the buildings have a first floor sky walk system which links each one across the road. I used these for a while, heading in what I though was the right direction. After 40 minutes I came out of a building to exactly the same point I started, good job Columbus.

GameworksAfter wandering the cold streets for another 10 or so minutes, I found what I was after. Gameworks, it reminded me of the fantastic and missed Pacman Cafe in Orlando. A similar setup for Gameworks, buy a card, load it with credit and go swiping though as many games as you can. For $24 I managed about three hours of solid gaming, it was truly superb – even stopped for a pint half way though as they have a bar right in the in the middle.

They had a good mix of new games, older games, pinball and even some retro classics, a shot on Pacman should never be missed if you ask me.

Back to the hostel this evening, going to hit the kitchen for the second night – nice big kitchen, so I decided a few nights cooking wouldn’t do any harm… that and a few beers from the local…

Tomorrow, Los Angeles… bring on the warm weather!

Farewell Chicago

After a slightly extended stay, I’ve left Chicago and heading north west to Minnesota (writing this off line on a Greyhound),

I really enjoyed my time in Chicago, the NI hostel really made it for me – nice place, friendly people and well worth a visit. For my final night, I had to move back to the Arlington Place hostel of doom, I got a better room this time – instead of being in the basement dorms, I got a private room with two single beds. Result. Feeling more like a cheap hotel than hostel, it was ideal for my last night since I wasn’t spending any time there at all.

The Arlington is in a nice student area called Lincoln Park – reminds me of the band. DePaul University (cool name) is based here and it’s a busy with students, pubs and shops. After checking in to the hostel I went up to the local Zoo which was free (result), initially feeling more like Cumberauld’s Placerigg than a Zoo – there was enough to see and do, for a limited while. The reminder of the afternoon was spent wandering around other parts of the city, Old Town and the back to the NI hostel.

I meet up with some more hostel folk to catch the Chicago Redwings play their final home game against the Predators, it was a crucial match for them, a win would ensure they made the play-offs. Therefore it was busy, so busy we had to stand at the back and watch – beer in hand of course. Game wasn’t as good as Wednesday’s against Detroit’s Redwings, though the crowd still chanted “Detroit Sucks”, odd.

I’ll need to suggest a North America sports trip to folk sometime, would be great to come here and spend a week pulling it loads of games, tickets are cheap (most expensive for me was the first hockey at £16) and there’s plenty to do.

Today’s nine hour bus journey has been quick so far (2.5 to go), getting to see quite a bit of Middle America, there’s even some Amish people on the bus… I keep singing the Weird Al Yankovic Amish Paradise song in my head…

Couple of days in Minnesota lie head, not a clue what there is to do, but Mall of America is calling…..

Chicago… a few days in

Thursday, Thursday….
Finally settling in to things here in America, moved to the Hostelling International on Tuesday after spending a night in the average (I’m being generous) Arlington House.

My first night in a hostel and I really wasn’t sure what to expect, checked out after a decent-ish sleep and came to the HI, worlds apart comes to mind… This hostel is located in the heart of down town Chicago, walking distance of loads of things, especially the super handy metro system. After checking in, I went for a good walk to get my bearings – it didn’t work, took me quite a bit to figure out where the heck the hostel was, how did I find it so easily before I’ll never know.

Blues at the Kingston MinesKingston Mines Blues Club
The hostel organised a trip to a local Blues club, the Kingston Mines (not a Jazz club as I said to some folk). Having no knowledge of the blues, I thought it was worth a bash and went along for a drink and to meet some fellow travelers, as the advert says.
Two performers played, Joe Barr and his band (pictured) who was quite good and then Jonna Connor – who was fantastic on the guitar, but didn’t sing that well. Usual American pub, ID required for everyone, tips on every drink ($4.50 a pop) but a decent night, I made it till about midnight and then bailed, opened till 4 – not for me and my lack of sleep.

Chicago CubsChicago Cubs vs Milwaukee Brewers
I’ve always enjoyed American sports so the idea of catching some games came up, I was tipped off that the cubs are playing this week and decided to head up to the stadium and catch a game. Damn it was cold. My ticket put me in a great view point, result I thought, it was also right in the direction of the wind – not good when its 4 degrees out there. Good to finally catch a game but boy I was surprised, after four innings the away team only had three runs – getting a good hit of the ball seems to be rare. The crowd were good as always, though I sat beside a group of Brewers fans and they really enjoyed rubbing up the Cubs fans.

Chicago Blackhawgks vs Detroit RedwingsChicago Blackhawks vs Detroit Redwings
Last night me and a few guys from the Hostel went over to the United Center to catch some Ice Hockey, I fancied catching the bulls play basketball but it was the night before so not this time… Having seen the Calgary Flames last year in Canada (and really enjoyed it), plus watching some matches on NASN, I was keen to see more. Last night didn’t disappoint. The arena was very similar to Calgary’s effort, with the usual advert/branding changes, big change this time was the ability to get the train down to the stadium – and therefore get the beers in. 3 minutes and 50 seconds in, the first fight broke out, but the ref’s were all over them like a rash.. ten minutes later and we had a proper scrap, the crowd went mental as they always do… gotta love this sport. The team are at home again on Friday against the Nashville Predators – so I’m heading back over then.

My plan was to move on from Chicago today – but I’ve had such a good time I decided to stay for a few days more, till the weekend then head up to Minneapolis and see what’s happening up there.