Tag Archives: California

Blink-182 – California

Blink-182 - California album coverIn summer 2016 two of the biggest bands in the world of pop punk released records that had something of a comeback feel to them. I’ve already taken a look at Green Day’s effort, Revolution Radio, so now I’ve had a listen to Blink-182’s California.

Originally forming in the wake of the pop-punk explosion caused by the likes of Green Day back in 1995, Blink-182 became arguably the biggest band of the following wave of American pop-punk with their 1999 album Enema of the State and 2001’s Take Off Your Pants and Jacket.

Since then something of a direction on their self-titled 2003 album was followed by a lengthy hiatus and then a change of personnel before California with Alkaline Trio leader Matt Skiba joining in place of founding guitarist and vocalist Tom DeLonge.

So to California. As the name suggests this is a partial concept record about the band’s home state, particularly the southern part of it – Blink originally formed in and around San Diego – and it is the three tracks that most obviously provide this theme that are three of the highlights. Los Angeles, San Diego and the title track all present different aspects of the band at their most mature and inventive sounding.

Blink-182 circa 2016

Blink-182 – Hoppus, Barker and Skiba

This is balanced with the kind of songs that made the bands reputation with pop hooks, singalongs and catchy choruses aplenty, that had me singing along after only a couple of listens. Particularly in this group are She’s Out Of Her Mind and Kings of the Weekend.

On top of this Built This Pool and Brohemian Rhapsody show the band still have their juvenile streak with these two 30 second skit-songs very reminiscent of several from their back catalogue.

What sets California apart from Blink’s past efforts is, I think, something that Skiba brings to the table. Alkaline Trio are known for adding gothic elements to their pop-punk and dealing with darker themes and that sneaks through here. Sober is a song that while upbeat and still has the Blink thing going on suggests something deeper as do the Californian tryptic.

Admittedly Blink have headed in these directions in the past as well with the likes of Stay Together For The Kids and Adam’s Song but Skiba’s presence adds an extra level to it as well as making for a more digestible sound than DeLonge ever managed.

Blink-182 playing live

The band playing live

With a lot of variety for a pop-punk record California still falls together like a complete package of an album including some moments of the more modern style of pop-punk with heavier guitar tones along with the upbeat feel.

It’s not just Skiba who’s on top form either, but founder member Mark Hoppus (bass and vocals) and long time drummer Travis Barker are both clearly at the top of their game as well, and as ever the drums are a big part of what elevates Blink-182 above the rest of the pop-punk pack and California certainly shows this longstanding band can still be a cut above the rest.

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Coast Starlight: San Francisco to Los Angeles – October 2015

Coast Starlight

The front of the Coast Starlight

Read about my last day in San Francisco here

Heading out into San Francisco at dawn shows it in a different light, with Broadway all but silent and the streets quiet before rush hour begins, it genuinely felt as if it was sleeping. The yellow cab I had booked stood out against this starkly; especially considering the slowly lightening sky was clearly a steely grey.

The temporary trans-bay bus transit terminal was about as clinical as they come. Replacing the dilapidated Amtrak terminal by the ferry building it was certainly more organised, although long haul land travel in the US still feels like the poor relative when compared to air travel.

Thankfully the coach driver was a cheerful soul, albeit with a slightly world-weary edge, as we boarded his coach for the trip across the bay. Quickly joining the freeway that becomes the Bay Bridge it was clear we were, traffic-wise at least, going the right way as the four lanes of traffic heading into the city were already jammed.

It wasn’t long until we were over the bridge and off the freeway, into the narrow streets of Oakland, which at points I was surprised the coach could even navigate, as we headed into the city’s more gentrified area around Jack London Square.

Jack London Square Station

Jack London Square Station

As with my last visit I was still surprised by quite how small the train station here is considering it lies on the main line route that runs from Vancouver in the north to San Diego in the south.

With just two platforms and a modest, if fairly well designed, waiting room/ticket office, it just adds to the notion that America really doesn’t do passenger rail travel anymore and is the land of the plane and, to a much greater extent, the car.

Following a stop at the nearby maintenance yard the Amtrak Coast Starlight finally pulled in about two hours late and we were rushed aboard the (at least) 11-double-decker-carriage-long train and were soon slowly trundling through Oakland and the rest of the east bay sprawl towards San Jose.

While Oakland remains as rundown as I remember and again its southern regions back up its northern ones in its image as the less well to do of the cities on the bay, as it gives way to open land there are interesting things to see, so I soon made my way to the train’s viewing/café car, where I stayed for the best part of the next 12 hours.

Abandoned houses

Abandoned houses

South of Oakland a stretch of track runs through an area that lays below sea level. Amongst the swampy ground and tidal pools were a surprising number of long abandoned shacks and small houses – I don’t know the history of these dwellings but I’m sure there are stories to be told there – they certainly look like it

Heading into the outskirts of San Jose the train passed right by the Levi Stadium, home to Wrestlemania 31 earlier in 2015, that I had investigated attending. On the other side of San Jose, after a brief stop at the city’s station, we found ourselves stopped for a lengthy period in a small timber yard and passing point, waiting for a freight train to go by, thanks to the logistical nightmare that is the single track system used up and down this line.

The next chunk of the journey, about six hours worth at an estimate, stretches down to the hills before San Luis Obispo so is, for the most part fairly repetitive, however the views across the at times arid farm land and small communities we passed through brought their own interest. Some of the hamlets (if Americans use that word) were run down and looked barely lived in while others were, in contrast, clearly quite well to do. Along with this the train passed through the Elkhorn Slough Marine Reserve near Salinas, which gave the chance to see some fairly impressive seabirds in the estuary.

South of San Jose

South of San Jose

Most of the trip I spent lost in the views and various podcasts, occasionally separated by friendly chat with some of the other passengers who ranged from other relaxed tourists to anxious travellers hoping to meet connecting trains in LA, meaning their journeys would last well over 24 hours on the Amtrak network.

The second half of the journey became more visually interesting as we passed through oilfields down a long, increasingly deep valley, before the three engines at the head of the train really did their work as we wound up the hills and moutains to San Luis Obispo. As we did so there was a lot of talk of how dry the surrounding countryside was and the ongoing drought which all the Californians onboard were hoping would break soon thanks to El Nino.

The plateau on which San Luis Obispo lies is punctuated by the peaks of a series of extinct volcanoes, today with clouds gathering around them, while the train snaked around a remote prison in what felt like the middle of nowhere.

Mountains at San Luis Obispo

Mountains at San Luis Obispo

As we headed down the other side of the mountains there was more farmland and small clusters of houses before we entered the vast airforce base that lies on the coast and we soon got our, long-awaited, first view since Salinas of the Pacific Ocean as the sun began to set.

The waves crashed onto undisturbed beaches, accessible only from the sea, in the twilight making for some impressive sights while the runways used for Space-X, and previously the Space Shuttle programme, lay on the landward side.

This area also brought the first faint traces of Hollywood as these were the beaches and dunes used in the likes of Planet of the Apes and, much earlier, the epics of the silent movie era.

As darkness fell in earnest I made my way back to my seat in the coach cabin for the final hour or so through the beginnings of the vast sprawl of Los Angeles.

The rough Pacific

The rough Pacific

Union Station, in the city’s ‘Downtown’ district, is a grand looking place with a 1930s style vibe, though its nine platforms felt somewhat meagre for a station in the centre of a city this size.

The baggage reclaim hall offered the same meagre feeling as mine and only a handful of other cases tumbled down the chute onto the dated conveyor (I was amazed the vinyl in my case survived this fall).

Heading outside with my cousin I was struck instantly by the warm air, despite the fact it was now nearing 11pm. The other thing that struck me, once again, was the size of Los Angeles and the sky scrapers of Downtown.

We were soon past these though and on the freeway heading towards the coast making for a surprisingly quick journey to El Segundo, a suburb near LAX with an amazingly small town feel considering its location.

After a much-needed welcoming cup of tea it didn’t take long for the day of travel to catch up with me and sleep called in preparation of my time exploring the mind-boggling hugeness that is Los Angeles.

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San Francisco – October 2015 – Part 1

San Francisco

San Francisco

It’s been a few weeks since my return from California so this will take a slightly different approach to my blogs from my previous trip (which can be found here) and will, possibly, come with something of a sense of hindsight.

Flying into San Francisco in late October it was clear that the much reported drought the region was experiencing had had a great effect on the landscape with fields and open spaces that, on my last visit had been green, appearing parched under the tropical paradise like blue skies.

Once out in the open after a surprisingly quick stop at immigration it was clear why, as rarely did the temperature drop below the mid 20s day or night for the duration of my stay – while not great in environmental terms this made for a particularly good climate for exploring the city.

Taking a taxi from the airport (located south of the city and right on the bay) gave me the chance to get my bearings and take in some impressive urban vistas (for an island boy like me) as the Twin Peaks mountains looked down over the sprawl of San Francisco.

Entering by freeway from the south, after some more industrial surroundings, you soon find yourself surrounded by smaller wooden houses of Bernal Heights, Mission District and Potrero Hill before entering the city’s street system ‘South of Market’ by the AT&T Park baseball stadium and surrounded by high-rise offices that give way to the city’s few skyscrapers in its Financial District.

Within two or three blocks of that though the city really comes to life and, as I was dropped off on Broadway, bustling centre of the original city’s nightlife for over a hundred years, I already felt as if I’d caught a taste of the contrasts San Francisco offers.

North Beach apartment

My AirBnB apartment

Despite being my third trip to ‘the city by the bay’ this was first time staying in what felt like the living city thanks to the AirBnB service through which I had rented a cosy and well-appointed top (fourth) floor apartment for the week.

Having briefly spoken to him on the phone on the way from the airport the owner of the apartment, Jason, popped in shortly after my arrival to say hello and check all was ok and I couldn’t have asked for a friendlier welcome.

Following a few notes about the small apartment block we were in from Jason and a few no doubt stupid post-long-haul flight questions from me, he uttered the sentence that I think summed up Broadway, the street that really divides the Financial District and the more ‘real’ North Beach area perfectly for me: “When you head out, if you want strippers or weed go left, if you want liquor or groceries head right.”

Whether this was a piece of standard patter or not it hit the nail on the head and captured something g of the bohemian spirit that has been a fixture of this area since the city was first settled. Close to the old docks, North Beach welcomed sailors from around the world, followed in the 1950s by the still clearly evident ‘Beat Generation’ and now a wide range of pretty much everyone as Chinatown and Little Italy merge and hipsters and vagrants share the streets – all it seems with little hassle from any higher authority.

Pizza Calzones

4am/7pm pizza

Despite this description I’ve rarely felt safer in a city than I did here and it was clear this was a feeling held by the locals as well with a communal spirit pervading.

Following a trip to find the nearest supermarket where, despite living the old idiom “two countries divided by a common language”, I got hold of some suitable tea and breakfast food, and an attempt at eating a fairly amazing pizza at Calzones, at what my body was screaming was about 4:30 in the morning, I settled in for an early night before beginning my holiday in earnest.

 


 

Alcatraz

Alcatraz

There are few things that come to mind when San Francisco is mentioned; there’s the fog, the Golden Gate Bridge, counterculture, and, of course, Alcatraz.

Despite this being my third trip I’d still yet to visit the former prison island so I got up early(ish) on my first morning and headed down to Pier 33 to catch the ferry across to the island. For those with knowledge of the Channel Islands the ferry reminded of a slightly larger version of those that service Herm and Sark. I was particularly impressed by the hybrid diesel, solar and wind-driven engines – such use of renewable energy being far more evident throughout this trip than even two years ago.

The short trip across to Alcatraz was a fascinating one in itself as the various rushing tides and currents of the bay were clearly evident, even on this calmest of days, and the views of the San Francisco skyline from ‘treasure island’ and the Bay Bridge round to the Golden Gate were tremendous.

Alcatraz signAs we docked at the island’s small jetty and the infamous cellblock loomed above us atop the steep-sided ‘rock’, what really caught my eye was the large sign on the facade of the old admin building. Detailing the basic features of the island and the rules for admission from its prison days above the sign, in large red, hand painted letters are the words ‘Indians welcome’.

This instantly sparked my curiosity and revealed one of several fascinating stories of Alcatraz not associated with its time as a prison. When the island was all but abandoned and derelict in the early 1970s a group of native Americans occupied the island under the name ‘Indians of all Nations’. While they were eventually evicted from the then still government-owned facility their protest, which lasted almost two years, set in motion the ongoing programme returning lands and rights to native people of the USA and the marks of it are evident all over Alcatraz adding an extra layer to it’s already rich history.

Alcatraz tunnel

One of the early buildings on the island

This layered history is at once figurative and literal as you explore the island. Under the current admin building are the remains of a Civil War era fort that was the first structure built here, it’s mid 19th century brick work giving way to the blocks of the more modern construction.

The cellblock itself has a similarly layered physical history and the former fort parade ground is lined with the ruins of mid 20th century houses built to home the prison guards and their families. This all combines to make the islands whole 22 acres worth taking the time to explore separate to the famous prison.

Of course, the tour of the cellblock is the island’s centerpiece attraction and it is genuinely fascinating. Featuring audio recordings for former guards and inmates it conjures a real sense of quite how isolated life was for the inmates and why it gained the reputation it did.

This is highlighted in a part of the tour that takes you past the big, single glazed, heavily barred, external windows through which, on the right day, the sounds of the bustling and vibrant city could be clearly heard across the short stretch of water acting as a constant reminder to inmates of what they were missing during their incarceration.

Alcatraz prison

Inside the cellblock

The other highlights come in the stories of the escape attempts which ended with varying levels of success, the most fascinating of which involved a trio escaping into the sea never to be seen again – though authorities still regularly receive information on the men (now at least in their 80s) and there is still a multi-million dollar reward should any of that lead to their arrest!

My visit happened to fall on one of the clearest and calmest days possible so the 360 degree panoramic views of the Bay Area afforded by Alcatraz’s position were a fine bonus and added some context to the inner city urban geography. I can heartily recommend taking at least half a day to explore Alcatraz should you find yourself in the Bay Area as it is an experience like no other.

Southern panorama from Alcatraz

Looking south and west from Alcatraz

After a slightly bumpier crossing back, which seemed to surprise a few on the ferry despite being calmer than the average trip to Sark, I headed down The Embarcadero, past the occasional ‘Tsunami evacuation route’ signs towards, The Ferry Building. Though this footpath lines one of the cities major roads – six lanes of traffic and two tramlines – The Embarcadero from Pier 39 to The Ferry Building is a pleasant place for a stroll with views across the bay toward Oakland and Berkeley and several restaurants and bars it’s clearly well maintained for visitors but without the intense tourist feel of Pier 39.

Heading inland at The Ferry Building (now more market and boutique shopping mall than actual ferry terminal) takes you into the city’s main thoroughfare of Market Street, though not before a chance to browse the stalls of a small local arts and crafts market where you could pick up anything from typical naff souvenirs to hand-made jewellery and photographs.

Tsunami Evacuation route

Tsunami Evacuation route

Though only made up of maybe 20 or 30 stalls in the small junction plaza at the top of the street it had its own atmosphere with traders, visitors and the inevitable and ever-present homeless contingent all chatting about anything that happened to come to mind – and I’m sure some sales were made too, though that was less obvious.

Barely a block down market street though and the feel was very much that of a bustling financial centre with high-rise office building on all sides representing a range of banks and financial institutions and after meeting up with a friend we walked around the feet of a few of these Titans, topped by the Transamerica Pyramid, as we headed back toward Broadway.

After a brief rest we headed out to navigate the bus system to Golden Gate Park and the California Academy of Sciences. Thankfully, San Francisco has a great public transport system that is fairly easy to understand, once you get the hang of it, and is surprisingly quick at taking you from one side of the city to the other and even across the bay if you use the underground BART network.

Thursday evenings at the Academy, the city’s main science museum, is Nightlife, where the museum reopens exclusively for over 18s to explore the exhibits, see some special attractions and have some food and drink. This particular Thursday the theme was all things space related so I was in my element!

Academy of Science dinosaurThe centerpiece highlight for me was the show in the museum’s spectacular Imax-like planetarium. Narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson it explored the universe from Earth to the far reaches 14 billion light years away with a focus on dark matter and dark energy.

While the show was clearly aimed at an audience with only a superficial understanding of the subject (like me) it was still somewhat brain-melting in its scope but enthralling throughout and the visuals alone would have been breathtaking – I could easily have sat watching the flying star fields all night if given the chance!

As well as the usual science museum type exhibits the Academy features a subterranean aquarium that for the purposes of tonight was doubling as a kind of nightclub (the fish didn’t seem to mind one bit) and it was quite an experience exploring its dark tunnel-like structures with a specialty cocktail in hand listening to vaguely psychedelic trance beats.

Academy of Sciences AquariumAfter taking part in the fun pub-style quiz, themed to match the night, and exploring the inevitable gift shop it was time to head home, but I would strongly recommend that you check out Nightlife if you’re in San Francisco on a Thursday night as no matter the theme I imagine it would be a fascinating experience and a chance to explore the museum away from the school parties and family holiday groups during the day.

Read the second part of my blog on my trip here

You can see more of my photos from the trip on Facebook by clicking here

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