Driving Travel

On Mulholland Drive

Visiting Los Angeles on business usually means arriving at LAX, driving to the hotel in Marina Del Rey, driving from MDR to meetings in Torrance – repeat every day or so – and then head back to LAX to return home.

Last week though was a bit different. A little extra time near the end of our second day of meetings meant we could squeeze in a trip to the Griffith Observatory, via, of course, Mulholland Drive.

Mulholland is an iconic road that I’d never had the chance to drive. I’ve driven my share of iconic roads — the Trans-Canada highway, the Amalfi Coast — but mostly for the reasons above, never Mulholland. Of course such a famous road should only be driven in a high-performance roadster, top down. That, sadly, was not to be. My ride of “choice” would be a white 2016 Chevy Suburban. A Thrifty rental no less.

Still, it was the drive that counts. My drive (three colleagues were along for the ride, with my boss, James, a car guy and race car driver in his spare time serving as navigator. James would’ve been happier in the driver’s seat but since I had never driven Mulholland before, he let me take the wheel) began in Torrance around 4 p.m. which meant we also experienced some typical LA traffic.

Traffic in LA is a thing to behold. It’s a constant. Regardless of the hour, cars are on the move. Large parts of the city — like Marina Del Rey and Torrance — with their four and six lane streets — are built to accommodate cars, not pedestrians. You can easily get around in LA — you just have to drive.

Entering Mulholland and heading east from the 405, the curves came quickly. It’s not a fast drive (at least not in a Suburban) but it is an engaging one. Being smooth on the brakes mean you don’t induce carsickness in passengers and you don’t cook the brakes on the downhill grades. The many blind curves are to be respected and only your passengers can enjoy the view. Fortunately, for me, there a several overlooks on the way that allow drivers to take a break and take in the scenery and get a blast of cool valley air.

We didn’t escape traffic on the drive but the scenery and the two-land winding road gave me a sense of both being in a city and being apart from it. I’m still learning LA but driving Mulholland Drive was a great lesson to get started with.


Family Travel

A summer road trip to Maine

It’s hard to leave Canada behind on a trip to Maine. Once you’re in the state, you’ll notice that road signs often carry distances in both miles and kilometres. And it’s not uncommon to see “Welcome Quebecois” banners strung across streets in the many beach towns and hearing French being spoken as often as English — reinforcing the fact that Quebec residents have known for years that Maine’s Atlantic shoreline is the place to be during the summer.


Maine beach

We — myself, my wife Sharon, our 11-year-old daughter Carlyn and for the first time, our dog L’il Bit —headed to Maine last August to experience that true feeling of summer, which for us includes great food, some fantastic beaches and some unplugged fun like biking, boogie boarding, beach Frisbee and arcade games.

Driving from Toronto, we headed south through Massachusetts, stopping in Springfield at the end of the first day. The plan was to hit as many Maine beaches as we could. Our first home base was Kennebunkport, then we moved north to Saco, then a quick jaunt to Portland before backtracking a bit down the coast and then turning inland to head home, passing through Burlington, Vermont. As we found, rules vary on when dogs are allowed on Maine beaches (some don’t allow them on the beach before 5 p.m.), which required some creative scheduling on our part.

Arriving in Kennebunkport, we were booked into the Colony Hotel, an old-school (and pet-friendly) American gem. Built in 1914, the Colony has no air conditioning in the guest rooms, which means the ocean breeze is a welcome constant. (There are also no TVs in the rooms, but there is Wi-Fi, much to the relief of the 11-year-old).

Its creaking wood floors remind you of its history and the wide-open verandah offers a perfect view of the ocean. We ate a late dinner there one night watching a thunderstorm roll in with lighting poking through the clouds.

Just down the street from the Colony, is Mabel’s Lobster Claw, where we enjoyed a lobster dinner on the patio and Carlyn tackled — almost literally — her first full lobster and came away with a new appreciation for seafood. Mabel’s is a popular spot, with both locals and tourists, and it’s small, so be prepared to wait. The Clam Shack in Kennebunk Village, about a five-minute drive or 15-minute bike ride away is another great place for lobster. You can enjoy it with a beer for lunch at one of the patio tables.

Ogunquit, which is about a half hour drive south along the coast from Kennebunk Village is one of the most popular Maine beach havens, and it was packed when we arrived. We made a slow crawl down Shore Rd. into the heart of the town of Ogunquit, until retreating to North Beach so Carlyn could try out her new boogie board. Father and daughter bravely took on the waves (with daughter enjoying greater success) until another thunderstorm cleared the beach and drove us to lunch.

Sunshine, clear skies and summer heat followed the storm and we followed that to York Beach, and about 20 minutes drive southwest from Ogunquit on U.S. Route 1.

York Beach combines the best parts of the Jersey Shore with the spirit of Maine from the 1950s. Downtown, there’s The Goldenrod, a candy store and ice cream shop that’s been open since 1896. While you’re deciding what kind of fudge, ice cream or saltwater taffy to try, you can be mesmerized by watching taffy being made, the brightly coloured strands of the sticky stuff being twisted and pulled on machines in the windows. You can also order taffy by mail, if you just can’t wait to get there in person. Around the corner and just off the beach is the Fun O Rama arcade — a noisy magnet for kids with their parents change burning a hole in their pockets.

After a full day of beaching, boarding and candy eating, the 45-minute drive up the coast on I-95 to Saco was a quiet one. The next day, though, we were back at it again, this time heading to Old Orchard Beach. Old Orchard Beach is arguably one of the most famous Maine beaches and it’s a quick 10-minute drive from Saco along scenic Old Orchard Road. The beach itself is vast and marked by The Pier, a collection of bars and restaurants that juts into the water. The water is shallow and its awesome waves mean its great for boarding. It’s also really great for a round of Frisbee, even if the waves and fellow canines too easily distract the dog. Just up from the dunes is the Palace Playland, Old Orchard Beach’s signature amusement park. The dog cowered at the sound of balloon darts but Carlyn loved the spectacular views of the beach from the Ferris wheel.

Dinner that night was on the patio at The Landmark, where L’il Bit was welcome to sit at our feet. We struck up a conversation with some French Canadians who had been taking their summer vacation to Maine for years. After just a few days of sand, sun and waves in a few very different places, we can certainly understand why.

A version of this story appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of CAA Magazine


Bikes Cycling Transportation Travel

Going Dutch: Amsterdam by bike

I travelled to Amsterdam to see the city by bike and then wrote about it for the summer 2014 issue of CAA Magazine. It was my first visit to Amsterdam and I loved it. Now I just have to make the time to go back.

Bikes Cycling Travel

Amsterdam by bicycle

There’s nothing like riding a bike around Amsterdam to rekindle a love of cycling. I spent a week there recently, reporting and writing a story for CAA Magazine (for the upcoming summer issue), on seeing the city by bike, like a local.

It was an easy thing to do. I got off the plane, took a short taxi ride to the hotel, dropped off my bags and headed out. For me, part of the appeal of the story was the chance to see a famous city by riding around its streets and also to do some basic, on the ground, experiential reporting. It’s rewarding for me every single time I get to do it.

And while writing stories like this are a small part of my job, they are among the favourite parts of my job. And I know, there are truly worse ways to make a living.

Amsterdam, of course, did not disappoint. Every day the streets were full of bikes and I was on one of them, which meant I was doing something the Canadian winter deterred me from doing; I was getting some exercise and I was revelling in the cobblestone streets, the history and the entire cycling scene. I was one of them, a biking Amsterdammer, for a short time anyway.

For the past few weeks since I’ve been home, I’ve been checking out some Toronto bike shops with an eye to buying a new bike. I haven’t bought one in about 20 years and my Raleigh Matterhorn 12 speed is still going strong. Strong, but heavy, which is why I thought it’s time for a new model. But as enthralled as I am by the shiny, lightweight road, hybrid and mountain bikes I’ve been trying out, I can’t help but think back to all the battered, clanging and often rusted bikes I saw on the streets of Amsterdam. It gives me pause in my purchase process and reminds me that I don’t really need shiny and new if my goal is just to get out there and ride.


Safari Style

My feature from my Kenyan safari, published in CAA Magazine. With photographers Patrick King and Tom Martin, I spent a couple of days in Nairobi before flying into the Tsavo West National Park and Finch Hattons Lodge.