Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Day Hike...

Toulouse and Mouse go "walkabout"
Merry Christmas, fellow felines and others!

When I was briefly in unseasonably balmy Toronto, visiting with writer friend Nina Munteanu for the Christmas season,  my friend Mouse and I decided to take a break from the city and find some Nature on Christmas Day.

We jumped into the TolouseMobile and ended up in Mississauga, where the Credit River flows eventually into Lake Ontario. Mouse spotted a small park near Streetsville and we went on walkabout.

Originally named "trusting creek" (Missinnihe) by the Mississauga First Nation people, the salmon-bearing river drains about 860 square kilometres of Ontario and flows some 90 km from its source at Orangeville, over the Niagara Escarpment through several suburbs and eventually into Lake Ontario at Port Credit.

Mouse and I walked a good length of this river park. We observed and discovered many things on our Christmas Day walk:

  • thriving aquatic life like water striders, caddis flies, mayflies and others
  • the chewed up log-remnants of very active beavers
  • an old gentleman in bathing shorts who announced to us that Christmas Day is for swimming and then proceeded to pour icy Credit River water from a bucket all over himself
  • shy squirrels gathering food
  • plenty of bright green moss for tardigrades (moss piglets) to live in
  • friendly people and friendly dogs (and they didn't even want to eat me either!)

Best Wishes for a joyous holiday season, wherever you are.

Toulouse LeTrek

Friday, June 5, 2015

Summer Drinks by Toulouse: The Corona-Orange

Happy Toulouse...
The days are getting warmer and as I anticipate the coming of the first day of official summer, my summer is already here, with the first of my summer line of Toulouse-original drinks.

Following my discovery of Mama Chia (see previous post) thanks to writer friend Nina, here is a Toulouse original to take the edge off those hot summer days when the humidex promises to glue your shorts to your ... well ... you know ... (I don't have that problem, but I'm always thinking of you)...

Here it is:

Toulouse's Corona-Orange

3 bottles of Corona beer (one for now and two for later)
1 pitcher of pure freshly squeezed orange juice (a carton of your best orange juice will do in a pinch)

Mix the Corona with the juice in a half-half ratio or to your taste, mix, then savour by sipping slowly. Enjoy!

I'm Toulouse, the cool travel cat!
Ciao Baby!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Adventures with Chia

I was recently visiting SF author Nina Munteanu who is currently teaching how to write science fiction in Toronto Canada’s UofT and George Brown. It took a while to track her down—she is a true Romanian—a wandering itinerant, like me, with a gypsy heart that yearns for fun and adventure.

The day was pleasant: sunny and warm. Nina took me to one of her favorite places in the city and we walked for hours along the Credit River—well, she walked and I scampered. Meow!

We walked right beside the river. It rushed and swirled over the rocks, sounding like a joyful crowd spilling from the theatre. I scurried over litter and dirt and glanced up at the overhanging trees. They reached their arms out as if to greet, leafy canopies trembling like green and gold glitter in the warm breeze. At my level, the ground was a carpet of dark textures, home for a bazillion little creatures that stirred and rustled there. Squirrels and birds foraged, ignoring me as though I was just a stuffed cat.
Credit River

The Credit River is a fish-bearing river that flows through mixed forest for about 1,500 km from Orangeville and empties into Lake Ontario at Port Credit, a charming village in sprawling Mississauga (part of the GTA). Chinook salmon and rainbow trout live in the river and its headwaters are home to brook trout and introduced brown trout. A long linear park system with natural paths and dominated by a woodland of Manitoba and Sugar Maple runs pretty much the full length of the river.

After scampering for hours, I rejoiced at the sound of: “Hey, let’s stop for something to eat and drink!” Nina had read my little mind—or had I sent her my thoughts?

Toulouse sips pure happiness
She surprised me by not driving to a funky but sophisticated café—our usual habit. Instead, she parked in front of a grocery store! I peered up at the Starbucks-like green sign: Whole Foods Market.

What the MEOW?...

Nina grinned—the kind of sideways grin that told me that this was still part of our adventure. I faithfully followed her inside. 

If you haven’t been to Whole Foods, this organic slow-food grocery store also provides an amazingly tantalizing food and juice bar with excellent coffee and a bright open area to eat and visit.  

Deciding on a refreshing drink instead of coffee, we both chose the cherry-lime chia juice made by Mamma Chia. Chia seeds are tiny black seeds from the plant Salvia Hispanica, which is related to the mint. Native to South America, chia means “strength” in ancient Mayan.
Chia seeds

My first gulp was a burst of surprise. Composed of mostly hydrated chia seeds, the drink is like a refreshing explosion of bubble-tea—without the tea. You don’t so much drink it as swallow down the refreshing gel-enveloped seeds that crowd the drink with solid happiness. The refreshing cherry-lime tickled my palate with fresh joy and the chia “bubbles” played on my tongue.

Now here’s the best part: chia seeds are oh-so-good for you! In Authority Nutrition’s article, entitled “11 Proven Health Benefits of chia Seeds”, Kris Gunnars gives us the skinny of chia happiness:

  1. Chia seeds deliver a massive amount of nutrients with very few calories (the calories are mostly locked in with the fiber, which the body excretes—along with the calories). “Chia seeds are among the most nutritious foods on the planet, loaded with fiber, protein, Omega-3 fatty acids and various micronutrients,” says Gunnars.
  2.  Chia seeds are loaded with antioxidants, which protect the sensitive fats in the seeds from going rancid. Antioxidants, fight the production of free radicals, which can damage molecules in cells and contribute to aging and diseases like cancer.
  3. Almost all the carbs in them are fiber, which is a win-win situation. Fiber doesn’t raise blood sugar and because of the fiber, chia seeds can absorb up to 10-12 times their weight in water, becoming gel-like and expanding in your stomach. Fiber also feeds the friendly bacteria in the intestine. Chia seeds contain 40% fiber by weight.
  4. Chia seeds are high in quality protein (about 14%) along with essential amino acids, which makes the proteins more usable by us.
  5. Chia seeds can help you lose weight, mainly because of the high fiber and protein, both of which increase fullness and slow the absorption of food. Protein helps reduce appetite and food intake.
  6. Chia seeds are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, although the form is not the most beneficial (ALA vs. EPA and DHA).
  7. Chia seeds may lower the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, potentially reducing LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (with an increase in HDL “good” cholesterol and reduction of inflammation).
  8. Chia seeds are high in many important bone nutrients, such as calcium, phorphorus, magnesium and protein. The calcium content, at 18% of the RDA in a single ounce, is higher than most dairy products.
  9. Chia seeds can reduce blood pressure and help balance blood sugar levels.
  10. Chia seeds can improve exercise performance. Apparently the Aztecs and Mayans used chia seeds to fuel performance.
  11. Chia seeds are easy to incorporate into your diet; they can be eaten raw, soaked in juice, added to porridges and puddings or added to baked goods. People sprinkle them on cereal, yogurt, salads, vegetables and rice dishes. They can thicken sauces and be used as egg substitutes in recipes.

Now, I like that! MEOW! I’m Toulouse the COOL Travel cat!
Toulouse introduces Mamma Chia to his friend Mouse

Saturday, March 21, 2015

When Snow Looks Like Plastic...

When I was travelling throughout the Greater Toronto Area and ended up in Scarborough, visiting friend and itinerant writer Nina Munteanu who was cat and housesitting near the Scarborough Bluffs, I fell upon a very strange phenomenon. I call it "plastic snow"...

I went to bed one night and the following morning the snow on the ground was enveloped in a layer of very thin ice that had congealed. It looked as though the world had been plasticized!

The effect was very cool ... but slippery for a light stuffed cat like me... I had to be careful!

Here are some cool shots I took...

Toulouse and friend Mouse enjoy the ice-snow

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ice Fishing in Scarborough Ontario

Toulouse and old friend Mouse go ice-fishing in Scarborough, Ontario, after freezing rain has coated the old snow in a magical sheet of mottled glistening ice...
Toulouse and Mouse ice fishing in Scarborough

"Let's go ice-fishing!" Toulouse said.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Exploring Guildwood Bluffs

When I invited Mouse, my good friend from Kentucky, to accompany me on a hike to Guildwood and the Bluffs in Scarborough, we had no idea it would be this wet!...

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Zermatt: The Ultimate Swiss Experience

Imagine Switzerland in January…

Montreux—the jewel of the Swiss Riviera, where I was staying in the Vaud—was enjoying a very civilized winter: just a mild dusting of powder snow to excite the senses. But I was seriously craving snow. You know the kind: the deep soft stuff that an adventurous stuffed cat could get joyfully lost in.
So, in search of serious snow, breathtaking scenery and a resort atmosphere, I packed up and headed southeast to the alpine village of Zermatt in the Valais. This resort town nestles in the shadow of the majestic Matterhorn in some of the most stunning scenery on this planet and my stuffings were itching to taste its bounty. Probably best known as a centre for skiing and mountaineering, Zermatt’s surroundings are truly breathtaking any season. But the high season—as in scintillating “get a high”—is winter. And I was right in the middle of it. This comes at a price; accommodation in Zermatt is among the most expensive in Switzerland.

View of the Matterhorn from Zermatt
But, if you’re a cool cat like me, there are ways … and there are lots of options. All the inns, hotels and guesthouses in Zermatt are locally owned: these range from cozy guesthouses and hostels to large full service hotels with five star ratings. All, of course, feature the signature Swiss hospitality and excellent service known worldwide.

Depending on your budget, you can visit Zermatt in true style and stay in one of the five-star hotels and get picked up at the train station by a horse and carriage. Some of Zermatt’s luxury hotels include Mont Cervin, Monte Rosa, Hotel Schweizerhof, and Hotel Nicoletta (now Le Petit Cervin), all located near the village center and on or near Bahnhofstrasse, the main street. The Monte Rosa is considered the “grande dame” of Zermatt hotels and is where Edward Whymper stayed when he became the first person to climb the Matterhorn.

You can rent a suite in one of the chalet-style condos, like I did, and be greeted by a friendly local who will not only show you to your cozy avant-garde suite but give you the low-down on the cool things that locals do in Zermatt. If you don’t mind something a little less posh, you can get very reasonable hostel accommodation right in the heart of Zermatt and on the surrounding foothills through Hostel Europe.

Ski hut on the Matterhorn
If you’re a skier or mountaineer, you can also rent a “hut” on the outskirts of town or up the hill toward the Matterhorn. There’s nothing quite like skiing into and out of your place. The Riffelalp is a luxury alpine hotel up the mountain from Zermatt that you can get to via the Gornergrat Railway cog rail. The Kulm and the Romantica are two other chalet-style mountain hotels accessible by cog-wheel railway from Zermatt. Overlooking the Gornergletscher on the Gornergrat, with its two domed towers—one is a working observatory—the Kulm provides a distinctive “summit experience” at 3100 m.

The Trip to Zermatt
Zermatt in the evening

It was a three-hour drive from Montreux along excellent freeways and snow-lined mountain roads. Looking for adventure, I drove my ToulouseMobile past the wine-growing towns of Martigny, Sion and Sierre to Visp, where I turned onto a narrow road that wound its ascent out of the Zermatt/Visp Valley past mountain villages and eventually to Täsche, where I parked my mobile. A major snow dump had just occurred here and I’d been informed that Zermatt might be closed. Fortunately for me, the train up to Zermatt—a car-free village—had just begun again. And I was about to head into a paradise of freshly fallen snow!

Ski run at the foot of the Matterhorn
Zermatt nestles in the foothills of the Matterhorn and surrounding mountain range, among which are the highest of Switzerland (Monte Rosa at 4634 m). To visit or stay in this Matterhorn village, you need to take a train from Brig, Visp, or Täsche. The 7-km shuttle train ride of the Matterhorn Gotthard Railway runs every 20 minutes from Täsche to Zermatt. I parked the ToulouseMobile in the Matterhorn Terminal Täsche, and enjoyed a relaxing 12 minute ride on the shuttle train to the Bahnhofplatz in the heart of Zermatt.
Living, Playing & Eating in Zermatt

Alps near the Matterhorn
From the train station it’s at most a twenty minute walk along the snow-packed Bahnhofstrasse, the main pedestrian street that runs the length of the resort town along the banks of the Vispa River, to any accommodation in the town. 

Lined with festive shops, restaurants and cafés, I strolled Bahnhofstrasse, experiencing the best of Switzerland. I checked out the classy souvenir shops (there is hardly anything “tacky” in Switzerland—even its souvenirs), featuring Swiss Army knives, watches, and clothes (I purchased a pair of Swiss cow socks for a friend); gourmet chocolatiers like Laderach and Fuchs; patisseries; shops selling fashionable outerwear, sweaters and ski apparel; and others selling top quality ski and boarding equipment; and, of course, bistros and cafés featuring savory Swiss food from fresh oysters, chocolate fondants, mushroom and ham crepes or exquisite open-face sandwiches and hearty soups to the best filet mignon or truffle ravioli. 

The family run Le Mazot is one of Zermatt’s less expensive and most welcoming small eateries. Located in the village centre near the river, it specializes in lamb fed on pastures under the Matterhorn and grilled on an open wood fire.
Toulouse in Heaven: Petit Royal

My favorite lunch places included the Hörnli Bäckerei-Konditorei and the newly established Le Pont Royal across the street. I just had to return to the Hörnli several times to sample their savory crepes and excellent café crèmes. Es war ausgezeichnet! Wunderbar!

They also feature excellent desserts but the attractive window display of Le Pont Royal drew me in and next thing I knew I was savoring an exquisite marzipan genache almond torte with vanilla custard. Topped off with a gourmet hot chocolate, it made paradise into heaven.

During high season (in winter), Zermatt welcomes nearly 20,000 visitors who live and play amid its 5 or 6 pedestrian streets and lanes and, of course, its spectacular mountains. There are virtually no internal combustion vehicles except the occasional outside delivery and specialist services (most service vehicles run on batteries). This helps against air and noise pollution.

Le Petit Royal Confiserie in Zermatt
As I wandered down Bahnhofstrasse, poking into narrow Medieval-like alleyways that led to adventure, I pondered how I could find myself in utter tranquility within a few steps from the main street bustle. You can sit on a hotel balcony and listen to the songbirds as you watch the sun set on one of the most striking mountains in the western world. 

In Zermatt you can wake up in a four or five-star room or a canvas tent to the sound of birds, church bells, and children's laughter. The name "Zermatt" does, after all mean “to the meadow”; it’s a contraction of the local dialect words "zer", which means "to", and "matta", which means "field" or "meadow".

During the summer, roads and hiking trails take you up to a number of year-round restaurants. In the winter you can ski to them and enjoy a Swiss beer and raclette or roesti. I stopped in several of them on my cable car tour up to the Matterhorn via Furi, Schwartzee and Trockener Steg.  

Intrepid off-piste skiers shared my car into snow heaven then bid me adieu to negotiate the steep back-country slopes of deep powder in search of untracked snow. On my way down just past Furi, I was alerted by the huge litter of skis laid out like match sticks in the snow: a lively après ski crowd was partying at Zum See, celebrating a good day of powder hounding.

The Majesty of the Matterhorn

The ultimate Matterhorn
Straddling the Swiss and Italian border, the Matterhorn attains a height of 4,478 m. Though not Switzerland’s highest mountain (it’s actually Monte Rosa in the same range), its splendid pyramid-shape has earned the Matterhorn a place as one of Switzerland’s most enduring symbols. It was one of the last alpine mountains to be climbed to the top, by British explorers in 1865. That first expedition unfortunately ended with tragedy; only 3 of the 7 climbers survived the descent. They are buried in Zermatt along with others who lost their lives climbing the challenging mountain.

Anyway you look at it, the Matterhorn's majesty is worth beholding any season and any time, from bright sun to the shrouding mists of sunset. The best views can be found in the cozy posh resort town of Zermatt.

Sunset over the Matterhorn 
I'll be back ... with my skis! I'm the COOL Travel Cat, after all!