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Hi. I’m Madolline.
And I’m seeing the world One cat at a time.

Birmingham, Alabama: The last cat sit on the trip

Birmingham, Alabama: The last cat sit on the trip

Birmingham was definitely a change of pace. There isn’t a Starbucks on every corner. Not even a 7/11. Not one. In the entire city of Birmingham. But they did just open a cat cafe here.

It’s been a quiet 10 days, but that’s probably what I needed before heading to New Orleans for a week. This was my final house and cat sit on the trip. I’d never thought about going to Birmingham. Or anywhere in Alabama. But Vero and Clint’s TrustedHousesitters ad changed my mind.

I was looking after Zoey, the one-eyed rescue cat, in the quirkiest of homes. The home belongs to a Belgian artist, Vero, and her handyman husband, Clint. And their house’s located in Avondale. Avondale’s about 3km from downtown Birmingham. And like most inner-city neighbourhoods, Avondale’s now a gentrified, much sought after place to live.

Clint picked me from the airport before showing me around the area and parts of downtown. He also pointed out the cat cafe shopfront. He said he expected it to open while I was in town. And he was right. We then went to the house where I was introduced to Vero and her Belgian guests. They were all heading to Florida the next day. Before they left, Vero gave me a list of her favourite vegetarian/vegan cafes and restaurants. My favourite was Taco Morro Loco. Literally down the other end of the street. And both delicious and affordable.

Vero and Clint’s house’s filled with what I assume is art from all over the world. As well as Vero’s own. Vero used to own and run Naked Art Gallery, in the city’s Forest Park neighbourhood, but she closed it earlier this year. The internet tells me it was open for more than 20 years. Vero and Client are well travelled, and they’re not the kind of people you think of when you think about Alabama. They’re pretty well known around Birmingham, too. Their house looks like any other on their quiet street. But with a few more plants out front. You’d never guess what kind of craziness lies behind the dark blue front door.

Now more about their cat. Zoey has 24-hour access to her own screened-in porch. And she only eats Fromm Family dry food. Three times a day. Vero said this food’s responsible for Zoey’s super soft coat. You’d never guess how soft it is from the pictures. Zoey liked to spend most of her time sitting on the couch with me. I do recall Vero and Clint’s ad saying she wasn’t too much of a lap cat. True. But she did love having company and being petted.

Places to go

So there’s actually a bit more to see in Birmingham than I’ve listed. But with the extreme humidity and the bus system being a nightmare, I spent half the trip in the house writing and being lazy. Sometimes the highlight of the day was when the bus showed up. The city’s bus network has real-time functionality on its myStop app, but I don’t actually think it works. Or at least not very well.

Downtown

Most of the stuff I enjoyed was downtown. Walkable. And I did walk it two or three times. But I was done after that.

  • mo:mo: A Nepalese–Vietnamese casual dining option in the Pizitz Food Hall. I found Asian food quite hard to come by in Birmingham.
  • Birmingham Oddities: Turns out this store’s only open on Saturday (thanks for that, Vero!). The guy runs it on the side. It’s one of the more affordable oddities stores I’ve been to.
  • What’s On 2nd: An art, antiques and oddities store across from Birmingham Oddities.
  • Reed Books: A second hand bookstore. And they’ve got some vintage bric-a-brac for sale.

Avondale area

  • The Market at Pepper Place: Saturday farmers market.
  • The Red Cat Coffee House: This is on the same site as the farmers market. And who’d have guessed? There’s lots of fun cat-related things inside.
  • Taco Morro Loco: One of Vero’s recommendations. Their plastic table cloths from the ‘80s… hmm. But their vegetarian taco is delicious and only $3 USD.
  • Sloss Furnaces: A National Historic Landmark. And now a ‘park’ of sorts. These guys used to be the largest manufacturer of pig iron in the world. Production stopped in 1970. I’d say this is one of the most iconic things in/about Birmingham.

Gatos and Beans

Birmingham’s—maybe even Alabama’s—first cat cafe. Gatos and Beans opened a few days after I arrived. The $10 entry fee includes your coffee or tea. Plus one hour with the cats.

The space was truly designed with cats in mind. The cats can get way up high, all the way to the ceiling, by jumping from piece to piece of wood. Gatos and Beans also had cardboard boxes for them to sleep in. Because why sleep in a comfy cat bed when you can sleep in a cardboard box, right?

All cats can be adopted, and have come from Kitty Kat Haven & Rescue.

Next stop

My next stop’s New Orleans. Then back home to Brisbane via LAX. See you soon, Gracie.

Two Abyssinian cats for company just outside Seattle

Two Abyssinian cats for company just outside Seattle

This was my third house and cat sit in the Seattle area within the past 12 months. Only this time I was staying in Lake Forest Park, not technically Seattle. Lake Forest Park’s about 20 kilometres north of downtown Seattle, but it’s still Seattle to me.

I was looking after two Abyssinian cats, Max and Luis, who were purchased from the same breeder somewhere in British Columbia, Canada. I think they’re either nine or ten years old, and they’re cousins. Luis, the more social and friendlier of the two, is believed to be showing early signs of kidney disease while Max’s only health concern is his weight. I wouldn’t necessarily consider Max obese, but he’s definitely a lot ‘softer’ than Luis. The owners are currently trialling Max on a wet food only diet after advice from their vet. Luis, meanwhile, has access to the biscuits (dry food) via a programmed tag on his collar.

This house and cat sit was the last one I applied for before leaving on my trip. I had a five-day gap between when my Austin sit ended and when my Birmingham, Alabama, one started. Sure, it would have probably cost about the same to pay for accommodation somewhere on the same side of the country. But this place—back on the west coast⁠—looked like a great place to relax. I FaceTime’d the husband one day from work. Before the chat ended, he said they’d love to have me sit for them. He also said I was able to stay a day or two before/after the sit if I needed to. And I did. I arrived a day earlier and flew out the same day they returned.

During the same chat, the husband was rolling on the floor with Max. Max—the softer, less social cat—seems to truly love the husband. And only the husband. The wife told me that when the husband’s away, Max doesn’t think too much of her either. All he wants is to be fed and for his real owner to return. Luis seemed to appreciate anyone’s company. He’d follow me around the house and sleep on the blanket at the bottom of the bed.

Now for the actual house. It overlooks Lake Washington. And what a view. I asked the couple if there was a path/trail or park that I could go to to get a closer view of the lake. The husband gave me a confused look and said it’s mostly private residences occupying the waterfront. He was right. Then he said there are two ‘clubs’, which require a paid membership, where you can access the water. For swimming or boating. This seemed so weird to me—paying to swim in the lake. Paying to view the lake was even weirder.

Not only did the couple have a beautiful house, they had a nice garden as well. I know nothing about gardening and being responsible for a garden like this makes me nervous. Especially given the couple were really particular about everything. Note: The garden was still thriving when I left.

Their garden had brightly-coloured flowers, several different types of succulents and a few oriental-looking trees out the front. I’m not sure how a garden like this would fare outside Seattle because Seattle gets a lot of rain. But I was asked to water it every second day if it hadn’t rained. I was able to water the back garden from the deck while looking out over Lake Washington each afternoon.

My first full day in Lake Forest Park saw me return home to a black out. At first I thought my hair straightener had tripped the power. The couple had mentioned their kitchen was sensitive to multiple appliances being used at once and I was getting worried. I thought my Australian-bought GHD may have overloaded it. But no. It turns out a neighbour had been digging. And, as we all discovered out, they’d dug too deep. The power had been cut to about 40 homes in the area and didn’t return until 1am the next day.

After the couple left for their four-day weekend, the wife messaged me to say there’d been a small earthquake in the area. I didn’t notice anything. I would’ve been totally unaware unless the wife mentioned it. Despite the power loss and earthquake, I made it out of Lake Forest Park alive.

Not long after the couple had set off, they messaged me to say they’d discovered the name of a park where I could view Lake Washington for free. Lyon Creek Waterfront Preserve. It was a short walk away from the local shopping complex and I decided to check it out one afternoon. While it was nice, I can’t imagine paying for something like this. Maybe these clubs offer something in addition to lake access, but it still seems stupid to charge people to swim in a public lake.

And while I was in town, I caught up with the first Seattle couple I house and cat sat for. It was pretty much exactly on one year ago when I met Melinda and Rich. They had two senior kitties, Leo and Lily, who needed caring for for two weeks. We’ve stayed in contact since then and I now consider them friends. Melinda and Rich are now looking at becoming house sitters. They’d like to travel around Europe and they think house sitting’s a great way to do it. It definitely is, you guys.

Places to go

Like I said before, this isn’t my first time in Seattle. So these aren’t necessarily places to check out if it’s your first time there.

Fremont neighbourhood

I’d wanted to go Fremont for a while now. But it was always a bit of a mission on public transport (I’d previously stayed in Capitol Hill and Madrona). And it was still a bit of a mission this time because I couldn’t work out what the go was with bus transfers. I ended up walking from downtown Seattle. About an hour or so later, I made it to the Fremont Troll.

Other things worth checking out in the neighbourhood include the Fremont Vintage Mall, and Peace Love and Happiness Club. Peace Love and Happiness Club has some really interesting plants, succulents, and pottery. ZapVerr, a Thai restaurant, does a great eggplant dish.

Snoqualmie Falls

Snoqualmie Falls is also something I’d wanted to check out on previous stays. I think I had it noted down for my first trip to Seattle, but I was a little apprehensive about renting a car in the city. I wasn’t sure if the driving would be as crazy as it is in Los Angeles or if it was a little more relaxed. But this time I got a car. Snoqualmie Falls is about 30 minutes from downtown Seattle. The falls, of course, are really beautiful. There’s a hike or two to be done, and a restaurant at the entrance.

Mt Rainier National Park (kind of)

The couple I was house and cat sitting for told me Mt Rainier was about three hours from their place. Apple Maps told me it was two. I thought the couple may have been exaggerating or liked to make a few stops along the way. I got to the entrance of the national park within two hours, but the main points of interest were another hour away. The couple was right. I would’ve continued, but my rental car only came with half a tank of petrol. And I knew this when I set out from Seattle, but I didn’t anticipate the three-hour drive. I didn’t want to get stuck without fuel. So after about half an hour in to the national park, I turned around. It was also pretty rainy and foggy the day I drove out there, and Mt Rainier couldn’t be seen because of the weather conditions. But if you have a full tank of petrol, then definitely make a day of it.

Next stop

My next stop’s Birmingham. I’ll be cat sitting for Belgian artist Vero and her husband, Clint. I’ll be here ‘til 28 July before making my way to my final destination—New Orleans—for a cat-free holiday. Then it’s back home to Australia.

The real Slim Shady is a cat in Austin, Texas

The real Slim Shady is a cat in Austin, Texas

I was told Austin is Nashville’s big sister. And I can see the similarities. There’s plenty of live music venues. Both cities have a big food scene. Everyone’s really friendly. But Austin’s way more humid. The temperature’s already in the mid-20s when you wake up. And it’s still about 30°C when you go to bed.

Austin, Texas, was the third stop on this trip. And my second house and cat sit. I’d be looking after a 9-year-old cat, Shady, in downtown Austin. The one-bedroom apartment⁠—my home for the next two weeks⁠—was spacious and modern. And it was located between a Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. An ideal spot.

My Lyft driver from the airport, Larry, told me the Whole Foods across from where I was staying was the first Whole Foods store in America. Well, the first Whole Foods in the world. He said that after I’d been there and to the Austin Public Library, that was everything I needed to see in Austin. Jokes aside, Austin had a bit more to offer than just the flagship Whole Foods store. But Austin wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I think of Texas. I didn’t see any red or barren landscapes, and cowboy hats aren’t worn by many people. Sad, I know.

I had Skyped Rebecca, Shady’s owner, before being confirmed as the house sitter. This was her first time using TrustedHousesitters and I’m hoping she’ll use it again. Rebecca said she’d been using a drop in cat sitter to feed/check on Shady. And the cost of this had really started to add up.

We’d arranged to meet at the airport where I was given the keys to the apartment, and a quick rundown on the building and a few other things. Rebecca and her partner even brought along a vegetarian breakfast taco for me to try. These are meant to be big/a thing in Austin. It wasn’t bad. But now it was off to Spain for those two and downtown Austin for me.

And now for a funny story. More awkward than funny, really. I arrived at the building and went to the correct floor, but I found myself in the wrong apartment. Rebecca said most people leave their door unlocked because you need a little token thing to get between floors, etc. So if the people in this building weren’t as trusting, I wouldn’t have made a fool out of myself.

When I entered the incorrect apartment, all the doors inside it were closed. I thought this was odd, but I ended up opening each of the doors in an attempt to locate Shady. Behind the first door was a mattress on the floor, with exercise gear scattered everywhere. I thought maybe they had a son staying over that they hadn’t told me about. I closed that door and opened the next one. Mattress on the floor. Again. But slightly less gym attire strewn across this room. I was getting a bit worried. I wondered what I had signed up for. I thought this apartment looked a bit (well, a lot) different to the few pictures Rebecca had up on her ad, but how was it possible I ended up unlocking the door with the keys I was given. A few seconds later, I heard someone with keys approaching. I started to freak out even more. A guy—one of the tenants—entered. He looked at me. And I looked back at him. I said something like ‘I think I have the wrong apartment because I can’t find the cat?’ He seemed a bit confused himself and started laughing. I explained I’d just entered the apartment, hadn’t touched or stolen anything, and felt I may have been in the wrong person’s home as Shady wasn’t anywhere to be seen. I made my way directly across the hall and double-checked the number on the door before entering this apartment.

*Deep breath* I opened door. I was greeted by a cat. It was the grey cat from the pictures. It was Shady. I was in the correct place this time. Shady didn’t stop purring from the moment I arrived. Rebecca told me it’s rare for him to ever stop purring. And it’s true. Shady’s probably the most calm, well-behaved cat I’ve looked after. He’s also pretty spoilt. He’s got two planters of cat grass, great views of Austin from the comfort of his sheepskin covered leather chair and his own cardboard box on the kitchen counter. He’s even got his own automated litter system. It’s called a litter robot. I’m sure Shady doesn’t really care whether he’s using a traditional litter box or a litter robot. So perhaps I’m the spoilt one. The litter robot detects once it’s being used, separates the clumped litter from the clean, and deposits—for want of a better term—the soiled litter into a bag hidden underneath the main part of the litter robot. This is then emptied (by a human) every few days and new, clean litter is added. Also done by a human. Me.

My other responsibilities for the next two weeks included feeding Shady twice a day and that’s about it. Shady’s morning meal was mixed with L-Lysine to help with his allergies. And just like the Nashville kitties, Shady drinks his water from a mug. His mug’s the Court TV one. I’m keen to see if my cat back home, Gracie, will drink her water from a mug or glass.

In exchange for providing live-in Shady care, Rebecca left me a Whole Foods gift card. This was totally unexpected and I only realised it how much was on it when I went to use it. $100 USD. Other people I’ve sat for have picked me up from, or taken me to, the airport. Or paid for a meal or two. But this was exceptionally kind. It meant nearly all my groceries were paid for during the two-week house sit.

Places to go

Most of the places I went to check out/eat at were pretty central to where I was staying. I got the bus a handful of times, but walked everywhere else.

Driskill Hotel

This hotel’s meant to be one of the most haunted in America. I’d read about it when I was at Museum of The Weird. More about that below. Rebecca recommended the Driskill as well. It reminded me of the New York Bar in the Park Hyatt Tokyo—despite its sophisticated appearance, it’s full of tourists in shorts. The bathroom was probably my favourite thing.

Museum of The Weird

This one isn’t going to appeal to everyone. The ‘museum’ itself is quite small. Half the premises is the store front and the museum’s in the back. The museum’s then broken up in to two sections. The first part includes some artefacts and tales that may or may not be real, and you’re not told this until you make it to the second half of the museum. This is where everything you see’s real or actually happened. Things include a two-bodied lamb, a skull of a newborn with cyclopia, a two-headed piglet. An adult ticket was a little over $10 USD.

‘Dirty’ 6th Street

Rebecca and her partner warned me to stay away from 6th Street after midnight. Incredibly drunk tourists mixed with a homeless population makes the area a little dodgy after dark. After my visit to the Museum of The Weird, I found a fun-looking bar a few doors down. The Jackalope. A dive bar complete with a giant jackalope. Their $2.50 happy hour got me good and I was sick for the next 24 hours. When I returned to 6th Street a few days later, still dying inside, the cheap alcohol smell really hit me. The street’s still quite fun despite what the locals say. It’s lined with bars and restaurants, tourist shops, and there’s a Voodoo Doughnut. The Driskill’s a bit further down.

Mexic-Arte Museum

This gallery’s also in the dirty 6th Street area. Off Congress Ave. It’s a few rooms full of Mexican, Latino and Latin American art. An adult ticket is $7 USD. Check out the gift shop as well.

Mean Eyed Cat

The Mean Eyed Cat is probably my favourite bar. Ever. And not just because it has ‘cat’ in its name. It’s full of cat things, of course, and taxidermy and old school Americana stuff. I’m not sure if it’s actually an old house or a really big shed, but it works.

South Congress Avenue

South Congress Avenue is just over the bridge from downtown Austin. The day I decided to walk there, a man was threatening to jump off the bridge before the police brought him down. It’s mainly independent stores—artwork, homewares, tourist buys—and there’s plenty of murals.

Day trips: Fredericksburg or San Antonio

I decided I wanted to get out of Austin on my last Sunday here. I couldn’t get a bus ticket to San Antonio because I’d left it too late. So I hired a car. The only hire car places open in Austin over the weekend are at the airport. Kind of annoying, but thankfully I could get a bus from where I was staying. I wouldn’t have paid $20 USD for a Lyft/Uber ride to collect a hire car.

I’d intended to spend the whole day in Fredericksburg. It’s where the German population settled in Texas. And the town’s maintained its German heritage. Fredericksburg’s about an hour and a half from Austin. I got there pretty early. Maybe 10am? The town was cute, but with about a third of the stores closed on a Sunday (odd), I’d finished up pretty early. The church I’d also wanted to check out, St Mary’s Catholic Church, was in session. So it was awkward going in to take photos when people were reciting prayers. I decided to I drive to San Antonio afterward. A sales assistant at a CVS described San Antonio as the real Texas. It’s a bit rough and more ‘authentic’ than Austin. I wish I had more time in San Antonio, but here’s a few things worth checking out:

  • Immaculate Heart of Mary Church—one of several painted churches in Texas
  • The Alamo
  • the world’s largest Virgin Mary mosaic on Guadalupe Street
  • the city’s Historic Market Square.

The Buckhorn Saloon and Museum was on my list, but I didn’t make it there this time.

Torchy’s Tacos

I tried Torchy’s after returning my car to the airport on Sunday night. Their downtown restaurant was only a short walk away from the apartment. So I went back on Monday. And Tuesday. They’ve got two vegetarian tacos, but I ordered the Independent taco every time.

Next stop

I’ll be heading back to the west coast to look after two Abyssinian cats, Max and Luis, in Lake Forest Park, Washington. This sit’s pretty short. Maybe five days. The property looks like it’s right on the water. Here’s to a super relaxing couple of days.