THE OTHER PART OF THE STORY

TrustedHousesitters—the app I was using when I was refused entry to the US—won’t update their advice for international house sitting.

The company continues to say it’s OK for their paying members to house sit on a tourist-type visa (e.g. ESTA) because they “don’t regard house sitting as work”.

In their opinion, what happened to me was all a “misunderstanding” because US immigration didn’t get “the concept of house sitting”.

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

Rendezvousing (again) with Pixel in Sydney

Rendezvousing (again) with Pixel in Sydney

After a crazy few months, I couldn’t wait to get away again even if it was only for one week.

I’d been invited back to care for Pixel—everyone’s favourite Cheshire Cat—while his humans holidayed in New Caledonia. Their overseas trip was a bit of a last-minute one which meant a close friend spent the first two or three days looking after Pixel before I was able to fly in.

I first met Pixel in April 2021 when Australia was experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak. Mind you, back then, an ‘outbreak’ was as little as three or four cases in any Australian city. I remember wanting to get away for the upcoming Easter break, but my options were limited. Booking domestic travel was risky because states and territories could go into a sudden lockdown meaning interstate visitors weren’t allowed in. There weren’t too many house sits being advertised either. Of the few available, one was in inner city Sydney. Sydney wasn’t at the top of my travel wishlist—I’d been a few times before and I hadn’t felt the need to return in recent years—but I’m glad I responded to the ad. While I keep in touch with a lot of people I’ve house and cat sat for, I probably WhatsApp Pixel’s owners at least once a day.

Pixel’s owners happened to be some of the first people I spoke with after being refused entry to the United States. I don’t know what time it would’ve been back in Australia, but I was one of the last passengers to board the Sydney-bound Qantas flight at 10.30pm Los Angeles time. Pixel’s owners offered a lot of support and kind words via WhatsApp, and they even did some quick research into the legalities of tourists using TrustedHousesitters in the United States. Their WhatsApp messages made me feel a little less upset/annoyed/angry about the situation and the long flight I was about to endure. TrustedHousesitters—the website I’d organised all my house and cat sits through (and the very same website I’ve been using to travel to the United States since 2017)—has come out saying what happened to me was all a “misunderstanding” because US immigration doesn’t understand the “concept of house sitting”. TrustedHousesitters might want to let their members know they can be deported, but, hey, US immigration just doesn’t get it. There’s a lot more to all of this and I’ll post about it in the coming weeks.

Back to Pixel. It’d been a good eight or nine months since I saw Pixel last. He’s lost a bit of weight thanks to a revised feeding routine which sees him get one scoop of dry food and one pouch of wet food each day. We like to joke Pixel has lost weight to help him land a movie role in Hollywood. Pixel has become a bit of a celebrity following what happened to me at LAX. A lot of media outlets have chosen to use a Pixel selfie to accompany their reporting and, of course, people on the internet have a lot to say about Pixel’s face. Usually ‘That cat looks pissed off’ or ‘That’s one angry-looking cat’. Pixel is neither of these things, and he seems to be more affectionate and chill than ever before.

What I did during the week

The Sydney weather has been pretty shitty all year and this week was no exception. Thursday was the first day it hadn’t rained at all all week. Every person I spoke to would say something like: ‘How nice is the weather today?’ The rideshare driver I had on the way back to the airport told me all about his Saturday morning in the sunshine. He said this is some of the best weather the city’s seen in 2022.

The heavy, never-ending rain on Monday made it difficult to get up, but I eventually made my way out to the Mitchell Road antiques warehouse. This is somewhere I like to visit each time I’m in town. It’s huge and a lot of the stuff is reasonably priced. Reasonably-priced things can be hard to come by in Sydney.

Bondi Beach is another place I like to visit when I’m here. My favourite vegan Lebanese restaurant is no longer, but the Sunday markets were still on despite the rain. A workmate also recommended the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition which stretches the Bondi Beach to Tamarama part of the Bondi to Bronte walk.

A few other things I enjoyed:

  • Walking from Bondi Junction to Bondi Beach along Bondi Road. I’m always getting the bus through here, but this is the first time I’ve walked it.
  • The Art Gallery of New South Wales. I didn’t know this even existed until this week. The Royal Botanic Garden is next door and it’s a 15-minute walk down to Circular Quay.
  • Shopping along Oxford Street and admiring all the pretty terrace homes (and their Halloween decorations) in the streets off the main road. There’s a hub of activity happening in the backstreets of Paddington that I’d like to check out properly next time. Newtown is another good area for shopping, and has plenty of food choices and lots of murals.

Next stop

I’m on my way home where I’ll be working up until the end of November. From 27 November, I’ll be off on a month-long domestic cat sitting adventure through Aussie House Sitters. Perth is my first stop, then Adelaide and I’ll be in Melbourne for New Year’s Eve.

Swapping a cat sitting holiday in Canada for two weeks in the South Australian capital

Swapping a cat sitting holiday in Canada for two weeks in the South Australian capital

I think everyone knows I was meant to be house and cat sitting in Canada right now, but US Homeland Security put an end to those plans.

Even though I was refused entry to the United States and sent straight back to Australia, I wasted no time in looking for a house and cat sit somewhere else. I still had a good two months off and didn’t want to spend that time sulking about what’d happened. The only requirement for my next sit was it had to be somewhere in Australia. Since I’m an Australian citizen, there’s no way I could be deported for using TrustedHousesitters* (still waiting for them to update their travel advice page) and I wouldn’t be passing through any international airports.

I was hoping for a winter sit in Hobart, Launceston or Perth, but I was open to sits in a few other places. While somewhere in Tasmania was my first preference, an ad for a two-week sit in the South Australian capital city of Adelaide piqued my interest. It was the photos of the cat—whose name is Little Dolly Parton—that made me really want to apply. Dolly’s owner responded to my message almost immediately and agreed to have me sit for her. We messaged regularly in the lead up to the sit and she said she’d be happy to pick me up from the airport. The offer of an airport pick up never goes astray, especially when you land at 9pm.

I was introduced to Little Dolly Parton before Dolly’s owner left to spend the night at her mum’s place. Dolly’s owner was off on a long-awaited overseas holiday early the next morning. Dolly—who was described as “a very independent lady” in the listing—was a little unsure of me to begin with. She was curious, but cautious. She let me pat her a few times before she started getting sassy about it. Dolly’s owner said Dolly would come around in the next 24 to 48 hours and might sleep on the bed. I was told Dolly “loves a snooze and a cuddle”, but it does take her a while to warm to strangers. By the end of the sit, I’d say Dolly really liked me. She’d greet me at the front door, follow me to the bathroom and sit next to me on the bed while I used my laptop. Dolly would also jump on the bed as soon as I rolled over to check my phone each morning.

You could hear Dolly running through the house during the night because her heart-shaped tag jingles. She’d run from the living room to the kitchen (to snack on her dry food) and then through the bedroom to the bathroom to drink from her water bowl. Dolly really likes to drink water from the shower so her owner put a bowl IN the shower. I’d change the water out each evening and Dolly would be in the shower within the next few minutes to drink from it. Dolly also enjoyed going through my suitcase and shopping bags, inspecting my gum boots after I’d worn them, and creeping on me from under the timber stool in the bedroom.

The home I was staying in is perfect for solo travellers like myself. It used to be a villa that’d been converted into three smaller apartments. It was cosy and conveniently positioned between two main roads/thoroughfares. Buses to and from the CBD left every 10 minutes, and there was a cafe pretty much directly across from her home. That particular cafe was a bit overpriced, but the one where Dolly’s owner worked at—a 10-minute walk up the road—turned out to be my favourite local spot.

Things to do

All I knew about Adelaide was it’s referred to as ‘The city of churches’ and that it’s got its fair share of wineries. I don’t like wine, but I do appreciate architecture. None of the churches I saw were overly impressive, but the city does have a lot of nice-looking older buildings.

Art Gallery of South Australia

I’m not a huge fan of art galleries, but I’ll still check out one or two in whichever city I find myself in. The Art Gallery of South Australia might be one of a few art galleries I’ve actually enjoyed. It’s easy to navigate and it had a lot of pieces I was interested in. The gallery is on The University of Adelaide’s city campus which I spent the afternoon admiring.

Adelaide Central Market

Adelaide Central Market was the first place I went to in Adelaide AND the last place I went to. I could’ve easily eaten here every day I was in town. The internet says it’s the largest undercover market in the southern hemisphere and it has everything from made-to-order Italian food to vegan pasties and handmade skincare products.

Fleurieu Peninsula

South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula is known for its beaches, cute coastal towns and wineries. It’s a good day trip option from Adelaide, with the drive to my first stop—Port Willunga Beach—taking less than an hour.

My next stop, Port Elliot, is known for its bakery. The Port Elliot Bakery had people lining up around the corner when I stopped by at around 11am. The Strand [street] is the town’s retail strip and the beach is a bit further up. I stopped at the d’Arenberg Cube on my way back to Adelaide. The building/gallery/wine tasting and restaurant/experience was described to me as “a poor man’s MONA”. That person was right. It’s definitely no MONA, but it’s still worth checking out if you’re in the area.

Hahndorf

Hahndorf is a small German town in the Adelaide Hills. While only 15–20 minutes outside the city, it would probably take all day to get there on public transport so it’s only doable with a car. The main street is full of German bakeries, cafes and pubs. Lots of cute homewares stores, too.

Plant 4 Bowden

I wouldn’t have known about Plant 4 Bowden unless it was for a primary school friend’s sibling. It’s an old building filled with cafes, bars and restaurants just outside the CBD. The iced miso caramel latte at My Grandma Ben’s was good, but I’m not sure about their curried red lentil and chickpea toasted sandwich. I wanted to try the margherita pizza at Fun2seeya Pizzeria, but they’re only open for dinner during the week. Real Falafel, one of my favourites at Adelaide Central Market, is also out here.

Next stop

I’ve still got another few weeks off before returning to my previous contract job. I’d love to get another sit in, but I’m not sure that’ll happen. I’ve got a fair bit of ‘life admin’ to tend to following my deportation ordeal and I should look at putting money aside for legal advice.

*TrustedHousesitters says “international house sitting is very much allowed” and it was a “misunderstanding of the concept of house sitting” on the immigration officer’s part

Reunited with Pixel: An extended house and cat sitting stay in Sydney

Reunited with Pixel: An extended house and cat sitting stay in Sydney

What’s a house and cat sitting trip without a COVID scare? It happens every time I’m about to travel interstate.

It wasn’t me who had COVID. And it wasn’t the Queensland Government threatening to lock out the other Australian states and territories. It was Pixel’s owners—the French couple I house and cat sat for in April 2021—who had the COVID scare. Someone in their building tested positive days before they were due to fly home to France. The couple wasted no time in making their way to the international airport’s testing clinic where they paid $79 AUD to get their results within 90 minutes. Both of them tested negative and were cleared to fly to France on Saturday morning.

On the Friday before they left, I went over to their Surry Hills apartment for dinner. It felt like I was catching up with old friends, not just another couple I was house and cat sitting for. They’d asked what I wanted for dinner and I told them I’d like the same eggplant dish we had last time. I learned it’s actually called Tian de légumes. Pixel attempted to join us for dinner, but was shooed off the table because he’s not allowed on it when they’re eating.

Pixel—for those of you who mightn’t remember him—reminds me of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. I think it’s his expressive face and he has a bit of a smirk going on. He’s also got that larger build and has the British/Scottish Shorthair face to match. While I’m not sure he remembered me when I came over for dinner, he was quite interested in my suitcase when I arrived on Saturday morning. It’s possible he could smell himself on it from the last time I looked after him.

I ventured off to the French Christmas Market not long after dropping my stuff off at the apartment. This market is usually held in July to coincide with Bastille Day, but it was cancelled due to an increase in COVID cases across Sydney. Pixel’s owners joked I’d catch COVID at the markets, but I escaped the crowds by going first thing in the morning. I did, however, receive several notifications throughout my stay informing me I had been somewhere at the same time as a now COVID positive person.

Bus message reads 'FIGHT COVID-19 TOGETHER'

The state of New South Wales went from having about 1,000 positive cases each day to more than 6,000 in the week following the couple’s departure. It was averaging around 25,000/day by early January and got up to about 60,000/day in my final few days here. Testing clinics were turning people away and other clinics closed entirely. People were waiting in testing lines for hours and COVID home testing kits sold out everywhere. I even saw a 35-pack of N95 masks retail for $209 AUD. COVID panic had taken over. Again.

Like most cats, Pixel was oblivious to the COVID craziness going on outside his home. He would go about his days knocking the washing basket over to sleep in it, pulling the postcards off the fridge, attempting to open the bedside drawer to get more treats and napping next to the toilet. He also liked to rest on the exercise bike and would lovingly look up at the fridge when I opened it. One time I caught him engrossed in a David Attenborough ocean documentary. He started to move closer and closer to the TV in hope of catching the fish. The couple told me he loves nature documentaries, especially ones with wild cats as the subject. Pixel considers himself to be a bit of a lion. Another memorable Pixel moment is when I gave him catnip—a one-off treat to ring in the new year—and he became fixated on the portable air conditioning unit for the next hour.

Things to do

I forgot how great the couple’s Surry Hills location was. For both cafes and restaurants, and getting around Sydney. I managed to get to parts of the city I’d never been to before and only wish I’d checked them out sooner. While I was initially a little unsure of what I’d do for 29 days, I managed to find something interesting/worthwhile to occupy almost all of my time.

Royal National Park

Turns out Royal National Park is the second oldest national park in the world. I’d never heard of it until I started putting an itinerary together for this trip. I had originally wanted to see the Figure Eight Pools, but I was told it’s about a four hour hike. I decided to do the Bundeena to Wedding Cake Rock walk instead. Wedding Cake Rock is a sizeable white rock you stop at on the way to Marley Beach. I gave Marley Beach a miss because I wanted to return my hire car before the afternoon traffic. Sydney drivers are on par with those in Los Angeles.

Manly Beach

Getting the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly is somewhat of an ‘iconic’ Sydney thing and it’s something most international tourists do when they’re in town. Manly has a totally different vibe to the beachy suburbs in Sydney’s east. It’s a lot more chilled and family friendly, but it’s still very, very popular. Things worth doing in the area:

  • Walk from Manly Wharf to Fairlight Beach
  • Walk back the other way to stop at Manly Beach and Shelly Beach
  • Shopping in the Corso area.

Mitchell Road Antique & Design Centre

I visited the Mitchell Road antique centre last trip and couldn’t wait to return. I spent a few hours here and went back one last time during my final week. It’s more of a warehouse, with about 50 or 60 different stalls. Their pricing is pretty reasonable, especially in contrast to what another nearby antique centre charges for its bric-a-brac and furniture.

Other walks worth doing

I did a loooot of walking in Sydney. Not because the public transport is terrible, but because there’s so many walks worth doing. My favourites were:

  • Wendy’s Secret Garden to Lady Gowrie Lookout. It’s along the harbour, and you’ll pass through Luna Park and the prime minister’s Sydney residence.
  • South Head Cemetery to The Gap Bluff. There’s a nice view of the Sydney skyline, too, in the opposite direction.
  • Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk. I’d never ventured further than Bondi Icebergs previously, but it’s worth walking the bit extra to see Tamarama and Bronte beaches.
  • Anywhere from Rose Bay up to Watsons Bay.

Shopping at Chatswood

Chatswood is probably the closest thing I’ll get to Japan right now. My favourite ‘area’ was around the interchange. There’s lots of Asian supermarkets, Asian restaurants and cute stores selling super cute Asian things.

Next stop

After one month in Sydney—my longest house and cat sit to date—I’m heading home for a very short time. I’m grateful I no longer have to show a border pass or a negative rapid antigen test upon arrival at Brisbane Airport. It means I can get out quicker and get started on packing for my next trip. I’ll (hopefully (I need a negative PRC test first)) be flying out to the USA on Wednesday where I’ve organised several house and cat sits.

Another year spent house and cat sitting within Australia

Another year spent house and cat sitting within Australia

The past 12 months has seen me travel to places like Darwin and Sydney to house and cat sit, and I’m in Sydney again at the moment.

I also accepted a house and cat sit in Newcastle in lieu of being able to travel overseas, but that trip was cut short because of interstate lockdowns. You’d think an international travel ban would make for an excellent opportunity to see new places across Australia, but nope. Not the case. You might be able to fly interstate, but you mightn’t be let back in. State borders could close at at any time, with as little as a few hours notice. Even travelling one or two hours away from where you live isn’t easy when there’s a COVID-19 outbreak (an ‘outbreak’ in Australia has previously been as little one or two unlinked cases within a community).

When I came to Sydney earlier this year, I was almost turned away at Sydney Airport because Brisbane had a COVID outbreak. A government worker at the airport said something like: “People from Brisbane aren’t welcome in New South Wales right now.” A few questions and phone calls later, I was told I could stay. They reminded me I had to isolate for three days—and I knew this was going to happen—but I didn’t see it as a huge issue. I was just grateful to be spending the Easter break somewhere other than Brisbane.

Fast forward six months and the Sydney couple I sat for over Easter were the ones facing the COVID-related problems this time ’round. They messaged me to say there was a positive case in their building and, understandably, they were starting to freak out. It was possible they’d been exposed to the virus in the building’s elevator and now all of our plans were up in the air (no pun). The couple wanted to get tested ASAP—not just for peace of mind, but they needed a negative result to fly home to France. They both tested negative and left for Paris on 18 December.

I did contemplate spending December and January in the United States before agreeing to look after Pixel for a second time. I’d already accepted a sit in Baltimore and I was planning to organise more sits before I flew out. All the COVID uncertainty was starting to get to me so I thought it was best to cancel. And I didn’t want to leave the Baltimore couple without a sitter at the last minute. There was also a bit—or a lot—of pressure having to make my way from Brisbane all the way to Baltimore by 20 December. International flights were due to start up again only days earlier, but there was no guarantee they actually would. Flying in to Baltimore City was going to add an extra $2,000 AUD to my airfare which meant I was probably going to go via D.C. While this was the cheaper option, it meant I then had to get two trains before finally arriving in downtown Baltimore. Getting the additional modes of transport would be stressful at any time, but it would’ve just been too much after being in the air for 20-something hours.

As it turns out, this Christmas–New Year house and cat sit will be my longest one yet. Just short of 30 days. I’ve been using the extended stay to see different parts of Sydney and organise my 2022 trip to the USA. My plan is to fly out three days after returning home to Brisbane and I say ‘plan’ because who knows what COVID-19 has in store for us. My first potential roadblock: I must test negative in order to get home to Brisbane. The second obstacle I’ll face is returning a negative result a few days later to be able to board my flight to Los Angeles. Let’s hope I get my test results back in time (and that they’re negative).

Newcastle house and cat sit cut short by COVID-19 spread

Newcastle house and cat sit cut short by COVID-19 spread

There always seems to be a COVID outbreak right before I’m about to leave for an interstate house and cat sitting trip, and this time was no different.

In the days leading up to my departure, Sydney recorded some 50 locally acquired COVID-19 cases and Brisbane had about five. It wasn’t so much that I was travelling down to New South Wales, but the couple I was house and cat sitting for were coming up to Queensland. Queensland has been quick to shut the border to New South Wales residents in the past, but, thankfully, the Newcastle couple were able to make their way up to the Gold Coast without any problems.

Newcastle—much like Darwin—wasn’t somewhere I’d thought about going pre-COVID. However, because we’re *still* limited to domestic travel, I thought a week-long house and cat sit there didn’t sound too bad. Newcastle is about two hours north of Sydney, is Australia’s second oldest city and even got a mention in Lonely Planet’s top 10 cities list once. I read it’s the second most populated area in the state, but it still has that sleepy little town feel. Or that’s how I would describe Newcastle.

The Aussie House Sitters sit didn’t start until Sunday, but I went to meet the couple on Saturday afternoon to get the keys and go through a few things. I was also introduced to Cashew, their 10-year-old rescue cat, and briefed on her routine. They told me Cashew weighed 8kg when they got her, but they’ve managed to get her weight down to 5.5kg. She’s fed one can of wet food twice a day and gets dry food as a treat. The dry food is placed in a toilet roll and she has to move it around to get the biscuits out.

I quickly learned one can of wet food twice a day isn’t enough for Cashew. She would go back to her empty bowl and lick it clean. She did this both morning and night. Food-crazed Cashew also happens to be one of the most affectionate cats I’ve cared for. She would follow me around the apartment (not just at food time), jump on the bed as soon as I hopped in, and she had to sit on my lap if I was at the table or outside on the balcony. She would alternate between sleeping under the covers and up against my leg.

COVID restrictions reintroduced

Face masks became mandatory on my second day in Newcastle. I believe this was as a result of an increase in COVID cases in Greater Sydney. This meant wearing a face mask on public transport, at hospitality venues and when you went shopping. Newcastle’s cafes and restaurants then had to further restrict the number of dine in customers at any one time.

Things then started to get worse back home in Queensland. Despite the state’s numbers not anywhere near as bad as New South Wales’, a three-day lockdown was announced for Brisbane and surrounding areas. This included the Gold Coast. I messaged the couple asking what this meant for their plans—they said “we decided to cut our losses and come home today”. They planned to stay at the girl’s mum’s place, an hour out of Newcastle, until Friday so it didn’t affect my plans too much. I felt a bit guilty about this and said I’d change my flight to Thursday morning.

Things to do

I was lucky to have done most of the things I wanted to see/do before I left on Thursday. I did, however, really want to check out the Olive Tree Market on Saturday. And I didn’t make it out to Merewether either.

The couple’s Wickham location proved to be perfect for exploring Newcastle. The interchange—where I could get a bus, train or the light rail to most places I wanted to visit—was directly across from their apartment. Newcastle CBD was within walking distance, and popular shopping suburbs Islington and Hamilton could be reached in less than 15 minutes.

Newcastle Beach

Newcastle Beach is pretty much in the CBD. It’s at the other end of what they call Hunter Street Mall. Start at the ocean baths, walk along the beach and up to the Bogey Hole.

ANZAC Memorial Walk

If you continue past the Bogey Hole, you’ll eventually end up at the ANZAC Memorial Walk. The ANZAC Memorial Walk is a 450-metre clifftop walkway that connects Strzelecki Lookout to Bar Beach. It opened in 2015 to mark the 100th anniversary of the ANZACs landing in Gallipoli.

Shopping in Islington and Hamilton

You could easily spend a whole day shopping in Islington and Hamilton. They’ve both got plenty of stores selling antiques, vintage clothing, locally designed goods and homewares. My favourite shops were Eclectic Corner, edde, The Retro Wardrobe and Fever Dream.

Christ Church Cathedral

The Christ Church Cathedral is hard to miss as you walk around the city. I noticed it on my first day here, but I didn’t venture up the hill until later in the week. The church is huge. It even has its own park—Cathedral Park.

Newcastle Breakwall

The Newcastle lighthouse and breakwall walk was mentioned to me by the lady who owns Eclectic Corner. When I told her it was my last day in town, she recommended I do it.

You can only go up to the actual lighthouse on Saturdays and Sundays, but the walk out to the breakwall is still very much worth doing.

The Corner at Charlestown Square

I planned to bus out to Charlestown Square solely for the Creative Village Newcastle store, but I learned about ‘The Corner’ prior to my visit. The Corner is described as a dynamic food and entertainment precinct albeit at a Westfield-like shopping centre. Creative Village Newcastle was great—I was able to get one of Teval’s lady vases (first spotted at a store in Leura while I was house and cat sitting in Sydney). As were the mushroom bao buns from Bao Brothers, and my salted caramel and hazelnut thick shake from Popolo Artisan Gelateria.

Next stop

My next stop is home—two days earlier than planned, but that’s COVID-19 for you. I’ll still keep an eye on interstate house and cat sits, but who knows when everything will start to settle down.