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

Cat sitting in Australia’s best-known city over Easter

Cat sitting in Australia’s best-known city over Easter

After a crazy few days, including a snap lockdown back home, I was pretty keen to start my house and cat sit in Sydney.

I applied for the 10-day sit the same day I was knocked back for a sit in Launceston. This was back in early March when I was house and cat sitting for my mum’s friend, and thinking about where I’d like to go at Easter. While I would’ve loved to return to Launceston, it was kind of lucky I didn’t get that sit because Brisbane had a [small] COVID-19 outbreak days before the Easter long weekend.

Leaving Brisbane

Brisbane recorded 3 or 4 community acquired COVID cases within about 48 hours. Even though they were linked, every Australian state and territory except New South Wales closed their borders to Brisbane residents. This all happened within a few hours of the Queensland premier declaring Brisbane a hotspot and announcing the city would go into a snap lockdown. I started to freak out. I didn’t know if I’d be able to proceed with the interstate house sit and I didn’t want to leave the Sydney couple hanging.

I decided my best chance of making it to Sydney would be to fly out on Tuesday (i.e. the next day) morning. I couldn’t change my flight on the Virgin Australia website so I had to call up. It took several attempts before I could even get through, then I had a wait of about 45 minutes. My Thursday flight was finally re-booked for Tuesday and I was hopeful New South Wales wouldn’t shut Brisbane residents out before then.

Brisbane Airport was like a ghost town on Tuesday morning. More than half the flights were cancelled and I’m sure many more were cancelled later on in the day. A flight attendant announced he was expecting 32 passengers on the Sydney-bound flight, but it seemed like there was only 10 of us. We were told to fill in an entry declaration form and abide by Brisbane’s lockdown rules for the next 3 days. This message was repeated a few times throughout the short flight, but at no point did anyone—Brisbane Airport staff, Virgin flight crew or the state government—tell us we needed a legitimate reason to enter New South Wales. This turned out to be a bit of a drama when I got off the plane, but I was eventually granted entry. Another passenger wasn’t so lucky.

Meeting the owners

I’d been in regular communication with the couple since responding to their TrustedHousesitters listing so it felt like I kind of knew them when we met up. Julien and Ariane made a French eggplant dish for dinner and apple crumble for dessert, and I got to try their home-brewed ginger beer. They told me they started brewing their own beer during last year’s lockdown. We also talked about their previous house sitters and about some of the sits I’ve done. I learned they’ve been in Australia for 4 years since moving over from France in their mid/late 20s and travelled to more places within Australia than I have. We continued the conversation at a nearby gin bar before calling it a night.

Starting the sit

I spent a short amount of time with Julien and Ariane again on Friday morning before they left for Darwin. Pixel, their cat, a Scottish Shorthair, was quick to jump on my suitcase and inspect my backpack. It wasn’t long before I realised Pixel had to suss out everything I brought back to the apartment. This included sniffing, then lying on, brown paper bags and shoving his head in my takeaway dinners.

Not only is Pixel incredibly inquisitive, he’s a creature of habit. He would jump on the bed at the same time every morning demanding pets and attention in hope of being fed. He’d spend his evenings relaxing on his window bed, or what Julien calls the ‘recharge station’, before demanding dinner. I was told Pixel’s favourite thing is an afternoon birdwatching session on the balcony and he enjoys chasing flies, too. Pixel was always supervised outside, but even predictable Pixel has the potential to be unpredictable sometimes. Pixel actually reminds me of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland and we all know what he was like.

Pixel was relatively easy to care for. All he wanted was food, some attention and/or to be let out on the balcony. He’d meow occasionally and it was usually for one of those things. He tried to escape out the front door a few times, but he didn’t go far. Just a few metres down the hall.

Getting around

The couple’s Surry Hills apartment was the perfect base for exploring the city. Buses come every couple of minutes along Oxford and Crown streets, or I could walk a bit further to get the light rail or train. Oxford Street, to one side of the apartment, is known for its gay and lesbian community. Crown Street, to the other side of the apartment, is all cafes, bars and restaurants in both directions. Deciding what to eat—and from where—with so many choices was always difficult.

Speaking of food, there was one thing that took some getting used to. The New South Wales COVID check in app. I had to check in *and* out of each place I dined in at as well as having to check in/out at the supermarket and on the bus. Some retail stores even wanted you to check in. Checking out of a store is something I would always forget to do.

Things to do

There’s no shortage of things to see and do in Sydney. I could’ve easily spent another week exploring.

Australian National Maritime Museum

I went to the Australian National Maritime Museum with the sole intention of seeing Wildlife Photographer of the Year, but another exhibition intrigued me just as much. Everything featured in Beach Couture: A Haute Mess was found on the beach or floating in the ocean. One outfit had been made from underwear left behind at Coogee Beach and Gordons Bay.

Markets

There’s no shortage of markets in Sydney. I went to the Surry Hills one (first Saturday of the month), Glebe Markets (every Saturday), Paddington Markets (every Saturday) and Bondi Markets (every Sunday). There’s also Paddy’s Markets in the CBD. Paddy’s is open all day every day, and is very big on Australian souvenirs. I don’t think you’ll find anything handmade here, but it’s still worth a look.

Watsons Bay and South Head Heritage trail

I decided to get a ferry one afternoon and randomly went with the one going to Watsons Bay. Watsons Bay is the second—and last—stop on the route before the ferry goes back to the CBD. There’s a few smaller beaches in Watsons Bay and the South Head Heritage trail up to Hornby Lighthouse offers a scenic, relatively easy walk. I didn’t know about this trail prior to getting the ferry, but random adventures are usually the best ones.

Bondi Beach

Easter Sunday was spent at Bondi Beach. It was my first time checking out the Bondi Markets and attempting the Bondi to Bronte walk. The couple warned me these beach walks would be very popular over the break and they were right. It seemed like half of Sydney was at Bondi on Easter Sunday. I had lunch at a vegan Lebanese restaurant across from the beach and tried their vegan gelato. Their website says it’s ‘cashew nut based … refined sugar free, gluten free’. It’s pretty good considering it’s vegan.

Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains are beautiful. I visited Katoomba and Leura, and went to Echo Point and Elysian Rock lookouts. You have to pay for parking at Echo Point ($4.40/hour (a bit of a rip-off considering you’re ~100km out of the city)), but it has the best view of the Three Sisters. I had hoped to stop in at Blackheath while I was out there, but there’s no way I would’ve had the hire car back by 6pm. It took almost 2.5 hours to get back to Sydney despite heading off at 3.30pm.

Newtown

Newtown is in Sydney’s inner west which is somewhere I haven’t ventured ’til now. People’s houses and the streets are decorated with murals, and there’s lots of interesting shops. It’s a very diverse part of the city.

Waverley Cemetery

Cemeteries aren’t for everyone, but the Waverley Cemetery is definitely worth a look. It sits atop cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and is situated between Bronte and Clovelly beaches. There’s always people passing through—making it seem a bit less morbid and depressing—as it’s on the Bondi to Coogee walk. This walk is another thing worth doing.

Next stop

My next stop is home. Brisbane’s snap lockdown is over, but I believe we still have to wear masks for another week. I don’t have any upcoming house and cat sits planned, but I’ve updated my destinations list to include Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. A winter sit out that way would be amazing.

Where house and cat sitting took me in 2019

Where house and cat sitting took me in 2019

My first house and cat sit for 2019 was at the end of my December–January winter trip to the United States. I spent just over a week in Santa Fe, New Mexico, looking after a feral cat called Kitty Rumi.

The Santa Fe home—like most homes in New Mexico—was Pueblo style. This is the traditional architecture of the Pueblo Indians who built most things with adobe bricks. I would describe the lady’s house as a cute clay shack. It’s definitely one of the more ‘simple’ homes I’ve stayed in, but not in a bad way. I feel it’s just how homes are designed in New Mexico.

I remember leaving the house one night to walk 20 minutes down the road to get dinner. It was the only time I’d left the house that day because I spent most of it sleeping. It was snowing on and off, it was cold, and it was nearing the end of my trip. I was tired. Anyway, I walked to Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Café where I got a Mediterranean pasta dish and stopped in at Carl’s Jr for my diet coke. I was so excited to get home and eat the pasta—I’d heard great things about Annapurna’s. And everything on the menu sounded so good.

I got back to the house and tried to unlock the door. I’d locked both locks despite the lady saying not to lock the top one. I thought this was more of a ‘I don’t lock the top lock because it’s a safe area’ rather than a ‘DON’T LOCK THE TOP LOCK BECAUSE WE CAN’T UNLOCK IT’. I tried several times. With all the different keys. The top lock wouldn’t budge. I went around the side hoping I could open the glass door where my room was. Nope. Then I went around the back hoping to unlock the back doors. I can’t remember the exact setup, but something prevented me from unlocking the screen door. ‘Well, shit,’ I thought. ‘What am I going to do?’ My phone was unable to call or text anyone because my plan had expired, and all I had was WiFi access. I was able to message (thank you, iPhone) the lady explaining what’d happened. She told me her boyfriend would be over to help out. He lived up the road. Thank god. He was eventually able to open the door and I learned never to lock the top lock again. If it wasn’t for the boyfriend, I don’t know what I would’ve done. Stuck outside forever in the cold. With my pasta and diet coke.

I returned home to Brisbane just before Australia Day. I then did my first local sit for a couple in Paddington over the long weekend in May. This coincided with my 29th birthday. I’ll be looking after Kush Kush for a third time over the next few days. Not long after, I left on my longest house and cat sitting trip yet. I was in the US from mid-June to the first week in August. My first stop was Las Vegas where I was staying in a hotel. I hired a car so I could make it to some of the state’s more interesting attractions before flying to Nashville for my first cat sit of the trip.

I made my way to 12South where I was greeted by cats Nancy and Griffin. Both ladies are quite old and I’ve learned Griffin has recently passed away. I think she was 19. The most memorable (entertaining?) thing from this sit was seeing them drink their water from a glass, not a bowl. I also learned Nashville was full of drunk tourists, but I’m still keen to go back. Just not in the summer.

I then flew out for Austin where I met the couple I was sitting for at the airport. These guys stick out in my mind because they were so… likeable? And personable. Their apartment was in a great location. Pretty much opposite the flagship Whole Foods store and in a less busy part of downtown Austin. Their cat, Shady, was another character. I remember he’d sit on the stove and I’d freak out. Even though I never used the stove, it just made me nervous.

After two weeks in Austin, where it was incredibly humid, I flew out to Seattle. I was very happy to be flying into a cooler city. One where it usually rains at least once a day. I was technically cat sitting in an area that’s not quite Seattle, but is about 20–30 minutes from downtown. I still find it easier to say it was Seattle. The actual neighbourhood is called Lake Forest Park. This sit was memorable for a few reasons. The cats were cute, sure. And the view of Lake Washington was great. But the couple were very particular. Highly strung. And I couldn’t quite gauge that from their TrustedHousesitters listing or the FaceTime chat I had with the husband. Despite it probably being my least favourite sit, I was thankful to get a five-star review out of it. 

I took an overnight flight from Seattle to Birmingham, Alabama, for my last sit. This home will be hard to beat in terms of being the most fun and artsy. Clint and Vero, the owners, have also just left on an adventure. Each room in their house was full of unique art pieces they’d made or collected from their travels. They’d even renovated the main shower to resemble (or at least in my mind) a cave/rock climbing wall. I’m not quite sure how to describe it. And their cat, Zoey, still remains the only one-eyed cat I’ve cared for.

Not long after flying back to Australia, I discovered Aussie House Sitters. I’d check the site each morning for sits in Tasmania in the hope of finding one that:

  • was in a central enough location (so, like, Hobart or Launceston)
  • only had a cat or cats (i.e. no dogs or other animals)
  • was more than a few days, but wasn’t longer than two weeks.

I found one in Launceston and signed up.

The Launceston sit was probably my favourite one this year. The home was so homely. The cats—two young Birmans—were adorable. Literally. Their names were Dora and Abel. The lady calls them ‘The Adorables’. And the city was beautiful. My Uber driver on the way to Hobart Airport was like: ‘Launceston is a bit boring, isn’t it?’ I totally disagree. I guess if I didn’t have a car, it would have been very hard to get around and I wouldn’t have been able to visit half the places I did. But I definitely loved Launceston and would love to go back.

And now for right now. Today’s my last day looking after Jaspurr. Another Ragdoll. ‘Do you only look after this type [Ragdoll] of cat?’ my friend’s sister asked. Her question made me laugh, but I can see how she’d think that. Jaspurr’s the first cat I’ve looked after who had his nails painted. Green and red glitter for Christmas. Festive.

This sit began on Christmas Eve and was at a property in my hometown. I decided to take it as a kind of mini vacation. And it has been just that. The couple’s apartment is in West End, but it’s kind of like a community of its own here. Their street is very resorty and I keep thinking I’m at the coast. Despite apartments everywhere you look, it’s very quiet. And the pub down the road’s my new favourite. The Montague Hotel. They have $10 espresso martinis all day every day.

Next stop

What’s in store for 2020? Well, I’m sure it comes as no surprise I’d like to keep exploring the US. And while I have a list of places I’d like to visit, it isn’t exhaustive. 

Cat sitting closer to home

Cat sitting closer to home

House and cat sitting in your city or town can be a great way to start out. You’ll get some ‘experience’ and hopefully a five-star review. But it wasn’t until May 2019—after completing 11 sits in the United States—that I accepted an invitation for an overnight sit in Brisbane (my hometown).

The Brisbane couple own a one-bedroom cottage in Paddington and have a one-year-old Ragdoll. His name is Kush Kush. Well, actually, his name is Pudding. But it was Kush Kush when I looked after him back in May.

The couple adopted Kush Kush nearly a year ago after their other Ragdoll, Charlie, passed away. These guys originally reached out to me before Charlie died, but I was cat sitting in East Boston at the time. I’d never been fussed on the idea of house sitting in Brisbane. House and cat sitting was more of a holiday thing for me. But I’m glad the couple kept my details. Paddington is one Brisbane suburb I’d happily house sit in.

A few weeks back, the same couple reached out to me again via TrustedHousesitters. They asked if I was free to look after Kushy in mid-October. But for two nights this time. I was very much available.

The second sit

When I went to meet the couple on Friday afternoon, they mentioned they’re planning an overseas trip next year and asked if I’d be interested in a substantially longer sit. The dates aren’t set, but they said they’d get back to me ASAP because they seem to think I’m quite popular. Cute. They were also keen to hear about my last house and cat sitting holiday. They knew about the trip because they’d messaged me while I was looking after Nancy and Griffin in Nashville.

Kush Kush was out in the garden when I arrived. He’d almost doubled in size since I saw him last. But he was just as cute. The couple now have a cat flap built into the back door to give him easy access to the garden, but they had to tape the flap up because he refused to use it otherwise. Even with some adjustments, he still seems to struggle with it. He just fits through. And he much prefers to meow at the door to be let back inside.

Sunday morning came around pretty quickly and it was time to start packing up. Bed stripped, dishes washed, bins emptied, cat fed. But where was Kush Kush? I wanted to bring him inside before I left. This is the second time I’ve been ready to leave and the cat’s nowhere to be seen. It happened the other week with my friends’ cat, Dorian. After a few looks in the garden and shaking Kushy’s box of treats, I wandered around the side. Again. I lifted up a tarp. Still no Kushy. But he must have been nearby because started to meow. Thank God. I grabbed him and locked the door behind me. I messaged the couple to let them know I was heading off and to contact me if they had any problems/concerns when they got home. “Many thanks for looking after Puddo and the cottage. See you next time,” was the reply.

Next stop

Next week I’m off to Tasmania. I’ll be staying in Hobart for a few nights before driving to Launceston for a 10-day house and cat sit.

What’s next: Two years on from my first house and cat sit

What’s next: Two years on from my first house and cat sit

With no new cat sitting content to share right now, I’ve decided to reflect on my house sitting journey so far. I’ll touch on where I’m off to in the next few weeks and where I hope to make it to in 2020.

The journey began about this time two years ago. When I responded to my first ad on TrustedHousesitters. After celebrating the 2017 holiday season with Harvey, I spent the following Christmas in Boulder, Colorado, tending to my favourite cat so far, Nika. This was my fourth house and cat sitting trip since starting out.

My last international cat sit saw me brave the humidity in Birmingham, Alabama, where one-eyed rescue cat Zoey cat kept me company for two weeks before I boarded the train for New Orleans. I had a week ‘off’ in New Orleans, i.e. no cats to care for.

I’ve gone on to do another 14 house and cat sits since December 2017. I’ve sat for the same couple twice. I’ve done three separate sits in Seattle. Meeting very different personality types each time. And I’ve been invited back to look after several cats I’ve cared for. If only America wasn’t so far away.

A bit closer to home, I did a one-night sit for a couple in my hometown. I’ll be looking after their cat again this weekend. They’ve got a lovely, spacious garden for an inner city property. The only downside to this place is your neighbour’s property seems like it’s less than a metre away. Their Ragdoll, Kush Kush, is another memorable character.

I looked after my friends’ cat for a week in September while they holidayed in Sri Lanka. My friends’ neighbourhood is another good one. Yeerongpilly. Their cat previously belonged to an old manager of mine and they took him on at the beginning of the year.

Then just the other day I saw an ad for a sit in Savannah, Georgia. Savannah’s a city I’ve recently become interested in and the sit would’ve seen me celebrate Halloween in the US. This is still something I’m keen to do, but it won’t be this year. While waiting to hear back about the Savannah sit, I saw an ad on Aussie House Sitters for a sit in Launceston, Tasmania. I’ve been wanting to go back to Tasmania for quite a while and I’ll often search my usual sites for Hobart sits. While it’s not Hobart, Launceston will be somewhere new to explore. I spoke with the homeowner a day or two after responding to her ad, and she said she’d love to have me. She told me she’s used a live-in sitter before and loves the idea of being able to offer her home to someone in exchange for cat care. For anyone who’s looking to get a house sit in Australia, Aussie House Sitters seems to have more Australian listings than all the other sites combined.

I’m also keeping my eye on ads for Singapore sits. It’d be a nice, short getaway over the Christmas break. Most workplaces in Australia close from Christmas Eve up ‘til New Year’s Day and it’s not that much more expensive to fly at that time of year. Brisbane to Singapore return usually starts at around $500 AUD and it goes up a couple of hundred dollars around Christmas. It’s a lot more affordable than planning a house and cat sitting trip to somewhere in Europe during December. And, of course, I’m always looking to return to the United States. Savannah and Charleston are high on my list for cities I’d like to house sit in next.

Now for some self promotion. For anyone who’s interested, I post quite regularly to the One cat at a time Facebook page. There’s more cat photos and less pretty scenery shared on the Facebook page. The cat photos seem to generate a fair bit of engagement and interaction between the people who like/follow the page. I also had my house and cat sitting article published in the October edition of Travel Play Live. It’s is an independent travel magazine produced in Australia. You can buy it online or at one of 800+ newsagencies across Australia.