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.

How to become a house and pet sitter

How to become a house and pet sitter

A lot of people have asked me how they can get started as a house and pet sitter, and it’s really not that complicated.

I managed to get the first house and cat sit I applied for despite having no house sitting experience. What’s crazier is I was in Australia and the sit I applied for was on the other side of the world. What made the San Franciscan couple pick me? I’m not sure, but I’ll share what I do know applying for sits.

Sign up to a house sitting website

I’ve signed up to several house sitting websites over the years, but remained loyal to TrustedHousesitters. Aussie House Sitters has become a recent favourite largely because Australians still can’t travel overseas. But this doesn’t mean it’ll be your go-to, especially if you’re not looking to house sit in Australia.

Have a look at each of the websites before you decide which one to sign up to. TrustedHousesitters is good for those looking to travel to multiple countries while country-specific house sitting websites, like Aussie House Sitters and House Sitters America, might be a better option for those looking for something closer to home.

Work on your profile

Your sitter profile is like your resume. It’s where you should highlight what skills and attributes you possess, and talk up any house sitting experience you have. If you don’t have any experience, don’t worry too much. TrustedHousesitters has a ‘References’ section where people in your life (e.g. an employer) can comment on your character. I asked about three or four people to leave me a reference before I responded to Sara’s ad. I think these references helped a lot. Other sites let you pay for an ID verification badge or police check. While I’ve never been asked for either of these, I can see why some owners might favour applicants with these added checks.

Personalise your preferences

Owners can search for sitters without putting an ad up hence why it’s worth specifying the places and pets you’re interested in when you create your profile. You can select more than one pet type and as many locations as you like. You can also select no pets, but that seems like a strange thing to do.

Upload photos with pets

Most people on house sitting websites have pets which is why it’s a good idea to upload a few photos of you with the animals in your life. If you volunteer at a farm or animal rescue, or foster animals in your home, these are other photos you could include as well. Remember to mention you volunteer or foster on your profile, too. If you don’t own a pet, it’s OK to upload a photo with someone else’s so long as it’s an animal you’re comfortable with.

Start applying

Once you’ve found a sit you’re interested in, the next step is to respond to the ad. I think this initial communication is just as important as your nicely-worded sitter profile. If you can’t articulate why you want the sit, you’re not going to have much luck. You should be able to get your point across in a few short sentences because no-one wants to read paragraph after paragraph.

Don’t send the same message to every owner you reach out to. Personalise the message. Mention their pets’ names, tell them why you’re keen to house sit in that location. Use the person’s name—instead of saying ‘Dear sir’, ‘Ms’, etc.—once or twice. If their pets have special needs, let them know if you’ve administered injections and/or are confident in medicating animals.

Be prompt

You’ve got to be quick. I’ve found some owners give the sit to the first person who responds to their ad. Others start reviewing applications after they get 3 or 4 responses. If there’s an ad that interests you, message the owner as soon as you can because it might be taken down by the time you get home.

Other things to consider

These are a few things I’ve learned on my house sitting journey and I thought they’re worth touching on.

  • You’re not going to get every sit you apply for. I’ve been unsuccessful many times.
  • Half the people I’ve sat for have wanted to Skype or Facetime before confirming me as their sitter. Others felt my application letter, profile and reviews were enough to make a decision.
  • Owners might suss you out on social media—make sure there’s nothing inappropriate on your accounts. Or at least make them private.
  • Even though most sits are more about pet care than home care, some sitters will be asked to maintain the pool, mow the lawn or weed the garden. Most ads touch on what chores are required and more detail is provided at a later stage.
  • Sitters need to be flexible. You can’t ask to arrive a few days earlier or leave halfway through the sit because that works better for you. You need to work in with the owner’s schedule.
  • Things can go wrong. Appliances break, pets can go missing, get sick or die; pipes burst, you might accidentally start a small fire. You need to be prepared to make yourself available to have these things fixed or take the person’s pet to the vet. This can put a damper on your holiday, but it’s all part of being a sitter.

Final bit of advice

Like I said, it’s really not that hard to get your first house sit. You just have to be able to sell yourself and back up those claims with experience (or kindly worded references). It’s like applying for a job. Don’t overthink it and just go for it.

A Christmas cat sit in Australia’s Top End

A Christmas cat sit in Australia’s Top End

I don’t think anyone plans to visit Darwin during the summer, but I decided to brave the humidity when I accepted a house and cat sit commencing mid-December.

It’d been a good eight or nine months since I’d travelled anywhere, and this meant some Australian destinations had suddenly become more appealing. I started to think Darwin—in Australia’s Northern Territory—might be a good option for a Christmas getaway. I’d never been to Darwin, the Northern Territory was letting Queenslanders in without having to quarantine and there hadn’t been a COVID-19 outbreak up there in months.

As luck had it, something came up on Aussie House Sitters. An almost month-long sit in Darwin. There was a bit of back and forth during my initial conversation with Pepper the Persian’s owner because I was in Queensland and these guys are in the Northern Territory. I also had to check with work, check border restrictions, and look at flight availability, but we got there in the end. I was flying to Darwin on 16 December 2020.

One four-hour flight later and I’d arrived in Australia’s Top End. ‘The weather isn’t as bad as they say,’ I thought to myself as I exited the airport. But that’s because it rained less than five minutes ago. I was now on my way to meet the couple I was sitting. One of the first things I remember them telling me about Darwin was it’s unusually busy for this time of year. They said most businesses close for the wet season because there’s no backpackers to employ and tourist numbers are down. I guess I chose the best wet season to venture up here because not much was closed.

The couple’s apartment complex was a bit of an unusual one—instead of a single high-rise tower, it was made up of five or six four-level buildings called ‘residences’. They told me they’d just finished moving all their stuff in to this particular apartment over the weekend. They’d been living in the complex for a while, but in a one-bedroom apartment in a neighbouring residence. With their upcoming holiday, Christmas, and everything else going on in the world, they didn’t have time to unpack some of their stuff. The main bathroom was being used to house their art collection. But because they’ve got two bathrooms in the new place, showering wasn’t an issue.

Pepper popped her head out of the second bedroom as if to say ‘Who’s this?’ She was much smaller than I imaged. And she’s got the cutest lion cut. These guys get her shaved regularly so she doesn’t succumb to the heat. I was then briefed on to prepare Pepper’s breakfast and dinner. She gets a small serve of mince mixed with pumpkin twice a day. Her treats include a small bowl of biscuits no more than three times a week, and a sachet of wet food once or twice a week.

I was also shown the pool and gym areas, and told the beach was five minutes down the road. Fannie Bay is really beautiful, but you’re not allowed to swim there because crocodiles and box jellyfish might be lurking. The couple mentioned I could walk to the CBD in less than an hour, but I would be crazy to do that:

  1. given how sweaty I’d be, and
  2. when the bus comes every half hour.

Darwin’s bus service proved to be somewhat reliable for a smaller city. The bus I would be catching most days ran every half hour regardless of whether it’s a weekday, Saturday or Sunday, or public holiday. And it showed up every single time. On time, too.

The first day

I returned to the apartment the next morning for the first day of the sit. I noticed an A4 print out in the lift detailing the complex’s cyclone procedure. Cyclones—not something that occurred to me ’til this moment. And, thankfully, not something I had to worry about in the end.

Pepper hid in the second bedroom for about 20 minutes, but was sitting with me on the couch in no time. While Pepper spends most of her day in the second bedroom, she enjoys relaxing on the balcony just as much. Cats on a balcony makes me a little nervous—you never know if they’re going to jump over or not. The couple said Pepper is good like that, but we agreed you never know what they’ll decide to do one day.

A few days later

I decided to hire a car so I could visit places not reachable on Darwin’s public transport system. Hiring a car up here meant a ridiculous amount of rules I haven’t encountered anywhere else in Australia, the USA or Japan. Big name rental companies have a limit on the amount of kilometres you can do each day. You can do more, of course, but you’re billed per kilometre. The Budget Rent A Car customer service lady then decided to tell me I’m only covered for accidents within 50km of Darwin CBD after I had paid an extra $100 for insurance. Thanks. And I was advised not to drive between dusk and dawn because I won’t be covered either.

My first stop was at the ‘world famous’ Humpty Doo Hotel. My uncle said this pub was worth a visit. He remembers it being a bit of an unruly joint when he was here in the ’80s or ’90s, but I knew I wasn’t going to see much at midday. Just a couple of tradies having a beer on their lunch break. I did get a bit of a shock when someone called out to me. Turns out it was one of the ladies from my Kakadu tour.

I continued down Arnhem Highway to get to Window on the Wetlands for my crocodile cruise. There’s several companies doing crocodile cruises, but I booked with Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruise. All of them charge about the same price and each tour goes for an hour. We saw about six or seven crocodiles in this time, and one of them was the rare white-headed girl called Pearl. The guy told us she’s the only one in the world like this. And they think she’s related to another white-headed crocodile, called Michael Jackson, who was shot in 2014 not long after he ate a local fisherman.

The next day was spent venturing out to Adelaide River. The town’s bar is known for its taxidermy’d buffalo who featured in Crocodile Dundee. It’s also full of fun memorabilia dating back to World War II. But other than the bar and rail museum, which was closed, there’s not much else to see in Adelaide River. I planned to drive straight through to Robin Falls, but the road was partially flooded. Another big no-no in the rental car. So to Berry Springs it was.

By now it was Christmas Day. The first day I got to relax. I slept most of the morning before getting lunch. Hardly anything is open in Brisbane on Christmas Day and I thought Darwin—being way smaller than Brisbane—would be the same. Nope. I was able to dine in at the local momo and kebab shop, and there was no public holiday surcharge. Christmas lunch cost me $13. I then went for a walk along Fannie Bay and called mum for Christmas before calling it a day.

The rest of my time up here was spent sweating it out around Darwin and relaxing with Pepper. Pepper was incredibly easy to care for. She didn’t lash out once. I enjoyed seeing her chase flies at night, pole dance up her cat tree and run through her tunnel at lightning fast speed. I think everything Pepper does is made funnier because she has that classic Persian face.

Things to do

Street art

Street art wasn’t something I was expecting to see much of up here, but I was wrong. Austin Lane, Shadforth Lane and West Lane are good places to start, but Darwin has murals scattered all over the CBD and suburbs.

Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory Darwin

The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory Darwin is definitely more museum than art gallery, but that’s how I like it. There’s a Cyclone Tracy exhibition, crocodile Sweetheart has his own display, and a huge shed out the back houses 20+ boats and canoes from all over the Southern Hemisphere

Fannie Bay Gaol

Fannie Bay Gaol is part of museum and free to visit. The tour guide gave everyone ‘homework’ that needed to be presented before we could leave. He asked me to tell him the name of the gaol’s cat and when it died, and the names of the last two men hanged there. He seemed genuinely excited to hear the answers and helped me navigate the The Territory Check In app.

World War II oil storage tunnels

Not something on my original itinerary, but I went to visit the World War II oil storage tunnels on my last weekend in Darwin. The tunnels were built to hide and protect oil supplies from the Japanese. It’s a pretty interesting attraction and the guy who runs it told me it’s often hired out for art shows.

Litchfield National Park

I visited Litchfield National Park on an AAT Kings tour. I hate group tours, but, sadly, it was cheaper to do it like this. We visited Florence Falls, Tolmer Falls and Wangi Falls, and made stops at some termite mounds and Howard Springs. I planned to visit most of these places on my own, but Darwin’s car rental rules put an end to that plan.

Nightcliff Beach

I walked up to Nightcliff Beach after being disappointed by the suburb’s Sunday markets. Unlike some of the other beaches up here, there’s plenty of green space to sit and watch the ocean. There’s even a coffee van/cart/caravan across from the jetty.

East Point Reserve

East Point Reserve is at the back of Fannie Bay. It’s a nice stretch of coastline, with more amazing red-, orange-, yellow- and white-coloured rocks. East Point Reserve reminds me of Tasmania’s Bay of Fires except you can’t swim up here.

Cafes

Darwin has no shortage of good cafes. My favourites were Laneway Coffee and Ruby G’s. Ruby G’s has two locations—in the city and at Coconut Grove. The Coconut Grove cafe has more dishes and pastries to choose from. Ray’s Patisserie and Cafe isn’t bad either. It’s one of the only coffee shops in the city open from 6am. And Salvator’s has a good selection of cakes.

Things not do

Parap Village Markets

I was told the laksa at the Parap market is probably the best in Australia, but I couldn’t think of anything worse than eating something hot when it’s already 32°C at 10am. There’s long lines for ATMs and the queues to order food are even worse.

Kakadu National Park

A lot of people come to the Northern Territory to visit Kakadu National Park, but I don’t think the AAT Kings tour showcased the most memorable parts of the park. I know you can’t see much in one day, but I wasn’t wow’d by the billabong cruise or Aboriginal art walk. Especially when I paid nearly $300. Most of the day is spent onboard the bus, with only two or three hours (if that) dedicated to activities.

Nightcliff Markets

There wasn’t much on offer at the Nightcliff Markets. A few people selling clothes, someone else selling plants and some hot food stalls. It still drew a substantial crowd, but I can’t work out why.

Darwin tips

If anyone’s reading this and thinks they’d like to visit Darwin, here’s some things I’ll share with you first.

  • Buy calamine lotion and hydrocortisone cream. This is for the heat rash you’re bound to get. I developed heat rash after a mere two hours in Darwin, and had to apply the hydrocortisone cream once or twice a day for the rest of my stay.
  • Invest in a thermos water bottle—cold water won’t stay cold for long without one.
  • Your hair will get really knotty from the humidity. I don’t have a solution for this, but I can’t wait to put a proper treatment in it later today.
  • Take bug spray if you’re doing a crocodile cruise. There’s flies aplenty along the Adelaide River.
  • Always take an umbrella with you. The rain will come and go throughout the day, and it can storm in the morning and again in the afternoon.

Next stop

This trip was limited to just the one house and cat sit so my next stop is home. Or at least I hope I can get home. Brisbane was declared a COVID-19 hot spot after a quarantine hotel cleaner contracted the UK strain of the virus. Once in Brisbane, assuming my flight doesn’t get cancelled, I’ll be there for the next six months at least. That’s because my contract job was extended until the end of the financial year. I’ll re-assess my travel plans towards the end of May.

One final thing. For anyone who’s interested (and I know there’s a few of you), there’s more photos of Pepper on my cat sitting Facebook page.

How COVID-19 affected my cat sitting travels in 2020

How COVID-19 affected my cat sitting travels in 2020

I was fortunate enough to spend about three weeks house and cat sitting in the US earlier this year before COVID-19 wreaked havoc on all our lives.

This was back in February and March, and I was in Charleston and New York City. Coronavirus wasn’t a big concern in Charleston. It was talked about on the news, but it was business as usual for the best city in the United States. There was no social distancing, and nobody was wearing a mask or latex gloves. But it started to get serious when I got to New York City. There was hardly anyone on the subway, tours were getting cancelled, and almost everywhere was sold out of wipes and hand sanitiser. Museums and galleries closed, and I wasn’t able to check out the Morgan Library before it shut its doors. I did, however, get my photo taken for the New York Post before flying back to Australia a few days earlier than planned.

It was a good thing I changed my flight when I did because the Virgin Australia flight attendants announced it was now a full flight. Clare—the lady I was cat sitting for—decided it was best to fly home early, too. Her flight from Mexico arrived around the same time I flew out of LAX.

My last-minute change meant I got stuck with a middle seat and I found myself sitting between two other Australian girls. One was about 20 and she told us she got a diving scholarship (this is a thing?) at a university in Arizona. The other girl, I think she was a little older than me, went to Los Angeles to meet up with a guy she had been messaging on Instagram.

Some 14 hours later, we arrived at Brisbane International Airport. We were told biosecurity officers would be escorting two passengers off the plane before anyone could disembark. These passengers had let the flight attendants know they were experiencing COVID-like symptoms just before we touched down. I remember the crew being shocked neither person asked for a mask or mentioned the possibility they were sick. Everyone else was given a COVID one-pager before getting to passport control and customs, and then we were free to roam the airport before making our way home.

The next two weeks were spent confined to my house. I guess I should be grateful I was able to quarantine at home. International arrivals must now quarantine at a government arranged hotel at a cost of $2,000 per person. What’s worse is they have to foot the bill themselves.

Later in the year

Australians have been banned from travelling overseas since the end of March. There’s a few exceptions, but anyone who’s considering it must seek approval from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Those who’ve thought about taking an interstate holiday instead have had to contend with the constant closing and re-opening of state and territory borders, and these rules can take effect almost immediately.

With no real travel plans, I accepted two short sits in Brisbane. One was just for the weekend and the other was a week-long sit in West End. I’d looked after both cats before—Kushy is kind of a regular and the other cat, Jaspurr, is the one I cared for last Christmas. I then spent another weekend with Kushy in October.

Christmas 2020 plans

I’d been keeping my eye on Aussie House Sitters hoping to score a Christmas sit in Hobart, Perth or Darwin. Tasmania remained closed to the rest of Australia ‘til late October and Western Australia only just opened up. This meant Hobart and Perth were a no-go. The Northern Territory was my only option unless I wanted to stay put.

There was a sit in Darwin that piqued my interest and it was all confirmed a few days after responding to the couple’s ad. Even though I accepted it back in September, there was some unexpected uncertainty about it going ahead. The couple planned to travel to Adelaide. Adelaide was declared a COVID-19 hotspot on 16 November 2020. Not long after, the entire state of South Australia went into a six-day lockdown. This very strict lockdown was then relaxed one or two days in when the state government learned a hotel security guard lied to them. Adelaide’s no longer a declared hotspot and everyone’s holiday plans are back on.

Darwin for the Christmas break

Darwin wasn’t on my list of must visit places before COVID hit, but I’m pretty excited about spending December and January up north. This is probably a little longer than most people would spend in Darwin, but I’ll be hiring a car for some of the trip and I have a list of places I want to visit. It’ll also be nice to do nothing after picking up a fulltime contract job in July. I think this is the longest I’ve gone without taking an interstate or international trip.

Daytime temperatures will be around 35°C and nights won’t be much cooler. This sit couldn’t be more different from my Boulder house and cat sitting experience two Christmases ago. Christmas Day was a mere 2 or 3°C, and I was snowed in on New Year’s Eve. The closest I’ll get to snow is hail during an afternoon thunderstorm.

I must complete a border entry form no more than seven days before arriving in Darwin and present it upon arrival at Darwin International Airport. I’ll be keeping an eye on the news while I’m there in case anything changes for Queensland or the Northern Territory. I—like most Australians holidaying across the country—want to avoid hotel quarantine at all costs.

Cat sitting amidst coronavirus hysteria in New York City

Cat sitting amidst coronavirus hysteria in New York City

I arrived at Clare’s Brooklyn apartment after my bus from Baltimore was not only 45 minutes late, but made four stops along the highway because the engine was overheating. After stopping for a fourth time, another Greyhound bus pulled up to let us on.

I was then successful at navigating my way around Port Authority, where the bus terminates, until it came time to find the correct subway platform. Little did I know there was four floors of trains at this station. I did, however, work this out after five minutes of only 7-line trains passing on either side of me.

When I eventually got to Clare’s, I was greeted by one of her cats. Little Hans. He’s very social, but Clare later told me he can be funny about the company he keeps. We went on to discuss Clare’s travel plans. Clare was booked to go to Italy, but she decided to change her plans last week. She was now going to Spain. We ran through most of the things I needed to know about the house and cat sit before I showered and went to bed. We ran through the other stuff—like rubbish, the several keys and mailbox—the next morning.

Day one

Clare left for the airport on Wednesday evening and was sitting on her Barcelona bound plane, waiting for it to take off, when Donald Trump announced the European travel ban. She said half the plane got off and she followed not long after. Clare messaged me to say she’d be coming back home that night. She returned to the apartment at about 11.30pm and we discussed what we were going to do. She was considering rebooking flights to somewhere in Mexico, but we decided to chat about it again in the morning. This was the first time coronavirus had affected my plans all trip. I went to bed thinking I didn’t want to be in her space after her travel plans fell through. I was prepared to leave and return home earlier than expected, but I was hoping it didn’t come to that.

Day two

The next morning, Clare read US citizens and permanent residents would be allowed back into the country if they chose to continue with their European travel plans. She rebooked her flight for that night. Clare then looked at the CDC website where they’d changed the status to red—‘Widespread sustained (ongoing) spread and restrictions on entry to the United States’—for most of Europe. Spain was off. Her plans, and mine, were uncertain again.

I left for the day and told her to message me whatever she decided to do. I said I could leave as early as Friday if she decided not to bother booking something a third time. I didn’t want to leave because I was having such a good time in New York. But, in reality, I wouldn’t be needed as a house and cat sitter. Clare messaged me while I was on my Tenement Museum tour and said she was now booked to go to Mexico on Friday morning.

Clare left for the city of Merida on Friday morning.

The cats

Enough about coronavirus. Both of Clare’s cats are former street cats. Little Hans, the older of the two, was found in Clare’s mum’s yard while I’m not 100% sure about Bonnie’s story. I do know she was pregnant when she was originally taken in by someone else.

Hans is very friendly. He likes to sit on the bed with you and knead into your chest. He’ll sit with you—on the same chair—when you’re at the dining room table. He’d place himself under the covers most nights, but would jump off the bed only to return about half an hour later.

Bonnie, the black and white cat, is a lot more reserved. But she’s very vocal. It took her a day or two to warm up to me. And even then, she was still a bit wary of me. Bonnie loves to be petted and her favourite spot is on Clare’s bed. She’s super special because she has one stumpy leg. That leg doesn’t have any toes. If you think of a pirate peg leg, that’s what one of her back legs looks like. It doesn’t cause her any pain, or interfere with her day-to-day living, and Clare thinks she was born like this.

Little Hans and Bonnie don’t really interact with each other—they just do their own thing. They don’t fight over food, or for attention, but Bonnie did hiss at Hans a few times.

About a week later

I was checking news.com.au each day to see what was happening with coronavirus in Australia and the US, and I learned I would have to self-isolate upon my return to Brisbane. That means spending 14 days at home. I then got a notification on Facebook about the US potentially stopping all incoming and outgoing flights within the next 48 to 72 hours. I thought it’d be best to leave as soon as I could. I called Delta on Monday morning to change my Thursday flight to Tuesday. I’d be flying out of LAX at 9.45pm on Tuesday.

Places to go

I have been to New York before so a lot of these recommendations wouldn’t necessarily appeal to a first timer. And some of the things I had planned to see where either closed, or non-operational, because of coronavirus. It was strange to see the streets, subway stations and trains empty, but it made getting around a lot more pleasant.

I wanted to see more of Williamsburg and Clare’s neighbourhood, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. Clare’s neighbourhood offered a convenient base for my time in New York City. It was close to several subway stations, and there were food options aplenty on nearby Nostrand Ave and Fulton Street.

Brooklyn Bridge Park

I haven’t walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, but Brooklyn Bridge Park was good enough for me. It gives you a great view of the Manhattan skyline and it was a short, direct train ride away from Clare’s place.

Tenement Museum

Turns out the Tenement Museum is close to where I stayed the first time I visited NYC. I even went to the gift shop on that trip, but I didn’t realise it had a museum attached to it.

A workmate actually recommended several of the tours, but I ended up going with Under one roof. It was interesting to hear about the different families who lived in the tenement (‘tenement’, as I learned, pretty much means ‘apartment building’) in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and how they’d come back as guests on the tour. I learned there was a Chinese Exclusion Act that was repealed in 1943. This then meant the US granted visas to up to 200 Chinese people each year.

Chelsea Market

The first thing I saw at Chelsea Market: ‘We have decided to close our store’ sign at the entrance to Anthropologie. I had a feeling this meant most things in Chelsea Market would be closed as well. But this was not the case. Thank God. My favourite stores in Chelsea Market were Posman Books (reminded me of Kinokuniya bookstore) and Pearl River Mart. Pearl River Mart sells a lot of Japanese things—Gudetama staff, Japanese sweets, etc. And I found a good Thai restuarant, Ayada Thai, inside.

The High Line

The High Line is directly above Chelsea Market. It’s a public space/park built on a former rail line. It goes for about 2km, and offers nice views of the Hudson River and Lower Manhattan. 

Smallpox Hospital ruins

I found out about the Smallpox Hospital ruins on Atlas Obscura. It’s located on Roosevelt Island which lies between Manhattan and Long Island. The island’s meant to be overrun with feral cats, but I only saw one. While the hospital ruins mightn’t interest everyone, if you keep walking down to Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, you’ll get a different view of the city. The park is free and wasn’t overrun with tourists (coronavirus could be to blame for this).

Museum of Sex

This one probably isn’t for everyone, but the Museum of Sex had a very interesting abortion exhibition. One of the ladies I learned about on the Witches of Old New York tour, Madame Restell, featured in it. Madame Restell spent 40 years performing abortions in New York City.

The museum also details the history of pornography and there’s a lot about webcamming.

Chinatown and Little Italy

I feel parts of Chinatown and Little Italy kind of overlap, but it’s a fun area to walk around. Street art everywhere you look, fun shops, and plenty of restaurants, bars and cafes.

World Trade Centre

I did a 9/11 memorial tour and museum visit (highly recommended) when I came in March 2017. As I was walking to Target on my first day, I happened to pass through the World Trade Centre site again. I could see there was all this new artwork, and they’d added tables and chairs. It offers a nice space to just sit back and people watch.

Williamsburg

I spent my last day wandering around Williamsburg. Mainly to look at street art. Williamsburg’s known for its street art scene. Candace, from my Charleston sit, also gave me a list of vintage stores to visit, but—of course—these were all closed because of coronavirus. I was really hoping to check out Catland, a curiosities-type store. But, again, it just wasn’t meant to be this time ’round.

Next stop

My stop next is home where I, like everyone flying into Australia, must self-isolate for two weeks. I’m not complaining about spending the next two weeks at home with my cat, but it does suck not being able to leave for a snack or coffee. Or groceries. And I’ll miss documenting all the coronavirus craziness in New York City.

I’m not sure when I’ll take off again, but let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later.