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

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.

Charleston: Cat sitting two cats with two very different personalities

Charleston: Cat sitting two cats with two very different personalities

I spent the last 10 days cat sitting two rescue kitties, Jasper and Mia, in one of the cutest homes in downtown Charleston. Owner Candace is incredibly kind and sort of like a Charleston icon, or at least that’s how I see her.

Candace offered to pick me up from the airport after my 30-hour journey from Brisbane, Australia. We hadn’t actually spoken or Facetime’d prior to my arrival, but when she pulled up in her Prius, it felt like I was being picked up by a friend. We’re about the same height and both have nose rings, but Candace is way more arty.

We drove straight to Candace’s place where she showed me around, and introduced me to her husband, Will, and one of the neighbours. Sarah, directly across from Candace and Will, is an African American lady who’s lived here forever. Turns out it’s Sarah’s 85th birthday soon. Candace said she wrote Sarah a ‘Happy 58th birthday’ card. Sarah laughed, did a little dance and said she feels young on the inside. Candace said Sarah’s always there to keep an eye on what’s happening and not much gets past her. I was then introduced to Jasper, the tabby-looking cat, and Mia, the petite Siamese, before calling it a night.

Despite living together for six years, Mia doesn’t like Jasper at all. They eat in separate rooms to avoid Jasper scoffing down Mia’s serve. And when you open the door to check how Mia’s going, Jasper barges in to lick whatever’s left behind. I’ve never met such a food-driven cat before. It’s entertaining, but it can get messy when you’re trying to scoop the cat food out at dinner time.

I’d often catch Jasper in the sink after I’d put the empty bowls in there. Sometimes he’d even go under the sink to rummage through the recycling bin. Licking the rinsed cat food cans. And he doesn’t just love cat food. Jasper enjoys human food, too. Candace and Will told me to put my food in the microwave or pantry if I need to step away otherwise Jasper will help himself to it. Just the other morning I caught him trying to rip open the plastic packaging that encased my Target cookies.

Jasper and Mia also have automatic feeders. One each, of course. But this is mainly to stop Jasper overeating. He’s on a strict-ish diet to keep his weight steady. I remember going to use the bathroom at 3am one time⁠—the feeders go off at 5.30am—and Jasper was patiently waiting beside his automatic feeder. He likes to check it multiple times throughout the day in case food has been magically been dispensed. And sometimes he’ll stick his paw in hoping for a few extra biscuits. Both cats drink from glasses, not bowls, like the two cats I looked after in Nashville.

Candace and Will’s home is in a very walkable part of Charleston. The closest cafe’s less than 100 metres down the road. You can walk to Hampton Park in about 10 minutes and the main attractions in downtown Charleston in about half an hour. There’s a bus stop around the corner and it’d probably get me downtown in less than 10 minutes, but I remember Candace saying the buses out here aren’t the best (i.e. mightn’t show up or are running late). Charleston seems to move at a slower pace, with most stores not opening ‘til 10am and even later on Sundays. But I think that’s what people like about this place—it has an easy-going vibe, and the locals are warm and friendly.

Places to go

Downtown Charleston is where most things are happening/located, but these were my favourites.

Historic Charleston City Market

This kind of market can be disastrous. Think Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne. But this Charleston one has a lot of locally made stuff and quality souvenirs. I told an older lady about my cat sitting travels while deciding which Charleston prints to buy from her.

Old City Jail

So doing the Charleston Haunted Jail Tour is the only way to see inside the Old City Jail. Kind of annoying and kind of definitely overpriced, nearly $45 AUD for a 45-minute tour, but it’s interesting.

America’s first female serial killer, Lavinia Fisher, was hanged here in 1920. Her and her husband preyed on solo travellers who stopped in at their roadside inn. The tour guide said the Fishers killed between 70 and 100 men, but it may have been a lot more. 

Rainbow Row

I think everyone would recognise Rainbow Row from Instagram. As the name suggests, it’s five or six colourful homes along East Bay Street. They’re just up from Waterfront Park (pineapple fountain). Wandering around Rainbow Row’s surrounding streets was even more enjoyable because there’s beautifully constructed homes everywhere you look.

City Lights Coffee

This is where Candace works part-time as a barista. City Lights Coffee is set in an intimate space in the heart of downtown Charleston. It’s just up from the markets.

City Lights Coffee’s meant to be a great people watching spot, but I can’t comment on this because I was chatting to Gregg, the South African owner, and Jackie, the other barista, the whole time. All their regular customers sit together and chat the day away—I’ve never seen this before. It was cute. It was very Charleston.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream

I remember the name from when I visited Los Angeles two years ago. I just never had the chance to make it to their Larchmont Village location. Jeni’s is located on the main strip in downtown Charleston. Two ‘half’ scoops costs $5 (and tax is included!) and their salted caramel flavour is actually salty.

Nathaniel Russell House

I got free admission here thanks to another one of Candace’s connections. Nathaniel Russell House has been restored to how it would’ve looked back in 1808. Everything in it is incredibly elegant, most likely bespoke and very European. Mary Lou, an immaculately presented lady, was my tour guide and I could imagine her living in this place. She told us the Russell family lived here for three months at a time before Nathaniel Russell returned to Rhode Island for work. Nathaniel Russell was a merchant and slave trader. He had 18 slaves living in—and working from—his Meeting Street residence.

In and around Charleston

Other places I enjoyed visiting in Charleston were Angel Oak Tree and Magnolia Cemetery. Magnolia Cemetery’s walkable from Candace’s, but a car was needed to get to Angel Oak Tree. And I did a day trip to Savannah. I hired a car because the bus was $30 USD each way and the train $49 each way, and their departure/arrival times weren’t great either. The car cost about $90 USD for the day, which seems expensive now I think about it, but I guess I’m paying for convenience.

Next stop

I’m on my way to Baltimore right now. I’m not house or cat sitting there, but it’s an in-between stop for a few days. Then I’m off to New York City for a week-long cat sit in Brooklyn.