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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I wanted to visit Hobart (again) before making my way to Launceston for my first interstate house and cat sit. So I booked a room at the same place I’d stayed about five years ago. The Alabama Hotel.
The Alabama Hotel describes itself as a ’boutique style art infused hotel’, ‘with emphasis on creating an enjoyable, affordable and artistic space’. I already knew the hotel’s amenities were pretty basic, but it redeems itself with the vintage interiors, furnishings and bric-a-brac scattered over two floors. It has a small bar and nice outdoor space, and they do coffee from 8am each day. The hotel’s location’s pretty decent, too. It’s on Liverpool Street. Less than a minute away from Elizabeth Street Mall, and about a 10- to 15-minute walk to Salamanca Place and Franklin Wharf. And there’s a Woolworths a few doors down.
It cost me just under $500 for five nights in a deluxe queen room. This time my room was directly above the bar and looked out on to Liverpool Street. Room 17 has a queen size bed, bar fridge, dressing table, heater and fan, and a small wardrobe to hang your clothes up in. Each floor has separate male and female bathrooms, and I’ve never had to wait to use the shower. Not back in 2014 and not in 2019 either. Shared bathrooms gross me out, but the ones here are really clean (shared bathrooms still gross me out). Enough about the hotel, here’s some fun things to see and do in Hobart.
Places to go
I have a feeling this is one of the most expensive suburbs in Hobart. Traditional homes, with beautiful gardens and views of the water. My favourite thing to do is walk up and down the streets admiring the architecture, and people’s well kept gardens.
Continue walking up Elizabeth Street for about 20 minutes. There’s Indian, Vietnamese, Thai and Mexican restaurants, European-style cafes and the typical Australian pubs/hotels, and the State Cinema. The State Cinema has been operating for 100+ years. The cinema’s bookstore is also worth checking out.
Hobart Cat Cafe
On my way to find lunch in North Hobart, I saw what I thought was a shopfront selling cat trees/towers. I thought a shop like this, especially in Hobart, was odd. I crossed the road to have a better look and could see it was actually a cat cafe. My favourite! This cat cafe is huge and they have a proper food menu. It looks like all the food is made to order in their kitchen. And like all cat cafes, they’ve got a drinks menu (alcohol included (unlike most cat cafes)).
The seven or eight cats they’ve got are rescues and I’m sure they love their new home. Some of their play things go from floor to ceiling, and they’re spoilt for choice when it comes to finding a comfy spot to nap in. Another great thing about Hobart Cat Cafe is you don’t need to book. You can just rock up. Like I did.
The city centre has some good stores and the food options are a lot better than I remember them being last time. I picked up a cute fox print from merchant and Thai Veggie Hutt, directly under the Alabama, has delicious-looking vegetarian dishes. The only downside is they close at 4.30pm. And they’re not open on Sunday. Augustus Chocolates is another good one for homewares. Hobart also seems to be big on street art now. You’ll find it everywhere you look in the CBD.
Daci & Daci was my favourite place for pastries and sweets, and they do breakfast ‘til 11am. And I like the Brunswick Hotel. It seems like a more grown up pub/hotel, with a great duo playing the night I went. Harry and Jane. This place gets extra points because they do espresso martinis.
The Saturday market is overrated. I told myself I wasn’t going to bother with it again . And I shouldn’t have. I went down at about 11am. As expected, it was ridiculously hard to get around. Some of the stalls have some good stuff, but I’m sure you can find it at other locations around Hobart and Tasmania.
I do, however, like the shops down here (i.e. not the market stalls). Norman and Dann was my favourite this time. Lots of Japanese-y stuff, cat stuff and cute homewares.
Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens
The gardens are about two kilometres out from the CBD. Easily walkable in the cool weather. Beautiful rose gardens. And it’s surprising to see they’ve got a substantial succulent and cactus collection.
Museum of Old and New Art (Mona)
I didn’t visit Mona this time. I considered it, but the main exhibit I wanted to see—’Eat the Problem’—finished in September. I don’t think this gallery will appeal to everyone. Some of the exhibitions are a bit crass. There’s a poop-making machine, a wall of vulva moulds, and it’s owned by a professional gambler. And it’s a bit of a pain/expensive to get to if you don’t have a car in Hobart. The Mona ferry is about $20, and I’m not sure if that’s each way or return. Uber might be an affordable alternative.
Other things worth checking out
- Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery—admission is free or at least it was when I went.
- Hobart Convict Penitentiary—I did a tour of this place last time. Very interesting.
- Mt Wellington—I’ll be driving up here tomorrow before making my way to Launceston.
Launceston is my next, and final, stop on this trip. I’ve got a 10-day house and cat sit in West Launceston. This sit was found through Aussie House Sitters—a website I haven’t used before. It has more Australian house sits than TrustedHousesitters, housecarers.com and MindMyHouse combined.
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.
Birmingham was definitely a change of pace. There isn’t a Starbucks on every corner. Not even a 7/11. Not one. In the entire city of Birmingham. But they did just open a cat cafe here.
It’s been a quiet 10 days, but that’s probably what I needed before heading to New Orleans for a week. This was my final house and cat sit on the trip. I’d never thought about going to Birmingham. Or anywhere in Alabama. But Vero and Clint’s TrustedHousesitters ad changed my mind.
I was looking after Zoey, the one-eyed rescue cat, in the quirkiest of homes. The home belongs to a Belgian artist, Vero, and her handyman husband, Clint. And their house’s located in Avondale. Avondale’s about 3km from downtown Birmingham. And like most inner-city neighbourhoods, Avondale’s now a gentrified, much sought after place to live.
Clint picked me from the airport before showing me around the area and parts of downtown. He also pointed out the cat cafe shopfront. He said he expected it to open while I was in town. And he was right. We then went to the house where I was introduced to Vero and her Belgian guests. They were all heading to Florida the next day. Before they left, Vero gave me a list of her favourite vegetarian/vegan cafes and restaurants. My favourite was Taco Morro Loco. Literally down the other end of the street. And both delicious and affordable.
Vero and Clint’s house’s filled with what I assume is art from all over the world. As well as Vero’s own. Vero used to own and run Naked Art Gallery, in the city’s Forest Park neighbourhood, but she closed it earlier this year. The internet tells me it was open for more than 20 years. Vero and Client are well travelled, and they’re not the kind of people you think of when you think about Alabama. They’re pretty well known around Birmingham, too. Their house looks like any other on their quiet street. But with a few more plants out front. You’d never guess what kind of craziness lies behind the dark blue front door.
Now more about their cat. Zoey has 24-hour access to her own screened-in porch. And she only eats Fromm Family dry food. Three times a day. Vero said this food’s responsible for Zoey’s super soft coat. You’d never guess how soft it is from the pictures. Zoey liked to spend most of her time sitting on the couch with me. I do recall Vero and Clint’s ad saying she wasn’t too much of a lap cat. True. But she did love having company and being petted.
Places to go
So there’s actually a bit more to see in Birmingham than I’ve listed. But with the extreme humidity and the bus system being a nightmare, I spent half the trip in the house writing and being lazy. Sometimes the highlight of the day was when the bus showed up. The city’s bus network has real-time functionality on its myStop app, but I don’t actually think it works. Or at least not very well.
Most of the stuff I enjoyed was downtown. Walkable. And I did walk it two or three times. But I was done after that.
- mo:mo: A Nepalese–Vietnamese casual dining option in the Pizitz Food Hall. I found Asian food quite hard to come by in Birmingham.
- Birmingham Oddities: Turns out this store’s only open on Saturday (thanks for that, Vero!). The guy runs it on the side. It’s one of the more affordable oddities stores I’ve been to.
- What’s On 2nd: An art, antiques and oddities store across from Birmingham Oddities.
- Reed Books: A second hand bookstore. And they’ve got some vintage bric-a-brac for sale.
- The Market at Pepper Place: Saturday farmers market.
- The Red Cat Coffee House: This is on the same site as the farmers market. And who’d have guessed? There’s lots of fun cat-related things inside.
- Taco Morro Loco: One of Vero’s recommendations. Their plastic table cloths from the ‘80s… hmm. But their vegetarian taco is delicious and only $3 USD.
- Sloss Furnaces: A National Historic Landmark. And now a ‘park’ of sorts. These guys used to be the largest manufacturer of pig iron in the world. Production stopped in 1970. I’d say this is one of the most iconic things in/about Birmingham.
Gatos and Beans
Birmingham’s—maybe even Alabama’s—first cat cafe. Gatos and Beans opened a few days after I arrived. The $10 entry fee includes your coffee or tea. Plus one hour with the cats.
The space was truly designed with cats in mind. The cats can get way up high, all the way to the ceiling, by jumping from piece to piece of wood. Gatos and Beans also had cardboard boxes for them to sleep in. Because why sleep in a comfy cat bed when you can sleep in a cardboard box, right?
All cats can be adopted, and have come from Kitty Kat Haven & Rescue.
My next stop’s New Orleans. Then back home to Brisbane via LAX. See you soon, Gracie.