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

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.

2020 plans

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

The real Slim Shady is a cat in Austin, Texas

The real Slim Shady is a cat in Austin, Texas

I was told Austin is Nashville’s big sister. And I can see the similarities. There’s plenty of live music venues. Both cities have a big food scene. Everyone’s really friendly. But Austin’s way more humid. The temperature’s already in the mid-20s when you wake up. And it’s still about 30°C when you go to bed.

Austin, Texas, was the third stop on this trip. And my second house and cat sit. I’d be looking after a 9-year-old cat, Shady, in downtown Austin. The one-bedroom apartment⁠—my home for the next two weeks⁠—was spacious and modern. And it was located between a Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. An ideal spot.

My Lyft driver from the airport, Larry, told me the Whole Foods across from where I was staying was the first Whole Foods store in America. Well, the first Whole Foods in the world. He said that after I’d been there and to the Austin Public Library, that was everything I needed to see in Austin. Jokes aside, Austin had a bit more to offer than just the flagship Whole Foods store. But Austin wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I think of Texas. I didn’t see any red or barren landscapes, and cowboy hats aren’t worn by many people. Sad, I know.

I had Skyped Rebecca, Shady’s owner, before being confirmed as the house sitter. This was her first time using TrustedHousesitters and I’m hoping she’ll use it again. Rebecca said she’d been using a drop in cat sitter to feed/check on Shady. And the cost of this had really started to add up.

We’d arranged to meet at the airport where I was given the keys to the apartment, and a quick rundown on the building and a few other things. Rebecca and her partner even brought along a vegetarian breakfast taco for me to try. These are meant to be big/a thing in Austin. It wasn’t bad. But now it was off to Spain for those two and downtown Austin for me.

And now for a funny story. More awkward than funny, really. I arrived at the building and went to the correct floor, but I found myself in the wrong apartment. Rebecca said most people leave their door unlocked because you need a little token thing to get between floors, etc. So if the people in this building weren’t as trusting, I wouldn’t have made a fool out of myself.

When I entered the incorrect apartment, all the doors inside it were closed. I thought this was odd, but I ended up opening each of the doors in an attempt to locate Shady. Behind the first door was a mattress on the floor, with exercise gear scattered everywhere. I thought maybe they had a son staying over that they hadn’t told me about. I closed that door and opened the next one. Mattress on the floor. Again. But slightly less gym attire strewn across this room. I was getting a bit worried. I wondered what I had signed up for. I thought this apartment looked a bit (well, a lot) different to the few pictures Rebecca had up on her ad, but how was it possible I ended up unlocking the door with the keys I was given. A few seconds later, I heard someone with keys approaching. I started to freak out even more. A guy—one of the tenants—entered. He looked at me. And I looked back at him. I said something like ‘I think I have the wrong apartment because I can’t find the cat?’ He seemed a bit confused himself and started laughing. I explained I’d just entered the apartment, hadn’t touched or stolen anything, and felt I may have been in the wrong person’s home as Shady wasn’t anywhere to be seen. I made my way directly across the hall and double-checked the number on the door before entering this apartment.

*Deep breath* I opened door. I was greeted by a cat. It was the grey cat from the pictures. It was Shady. I was in the correct place this time. Shady didn’t stop purring from the moment I arrived. Rebecca told me it’s rare for him to ever stop purring. And it’s true. Shady’s probably the most calm, well-behaved cat I’ve looked after. He’s also pretty spoilt. He’s got two planters of cat grass, great views of Austin from the comfort of his sheepskin covered leather chair and his own cardboard box on the kitchen counter. He’s even got his own automated litter system. It’s called a litter robot. I’m sure Shady doesn’t really care whether he’s using a traditional litter box or a litter robot. So perhaps I’m the spoilt one. The litter robot detects once it’s being used, separates the clumped litter from the clean, and deposits—for want of a better term—the soiled litter into a bag hidden underneath the main part of the litter robot. This is then emptied (by a human) every few days and new, clean litter is added. Also done by a human. Me.

My other responsibilities for the next two weeks included feeding Shady twice a day and that’s about it. Shady’s morning meal was mixed with L-Lysine to help with his allergies. And just like the Nashville kitties, Shady drinks his water from a mug. His mug’s the Court TV one. I’m keen to see if my cat back home, Gracie, will drink her water from a mug or glass.

In exchange for providing live-in Shady care, Rebecca left me a Whole Foods gift card. This was totally unexpected and I only realised it how much was on it when I went to use it. $100 USD. Other people I’ve sat for have picked me up from, or taken me to, the airport. Or paid for a meal or two. But this was exceptionally kind. It meant nearly all my groceries were paid for during the two-week house sit.

Places to go

Most of the places I went to check out/eat at were pretty central to where I was staying. I got the bus a handful of times, but walked everywhere else.

Driskill Hotel

This hotel’s meant to be one of the most haunted in America. I’d read about it when I was at Museum of The Weird. More about that below. Rebecca recommended the Driskill as well. It reminded me of the New York Bar in the Park Hyatt Tokyo—despite its sophisticated appearance, it’s full of tourists in shorts. The bathroom was probably my favourite thing.

Museum of The Weird

This one isn’t going to appeal to everyone. The ‘museum’ itself is quite small. Half the premises is the store front and the museum’s in the back. The museum’s then broken up in to two sections. The first part includes some artefacts and tales that may or may not be real, and you’re not told this until you make it to the second half of the museum. This is where everything you see’s real or actually happened. Things include a two-bodied lamb, a skull of a newborn with cyclopia, a two-headed piglet. An adult ticket was a little over $10 USD.

‘Dirty’ 6th Street

Rebecca and her partner warned me to stay away from 6th Street after midnight. Incredibly drunk tourists mixed with a homeless population makes the area a little dodgy after dark. After my visit to the Museum of The Weird, I found a fun-looking bar a few doors down. The Jackalope. A dive bar complete with a giant jackalope. Their $2.50 happy hour got me good and I was sick for the next 24 hours. When I returned to 6th Street a few days later, still dying inside, the cheap alcohol smell really hit me. The street’s still quite fun despite what the locals say. It’s lined with bars and restaurants, tourist shops, and there’s a Voodoo Doughnut. The Driskill’s a bit further down.

Mexic-Arte Museum

This gallery’s also in the dirty 6th Street area. Off Congress Ave. It’s a few rooms full of Mexican, Latino and Latin American art. An adult ticket is $7 USD. Check out the gift shop as well.

Mean Eyed Cat

The Mean Eyed Cat is probably my favourite bar. Ever. And not just because it has ‘cat’ in its name. It’s full of cat things, of course, and taxidermy and old school Americana stuff. I’m not sure if it’s actually an old house or a really big shed, but it works.

South Congress Avenue

South Congress Avenue is just over the bridge from downtown Austin. The day I decided to walk there, a man was threatening to jump off the bridge before the police brought him down. It’s mainly independent stores—artwork, homewares, tourist buys—and there’s plenty of murals.

Day trips: Fredericksburg or San Antonio

I decided I wanted to get out of Austin on my last Sunday here. I couldn’t get a bus ticket to San Antonio because I’d left it too late. So I hired a car. The only hire car places open in Austin over the weekend are at the airport. Kind of annoying, but thankfully I could get a bus from where I was staying. I wouldn’t have paid $20 USD for a Lyft/Uber ride to collect a hire car.

I’d intended to spend the whole day in Fredericksburg. It’s where the German population settled in Texas. And the town’s maintained its German heritage. Fredericksburg’s about an hour and a half from Austin. I got there pretty early. Maybe 10am? The town was cute, but with about a third of the stores closed on a Sunday (odd), I’d finished up pretty early. The church I’d also wanted to check out, St Mary’s Catholic Church, was in session. So it was awkward going in to take photos when people were reciting prayers. I decided to I drive to San Antonio afterward. A sales assistant at a CVS described San Antonio as the real Texas. It’s a bit rough and more ‘authentic’ than Austin. I wish I had more time in San Antonio, but here’s a few things worth checking out:

  • Immaculate Heart of Mary Church—one of several painted churches in Texas
  • The Alamo
  • the world’s largest Virgin Mary mosaic on Guadalupe Street
  • the city’s Historic Market Square.

The Buckhorn Saloon and Museum was on my list, but I didn’t make it there this time.

Torchy’s Tacos

I tried Torchy’s after returning my car to the airport on Sunday night. Their downtown restaurant was only a short walk away from the apartment. So I went back on Monday. And Tuesday. They’ve got two vegetarian tacos, but I ordered the Independent taco every time.

Next stop

I’ll be heading back to the west coast to look after two Abyssinian cats, Max and Luis, in Lake Forest Park, Washington. This sit’s pretty short. Maybe five days. The property looks like it’s right on the water. Here’s to a super relaxing couple of days. 

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