THE OTHER PART OF THE STORY

TrustedHousesitters—the app I was using when I was refused entry to the US—won’t update their advice for international house sitting.

The company continues to say it’s OK for their paying members to house sit on a tourist-type visa (e.g. ESTA) because they “don’t regard house sitting as work”.

In their opinion, what happened to me was all a “misunderstanding” because US immigration didn’t get “the concept of house sitting”.

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

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.

Candace, the home owner, offered to pick me up from the airport after my 30-hour journey from Brisbane. We hadn’t 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 and red hair, but Candace is way more arty. She’s such a kind and vibrant person, and I see her as a bit of a Charleston icon.

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.

Where house and cat sitting took me in 2019

Where house and cat sitting took me in 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I found one in Launceston and signed up.

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

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

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

Next stop

What’s in store for 2020? I’m sure it comes as no surprise I’d like to keep exploring the US.

Comparing the house sitting websites

Comparing the house sitting websites

There’s a lot of house sitting websites out there. Some of them are great. Others, not so much. Membership fees vary and so, too, does the usability of each site. But if you’ve been toying with the idea of signing up to a house sitting website, here’s some things that might make the decision easier.

TrustedHousesitters

TrustedHousesitters was the first house sitting website I came across. It’s also my favourite. TrustedHousesitters has listings for anywhere you can think of. It’s not country-specific like Aussie House Sitters and House Sitters America.

The only downside is their membership fee is the most expensive of the lot—it’s $99 AUD/year for sitters.

Points of difference

  • New members can ask employers, friends and family to leave character references on their profile to reassure homeowners they’re a decent human.
    • If you use other sites for sits, you can ask the owner to leave you a REFERENCE after the sit is finished. Their reference won’t affect your TrustedHousesitters star rating.
  • Homeowners must complete a ‘Welcome guide’ for their sitter. It covers every possible thing about the property and pet(s).
  • TrustedHousesitters has an app.
    • The app sends you a notification when a property matching your saved search criteria goes up.
  • You’ll be rated on your organisation skills, reliability, self-sufficiency, tidiness and pet care. Your overall rating is then determined by the average score you received across all the categories.
  • The TrustedHousesitters website looks a lot more modern and less cluttered, and is easier to navigate, than some of the other house sitting websites.
  • They’ve got a big social media presence and they’re keen to share members’ stories.

Discount

Use RAF110780 to get 25% off membership.

Aussie House Sitters

Aussie House Sitters—as you’d expect—has more Australian sits than anyone else. Home/pet owners can sign up for free while sitters have to pay to use the service.

Membership is $84 AUD/year.

Points of difference

  • You can import your reviews from their sister sites (House Sitters America, House Sitters Canada, etc.). I was able to bring my five-star review across from when I used House Sitters America in 2018.
  • Users are given a ‘reply rating’. This might help you work out why you haven’t received a response.
  • Search results can be refined by selecting properties:
    • near trains/trams, buses, supermarkets, etc.
    • with a pool
    • that allow you to bring your pet(s) along
    • where smoking is OK.
  • Home/pet owners reach out to me quite a bit on Aussie House Sitters to see if I’m free to sit for them. This doesn’t happen much on the other sites.

Discount

Use AVHX9T to get $10 AUD off membership.

House Sitters America

I had a one-year membership with House Sitters America, but haven’t renewed it yet. The website navigation and layout is pretty similar to Aussie House Sitters, but the colour scheme—or something I can’t quite put my finger on—makes the website look dated. They do, however, have a good range of sits all over the USA. I was able to get a week-long sit in Washington, D.C., through House Sitters America and often see sits I’d love to do (but can’t because of current work committments).

A one-year House Sitters America membership is $30 USD. I just wish House Sitters America, Aussie House Sitters and their other websites had a combined membership covering all the countries.

Discount

Use GRZKCY to get $5 USD off membership.

housecarers.com

I used housecarers.com to secure a Christmas sit in Boulder, Colorado. You can search for sits based on country and/or by date, and you can refine the search by selecting a state or region.

An annual membership is $55 AUD. Homeowners can use housecarers.com for free.

Points of difference

  • housecarers.com has a comprehensive membership dashboard—unlike most of the other house sitting websitse I’ve used—where you can see how many people have viewed your profile, etc.
    • This dashboard has way too many features to list so I recommend checking it out with either with a limited membership (i.e. no messaging capability) or paid membership.

Discount

Sign up using this link to get an extra 6 months added to your membership.

MindMyHouse

I’ve got an active MindMyHouse membership, but I don’t check the website all that often. It’s not my favourite site, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad either. I was able to get a MindMyHouse sit in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in January and asked the owner to leave a reference on my TrustedHousesitters profile instead.

Membership is $20 USD/year. It’s free for homeowners.

Nomador

I don’t have a paid membership with Nomador. I did, however, sign up with them a few years back to take advantage of the three free applications they let you submit.

Points of difference

  • Nomador lets people list their property as a stopover stay. This means travellers can stay with this person for one night at no cost.

Facebook

After joining the House Sitting World Facebook group, I’ve learned a lot of people find house sits through other Facebook groups (e.g. House & Pet Sitting Asia – Thailand, Japan, Philippines, Singapore and more). I’m not sure how I feel about securing a sit through Facebook. The house sitting websites give me a sense of security and I feel a lot more comfortable organising everything through them.

Now it’s your turn to pick one

Hopefully my list of pros and cons has helped you form an opinion about which house sitting website is best suited to your needs. I have several discount codes that’ll save you a few dollars on memberships with TrustedHousesitters, Aussie House Sitters and/or House Sitters America. Please let me know if these codes don’t work and I can issue you with a new one.

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.

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. 

Looking after two senior kitties in Nashville

Looking after two senior kitties in Nashville

This Nashville house and cat sit was the first one I applied for when putting my month and a half-long trip together. And it wasn’t until recently I’d even thought about visiting Nashville. But I’m glad I decided to. The people here are probably the kindest of any city I’ve visited while travelling through the United States. The makeup and skincare lady at the local Walgreens even hugged me.

The place I was looking after was described as a ’20s Tudor duplex in the 12South neighbourhood. It’s close to restaurants and cafes, shops, and a bus line. But the one and only time I tried to get the bus, it didn’t show up. Sigh. 12South’s pretty close to downtown Nashville, though. It’s only 6km away. And I’d be caring for two senior kitties, Griffin (19) and Nancy Kuan (15). Griffin, the grey kitty, has early stage kidney disease. But she’s otherwise healthy. Nancy doesn’t show any signs of old age and looks like a big kitten.

Debra, the home owner, and her partner were heading off on a week-long cycling trip starting early on 20 June 2019. This meant I was unable to meet them in person because I didn’t fly in until midday. This was actually the first house and cat sit I’d done where I hadn’t met the person/couple/family beforehand. We’d Skyped when I first responded to Debra’s ad and again when I was staying in Las Vegas to go through some of the trickier stuff (i.e. the cat stuff).

When I first arrived at the 12South residence, I fed the kitties and then decided it was time to feed myself. It’d been nearly 10 hours since I’d had anything substantial to eat. I was glad to be out of Vegas because I’ve found it hard to find any decent, proper food within walking distance both times I’ve been there. And so what was the first thing I ate in Nashville? A maple glaze donut from Five Daughters Bakery. Hardly healthy, and not really substantial either, but it was delicious. Then I made my way to Kroger to buy some proper food for the next few days. Kroger was a name I recognised from staying in Cincinnati. And I knew it was a complete supermarket, not a convenience store or pharmacy that sold poor quality fruit.

The house sit

It was great to have some cat company again after five days in Vegas. I’d been told Griffin likes to eat plastic. This meant I had to keep all plastic bags hidden in my suitcase or out of sight, or up high. Griffin also enjoys chewing on cords. I’d have to put my iPhone and laptop chargers away ASAP, and put my hair straightener back in my suitcase when I was done with it. Nancy, the younger of the girls, was less of a potential hazard than Griffin. But she much preferred to be left alone. Or maybe she just didn’t like me much. The girls weren’t allowed outside, but Debra has a great screened in front porch where they can sit while I’m home. Sitting out here was Nancy’s favourite thing to do, but it held little interest for Griffin. And both cats drank from tall glasses, not bowls, which was very entertaining.

Debra’s home is filled with so much fun stuff. Interesting art and books, and eclectic homewares. Her place’s probably the most interesting (good interesting) home I’ve stayed in since travelling as a house and cat sitter. She’s got affirmations and notes, and reminders for house sitters, scattered throughout her place. Really helpful. And the notes and affirmations are cute. But my absolute favourite thing about her house… She has a fridge with a cold water dispenser. This is truly my favourite thing in people’s homes. It means I don’t have to spend a fortune on bottled water. And there’s nothing better than cold water.

Places to go

Unlike my time in Vegas, I was able to visit/see all the things I had set out to do during my stay in Nashville. Here’s some places I’d recommend to anyone thinking of coming the music city. And there’s plenty of music-related attractions—like the Country Music Hall of Fame, Johnny Cash Museum and Musicians Hall of Fame—but these don’t interest me.

Downtown

I had Tootsie’s written down as a place of interest. And it was the first thing I spotted when I arrived downtown. It’s a bar, but I didn’t expect it to be anywhere near as busy as it was. I didn’t go in. I was, however, still able to appreciate the pastel purple exterior before continuing along Broadway. Pretty much every single bar along Broadway’s packed with drunken tourists. One of my Lyft drivers said most locals avoid downtown. And I can see why. I tried two less busy bars before moving on. I paid $10 USD for a vodka at the first bar, then $8 USD for another vodka at BigShotz on 2nd Avenue. Printer’s Alley is a few streets over—it’s less touristy and less busy—and has more reasonably priced drinks. I tried Fleet Street Pub where I was served a horrible American English take on an espresso martini. I was done after that. Downtown Nashville is crazier than Hollywood Boulevard and some places I’ve visited in Japan, but it’s still worth checking out.

Frist Art Museum

The Frist Art Museum is about a kilometre away from where everything’s happening downtown. I’m not going to lie. I only went here for the Frida Kahlo exhibition they’ve got running until 2 September 2019. I learned so much about Frida Kahlo. She contracted polio at six years old. She was hit by a bus at 18, and the injuries kept her in and out of hospital for the rest of her life. She married when she was 22. And her pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. Frida Kahlo died aged 47. The art on display was pretty interesting, too.

12 Street South

12 Street South was less than five minutes away from where I was staying. My favourite shop on this street was White Mercantile⁠, a southern style homewares store. Five Daughters Bakery (donut shop) is a bit further up and Frothy Monkey, a café and bar, is meant to be good. There’s lots of great street art to see while you’re here. The flower mural and Mobe Oner’s Rivive! Nashville piece were my favourites. ‘I believe in Nashville’ had swarms of people waiting to get a photo with it. On my last day in Nashville, my Lyft driver and I were talking about tourists’ fascination with murals here. She said there’s a set of angel wings in The Gulch that has tourists lining up around the block for. The Lyft driver was ashamed to admit she didn’t know where the popular ‘I believe in Nashville’ one was. “What kind of person am I if I don’t have a photo with it or know where it is?” she joked.

Hillsboro Village

Hillsboro Village, near the Vanderbilt and Belmont universities, is a few blocks of mostly independently owned stores. My favourites were:

  • Native + Nomad—clothing and homewares
  • A Thousand Faces—a Nashville souvenir store, but not a tacky one
  • Apple And Oak—cards, stationery and homewares
  • Altar’d State—clothing and accessories, homewares, and plants.

Make sure to stop in at The Grilled Cheeserie for a snack/lunch. Get the spinach and artichoke melt.

8th Avenue vintage and antique stores

The vintage and antique stores on 8th Avenue are walkable from Hillsboro Village. It’ll take you about half an hour. There’s the 8th Avenue Antique Mall, Classic Modern, and Dealer’s Choice Antiques and Auctions (didn’t have time to check this one out). Classic Modern’s quirky and quite reasonably priced, but I guess it is more vintage and kitsch than antique-y.

Unrelated: I met a homeless veteran, Larry, at the 8th Avenue Burger King. Larry told me he was originally from Birmingham, AL, and I told him I was going there in a few weeks to house sit. He thought I’d come all the way from Australia just to cat sit in Birmingham.

Gardens of Babylon Landscapes

Gardens of Babylon Landscapes is part of the Nashville Farmers’ Market. They have their own outdoor section and it’s huge. While I couldn’t take any of the plants back home to Australia, I did manage to pick up a few planters. And I would’ve loved to buy one of the pink ice cream cone planters, but I felt they were a bit expensive ($25 USD plus tax). The food part of the farmers’ market was way too busy when I went—lunchtime. A bit stupid of me. So I didn’t spend long inside. But it’d be worth checking out at a non-peak food time.

Next stop

Now I’m off to somewhere where the humidity’s likely to be even worse. That’s Austin, Texas. I’ll be staying in an apartment in downtown Austin and looking after a grey cat called Shady.