This wasn’t our first time in Austria. In fact, we had just been there earlier this year. That time we were on a road trip that started in England, took us through a multitude of European countries, with major stops in Cologne, Budapest, Sofia, San Marino, and Milan before returning. Along the way, we spent the night in Salzburg, the first time there for both of us. Beautiful, both the city and surrounding view. Other than Mozart, nothing else to add. What a delight then to now be heading to a famous and historic spa town frequented by Austrian emperors of old just 45 minutes away.
For this house sit, we definitely changed the game a little bit, trading one dog in Normandy for four cats in a stunning town in west Austria with the most spectacular views. We went from rural to town living, from open fields to litter boxes, from the odd bark to a chorus of meows.
I grew up with a cat, Bella, so know what they can be like and was a little apprehensive. Blair never did so he was excited. Whether he was feeding (it seemed constantly) hungry Matthew’s voracious appetite, stroking gentle and aged Philip who had been unwell before we got there, playing with loving Jane and her toys, or putting a hand out for Milli when she jumped on the bed at 6 in the morning to say “it’s time”, he seemed busy all day (and we won’t talk about sorting out the “little accident” that one of the four forgot to own up to). While his job was to make sure all their needs were catered for, mine, on this trip, was to make sure all of ours were. It’s easy to forget to feed yourself when you are trying to figure out what each cat will or will not eat that day, or chasing them around trying to snap photos for the daily email updates to their mother.
Unless surrounded by multiple cats at the same time, you tend to forget how different their personalities really can be. Some are shy, some noisy, some bossy, and some just really can’t be bothered! But with all their differences you can bet on one thing. When it comes to getting what they want they certainly know how to work as a team. Looking back now as I write this, some scenes must have been amusing.
The early morning routine started like this. First, Philip would open the door to our room. Yes, you read that right. Philip had learned to open any door with a handle (note to self: remember to deadbolt the front door). Then, Milli and Jane would enter. They would each pick one of us to pounce on. Milli tended to walk back and forth over your body with a couple of meows. Jane would just whip out her claws. Then, just for good measure, they would switch humans to make sure we were equitably treated. Finally, Matthew would... well, mostly just sit and watch all of this go down. In the end, you had no choice but to wake up prepare their breakfast and let them out for their daily explorations. It really was the most intricate alarm clock I have ever owned.
The evening ritual was its own affair. I can remember walking up and down the public steps outside the house, and round and round the large garden, making “kissing” sounds trying to entice Milli back in with treats for bedtime. And would she come? Well…. eventually. But who knows what the neighbors made of these two tall, strange foreigners wandering around at dusk calling out her name.
Cats 1 - Humans 0.
If you ever get a chance to visit Bad Ischl in Austria, go. With two rivers that join in the center of the town (one of which you can swim in), wonderful waterfront cafés (not to mention the cakes and pastries inside), and a spectacular backdrop, it’s what I think of as classic old town Austria. We walked, and explored, and walked some more during the daytime knowing that, being in a relatively small town on this trip, we could nip home to check up the Fabulous Four (and, naturally, deal with Matthew’s multiple food requests).
For some of our longer excursions, we were able to visit the nearby lakes, with stunning small towns nestled on the shoreline. Some of the places we made it to were Hallstatt on Lake Hallstatt - a definite tourist destination - and St. Wolfgang which was a quiet and beautiful retreat on the edge of the water. Austria just really is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
This second house sitting experience of ours could not have been more different than the first, and yet it was another great adventure. Where and what next?
Update 9/7/2016: It is with heavy hearts we say that the story of our time in Austria has been punctuated by sad news. It has been a few weeks since we left and two members of the beloved feline family have passed away. This blog post is dedicated to Philip and Matthew. They are missed.
It was with just a little trepidation that we set off from England for Normandy where our first official housesit would take place. All that stood between us and our destination was the English Channel , one Eurotunnel ride, and a few hundred kilometers of French country roads. While it was true that we had looked after other people's homes and pets before, they had been friends or family members that we already knew well. This time, we were walking - well rather driving - into something sight unseen.
We were excited though. We were heading to France. Being July it was the height of summer. We had already met one of homeowners on Skype a few weeks earlier. She was funny and charming and seemed to be as excited and nervous as us about the whole thing. The house in the photos looked wonderful. The sun was shining. We were off on an adventure. Not our first adventure of course, we have done quite a bit of International travel in the past, but a flavor nonetheless new.
You see we are an Anglo-American couple. The Anglo being me, Nicolo. Well, in case you are wondering about the name, half English through my father and half Italian through my mother. The all-American being Blair, my husband. We have travelled in our spare time for years. We’ve been to the deserts of Mexico, the cities of India, the canals of Amsterdam, the beaches of Australia. Now life has led us to a place where we are both free from the constraints of the 9-to-5 to explore the world as we see fit, and as luck would have it, a relative introduced us to the world of house sitting at the same time.
So that’s how we ended up on this adventure, but how would it go? Would people really be so willing to hand over the keys to their home and the care of their pets to people they had only met online? As we drove down the narrow, curving country roads on the final stretch we acknowledged the beauty of this part of northern France with its timber framed 'Colombage' style houses and rolling countryside. Then, as we left the road and went down a long driveway, the house came into sight. And it wasn’t a disappointment. The photos we had seen were not “real estate agent” photoshopped, in fact, they didn’t really do it justice. We were not prepared for this beautiful house in a charming, tranquil setting.
One by one we met the fantastic family of four who made us feel so welcome and at home. I’m not saying we were expecting them to line up and announce themselves like the Von Trapp children, but we were quite surprised and relieved by how casual the whole affair was. As with any home with two teenage boys, there was a certain amount of excitement and energy. You see, they were off the next morning to check out universities in England and everyone was trying to make sure everything was ready. Despite all of this going on they found time as a family to prepare a delicious meal of grilled local fish to share while we got to know them and, even more importantly, as we met Bubbles the dog, who we would be sharing our lives with for the next week and a half.
We had been warned Bubbles could be a little temperamental with new people. She was a little uneasy with us at first, as you would be too if two tall strangers showed up one day and took the place of your loving people. But a few feedings later and she was as happy as a dog could be. Whether darting around the large garden after her toy rabbit, going for long walks to buy amazing fresh baguettes, or snuggling up next to us on the sofa, she was an absolute delight. Bubbles is the kind of dog we all crave. Energetic when outside, calm when inside, and privately undertaking her “other business” hidden from humans in the bushes and woods at the edge of the garden so we never had to pick up after her. In fact, you couldn’t. She would disappear for a minute or two each day and come back relieved and ready for play.
We bonded. Within a couple of days my “little helper” followed me everywhere. If we went outside for a glass of the famous (and delicious) local cider, she would follow. When we sat on the sofa to watch television or read a book in the evening, she would join us. When we went to bed, she would climb the stairs with us then settle into her bed next door and sleep all night (except on the one occasion when she very kindly (and very thankfully) woke me to say “I need to pee desperately”). When we went to the bathroom…. okay, well she didn’t follow there. The only thing she didn’t like? Wearing a harness. She was happy to let you know that putting the leash on her collar would be just fine, thank you very much.
What a joy this first house sit turned out to be. We were able to see and experience so much during our time. The Normandy American Cemetery, for a day of reflection. A journey along The Cider Route where we found the most delicious pear cider (and bought 18 bottles of it). The market at Honfleur with its sounds and colors! We could have stayed on for weeks more. We were actually a little sad when the host family came back. And it’s not because we were not looking forward to seeing them all again, we just knew that we would miss our new home and our new furry friend. And that, it has to be said, is the only small downside of house and pet sitting. You become a foster parent. You bond. You quickly settle into a life and don’t want to say goodbye so soon. But like most feelings the sadness passed while we spent the evening sharing our respective French and English experiences over wine and food. As we jumped in the car the next day I looked back in the mirror and spotted Bubbles with her permanent family waving us goodbye and for a moment I had to reflect on the experience that seems to have gone by in an instant and but changed so much about our lives from there on out. Still, we just knew we would see her again one day, for we bonded not just with her, but with the whole family. But mostly we knew this because they asked us if we would sit for them again the next summer in France! The only thing to say to that is “Yes!”
So forget sadness, after having such a great time in France, we were ready to see if this experience was a fluke or if this house sitting thing was really as good as it seems. We pointed the car in the direction of Austria. Our next adventure was about to begin.
The Roaming Blog
From Europe to Asia. From cities to villages. From mansions to cottages. Follow us on our journey as we celebrate a new type of travel - House Sitting. Learn how to start you house sitting career, tips for making the most of your travel, and the tricks for being the best house sitter you can be.
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