House sitters living through lockdown
The month of April 2020 has been an unusual month as we’ve watched (and at times helped with), the unfolding crisis that beset our house sitting community across the globe. House sitting jobs and travel arrangements have been cancelled, all over the world.
For now very few people are house sitting. Only a few stragglers are travelling and most are now safely hunkered down at home or in temporary accommodation.
Only those brave enough to book tickets based on hopeful re-openings of airline routes and borders, have arranged travel for June, July and beyond. Consequently, only a small number of house sits are being arranged and most plans are in a holding pattern, as we all wait to see how things pan out.
There are some exceptions, such as those stranded outside their home countries, or others who admirably remained to take care of the pets and property of home owners left high and dry themselves.
Here are the stories of just a few of our fellow house sitters and travellers from the House Sitting Community Support Group. Those who made it home and others who stayed behind and are still house sitting.
Covid lockdown inside Lucca's walls
by Prue Scott of 26Letters.co.nz
I had a good plan for 2020.
March to May in Lucca, Italy, writing, stitching, reading, and enjoying coffee and cake, three-course lunches, the local wines, gelato, aperitivo and dinners.
Then a few side trips – Berlin, Seville, Florence, Pisa, followed by six weeks in Croatia and onward to the UK mid-July to try and break into their house sitting market, finishing with a private sit September/October.
We all know how that's gone!
Instead of mourning what I didn't get (so far), I've realised that I'm not that hard done by in COVID lockdown. My world changed while I was en route from New Zealand to Rome on 2 March. Ryanair had cancelled my Berlin flights, COVID had become much more of a problem, and people seemed to have disappeared.
I disembarked my plane at 12.30 pm on the dot, walked through a deserted Fiumicino Airport, and 1.08 pm I was on the train into Roma Termini. Two more train trips to Lucca with only a handful of other passengers in my carriage.
At dinner out with friends that night, I heard about the problem up north. A check on the map showed "up north" was rather close, with Tuscany abutting Lombardy. Within two days, we had to sit a metre apart in cafes and restaurants, and everything shut by 6 pm to limit movement.
I checked the Guardian news each day, each morning, every few hours, watching in disbelief as COVID-19 rampaged across the globe. A few days later we were in full lockdown in Italy. Emirates Airline announced its last flights to New Zealand, but I couldn't get through on the phone. An Australian friend said, "Why expose yourself to go home and isolate for two weeks with winter ahead, when you can stay here in Lucca?"
So here I stay, in a 300-year-old apartment, inside the massive walls around Lucca's centro storico (historic centre). I'm self-employed, so I got the New Zealand government handout which provides an excellent safety net. I am very grateful for that.
We were forbidden from walking the walls just as I was getting into stride with a daily 3.6 km walk. Now, I walk the circuit inside the walls which puts me alongside lush green grass yet to be mown, and trees bursting into leaf against azure blue skies.
Lucca is quieter. Very few workers, no tourists. Social media has taken over. Friends went home to Canada as they couldn't renew their travel insurance, delivering bags of "this was in the fridge" at arms' length.
Home food delivery started up, from pizza to near-Michelin level. Giuliana at the English bookshop delivered real books – again at arms' length. The gelato shops are delivering to your door (lethal). We can still go out for the pharmacy, bank and food.
Oh, the food!
Superb sausages and smoked salmon, tiny fresh goats' cheeses, blood oranges you keep in the fridge and juice every morning to deliver a ruby pink taste explosion. Fresh focaccia al suolo – the very thin one that is perfect when split around a slice of porchetta. Torti di nonna for two but eaten by just me, courtesy of my local patisserie which has a dispensation to remain open. Spring berries. Tuscan reds, whites and rosés, Prosecco from the Veneto.
We are now gloved and masked when out, and word goes out through the social networks on where supplies can be obtained.
This week, stationers (cartoleria) re-opened and I was unreasonably excited about buying some office supplies – a stapler, paperclips, pens, a ring binder. What extraordinary times we live in that this is something to look forward to.
I still have my fingers crossed for that September/October sit in the UK.
Bending with the wind
by Karen & Myles of www.motoroaming.com
After the enormity of the Norwegian fjords and the vastness of the Sahara desert, our nomadic travels in our motorhome were about to be rudely interrupted.
Our COVID journey started off by tickling at our toes whilst exploring the magic of Africa's most northerly country in February. We started to hear snippets of this creeping death and yet sat comfortably in our travel bubble, refusing to believe it would touch our lives. And then illness struck me, the day after crossing back into Spain, just five days before the Moroccan borders shut. Whilst it wasn't COVID-19, this virus had suddenly become personal.
Our bubble burst and we were catapulted into action - to reach UK soil to support our vulnerable loved ones, whilst the rising swell of this tsunami threatened to engulf us. Lockdowns, border restrictions and ferry cancellations gave us a sense of reality, irrespective of the media hype.
Finally landing in the UK we hibernated in a 14 day quarantine, making sure we were clear of infection before supporting family. Yet a final surge from these tempestuous waves served as a reminder that even in quarantine we were not safe.
With campsites shut and nowhere to safely stay, we had to make one last push to find a home. Within 24 hours, synchronicity presented us with a rental house just a mile from mum and we moved just 1 hour before Boris' lockdown announcement. We could feel the waves lapping against the walls of our little sanctuary. Although for now, we could breathe a sigh of relief.
Robert Jordan said, "The oak fought the wind and broke, the willow bent as it must and survived." This feels like a signature to our journey through COVID, ably helped along by our elegant travel teacher.
Who could have known that our 4 years on the road would have prepared us for the greatest adaptation of our lives?
Whilst we balance the needs of supporting our vulnerable and staying indoors, we are struck by how our lives have shifted from mountain vistas to the micro perspective of the changing seasons. We may be still, yet the birds sing with magnified melody, the blossoms bloom with wild abandon and the feel of the breeze from insects' wings remind us of nature's joy, in all its minute detail. The virus may be taking lives, although nature is still giving life with abundance.
And what of our four bare walls? The simplicity of our nomad lives serves us beautifully, as we have learnt to compromise and be resourceful, resilient and adaptable.
We are not regretful or resentful. We have just bent with the wind and hold our gaze on the here and now. Tomorrow will soon pan out the way it is intended and we will be set free.
Back to the UK for lockdown!
by Jenni & Henry of www.hooplaadventures.com
The great paradox of being full-time house sitters who prefer some semblance of stability is not lost on us. Well, at least for one of us. Last year I (Jen) had planned out our entire year, with house sits in eight European countries.
Now, our whole lifestyle has been threatened and we find ourselves having to make some difficult decisions.
Our journey began in Germany, and was our first international sit in months. We watched Italy as the epidemic flared up and then the virus followed us like a "Dementor" from Harry Potter. Slowly sucking the joy out of our travel plans and diminishing all hope.
As we arrive in Berlin, the international travel show we had travelled for was cancelled. We still make it to Denmark, then Norway for our next sit, but that is where our journey ends.
Since our return to the UK, we have been technically homeless, but thankfully we have a family with a spare bedroom! Henry's brother is allowing us to stay in his house just outside Oxford during the lockdown.
Do you want to know the irony of it all?
We were only a few months away from buying our first home to rent out while we travelled! Alas, these things are out of our control, so what to do?
The house-sitting community has been a beacon of strength in bleak times. Our friends and contacts have all offered help in finding places and gave us options for when this lockdown finishes.
Waiting is all we can do to know how to map out the rest of the year. As we wait, we all undertake the most important job there is, to keep this world safe by staying indoors and reaching out to our communities and friends and family at home.
Right now, life is about maintaining relationships with the people we have sat for in the past, our regular repeat sits, and looking after our livelihoods. Indeed, our day-to-day life hasn't changed much. We still work in our respective jobs as writers and teachers online. All our contact with people is via video calls and we even have a pet cat. This IS our life, minus the weekend adventures and trips to the pub!
Although we can work a normal routine, it's not to say anxieties and stress don't creep up on us. Some days are better than others. When the future is so uncertain, it's only human to feel lost.
Since we arrived back in England, we have known several people to contract the virus, including a family member. Others have lost their jobs and their businesses are at risk. This has put everything into perspective. It's bigger than us, and there is a moral obligation to staying put.
Now, as the government announces a three-week lockdown extension in the UK, we will treasure what we have – a strong network and the hope of a future where normality resumes.
Hunkered down on the island of Crete
Deborah Dawson at https://www.instagram.com/debsworld_/
I'm a youthfully retired full time house sitter from Canada, without a home-base. After spending five months in Spain, I arrived on the island of Crete on March 5th to start a month long house sit. I'd be looking after two middle aged dogs in a stylish, newly renovated home in the old town of Chania. The homeowners were due back from Asia at the beginning of April.
During the second week of March I felt like I was on a roller coaster. The constant changing of plans by the homeowners meant they'd be returning early from a business trip in Indonesia, and their daughters would also need to return to this home from university elsewhere in Europe.
Today is April 16th and I'm still here alone in Crete with the dogs. There have been numerous unsuccessful attempts by the family members to return to Crete, but now all the borders involved are closed. It's complicated.
I have agreed to remain at the home to take care of the doggies until the owners can return here to their second home. They have been extremely appreciative and generous for both my availability and flexibility during this very difficult time.
I have no intention of returning to Canada or Spain, so remaining here in beautiful sunny Crete has been an easy decision for me. I feel safe… there are not any active COVID-19 cases here. Stores are fully stocked, there's no panic buying, and even though I could potentially be here until mid June (or whenever Greece reopens their borders for the home owners to return), I'm OK with that!
It feels good to be able to help out and lessen the stress that the owners are experiencing during all this uncertainty. At least they can sleep easier knowing I'm committed to riding this pandemic out at their home in Crete!
I'm under lockdown with limited movement, which means I'm not permitted to leave the house without prior approval by SMS. Or, by carrying a completed paper form to show police why I'm outside, if I am stopped in the street.
So I take the dogs out for walks and I go grocery shopping. I can walk down to the harbour for exercise while watching the sunset and maintaining social distancing guidelines.
My days are taken up with Spanish lessons, an online course, yoga practices and meditation. I cook a lot and I keep up with friends around the world using video chats. The dogs and I are getting along fantastically, despite being bitten on day one!
I'm told that only three other people, including the owners, have been able to put a lead on one of the dogs, so they say I've performed a miracle in that regard. But it took two weeks of earning his trust for this major achievement to take place.
The other dog needed to lose some weight which I've successfully accomplished.
So, as you can see, we have all been able to come to a win/win so far during this unprecedented situation. And I'm able to stay here once the homeowners return (in the second attached home), until I'm able to return to Spain. This is my lockdown story so far. Stay safe!
Finding a lockdown sanctuary in France
by Karen Peckham
The seriousness of COVID-19 finally struck me on Sunday 15th March. Until then I'd been in denial... much like the rest of France. It was just a bad flu, and yes, the media were blowing it out of all proportion. It couldn't possibly get as bad here, as in Asia.
My next booked sit for two weeks had just cancelled, as the home owner thought she might have "it", and didn't want to risk travelling back to the UK. So, as I sat drinking wine in a lovely Airbnb, close to the vineyards of St. Emilion, I had to try and decide what to do next.
As I scrolled through my newsfeed, I saw stories from friends in Vietnam, Italy and Spain, already in partial lockdown. Being a solo sitter who travels without a permanent base, I suddenly had a horrible vision. I could end up camping out somewhere alone, in my battered black Peugeot with my trusty tent, cold and wet, and eating a soggy baguette.
So, I contacted some friends in the Charente region of France where I occasionally stay in-between sits. They kindly agreed that I could head to their spare gîte for a week until my next six week sit began.
I won't forget the five hour drive on that dull rainy Monday, barely any traffic on the usually busy autoroute, and involving a quick pit stop in Blaye, a citadelle town I had long wanted to visit.
The worst part of my journey was a rushed shop in a big supermarket, where people were pushing and shoving to buy what toilet roll and bread there was left. The woman in front of me, with her head tightly wrapped in a scarf and wearing thick ski gloves, is probably what scared me the most.
That evening, in isolation, I watched President Macron announce that we were fighting an invisible war. From midday the next day, France would enter a second stage of lockdown, allowing essential travel only, with a permission letter required to go shopping or to take one hour a day of exercise.
The rest of the week passed in a blur, with many tearful phone calls to family and friends in the UK and elsewhere, followed by the inevitable cancelling of my next sit. Five weeks later and I'm still in my friend's gîte. I will remain here as our lockdown in France has just been extended until 11 May.
Things are easier now. We did our 2 week isolation just to be safe, and can now relax somewhat, over an apéro (aperitif) in the evening, and discuss all the various conspiracy theories. I can borrow one of the three lovely doggies here for my daily, permitted walk. My friend's pool is open, and although it is far too cold to swim in really (15 deg) it is a great distraction for me.
I have no idea what the future holds for me, for travel, or for future pet sitting. I'm just taking it one day at a time, and I know how lucky I am, for the time being.
Temporary home in our happy place
by June Spindloe of nomadicmumsie.wordpress.com
The Norfolk Broads, in the east of England, have always been one of our "Happy Places". We took boating holidays here from Canada and could only dream of one day owning a "Bolt Hole", somewhere close by in our retirement. So when we found a three week house sit near the Broads in 2017, we couldn't wait to revisit it.
Little did we know that this would lead us to where we are now.
For three weeks we spent every day exploring places we had never seen from the Broads. One day we drove into Hemsby, a village by the coast, and we were hooked. There were holiday chalets everywhere and we decided to buy one. We secured three more sits in Norfolk in 2019 so we could find a chalet for sale and make an offer.
The chalets come fully equipped so all we had to do was rent it out when we were house sitting and then use it for some down time between sits.
The perfect solution.
By March this year we had completed over fifty sits and we were longing for a break, so we were counting off the days until when we would make the four hour drive to our newly renovated chalet.
We anxiously waited to see if our home owners would make it back from India. Due to the increasing anxiety about the virus, many airlines were cancelling flights. But on March 12 we set off excited to be on our way.
Little did we realise our two week break was going to turn into a two month lockdown!
Sits booked throughout the summer that we could access from Norfolk, soon evaporated as the world closed its borders. Holiday parks were ordered to close down and the next few days were stressful as we anxiously waited for permission to remain on the park.
One by one everyone else left and the whole area was now on lockdown. We missed the deadline to return to Canada, but would have been homeless there too, so we stayed put.
Every day we emerged into an eerie quiet. The restaurants, the funfairs and seaside shops all silent. One day we realised that it was so quiet outside that we could hear the waves crashing on the beach!
The whole vibe of our little seaside village had changed to what seemed like a surreal version of one of those dystopian movies, with seagulls screeching from every vantage point looking for food, and distant figures walking on the beach and cliff tops.
As the villagers closed ranks, we became the "outsiders". They were worried that the government messages about travelling to second homes were not being enforced. We found ourselves explaining that we were homeless house sitters from Canada that had been stranded here! People became suspicious and spiteful - this pandemic seems to have divided the community.
We've been here a month now and the community is adapting to life in lockdown, and we are adapting to living life in just one place. I have moments where I wake up convinced I have to feed a dog or get ready to pack, but to be honest not too much has changed for us. We are used to coping with new situations, and we rely on each other and can amuse ourselves most of the time. I love baking and have reveled in the joys of my little kitchen, where I have finally unpacked my travelling kitchen tubs.
There is so much space on the park and we walk around the perimeter in the evenings, and have now met a few other stranded inhabitants, beside the seagulls. There are also long walks to enjoy on the cliff tops and the beach. I've continued to connect with family and friends - some are coping better than others. We're not focusing on all the sad news on TV and unlike many we don't miss "normal life" – as house sitters our lives were never normal compared to most people.
How the world will change after this we can't know yet, but we are blessed to be where we are right now and that's all we can have control over.
Everything in life is a process of change and we have learnt to relax with the uncertainty.
House sitting in Australia through the pandemic
by Gerry O'Sullivan
You can find Gerry & Peter on AussieHouseSitters
My husband, Peter, and I retired at the end of March last year, and after disposing of most of our possessions, we left Sydney on 2 May. We have been house sitting most of the time since, with just some time spent in our roof top tent. Our plan was to see those parts of Australia we hadn't seen before, while waiting for Peter's Irish citizenship and passport to come through, and then head to Europe for the foreseeable future.
We have travelled across Australia; down New South Wales, across Victoria and to our first sit with two Curly Retrievers in Second Valley in South Australia (SA). The plan was to only stay in SA for a couple of weeks before heading north up through the centre. As it turned out we spent four months in SA, in Whyalla, Ceduna and the Adelaide Hills, and we loved every minute of it.
Eventually we swapped our little Mazda 2 for a 4WD with a roof top tent and after a few days at Wilpena Pound we headed north towards The Red Centre, Katherine and Darwin.
Because we had spent so long in SA it was getting too late for this area. Most of the "grey nomads" were heading in the opposite direction, as the temperatures rose. We spent two weeks on a hobby farm outside Darwin, enjoying tropical fruits, as the build up to the wet season set in. Then it was across to WA (Western Australia).
The northern west coast of WA is amazing. From Broome down to Geraldton, magnificent reefs and beaches, wildlife, birdlife, and we caught the wild-flowers around Kalbarri and out to the gorges. We had a house sit in Broome before camping down to Geraldton where we had two more house sits, then Perth, the Perth Hills and Bunbury.
We were then booked for three months in Mandurah on two separate sits. It was all looking good as this crisis unfolded, and then the cancellations came.
One night we were looking at being homeless, but the next day a new sit came up out on a farm in the wheat belt 135 kms east of Perth, for up to five months. We have a small cabin removed from the main farmhouse with two Red Cloud kelpies to feed and play with when they are not working, a veggie garden and orchard to water and plunder, and chooks to feed and collect eggs from.
We are a 30 minute drive to the nearest town, village really, with one rural supermarket, a doctor's clinic, a pharmacy, a hardware store and an agricultural machinery dealer. There are also two pubs but both are now closed. The nearest town with major shops is one and a half hours away. We are getting to do plenty of social isolating.
We are very lucky to have been in Western Australia for the last six months as our friends and family back in NSW faced drought, fires, floods and now the coronavirus. The Western Australian state government have been very proactive and the virus numbers are low here, but it means that the restrictions on movement are very strong. We cannot move out of our region, let alone the state.
So we are settling into the rural lifestyle, currently surrounded by young lambs and bottle feeding some, waking up with the sun, meditating, tending to the animals, walking, gardening and enjoying the wide open spaces and big skies. It is still hot here during the day but the nights are getting cooler. The next few months will bring the rains and it will get cold, very cold, so cosying up and lots of reading are in order.
And do we keep on with the Spanish lessons? Who knows what the future will bring? For now, we are very grateful that we have somewhere to live until the end of August.
Feeling so lucky.