July is almost over, and while we didn't exactly travel anywhere "exciting" and stuck to Western Europe, there were some surprises! We finished up our second housesit in Chester at the end of June, which was high time for leaving the UK, where we definitely felt less than welcome since the EU referendum (although gf has a British passport, but that doesn't seem too helpful now if you are not white).

It was time to head somewhere that seems more worry free and pleasant, a country that openly welcomes several cultures and languages by its very foundation. Time to head to...

Switzerland

I have been meaning to spend more time in the Romandie (French speaking Switzerland) for a while, but it never really happened. I have been twice before and while Geneva is a bit meh, Lausanne, the capital of the canton Vaud, is an absolute star. It does feel very French, is a lively and multicultural student city but has the friendliness and overall gorgeousness of Switzerland, if not more... it's hands down the prettiest place I have ever been in Western Europe, especially around the lake.

We only had 2 1/2 days in Lausanne, but managed to climb all over the very hilly old town (nothing can prepare you for that, bring good shoes!), walk by Lake Geneva and do a little hike in the neighbouring villages around the Lavaux wine terraces. Next time I'll definitely bring more time so we can actually stop over and enjoy the villages we just raced through this time. 


After a short trip to Italy, we spent a week in Basel, which is not really a popular place for tourism in Switzerland (the landscape around it pretty flat and boring), but we found it a very pleasant city. You can walk to both Germany and France from there, if you like. The weather was fantastic and we got a healthy tan, even though we didn't join the many people swimming in the Rhine (I couldn't believe my eyes - it's also much much cleaner there than on the other end of the river, where I grew up). 


A weekend in Lombardia

Our trip to Lausanne was so short because we went to a small village near Bergamo for friends' wedding, which was picture perfect in an old villa, but also relaxed. Our friends who got married are from Taiwan and Italy and both have lived and travelled all over, so the wedding was a lovely cultural mix of guests and traditions, albeit with a hefty Italian dinner, which we had to cut short due to being super tired after an early morning trip from Switzerland. 



The day after the wedding, we explore Bergamo, which is a super cute and overlooked city in this part of Italy. It was nice to enjoy some Italian foods before we were back to Switzerland, country of "can't afford to eat out here". 

Strasbourg, by surprise

Due to a miscommunication of housesitting dates, we had a week to fill all of a sudden. I really really wanted to go back to the West of Switzerland, but everything was booked solid because of the Montreux Jazz Festival. Completely by chance, we managed to find a small studio in the heart of Strasbourg's historic centre for a week.

Due to the great weather, I couldn't bring myself to visit any museums. And I LOVE museums, but the city managed to captivate us so much that just walking around didn't get boring all week. Strasbourg's many canals also make the city great for running. Next time, I'll be back for indoor stuff and a wine tour :) 

I also havent' visited anywhere else in France where people were that friendly and helpful. None of the places we went to eat our buy stuff at had rude staff, ha!


Stuttgart & Düsseldorf

Let's not talk about Stutgart, except this: It's overpriced, unfriendly and not pretty - if you're in the area, head straight for the Black Forest, Switzerland or France.

After a day in Stuttgart, we stopped over in Düsseldorf to catch up with some friends as well as Japanese food and supplies (intermediate kanji, here I come). Then it was time to go...

Back to the Netherlands!

For the last week of July (and for the next 4 weeks), we are back to a small town just south of Haarlem (which is just south of Amsterdam), looking after the most fantastic Ridgeback and ginger cat, in an amazing house from the future. This is time for long walks in the forest and catching up on work, studying, reading and watching stuff on the Netflix subscription that comes with the house. Not to forget enjoying the fancy organic shops and "yummy mummy" amenities this place comes with (the neighbourhood is a bit... the Real Housewives of Amsterdam, I guess). 

This was our first housesit back in May, and I think the sheer perfection of the house, location and pets just ruined all other housesits for us...













Having just completed our second housesitting assignment, I thought it would be worth sharing our experiences, which might help you see if housesitting might be an option for you. 

We initially thought that housesitting was off the cards for us, as most homeowners prefer “mature” sitters, and while we are certainly responsible, clean and mature, we don’t look it in our profile picture – we both often get ID’d trying to buy alcohol. Nevertheless, we managed to find both housesits quite easily, probably due to the fact that both families were quite young and open minded. Similarly to a job interview, the first impression and personal chemistry seems to count more than experience, but prepare to write extra convincing applications if you are under 40 or solo housesitter without any previous experience/references. Supposedly, it gets much easier once you do have some references, something we haven’t been able to try out yet as we actually secured a repeat housesit and won’t apply for any more until the end of the year.

THE PROS

11.  Free accommodation
Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? You get free accommodation, often substantially larger than you would even be able to get with an AirBnB or holiday apartment, a fully equipped, functioning home plus a rental pet!

22. A home away from home

For anybody travelling long term and especially working and travelling, this is a perfect deal and can be a compromise if you feel a little fatigued from travel. I can also allow you to spend a longer time in places you would otherwise have to spend a short time or skip altogether because of the cost, say the UK or Australia. I surely felt very itchy to get travelling again at the end of both housesits. Instead of setting up a new home somewhere, the long term nomad can try to find a housesitting assignment that lasts a few weeks or even months to build up some new wanderlust.

33. Puppy love

To be honest, and that surprised our housesitting hosts, for me, the bigger benefit of housesitting is having pets! I grew up with dogs, often multiple, large dogs at a time, and it’s the one thing I miss from my small town childhood and teens. I don’t see how a pet can fit into my life in the foreseeable future, but I love looking after other people’s pets. It was quite awkward to have to tell people that really, I didn’t choose to apply for their listing because I want to travel where they are, but because I love the description of their dog (sorry, I’ll look after cats, too, but really, it’s all about dogs for me).

You will notice that I didn’t put up “live like a local” as a pro. That is because it definitely is a pro, but I have to admit that in the places we have housesat before, we did not really fit in with the community/neighbourhood (which were quite elderly). On the other hand, other forms of accommodation also allow you to live like a local – virtually anywhere that isn’t a hotel or hostel.


THE CHALLENGES

While we did really enjoy both of our housesitting, with lovely houses and pets in great locations, I don’t think this will be a permanent thing for us, for the following reasons. I'm calling these challenges, rather than cons, as they are just that - personal challenges that will not affect many other people.

11)  Choice of countries

This is highly individual, but most housesits are simply offered in countries I am not really excited to visit. The majority of sits come up in Western Europe, North America and Australia, all of which I am ok to be in, but I don’t really feel the need to spend such a long time that housesitting makes sense. On the other hand, housesits are required by expats who retired or moved to popular places in the Mediterranean and tropical countries (there’s a lot of Spain, Caribbean and Thailand coming up), or expat hubs such as Dubai. None of these excite me, either, and I’d rather not be somewhere that’s super-hot unless it’s a location I am dying to explore – there’s a reason I chose the UK as my adopted home country. There are definitely exceptions to this and to be honest, when I have a lot of work to do, I don’t really mind where I am, but for the purpose of discovery and excitement, housesitting doesn’t fulfil my needs at all.

22)      Choice of location

More than anything, our two housesitting assignments again have reinforced how much of an urban creature I am. I feel most comfortable in the urban jungle, the grittier and busier and confusing, the better. Obviously this is quite the opposite of what my preferred pets – large dogs – like. Even if you don’t need a garden, you do need a bigger house and probably don’t live in the city centre when you have a big dog. Yes, there absolutely are housesits in more urban locations, and we will continue to explore that option, but options are limited to small dogs or cats in these cases.

33)    Limitations through pets

Admittedly, cats are much better with this than dogs, as most don’t care about being left alone. Dogs on the other hand, come in all kinds of variations. Some dogs can be left alone for quite a while, but especially in larger families, some dogs have never been alone for more than an hour or two, as people constantly come and go. This will limit your options for day trips and exploration in the area. An owner might also tell you that their dog is well behaved or relaxed, but their definition can be very different from yours (i.e. a dog might not pull on the leash, but constantly bark for your attention when in the house, or decide to sleep on your bed). I can only stress that it’s very important to discuss all of this in as much detail as possible before you agree to an assignment. On the other hand, it can make you sound a bit odd to ask too many questions. You might end up with a pet that you manage to deal with, but still gets on your nerves. Bring tolerance and patience, as if you were training your own puppy, but also accept that any attempt to re-train a mature animal is probably futile (when the owner returns at the latest).
On future housesits, I will also definitely check how many walks a dog gets and how long these usually are. We recently looked forward to long riverside walks with the large and supposedly very active dog who rarely wanted to walk further than 500 metres. As a consequence, we started to feel like prisoners of the (otherwise very lovely!) animal in a town which really didn’t have much to do.

While this might not sound very positive (here goes marketing writing once again…), I would like to stress that housesitting is probably a much better fit for most other people than for us. We also have been very lucky with beautiful homes and pets, and are looking forward to the repeat assignment we managed to secure!
However, I think you do need to be flexible and genuinely excited about the location, which we really weren’t with our sits in the UK and the Netherlands. I’m not a big cat lover (not that I hate them) and am not sure if I would jump at the option of a cat-only housesit. I dislike small dogs and suburban environments, which makes finding a match much harder. However, if I was planning to discover Europe or the US on a budget and with a lot of time, I would absolutely love the option.




… but for now, where’s my housesit in Japan, Korea or the Caucasus, please?


Crumbling Tbilisi, how I hope you'll be protected from gentrification!

Wow, I can't believe spring is already over (and much less so if I look outside to see the perpetual northern English drizzle - more like the rest of Europe in March rather than June!). 
After a really busy March and April, May and June have been more relaxed as we caught up with work and studies... three weeks ago, I finished my final exam with the Open University, which means (unless I failed it!) that I'll soon have the much desired degree from an English language university. This will also be my last foray into academia - as much as I love science, reading and learning, it's not a way of learning or working I enjoy, and I am glad I dropped out of high school and chose an apprenticeship (a very common thing to do in Germany) at age 17. 

Anyhow, before this exam, April held some gems of travel with us visiting three countries I've been longing to see for a long time.

Ukraine

I fell hard for this country, although I have to admit we only visited the three major cities. Kiev is amazingly beautiful and full of history, unlike anywhere else I have ever been (nope, Ukraine is really much like Russia). Lviv, a formerly Polish city, reminded me of a rougher version of Krakow, but I dare say both the food and cultural scene was much better! We also visited Kharkiv, the country's working heart in the east. Nope, it's not a war zone, but a vibrant and quite young and trendy city, very livable, although there aren't many tourist sites. I got the chance to visit one of my major, long term clients, which was fantastic (I hope they agree!). Visiting Ukraine was one of those moments that made me realise that even us Europeans don't really know much about our continents and get fooled by the media a lot. 

 And then it was time to leave Ukraine and visit a country I had been longing to see for a long time...


Georgia


street art in Tbilisi
Yes, all the clichees about Georgia are true, except the one with the hot blooded Caucasus men (this is a prejudice every Ukrainian seems to have ;)): Georgians are incredibly hospitable and helpful to guests, and I was baffled that even the border control lady at the airport started chatting in German with me at 2 am! We flew into Kutaisi, which is currently mostly under construction, but we had some great food and it was easy to organise a private driver to show us around. We then spent a week in Tbilisi, and I absolutely fell in love with the city! We had meant to spend more time in the Caucasus, but had to cut our trip short. As flights from Tbilisi back to western Europe were super expensive, we spent a few days in Armenia before flying back from Yerevan to Germany. 

Armenia

I hadn't given Armenia any thought at all until we stumbled accross Beirut's Armenian quarter, food and history last summer. We only spent four days in this breathtaking country that is quite different from its neighbour Georgia - people are more somber, things seem to be regulated better, many things seem more middle eastern, some more European than in Georgia. It's a very small country, but we managed to see quite a bit of it, using Yerevan as a base for day trips. Still, this was waaay to short of a time and I can't wait to get back!

Just your random phone snapshot from our trans-causasus trip...
Germany

My family lives just a few miles from the Dutch border, and many other friends live just an hour's trip away, so we spent some time in Duesseldorf, where I held my first proper job ever and which is full of Japanese food, pubs, parks and lovely people :) 

Housesitting in the Netherlands

Our first housesit in a small town 20 km south of Amsterdam went extremely well. We lucked out on location, a fantastic dog + cat, a maybe even more amazing house and family... so much that we'll be back for 5 weeks this summer! While we won't become full time housesitters, I am so glad that we explored this option, which is particularly useful for spending time in western Europe, North America and Australia. In all honesty, I find it hard to get excited about the locations most housesits are in, but I love having a dog for a few weeks. Dogs were a big part of my childhood and teens and the one thing I miss not being able to fit in my current lifestyle. 

England

After a very very short stopover in London for my exam and some repacking, and meeting up with a friend in Bristol, we spent 10 days in Liverpool, essentially working and eating. Liverpool is definitely my second favourite place in the UK! Although this time, I did get lost while running a few times and saw its uglier sides, beyond the recent restauration and investment that made the city center a lively hub of activity (I remember visiting Liverpool 15 years ago, when the city centre was not somewhere you wanted to hang out, either). 

Right now we are in the historic (Roman + Tudor) town of Chester on our second housesitting job... which deserves its own post. 

We are leaving the UK in a few days, which I am mighty glad about due to the current political situation here. As my life and business and has been based in the UK for the last decade, the referendums result was very saddening to me and I'll still be grieving for a while (and hoping it all won't turn out too ugly). 

Next week, we are off to Switzerland, with a small trip to Italy for a lovely friend's wedding, and some surprise destinations in Europe coming up for July - September! As much as I feel home in Europe, though, I am already itching to get back to Asia... 


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