Blogpost by Trustedhousesitters

We’ve been featured in the latest blogpost by Trustedhousesitters (24 Sept 2012), where they have written about housesitting as a lifestyle. Here’s the link:

http://trustedhousesittersblog.com/index.php/2012/09/24/how-to-live-rent-free-via-house-sitting/

And this was the short piece I originally submitted to them:

Hi, we’re Marie and Iain!

We have been house and pet sitting on the island of Crete for a little over three years now, and
have built up a group of around a dozen or so regulars, for whom we sit.
Predominantly based in the west of the island, the properties vary from traditional stone village houses;
to a renovated Turkish town house in the beautiful old town of Chania; to modern villas, with all
mod cons, in the beautiful countryside.

Since starting out, we have added to our experience with animals: skills
such as pool maintenance, gardening, olive picking and even a little plumbing – well, the system
here can present a few problems!
One skill we haven’t managed to master is the Greek language – we are still very much ‘beginners’.

Many of our ‘clients’ are rescue animals and we have grown attached to all of
them. Although we try not to have favourites, Marie just can’t help being
especially fond of the lovely Minos. Sometimes we are there just to
keep the property secure; and often there are several animals – mostly cats and dogs.

Though the Cretan summer is, as you would expect: dry, hot and sunny – and we’ve had a
tremendous summer this year; Cretan winters can be harsh.
From January to March – the coldest and wettest months – there is little to resemble the holiday
island that most visitors know. It is, however still breathtakingly beautiful with snow covering the
White Mountains (Lefka Ori), and the deserted beaches – now free of tourists – providing extra
walking routes for the dogs who in the summer can only exercise early morning and late evening
when it is cooler.

In winter, the cold beers and coffee frappes are replaced by red wine, raki and Greek coffee
laced with Metaxa, the local brandy. This year we will be growing our own vegetables during a five month
sit on a property with a large garden and swimming pool, near the village of Stavros.
This village is famous for being a film location in “Zorba The Greek” – the famous Zorba’s Dance scene
was filmed on the beach. Recently, we were fortunate enough to meet Walter Lassally who won the Oscar
for Cinematography for Zorba The Greek.

We are constantly adding recipes to our repertoire of Cretan dishes – they always taste better when we use
vegetables picked from the garden. The Cretan way is always to share – if we have extra fruit or veg we pass
some of it on; and we often receive gifts of raki, wine and olive oil.

As we enter our fourth year of house-sitting on Crete we sometimes crave a change of scenery.
We have in the past, house-sat in Hong Kong and Singapore, but we would like to try living in Spain, France or Italy.
We’ll have to make our minds up soon for next summer as a few of our regulars here on Crete already want to secure
our services for next year.

They say that once you come to Crete, you’ll find it hard to leave.
No doubt our regular ‘sittees’ are hoping that’s true.

Marie

Need a pet-sitter? See our travel tips and house-sitting services at https://theconstantraveller.wordpress.com/
Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/MarieIainHouseandPetsitting

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Springtime in Stavros

We are currently petsitting outside the village of Stavros near Chania, in Crete. Springtime in Crete is a vibrant, colourful time of year, as everything awakens from the winter slumber. Wild flowers adorn the roadsides where we amble on our daily walks with Megan and Sally.

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Minos

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This is just a short post to test how it looks from the WordPress app. Minos is one of the dogs we look after regularly on Crete. Lovely, isn’t he?

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What now?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got plenty to do.

PLENTY

First, there’s the book. It’s now a full year since I completed the first draft of my novel. I’ve no intention of trying to get it published. I’m not likely to let another soul read it.  But for my own personal satisfaction I want to edit it, rewrite it and (eventually) finish it. I estimate there’s at least a year’s work there.

Then there’s  this blog. When I started it I was brimming with enthusiasm. I was going to document eight years of travel, imparting invaluable advice to would be budget travellers and potential house-sitters. It’s all there on the home page.

I almost forgot the Greek! Language that is. It would be easy to fill hours, days, weeks, months and yes many, many years studying the language that would be of most use to us in our current location.

But I miss my crocheting. I no longer have it as an excuse to procrastinate.  Since we arrived here in Fres 5 weeks ago I have been mega industrious. You only have to look at The Constant Crocheter for evidence of that.  But it had to stop. I’ve got no wool left, a fair amount of stock for my stall at the winter fayre and the worry that I’ll be landed with a suitcase full of crochet goods to offload before our next trip.

I’ve surfed the net looking for inspiration………..but all I found were hundreds of travel/house-sitting/change-your-life blogs that are much better than mine.

I’ve tried Twitter and Facebook, both excellent tools for procrastination, but they just don’t grab me in the same way.

Why I prefer crocheting to doing all that other stuff :-

  • It doesn’t hurt my brain
  • Its colourful
  • I see quick results
  • I’m quite good at it
  • I can watch telly at the same time.

Oh well, I can always start work on all that other stuff tomorrow. Meantime, its time for America’s Next Top Model.

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The Constant Crocheter

As Christmas (I hate Christmas!) approaches my thoughts usually turn to how I can exploit the extravaganza of commercialism for my own gain.

This year was no exception and the answer came to me in Dublin airport where, in one of the well-known airport accessory shops, I spotted some very pretty scarves at some not so pretty prices. “I could make stuff like that” I thought.

So I did.

Five weeks of non stop crochet and I’ve got enough stock to fill my table at the winter bazaar. Here are a few examples.

 

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Foot and Mouth on Koh Samui

Thailand is a good place to get stuff done to yourself – massage, tattoos, tooth whitening, plastic surgery………that sort of thing, all cheaper than in Europe. I came away on this trip with a list of items I’d like taken care of. As our time in Thailand drew to a close it was time to start ticking things off the list.

The Foot Scrub

A foot scrub on a beach in Thailand should be a restful experience with an end result of silky smooth feet for a ridiculously low price. I was looking forward to this little treat, half an hour listening to the gentle lapping of the waves as my travel weary feet were transformed. Unfortunately, I must have twisted something as I lay face down on the mat, giving myself a stitch in my side. I lay in agony throughout the whole process, unable to move, worrying that I’d look a right idiot when I eventually tried to stand up! At last I got away, tightly holding my side in an attempt to maintain some dignity, trying not to look at the piles of cotton wool displaying the embarrassing amount of muck that had come off my feet. They are lovely and smooth though!

The Mouth Stud

I already knew the next procedure would be agony. After the first time, I had vowed never to subject myself to such pain again. But I did like my little stud and regretted allowing the hole to close up. If I didn’t redo it soon I would be too old. I suspect I’m way too old already! I’d figured I’d have to wait till Bangkok, Bo Phut being sadly lacking in any tattoo/piercing parlours, but a trip to Chaweng found me checking a handy tattoo shop. He had the right stud and the price was good. There was nothing to stop me. Except the fear. It was far more painful than I remembered. Even the metal clamp he used to stretch my bottom lip out was agony. A quick ripping sound as the needle tore through my flesh, a screech from me and it was done. At least it was quick.

The final items on my list are hair and shopping. No pain there, at least no physical pain as long as they’re careful with the GHDs. These will have to wait till my last few days in Bangkok despite the fact that the hair is becoming fairly urgent now. From the neck up I’ve started to resemble Monica from Friends. Not regular Monica, but the one seen in the episode set on Barbados, before the beads. It’s not a good look.

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Finding a house-sit……easy when you’re on the spot!

An idea is born

We did our first house-sit while we were still renting a place on Crete. A friend needed someone to look after his pets while he visited his family in the UK and we volunteered. The open balconies in our fourth floor apartment were not exactly dog or cat friendly so we moved to his place and looked after the animals there.

We realised that it might be possible to do this on a regular basis and save on rent. We started to mention the idea to people we knew. Word got around. We were asked to house-sit by someone else. And so on. We gave up our rented flat and started to house-sit full-time.

Whats wrong with the web?

Nothing. The web-sites which match sitters and sittees are great and we have been successful in finding house-sits through our chosen site HouseCarers.com. However, there are many people out there people out there who:

  • don’t use the internet
  • don’t know about house-sitting
  • don’t know about the house-sitting sites
  • would prefer to meet you before having you sit

Being on the spot means we can meet home and pets owners (and the pets) before the house-sit.  People are delighted to be able to talk to us face to face and find out about this mutually beneficial solution to their pet/house/garden care problems.

Market yourself

Get some free or cheap business cards made or make them yourself.  Ask if you can leave bundles in places where potential clients might see them – vets, shops, cafes, bars, animal shelters. If there’s a notice board, put up a poster.

Put an ad on the local ex-pat newspaper or magazine.

Word of mouth. Talk to people – especially people with pets. Tell everyone what you do. Stop to pat a dog in the street and give your card to the owner. We get more referrals by word of mouth than any other way. Give your sittees and friends permission to pass your e-mail to potential clients. Give out your card.

Network with other house-sitters. Since we started house-sitting we have met a few others doing the same thing. If you can’t do a sit, maybe you know someone who can – and vice versa!

What do you do between sits?

There are times when we have gaps between our house-sitting assignments. We fill these is a number of different ways depending on the length of the gap. We have:

  • gone home to visit family
  • stayed with friends
  • gone on mini-breaks to other parts of Crete
  • rented a room off-season for far less than the tourist rate
  • got back on the road – combining backpacking with a few house-sits in Asia.

So far this combination of travelling and house-sitting has worked well and the money we save when we’re sitting pays for our trips. As my ex-boss would say ‘it’s a win win situation’.

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Malaysia

Singapore to Tioman

The day started at 6.30am when we left our house-sit in Singapore hoping to reach the Malaysian city of Johor Bahru in time for an 8.30 am bus to Mersing. The journey got off to a bad start when the SBS bus no 170 from Kranji would not take cash and we couldn’t find anywhere to buy a ticket. We found out that the Causeway Link bus took cash and got on that instead.

The border crossing was quick and smooth on both sides. The friendly border official on the Malaysian side was delighted to point out how expensive Tioman is when I mentioned where we were headed. He obviously hasn’t been to ABC!

We reached Larkin bus terminal in plenty time for the 8.30 bus but for some reason decided to take the 9am one and have breakfast in MacDonald’s instead. This wasn’t the cleverest of decisions as it resulted in us missing the ferry from Mersing by about 2 minutes and having to wait at the ferry terminal for the next one 2.5 hours later.

Tioman

We chose South Pacific Chalets on ABC beach as our accommodation on Tioman for two main reasons 1. Proximity to the jetty for our 7.30am departure and 2. The price of 40 Ringit per night. You get what you pay for and 40RM (£8) gets you a basic place to sleep with a toilet and cold shower. We’ve stayed in a lot worse but nowadays we prefer a bit more comfort. We would happily have paid more but after a long day travelling we just couldn’t be bothered shopping around for something better.

Tioman has been described as one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Maybe we’ve seen too many beautiful islands but certainly our opinion is that Tioman, the bit we saw, is a bit tired round the edges. That said it does have a certain charm, especially with a cold beer at Happy Hour in either of the two bars we tried, Sunset Bar and Allo Bar.

Lightening on Tioman

Approaching storm

If the sun doesn’t appear for you to watch it set, there’s always a chance of a spectacular lightning show after dark.

Read more about Tioman and see the pictures on Tartanbeat’s travel blog.

Visiting The Smiths in KL

After roughing it on Tioman it was a lovely treat to spend time with friends at their new house in KL. Lots of drinking, good food and a day by the pool set us up for another round of budget travelling.

Penang

Penang Trishaws

Where have all the tourists gone?

And so we are back in our favourite haunt of Georgetown, Penang, our last stop in Malaysia. A conversation with a (young, Australian) backpacker about the disappointing beach at Batu Ferringhi prompted me to consider why we like this island so much. When I told her that we had been to Penang many times and knew the beaches were bad she asked “Why do you come here then?”

Here’s a selection of some of our likes and a few dislikes.

Likes

  • Georgetown – a multicultural city with some brilliant architecture – huge colonial buildings, Chinese shop houses and temples, mosques, churches, Buddhist and Hindu temples – we love it.
  • The Noble Hotel (Lorong Pasar). Rooms are usually snapped up early. You might be lucky if you arrive around check out time but its safer to book ahead. It’s still a bargain, clean, friendly and in a great location.
  • Kapitan is our new top for Indian food – it does Malaysian too. Less than 8RM for roti canai breakfast with coffee for two, very tasty curries and good nan.
  • On the other hand our old favourite Hainan chicken over rice spot, Kedai Kopi Pak Hock Nasi Ayam on the corner of Chulia and Jalan Pintal Tali (Rope Street) stays in top position for Chinese food. It has kept prices low but if anything the food has got better. The man still remembers us too, which is nice.
  • Bhaji man in Little India – samosas, bhajis and other fried Indian snacks.
  • Improved bus service – the Rapid Penang buses are modern and air-conditioned Some even have WiFi for those sad souls who can’t bear to be parted from their laptops even for the duration of a bus journey. Do I know anyone like that?
  • Clan Jetties – traditional houses built in the 19th century on wooden jetties on stilts over the water at Weld Quay. Occupied by Chinese clans such as Chew and Tan. There are also shops, a home-stay and a restaurant.
  • Upper Penang Road street market – nice for a browse – it’s only on once a month on the last Sunday. On the day we were there the shoppers were being entertained by a woman singing war time classics – surreal! Then again, didn’t Vera Lynn get back in the charts recently?
  • Red Garden and other hawker food centres. A few of these seem to have had a face-lift as has a lot of Georgetown including the grotty old ladyboy hangout on Chulia where we used to watch footie (now a boutique hotel!)
  • Heat and humidity – we like sweating!
  • Shopping – we don’t shop much (dedicated as we are to wearing every item of clothing till it falls apart) but you can always find something you want or need here at a good price. The Indian shops have great clothes and household stuff. One day I’ll get that lovely sharp cleaver and the spice tray, thali dishes and tiffin containers.
  • There’s always something new to discover. This visit it was the National Park and the Botanic Gardens.

Dislikes

  • Beaches – actually the beaches are not that bad, some are really nice with clean white sand, but the sea water is murky, dirty and strewn with litter – wouldn’t touch it! If you want a swim, and in this climate you WILL want a swim, shell out a small fortune to stay in a hotel with a pool or find one that will let you use the pool for the day.
  • Price of beer (and other alcoholic beverages) – this is a Muslim country and beer is expensive, on a par with the UK at times. The exception is what we affectionately call Alcies Bar (see below) where a can of Skol is a reasonable 3.5 RM.
  • Offensive patterns – there are some bad outfits going around. I’m not going to get into the debate about the rights and wrongs of banning the burka. Personally I feel there are other more offensive items (speedos for example) that should be banned. But what I find really offensive here in Malaysia is the dreadful fabrics they choose to create the outfits from. Most of them look like someone’s granny’s auld curtains! Where do they get them? And why?

    Offensive clothing

    Would you wear this?

A late night in Alcies Bar puts paid to Wesak day celebrations

We had been looking forward to the parade to celebrate Buddha’s birthday (Wesak Day). We had studied the parade route and worked out how to get there. Then disaster struck. A couple of cold beers the night before were followed by a couple more……………and before we knew it a full-blown sesh was under way.

We did make it to the Burmese temple the following day in time for the parade and even managed to spot a couple of the floats.  But, with Iain starting to wilt in the heat, we sensibly hailed a taxi back to the hotel.

Some Useful Information on Batu Ferringhi

To find budget guest houses, make sure you stay on the bus till you pass The Holiday Inn and The Park Royal. Get off at the post office – if you get to Hard Rock Hotel you’ve gone too far. Facing west with the Yahong Gallery on your left take the signposted road to the right towards the beach. Turn right at the bottom and you’ll find most of the budget places. We checked out a few and ET was the cheapest, cleanest and most appealing of the rock bottom budget ones. We paid 45RM per night.

We ate excellent roti canai (5RM for 3 roti and 2 coffees) in the Malaysian place on the corner of the main road and the road to the guest house. Lunch was good there too. Hawker food centre in the middle of the night market had great sati 12 sticks for 8RM and a wide selection of reasonably priced Asian food.

For more on our latest trip through SE Asia and a selection of photographs see Iain’s travel blog.

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Our Travelling Life – part 2 – Heathrow

16 October 2002 – London Heathrow

We arrived at Heathrow to find the airline looking for volunteers to give up their seats on the overbooked flight to Cape Town. We immediately joined the group of volunteers waiting to see if we would be picked to spend the first night of the trip £400 richer in a fancy hotel with three meals provided.

We were!

In the minibus to the hotel we chatted to the other couple who had been picked – a retired, English couple who had recently bought a house in South Africa and were heading there for seven months to furnish it.

At the hotel, keen to enjoy every minute of this unexpected luxury,  we grabbed our rucksacks and raced to beat the suitcase laden couple to reception. A wise move as we were informed that there was only one room free. We took it and left the couple to sort it out with the airline while we freshened up for our free three course dinner in the hotel restaurant. On our way to dinner we saw them waiting in reception and they told us an alternative B&B had been found for them.

We met them again at the check in desk next day and they told us about the dreadful Guest House that had only managed to rustle them up a sandwich the night before, while we were dining on steak and red wine. I pretended I hadn’t heard when the man said if it had been the other way round they would have offered to share. Aye right!

We felt slightly less guilty when, as compensation, they were upgraded to first class on the flight to Cape Town and even less guilty when we met them later in the trip and they told us about the table and chairs they’d just bought for what would amount to our whole two month budget in South Africa! OK – I confess – we didn’t feel guilty at all!!!!

When it was our turn to check in we were told there were no seats together. Retribution, we thought, till our disappointed faces and pleas that we had already delayed our trip by a whole day to help them out, resulted in an upgrade for us too –  only to business class but beggars can’t be choosers I suppose.

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Singapore Time!

It was an early rise to head to Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok on Lantau Island – we had a Tiger Airways flight at 11am to Singapore – and it all went really smoothly!
Pokey and OscarArrived in the ‘forever-humid’ Singapore, and after clearing passport control and baggage claims, we wandered the mazy path to the MRT (as opposed to MTR in Hong Kong), bought single tickets to Bukit Batok, and boarded the first of three trains to our destination – the journey took about an hour. We’re housesitting here for a week, looking after two gorgeous wee dogs – Pokey and Oscar.

That was our entry to Singapore. We have since had a lovely ten days here taking in a few of the sights, looking after Pokey and Oscar, sampling the local cuisine, and generally doing things very slowly! :o)

Most of our eating has been in the local foodcourt on the top floor of the West Mall – there must be close to a couple of dozen outlets serving great tasting cheap dishes: char siew pork, duck rice, black pepper beef/fish, laksa, bee hoon – skipped the pig organ soup though! The hawker markets (‘street food’ – see definition at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawker_centre) have been our dining destination when in town – there’s a great choice in Chinatown.

We’re been really handy for transport links here – right next to Bukit Batok MRT train system, and the bus interchange station of the same name! That has encouraged us to get out and see the sights. So, whilst here, we’ve visited the areas Kampong Glam and Little India; Sentosa Island; Chinatown, the Quays and Marina Bay; and more locally, the Haw Par Gardens (Tiger Balm Gardens).

Our ‘Days Out’ in Singapore:
Managed a walk around Kampong Glam (not a ‘high fashion’ shopping area, but a Malay Historic District) – despite beiShophouse in Kampong Glamng delayed and forced to daunder around inside the Bugis Station Mall because of heavy rain – to see the colourful shophouses selling Indian textiles in and around Arab, Bussorah and Kandahar Streets. Standing at the end of these streets was the great golden domed Sultan Mosque. With the rain stopped and the sun breaking through, we walked to Little India to take in the smells of incense, flower garlands and food! We took the “long-way-round” MRT ride back to Bukit Batok – a slow hour’s ride without changing.

A visit to Sentosa Island was always on the cards for us, since we’d skipped it both times we’ve been in Singapore before. Our main interest was Underwater World, where Gracie, the dugong resides – the shy dugong is really elusive in the wild, graGraciezing only on sea grass. She didn’t disappoint, and I managed to shoot over a hundred photos of her ‘hardly moving’!!!
Our tour of Sentosa was cut short again by a heavy rainstorm, so we navigated our way back to the main entrance dodging the many construction sites around the island – another place to add to the “it’ll be nice when it’s finished” list!!

Our first trip into Chinatown was interesting – we hadn’t planned where to go past visiting the new, modern Buddha Tooth Relic Temple (Tian Hock Keng), but we traipsed around some lovely backstreets before ending up at Marina Bay late afternoon.

More photogenic shophouses sit on every street in Chinatown, and coming out of the MRT onto Pagoda Street is no different. Particularly touristy with plenty ‘souvenir’ shops, we wandered throuBuddha Tooth Relic Templegh, towards the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple down the street. This temple was only completed three years ago, and is fast becoming the Number 1 attraction of tourists and worshippers  ! Four storeys high, it also houses a museum (filled with statues of Buddha in all guises, and an exhibit telling the story of Buddhism), a library and a shop.

Had a quick sit-down lunch in the bustling Maxwell Hawker Centre, and on the advice of the stall owner we went to see the architectural models of the city in the Singapore City Gallery across the road. It was a nice cool space to wander around and learn how Singapore has developed. After that wee bit of air-con action, we headed out to find great old buildings in Ann Siang Road, Club Street, Amoy and Teluk Ayer Streets.

Marina Bay is completely different – on totally reclaimed land sit huge new skyscrapers housing the financial forces of Singapore. Again, we had plenty of building sites to negotiate to find our destination – The Marina Barrage. This spiral building with a park on top – where kids were flying kites and newly-married couples were being photographed – was the pit-stop in a leg of The Amazing Race (US TV Show). Nothing for us to do though, except find the bar for a much needed beer!!!

Yesterday, we hit Chinatown again to do a wee bit of shopping (though we came away with nothing), and walk along the Quayside by the river. A DragonBoat Race was going on with many international teams, so we stopped to watch a couple of races, then found the popular focal point at the end of the esplanade – the Merlion Statue – half fish/half lion it spouts water out into the sea. A tasty pint of cider in an English pub on the quay completed our day!

Lastly, mustn’t forget the Haw Par Villa Gardens though (also known as Tiger Balm Gardens) Haw Par Villa . We’d searched for them in Hong Kong only to find a luxury development had been built on top of it. Well, here it was just a short bus ride away to visit this “Chinese Mythological Theme Park”. The park was built in 1937 by brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, the developers of Tiger Balm, as a venue for teaching traditional Chinese values, and the park contains over 1,000 statues and 150 giant dioramas depicting scenes from Chinese folklore, legends, and history. The attractions include statues of the Laughing Buddha and the Goddess of Mercy, as well as dioramas of scenes from Journey to the West. The most well-known attraction is the Ten Courts of Hell, with gruesome depictions of hell in Chinese mythology, all set in a 60 meter-long trail of a Dragon. The park is a wee bit run down, but guys were painting some of the statues, and the whole place is just fun! There’s loads of photos on Iain’s Travel Blog.

Our enjoyable stay in Singapore has now just about come to an end, and it’s back to packing our rucksacks and travelling again. Off across the border to Malaysia tomorrow, and hopefully some nice beach weather on the sands of Tioman Island.

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