Urshult Hotell – 7 months on

My husband Robert and I have now been managing Urshult Hotell for 7 months, 3 weeks and 5 days. We have seen the hotel in spring, summer and autumn. We have experienced the busy, often fully-booked high season and the quieter low season.

Here is a rundown of the last few months:

Firstly, what we have done:

  • The most significant thing in our family life has been expecting our first baby! He/she is due on 19 February next year and will be born in Växjö Hospital. I’d like to say a big thank you to my husband’s family for the extra help they offered in the hotel during my first trimester, which was rather ‘morning sickness heavy’.

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  • In October I finished my Swedish For Immigrants course and am due to start the next level up – Grundskolan – next week. I am looking forward to further improving my conversational Swedish so that I can chat more freely with our guests.
  • We are continuing our monthly English Cafes and had a record 99 guests at our last cafe.
  • We continue to offer locally-produced breakfast food where possible, including bread from Urshult Bakery, honey and tea from Krulliga Hästens and apple juice from Ugglekull.
  • In terms of renovations, we have almost completed our new bathroom, started work on our kitchen, laid a new wooden floor in our bedroom and built new beds for my step-children.
  • We have improved the presentation of our guest rooms with hand-painted water glasses, new coffee trays, vintage-style dustbins and a ‘welcome bag’ of cakes from our kitchen.
  • I took and passed an Anti-cimex food hygiene course and learnt a lot of helpful information about how to keep our food and kitchen hygienic.
  • We have installed 3 radiators in the hotel bar so that it will be warm and cosy for the winter months (previously there was no heating.)
  • Our basement shop is now open and we have had many satisfied customers buying honey, herbs, beeswax candles and handicrafts. The shop opens when the hotel has special events.

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Secondly, what we are doing today:

  • Keeping the hotel clean and tidy
  • Experimenting with new baking recipes for the next cafe
  • Experimenting with dinner recipes in the hope that we can provide guests with a simple supper by the time next summer comes. Ideas include the English classic, Cornish pasties.

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  • Building our new kitchen to help keep family-life and hotel-life more separate.
  • Considering joining Swedish Welcome, a grading system similar to the English system of ‘starring’ hotels.

Thirdly, what we are going to do in the future:

  • We will create some ‘package tours’ to attract more guests to the hotel. Ideas include, cycling holidays (several national cycle routes converge at Urshult), canoeing trips, horse riding tours and foodie visits.
  • To obtain a license to offer alcohol to our dinner guests
  • To continue to cater to dinner parties and improve the menus we have on offer.
  • To encourage more guests to book ‘private cafes’. This is where we offer English Afternoon Tea to groups who want to have exclusive use of the dining rooms.

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  • To open the hotel as part of the Urshult Christmas Market on Friday 27 November.
  • To install new showers in the guest annexe and continue updating the bedrooms.

Thank you for checking in with our blog😄

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5 months in Urshult Hotell

5 months ago today on 17 March we picked up the keys to our new home aka Urshult Hotell. It has been a busy and productive 5 months!

Here is a summary of what we have done since arriving here, what we are doing now and what we plan to do in the future.

Firstly, what we have done:

  • Tidied up the facade by cutting back the bushes, uprooting weeds and planting new flower pots
  • smartened up the reception area with new plants. Tidied up the presentation of local tourist information and begun to sell local produce and handicrafts
  • organised the hotel keys into a more accessible system
  • improved breakfast with freshly cut ham, local produce (honey, jam, organic teas and apple juice) and bread from Urshult bakery
  • re-started the booking.com entry
  • introduced professionally cleaned and pressed matching white bed linen and towels to the guest rooms
  • begun a popular monthly English cafe event

Secondly, what we are doing today:

  • renovating our bathroom, which was 3 small toilet stalls that we knocked into one. Left to do are installing a bath plus other minor fixtures and fittings.
  • renovating our bedroom: work on the floor is well under way; after that we shall install a large walk-in wardrobe.
  • The hotel occupancy rate has risen by over 10x in the last 5 months but we are still looking to improve these sales figures
  • continuing to explore the local area so that we can give well-informed advice to guests on what to see and do while they stay here
  • Keeping on top of cleaning schedules to ensure a positive guest experience
  • Keeping on top of waste management and recycling – it is amazing how much waste a busy hotel can produce!

Thirdly, what we are going to do in the future:

  • the facade is due to be painted in the spring and this will make a huge difference to guests’ first impressions of the hotel.
  • My Swedish class starts back on 24 August and I shall be eagerly studying to improve my language skills so that I can converse with guests more easily.
  • In autumn we shall be renovating the guest bedrooms and freshening them up, whilst keeping that vintage 1920s feel.
  • We will continue with our monthly cafe event and keep coming up with new baking recipes to delight our customers.
  • As part of a special arts event in the first weekend of September, we will experiment with a pop-up shop in the basement selling high quality local produce and handicrafts. If this is successful, the pop-up shop may become a regular feature of Urshult Hotell!

Thank you for checking in with our blog😄

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Hotel manager’s log: Day 93

It’s official!  We have been here exactly 3 months today!  We have served 251 guest breakfasts, 162 cafe guests, 32 birthday lunch guests and 7 evening meal guests. Wow!

Rather than write a post today, I thought I would upload some of the beautiful photos that our favourite local photographer – Mia – recently took during a trip to the orchard Ellenas.  This ancient orchard’s trees date back several centuries and is situated on the banks of Lake Asnen.   You may recognise my husband, sister-in-law and puppy in some of the pictures.  Enjoy!

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Hotel manager’s log: Day 88

I am tired today!  This morning husband and I woke up early in order to leave at 6:45am to get to his end-of-year school concert.  It was great to see his school and music room and to meet some of his colleagues and students.

The concert was outside in the school field and the weather was jätte värmt*  All the performers were in the shade of a large white marquee, which was decorated with Swedish flags and lupin flowers.  There is no uniform in Swedish schools and it was lovely to see the students express the joy of summer in their clothes:  bright colours, floral dresses and flower garlands.  By the way, I love the Swedish word for summer holidays – sommarlov.  

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Lupin flowers

The concert programme included traditional Swedish songs such as ‘Blommerstid’ and the national anthem.  My husband lent me his beautiful flugal horn and it was a joy to hear its creamy tones add to the school choir’s singing.

Afterwards we had a traditional Swedish lunch of smörgåstårta and strawberry cakes.

smorgastorta  strawberry cakes

There were thank you speeches from the Headteacher (dressed in Smaland’s traditional costume) and presents were given to the staff who were leaving.  The staff who were staying another year all got given a book.  And I got given one too; a novel called “Croissants till frukost“**  As a self-confessed francophile, this sounds right up my street!  Reading a novel in Swedish will be a challenge, but I will definitely give it a go!

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Smaland’s traditional costume

On the way back from school we visited one of Smaland’s many loppis.  These are fascinating second-hand shops and stalls, which sell anything from teapots to book ends, vinyl records to candlesticks.  Today’s loppis had an ancient wind organ, which my musical husband enjoyed playing very much!  During our loppis trip we realised it is our 11 month anniversary today.  Just one more month to go until we can celebrate an entire year of marriage.  And what a year it’s been!!

My in-laws have been manning the fort today and provided breakfast to our 7 guests this morning, so that I could play in the concert.  Once back at the hotel in the afternoon, we all had fika together then I went off for a walk in the forest.  I love doing this as it never fails to amaze me how wild and unkempt the forests around here are.  I am used to signposts and fences in England but here in Sweden there is a law called Allemansrätt, which means that I can freely roam.  Free-range Anna!

The weather has been so fantastic today (a balmy 24 degrees) that we decided to have a barbecue in the evening.  The 4 of us (5 if you include Borgust) sat in our garden munching korvar***, drinking beer and generally mellowing into the evening.

Tomorrow is the first day since 24th May that we have no guests booked to stay.  Discussions about when we should eat breakfast included the deliciously late suggestion of 11:00am.  Let’s see!  I do know that there will be important work going on in the new bathroom and LOTS of laundry to catch up on in the tvättrum****  The Urshult Hotell task force will be in full swing.  But, for now, from a tired and happy hotel manager, it’s lights out.

By the way, a note to my regular readers;  I haven’t forgotten “The Story Of Us” – just laying it to one side for a moment while I describe present events.  Have a good weekend y’all!

*very warm

**croissants for breakfast

***sausages

****laundry

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The story of us…PART 2

Breakfast for 2 Volvo workers has been served, Borgust has been fed and now it is blog-time!  (By the way it was rather hilarious watching Borgust pick up a long stick and try and get it through a narrow gap in our garden hedge.  Urshult Hotell’s very own morning slapstick comedy show!!!)

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Now, where was I?  Ah yes, my colleague and I had just been on our first date.  But how did we get from there to marriage proposal and buying a hotel in Sweden?  Patience dear reader!

Our first date was a blast and lasted well into the evening as we ate deliciously cold ice cream beside a warm sunny canal in Haggerston.  We then strolled through the trendy streets of Hackney and ate fragrant tapas in a shiny new restaurant in Dalston.  You see?  I told you the unplanned evenings are the best!

Date number 2 was a sunny picnic by the Thames, followed by a walk along the river and a Strawberries and Cream frappucino from Starbucks.  I didn’t know it yet, but our relationship was to encounter several bombshell revelations and the first came during this date:  Now the school summer holidays had arrived, I was looking forward to getting to know my new date at a leisurely pace.  I imagined six weeks of romantic dates, gazing into each other’s eyes and that all important First Kiss.  But during our Thameside picnic, my colleague announced he was going to Sweden for the ENTIRE SUMMER.  Not only that but he was moving to a different school in September.  Was this to be the end of our fledgling romance?  Had we left it too late to get things started?

During the summer holidays I kept busy and happy with a family holiday, dance classes, a jazz holiday and driving lessons.  Even though I was happy and enjoying myself, I couldn’t help wondering what he was up to.  Was he thinking about me too?  Was I right that there was a certain chemistry between us or had I just imagined the whole thing and we were actually Just Friends?  A crazy part of me even considered hopping on a plane to meet him in Sweden!

Finally, after the 6 week summer break was over, he came back to the UK and texted me as soon as he got off the plane.  “This is promising,”  I thought and arranged to meet him at a free outdoor theatre show in Deptford the following day.  (After a summer of no teaching work, a free show was about all I could afford!)  Again we had fun and spoke for hours about life, our jobs, our music, London-life etc etc. I got the impression that he truly delighted in my company and didn’t care about the location or cost of our dates.    My self-esteem and confidence blossomed as I basked in the warm glow of his unconditional appreciation.

However, as we continued to date for the next few weeks, I began to experience nagging doubts.  This was mainly because we still had not kissed!  It felt like our relationship was a plane that had been taxi-ing on the runway for too long.  When would it take off?!   When would we take things beyond the friendship stage?  So, for our next date, I picked the most romantic film I could find, put on a nice dress and left the rest up to fate.  Following the film, we went for a drink in a Soho pub and – I kid you not – a man walked up to my date and announced, “She’s beautiful!  You’ve got to marry her.”  He then gave me a knowing look and walked off!

Despite this stranger’s prophetic announcement, I still hadn’t got my kiss when we said goodbye at my bus stop on The Strand.  As my bus approached I began to despair;  maybe we were Just Friends after all.  Perhaps I had misread the signs all along and simply imagined his interest in me.  He lent in to say goodbye and then…it happened.  Time warped, tummy butterflies fluttered and, after 4 more buses came and went, two very happy music teachers finally said goodbye to each other and went home, knowing our lives would never be the same again.

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To be continued…

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The story of us…PART 1

It’s been a while since my last post; a skewed work-life balance and a seriously ill step-daughter have kept me away from writing.  I am pleased to say my step-daughter is now fully on the mend, my husband is back from visiting her in hospital in London and work and life are more balanced.

For today’s post, I would like to write a shamelessly romantic account of how my husband and I met:

It was a day like any other.  I turned up to a certain north London girls’ school to teach 2 hours of trumpet.  In the music corridor was a very tall man (obviously a teacher) examining the notice board.  He gave me a broad warm grin and introduced himself as the new music teacher.  

Over the course of the next few months we began talking more and more and we soon became friends.  As a peripatetic music teacher working in 9 locations every week I was more used to casual (but not unkind) indifference from the busy full-time teachers in the schools where I worked.  I struggled to make deeper connections with colleagues due to the simple fact I wasn’t around in the same place for long enough!  I found this colleague’s friendly interest in me very charming and began to look forward to my weekly teaching slot more and more.

We discovered we had a lot in common:  we are both brass musicians, teachers, taller than average (!) and have a Swedish connection.  He is fully Swedish and I am one eighth Swedish on my mother’s side.  Conversation began to flow and I became increasingly drawn to this warm and friendly man.

Working with someone is a fantastic opportunity to get to know the real person and not just their “best behaviour” date persona.  I saw this colleague in autumn, winter, spring and summer.  I saw him when I was tired and when I was energised.  When I was in a good mood and a bad mood.  I saw him in many different situations, including dealing with stroppy teenage girls – and anyone who can do this well deserves respect!

Then one day, as we greeted each other in the corridor, a little voice in my head said, “hello future husband”.  (Thankfully, I did not say this out loud!!!)  But, like a freight train, it hit me.  This was the man I was going to marry.  I was stumped.  I had never had never thought that about ANYONE before.  We were not even dating at this point!  This must surely be a sign to take our friendship to the next level.  And that summer, after a year of working together, we went on our first date.

We agreed to meet after school on the last day of term for coffee.  In true Sod’s Law style I suddenly realised I had an issue with my music service timesheets and had to visit the Head Office to sort it out.  If I didn’t then I wouldn’t get paid and money was tight so I couldn’t afford any mistakes.  Thankfully, my sanguine colleague was more than happy to meet me later than planned in a different location next to Head Office.  

So there we were; me feeling stressed and hassled after rushing to Head Office to sort out my salary and him looking slightly disheveled in the work clothes he had been wearing all day.  Neither of us had a plan for where to go, neither of us had showered and changed for this date.  This was a stark contrast to my previous dating life: getting specially dressed up, planning the ‘perfect’ evening and generally trying to exude perfection.  But here I was; not dressed up at all, no idea where I was going and it was all very…exciting!  We were being ourselves, with all our glorious imperfections, and I knew that the evening was going to be special.

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Tune in next time for part 2!

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Recipe for a busy week

Ingredients:

English Cafe event x 1

Cafe customers x 100

Overnight guests  x 26 Swedish army officers staying 4 nights

Choir rehearsal x 1

Birthday lunch x 1

Birthday lunch guests x 40

Puppy with very active bowels x 1

Method:

Mix all the above ingredients together and hey presto your busy week will be complete!

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Yes indeed, this has been the busiest week yet in Urshult Hotell.  The day after our English Café event last Sunday we had 26 male and female officers from the Swedish Army check-in.  Our hotel was fully booked for the entire week and they just left this morning.  Without exception they were polite, tidy, warm and friendly.  I do hope they come back and visit again.

This morning we gave them their last 6:20am breakfast and there was much talk about last night’s fantastic concert.  The national army have been training in the Urshult area all week and their training culminated in a musical extravaganza.  At 6:30pm last night, Urshult church (which seats 800-1000) was packed with soldiers and local residents; all keen to hear the army wind band and singers.  The brass playing was sublime and the trumpeting was incredibly inspiring.  A personal favourite was the haunting flugal horn solo in You Raise Me Up and the finale Up Where We Belong.  Thoroughly roused and uplifted, the audience trooped outside at the end of the concert to listen to the Smaland anthem played on the steps of the church.  The Musical Director conducting the anthem was at breakfast this morning and I was able to congratulate him on his fabulous concert.

During their time here, I had some very interesting conversations with the officers and my favourite was with the army chaplain.  He was preparing his talk for an event about how music can help soldiers grieving the loss of a comrade.  We talked for quite some time about the healing power of music and I shared that my own paternal grandfather was an army chaplain during World War II.  It seems I have a fair few experiences here in Sweden, which somehow bring me back to my roots!

Despite being pretty exhausted mid-week I did make it to my first ever Urshult Kyrka choir rehearsal.  As I set out to the parish hall, I felt a bit apprehensive about following a full choir rehearsal in Swedish and also chatting in Swedish to lots of new people.  When I arrived, the singers were standing outside in the warm spring sunshine eating ice cream!  ‘This is my kind of rehearsal!’ I thought, as I was handed a magnum and began to relax into the familiar camaraderie of a musical rehearsal.  Music is genuinely an international language so I easily followed the Musical Director as he led the warm-ups, counted us in and coached us through each piece.  It also helped that we sang 3 songs in English by The Beatles!!

So, after a week of sharing our hotel with them, the army officers left this morning.  Following their departure, I felt a real sense of satisfaction that we did it!  We actually catered for a fully-booked hotel!  And this came straight after all that baking and hosting for the English Cafe last weekend.  If you had said to me in May last year, “Anna, this time next year you will be married, living in Sweden and running a fully-booked hotel”  I would have thought you were crazy!  But here we are and so far so good!

Hopefully we can ride on the waves of these successes through tomorrow’s 70th birthday party.  We are catering for a very nice neighbour who expressly wanted to celebrate this milestone at Urshult Hotell.  The menu will include my well-practised lasagne, shepherd’s pie and salade nicoise.

Finally, on Sunday, my husband and I will put our feet up and enjoy a well-deserved rest:)

Happy weekend everyone!

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