Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Guest-Blog: Testing the Waters

Innkeeping is not a profession that allows many holidays. Having had an extremely busy season, Sven and I decided to get away to the city for two days in preparation for a busy fall. Luckily for us, my brother has always dreamed of running a bed & breakfast. He feels a bit nervous as we prepare to leave, with a couple of guests still snug in their bed. Nick Grabbe has memorized the breakfast routine. Since he happens to be a writer, I decided to ask him to guest-blog this morning: “Ten years ago, I had been in the same job for 19 years and was feeling like I wanted to do something completely different with my life. I seized on the idea of starting a bed & breakfast in Deerfield, Mass., home of a historic village and a prep school, thus a destination for many travelers. My wife’s family had owned land in Deerfield for over 100 years, so it seemed a good choice. But my wife told me I just didn’t have the temperament to be an innkeeper; she said I would get frustrated and wind up like Basil Fawlty, the John Cleese character who insults his guests. I suppose she was right; I got a new job that I like very much and forgot about my plans for running a bed & breakfast. Curiously, my sister started doing exactly that. So now, I have the opportunity to fill in for her for a day and a half. I can tell callers that no, there are no spaces free for Labor Day weekend. I can make conversation with the guests, maybe give directions to the beach. And I can actually make a breakfast! I can probably restrain myself from insulting the guests for one day …”

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Wellfleet Emerges from High Season With New Community Spirit

The pace, at last, is beginning to slow down. The restaurants are not as full as folks head back to college. Here at Chez Sven, we welcome the slower pace. It has been a busy, busy summer. Yesterday there was a garden party downtown to welcome back the doors, formerly of the Catholic Church, now the symbol of Wellfleet’s future Preservation Hall. Everywhere tourists notice the Caleb Potter signs and ask shopkeepers who he is, then stuff a few bills in the collection jars. When Caleb went back into surgery last week, the town seemed to be holding its breath, waiting for his mother, Sharyn, to communicate, through her blog, that he was all right. The accident will have been the memorable event of the season in the way it brought the community together to pray for and support one of its own.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Creatures, Big and Small

This has been a great summer for whalewatching. Our Liberty Coin Suite guests saw 12 whales on their trip out to Stellwagen Bank, including the beauty above. The whalewatching cruise now costs $33 for one adult, and $25 for children over 5. Still it is an experience to remember for a lifetime. Those whales are so serene, powerful, and BIG!

A creature that is much smaller has not been as evident this summer, perhaps due to the lack of rain, but is surely around. I was reminded of its presence by a neighbor from the other side of Long Pond Road who was out walking and said she had been suffering from “flu-like symptoms.” A light went off because I now know people do not get flu in summer. Two years ago this month doctors were trying to figure out why I had no energy at all. Those same flu-like symptoms in early July had left me exhausted. A local doctor ordered a Lyme test, which came back negative, but something was definitely wrong. I spent all day, every day, in bed, with aches and pains. I requested a second test, and it revealed Lyme Disease.

Before getting Lyme, I did not take the risk of contagion seriously. Since then, I keep my eyes open for ticks. I have gotten so I can recognize the deer ticks, which travel on birds, mice, and deer, as opposed to the larger dog ticks. I do a tick-check every night. I wish everyone were taking the same precautions. I tell all my guests about Lyme and urge caution. Now that I am paying attention, I have noticed ticks congregate around doors in June, perhaps following human scent, as they seek a next host. There is information out there on what to do if bitten, so I will not go into that here.

CBS News reported recently that 250,000 cases of Lyme go unreported each year. Deer ticks now exist in all but 13 states. Sweden has seen its tick population increase dramatically, too. When Sven and I were married 9 years ago, there were few ticks in his town. This summer my husband was bitten three times! He tells me the ticks were coming into his house there. Whether through a crack under the door, or on laundry, they invade our spaces. If I find any ticks, I pick them up with tissue paper and flush them down the toilet.

I way prefer the gentle whales ….

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Missing the Beach ...

Today Sven and I cleaned Seagull Cottage and Liberty Coin Suite for our new guests. The cottage guests have returned for five years, so we had some good laughs when they arrived, now old friends. Our Liberty Coin Suite guests did not get here until dinnertime. He is the second professional photographer to choose Chez Sven this summer and happens to have been born in Germany. Sven was delighted to have the opportunity to speak German, and I am excited because our guest has taken photos for Green Peace. With all that tidying up today, there was no time for the beach. I found myself dreaming about the leisure activities one can enjoy beside the ocean: walking along the dune, kite-flying when it is windy the way it was this week, partying like the folks above, but also relaxing or simply reading a book. In summer, Sven and I like to walk way up the beach where there are fewer people and more pretty stones. The problem, in high season, with being a busy innkeeper is that there is no time to simply enjoy Wellfleet’s beauty beyond the confines of Chez Sven!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Reflection on Different Types of Guests

I have been doing more thinking about what makes happy "green" guests like these folks on their way back from a perfect day at Lecount Hollow beach: an excellent bed, soft organic sheets, a fine breakfast, great weather, two friendly and knowledgeable innkeepers, lots of fun activities in the vicinity of the b & b...

Yesterday I received a packet of postcards in the mail from This popular booking company expects me to hand out their postcards requesting reviews from my guests. Why in the world would I do that? I much prefer to have guests write in our guestbook and post their comments. It occurred to me that, being a service company for bed and breakfast owners – who pay to be listed – might do better to distribute postcards so innkeepers can warn other innkeepers about problem guests. For instance, the scammers from abroad who write, “Hello, Sir. I have four couples, who plan a honeymoon in your area this December and seek accommodation. Can you communicate immediate vacancies …” I press delete without hesitation, but some innocent newcomers get ripped off.

On these innkeeper-preference dream forms, there could be a Never-Satisfied category. One look at the list and it would be possible to know that spotless organic linens would not be nice enough, giving the innkeeper time to hang out a No Vacancy sign.

Another category would be Super-sized. These guests can ruin antique furniture in one sitting. We have never had a Super-sized guest, but my friend Sheri, out in Wisconsin, has them all the time.

Condescending guests are also folks to avoid. Such people look down their noses at the innkeeper and ask for pointers on local sightseeing options around the breakfast table. What makes these folks feel so superior? They are a major cause of early burnout in the industry. Fortunately, here at Chez Sven, our green guests tend to have a more sensible attitude. Condescending guests seem to confuse innkeepers with wait staff - not the same thing. Most innkeepers enjoy serving breakfast or they would be in another profession. Such guests will not get Sven to discourse on any history topic imaginable or find me around much. I prefer to spend time with the vegetables in my garden.

The three categories above are not to be confused with guests who have been having a bad day, or a bad week, or a bad year. It is a pleasure to see the lines vanish from their faces after a few days here at Chez Sven!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Regarding Online Reviews ...

“Chez Sven is run by a lovely woman who makes one of the best breakfasts in the world. The place is very pretty and light. We have stayed in the Liberty Coin Suite, ideal for a family with one child. Sandy is very knowledgeable about anything that might possibly interest you about Cape Cod and Wellfleet. The garden is very beautiful and fragrant. The whole setting is so peaceful, you would not want to leave. Breakfast is excellent. It includes freshest fruit, homemade granola and yoghurt and some pastry or cake. Our favorite was the one with poppy seeds, cranberries and almonds. This is the place where you definitely would want to return.”

This review was just posted at Trip Advisor by one of our summer guests. I am not sure who posted it but am grateful. “Lovely woman.” Hmm. How nice to make that impression!

More and more potential guests are seeking out reviews online at sites like the ones listed in this article on sham reviewers. Indeed people sometimes find reviews do not correspond to reality. Here at Chez Sven, we invite future guests to read our guestbook, posted on our Web site, four years of positive reviews. As I said in yesterday's blog, we only want happy guests, happy guests, happy guests, happy guests ….

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

An August Night and Morning in the Life

Last night I had a dental appointment in Hyannis and missed the arrival of some folks from Tennessee, who had booked the Studio without realizing it does not include private bath. Sven received the guests with glasses of wine, since he was having friends over for dinner. When I got back at 9 p.m., I rushed to the Studio with my registration sheet and was met with frowns. The gentleman was having a hard time connecting to the wireless and intimated none was available. I assured him that everyone so far has been able to connect. His wife asked to be allowed to try, and, sure enough, could read her email, important in today’s connected world. She told me their plan was to leave in the morning, since there was only a shared bath for Studio guests. I checked my email messages to be sure I had mentioned this fact. I had. She then said they rose early and could not wait until 8:30 a.m. for coffee, so I offered to serve them at 7:30. After a difficult night – Sven was coughing, an allergic reaction perhaps to something he ate, waking me over and over – I was so exhausted that I slept through my alarm and only got breakfast on the table by 8. The Studio couple seemed in better spirits nonetheless and was able to enjoy the strong organic free-trade Peace coffee, granola, and fruit salad. They chatted with our other guests who had requested chocolate baked goods for breakfast. While I was in the house, the couple left without saying goodbye. I called the Chamber of Commerce to let them know about this unexpected availability and headed for the post office with a letter containing a refund. Here at Chez Sven, I only want happy guests ….

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Wellfleet's New Image: Compassionate and Totally Booked in August

“If a town could be judged by its collective kindness, Wellfleet could be designated capital of the East Coast.” Jeffrey Bergeron, Summit Daily News, Colorado, 8/11/07. (To learn more check out

Sven went to the Box Lunch today for a sandwich and learned Wellfleet is completely full for the next couple weeks. No rooms available, not a one. Last Thursday there was a line of 25 cars at high noon, awaiting access to Newcomb Hollow Beach. I always tell bed & breakfast guests they need to get to the beach early if they want a spot on exceptional beach days like last Thursday or I suggest they simply do Duck Harbor instead – no mung. I already knew about the lack of rooms issue from the daily phone calls. What’s more, the Chamber of Commerce is running out of guidebooks earlier than usual and has requested that members bring back extra copies. About this time of year, Wellfleetians start really looking forward to September. It’s easy to understand why. A quick trip down Route 6 to the post office becomes a major endeavor with cars streaming towards Provincetown. The Main Street sidewalk is crowded; the restaurants, busy. “Come in September instead,” I tell last-minute callers. Folks with kids usually have to stick to a school schedule, but anyone without children should consider creative planning next year. A peek at the photos on past blogs will indicate why: Wellfleet can be so very lovely in the three other seasons as well!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Message for Maria

Comments about this blog reach me through different avenues. Yesterday I received an email from Maria who writes, “I found your blog earlier this year and am a devoted follower. I passed along your link to my mother. I enjoy very much your Wellfleet news and photos. I read the Cape Cod Times nearly every day (online) but find what I'm looking for on your blog. Your By Bea’s Bedside blog especially touched my heart as I cared for my godmother as she lived out her last months with help from hospice. I want to thank you for all the pleasure your writing has given me! I will keep reading!”

Emailing Maria proved impossible, so here is my response: “Thank you for your kind words about my blogs. I really appreciated your writing to say you enjoy them. You might be interested to know that I will be guest-blogging at timegoesby tomorrow. Ronni Bennett’s blog is not about Wellfleet but provides much food for thought. Your mom might enjoy knowing about it, too. If you are ever in Wellfleet, do stop by and say hello.”

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Outer Cape Featured in Tomorrow's NYT

Wellfleet is yet again the focus of a summer New York Times travel article, “In Clam Shack Country, the Classics Reign,” by Mark Bittman. Reporting on dinner options on the Outer Cape is not surprising when you see the number of cars with New York plates in the town hall parking lot of late. This year the Times features restaurants, and Mac’s Shack, reviewed here in May, gets high marks, with special mention for Abba in Orleans, which Sven and I also always recommend to guests. The article offers a great photo of Mac's Shack. Over at, local freelance writer Kathy Shorr recommends the newest food destination on the Cape, located in Truro. This spring the Blacksmith Shop closed its doors and submitted to a complete renovation. The Blackfish rises from the ashes. I cannot wait for September when Sven and I will venture forth and have dinner there!

Friday, August 10, 2007

What is Seagull Cottage?

Seagull Cottage is a private cottage in the woods behind Chez Sven. Here is a bit of history on its creation: When my parents retired in 1969, on an impulse, they purchased some cabins in case they did not find the perfect old Wellfleet house. Our Cape Codder became available that same week. It was built in the 1700s and moved to this site in the second half of that century. What to do with the cabins? They were transported to the property and joined to the two-seater outhouse, which was to become the cottage kitchen. When my children were small, I used the cottage in the summer. After a few years, my parents began to rent out the space. Tenants enjoyed the quiet and peacefulness, as well as the proximity to ponds, beaches and town. Many former tenants liked this part of Wellfleet so much that they decided to purchase second homes in the nearby woods. In 1997, Sven retired from teaching, and we moved back from France to care for my parents. We were used to living in a larger space and found our queen-sized bed would not even fit into the smaller cabin. So, we decided to enlarge the cottage, adding a chimney and master bedroom. During the fall of 1999, Sven and a local carpenter built this addition. In 2003 we renovated the kitchen. In 2004 we put new front windows in the living room. In 2005 we added a door and a bit of deck. For 2006, we redid the bathroom. In 2007, two new screen doors were installed. Whew! That’s a lot of renovation. Seagull Cottage books by the week in summer and has proved a very popular venue. It has a fireplace, which makes for a cozy retreat in fall, winter, and spring. If you are interested in July or August, 2008, let me know early as the slots go fast.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Duck Harbor, Water Bottles, & BPA

What with fog hanging over the Atlantic and mung in the waves on the backshore, Duck Harbor, on Cape Cod Bay, seems to be the best beach in Wellfleet this summer. The air was crisp and clean last Sunday when these photos were taken. Duck Harbor, in two directions, if you please, above and below. Tourists happily trudged over the low dune to the shore with beach umbrellas, coolers, and other paraphernalia, including, without a doubt, a good number of bottles of water. Plastic bottles have become a fixture in our 21st century lives. What if plastic were responsible for some of the many health conditions that now plague modern society? The Green Guide carried a warning about plastic bottles last year. Yesterday, on CNN, health reporter Elizabeth Cohen informed listeners that new studies indicate bisphenol-A may leach out of plastic bottles and cans. The chemical industry would have us believe BPA is safe, but it looks like the opposite may be true. When will Americans learn to stop trusting authorities whose economic interest is involved in the continued use of a product?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

PMC Weekend!

The first weekend is August is becoming known by the name of the famous race for a cancer cure, the Pan Mass Challenge – PMC Weekend. We actually have one of the bikers staying here at Chez Sven with friends and family. She rode her bike from Wellesley to Bourne, one of the options in this strenuous two-day race. 5050 riders took part in the effort to reach this year's goal of twenty-seven million dollars for cancer research at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. The majority of the riders started in Sturbridge and spent one night in Bourne, prior to riding out to P-town. The helicopters swirled over our road at 8:45 this morning. Whooping and hollering began a few minutes later as people, gathered on either side of the intersection with Old King's Highway, cheered on the first bikers to descend Long Pond Rd.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Everything-You-Ever-Wanted-To-Know about Beach Permits in Wellfleet

To access the parking lots at Wellfleet beaches in summer, every car needs a permit. Permits are sold at the new expanded shack on the pier, now called Beach Sticker House. They are required through Labor Day. A gracious crew of town employees, including Diane Chudomel, below left, sell the permits, which are, in fact, stickers for the windshield. One week costs $60; three days, $30. One-day-permits are available at White Crest and Cahoon Hollow. Stickers are required from 9 to 5. On busy weekends several hundred beachgoers pass through this new office, which is still under renovation. The more frugal-minded have an alternative choice of buying a National Parks permit at Marconi Beach, which is recognized at all the country's national parks and is good through the end of the year. (This permit does not, however, allow access to town beaches and ponds.) Two versions exist, beaches for $45 cash, or an annual pass to all federal lands for $80 cash. Parking at Mayo Beach is free, if you can find a space.

Beach Sticker House employees also sell shellfishing permits and fire permits for our four ocean beaches. Only four permits per beach, per day, are sold. They go fast, so arrive early. Apparently bonfires remain a favorite evening activity. Mmmm! I can almost smell the marshmallows roasting over the open fire ...