I am aware and fully appreciative of the fact that we have set off on this journey with more room in our budget than the typical backpacker. This means we can stay in nicer apartment rentals instead of shared hostels. We don’t need to constantly cook at home (getting groceries is a lot of work!) and miss out on local eats. And we can splurge on fancy cups of drinking chocolate (my current weakness).
But still, no matter how roomy your budget is, in the world of travel, there is nothing as precious as free accommodation.
In Warsaw, we were lucky enough to be able to bum at one of D’s Polish relative’s house. Staying with family/friends is possibly the best way to travel. Not only do you get a free bed, you get the warmth of a home, the best insider guides, and (hopefully) a lot of home cooked food!
We arrived in Warsaw tired and hungry. Within minutes of setting foot inside the front door, a plate of pierogis appeared in front of us, the first of the many home-cooked meals we would eat over the next several days. Our room was cozy and comfortable, and in between bonding & exploring with D’s faraway family, we spent many long afternoons curled up indoors.
It was just what we wanted, as we came with no real plans except to see family, eat good food, and rest at home.
But here’s the twist – this relative owns a mansion. A legit mansion.
As in… a gigantic house with endless rooms, secret chambers, en-suite bathrooms with bidets, manicured front and back gardens, gazebos, and house staff who live in an on-site guesthouse that’s bigger than the house D and I had back home.
Much like the city of Warsaw, the house is also steeped in history. We learn that it functioned as the guesthouse for the neighboring former King’s palace for a while, after which it became a hospital in the mid 1800’s before being left abandoned. When purchased by D’s relative 10 years ago, it was in a sad, dilapidated state. Photos of the original house as purchased line the long corridors, showing crumbling brick, shattered windows, and holes in the roof – a victim of the violent war years. I’m glad it’s been given a new life.
And for nearly a week, we enjoy the life of luxury.
Three times a day, the house staff serves us home-cooked food on pretty white platters. We eat under the all glass ceiling, with sunlight streaming in and a fluffy white dog at our feet. For the first time, we don’t worry about grocery shopping, doing dishes, or cleaning house. In fact, our only responsibility is getting ourselves to the table at the appointed meal hours.
During the day, we’re left to our own devices. Some days, we’re picked up by D’s family and they take us to see the best of Warsaw. Some days, we spend hours curled up in our room and simply enjoy the comforts. And some days, we explore the grounds.
The house borders the palace (I’m not gonna say which one) of a former king from centuries ago. By agreement with the palace, the house possesses a key to palace grounds. The key unlocks a gate right off to the side of the front lawn, straight to the royal gardens. One day, we slip through the gate and wander among the beautifully manicured gardens. A little bit further down, we find a long stretch of river and little ponds where ducks call home. And yet further still, we discover an old abandoned castle.
Seriously, who has a freaking palace and castles in their backyard?!
All I can say is that life is truly like a dream here.
We don’t want to leave. We start to fall under its spell and say things like “this is the life!” and “what does it take to become successful and rich?” (Answer: many decades of hard work and 80+ hour work weeks.)
But then we remind ourselves that we ARE rich.
And that we gave up that kind of life in order to pursue a different kind of wealth.
There are two kinds of wealth. Not too long ago, we had material wealth (okay obviously not that wealthy… how much do you think a young engineer makes?! :P). We lived in a lovely house that had way more space than two people would ever need. I had a closet full of clothes and shoes. We could eat out multiple times a week and barely bat an eye at the bills. We had a heck a lot of disposable income for two people with no real responsibilities.
But it didn’t buy us happiness. So we traded it for freedom.
Now, we live simply. We learned to wash our clothes in a sink. We trim our own hair. We don’t own more than a few outfits each and we don’t have more than a couple of backpacks’ worth of possessions. We often argue over whether we really need that $3 ice cream cone, and whether we can afford a particular restaurant.
But we’re richer than we’ve ever been.
We’re free and healthy. We’ve rid ourselves of everything that tied us down. We can be anyone we want to be and do anything we want to do.
And that, perhaps, is the greatest wealth of all. And perhaps, we have already succeeded. :)
Finally, enjoy these pictures of the palace grounds, aka. the extended backyard!
What was the most luxurious place you’ve stayed at on your travels? What are you feeling rich in these days?