Our family is so budget-constrained every year, that it has become a family tradition to go on vacation by the grace of God and the help of some good people. However, a trip to Poland (we come from Poland and haven’t visited for 8 years straight) was so much out of our scope that it was hard for us to even imagine it as a possibility. Nevertheless, we’ve been praying for this in earnest for a good number of months. We were also doing our part in terms of being prepared. We even decided to spend our last bit of money in order to renew our passports, so that we would have them ready for summer.
In the spring of 2014 things began to work to our advantage. Our parents, who all live in Poland, missed seeing their grandchildren so much, that they decided to work together and buy us tickets to come and visit. It was a small miracle in and of itself considering how Polish people are – if you knew how they usually get along with one another, you would understand. In the end they came up with a considerable amount of money and transferred it over to our account. After searching all over internet we finally found airfare to Poland that we were able to purchase with the amount we had received. In fact, there was even enough left over in order to pay for three weeks worth of parking at the Newark airport. We ended up not having to pay a single cent out of our own pockets for this trip. Cents we surely did not have!
However, airfare was not the last of our concerns. Although we were able to get to Poland, with literally no budget for vacation, our goal was to spend time at our parent’s homes – eating in front of a TV. Was the great Polish food and having our kids spend time with their grandparents really worth it? Indeed, when we informed our old friends that we were coming, they all stepped up to help out. One particular friend, who happens to be a real-estate agent, offered us her apartment that she had just bought in order to rent out. Providentially, no one was living there just yet. Yet, another friend offered us their second car. Little by little our entire three weeks of vacation had been covered and we had some exciting things planned out.
Our itinerary consisted of a 6-hour long stopover in Copenhagen before our final leg to Poznan, Poland. We planned to have a stroll around Copenhagen. A family friend, whom we’ve never met, picked us up from the airport and showed us around. Even though we were a bit tired after our overnight flight from Newark, we got to see most of what’s important. We visited the city center, ate pizza and topped it off with delicious (european) ice cream. Our trip became entirely worth it just on our first day!
We arrived at the Poznan airport that evening – there was a beautiful sunset. After eight years of not visiting our country we were overtaken with nostalgia and joy – we almost wanted to kiss the ground! We spent the night and part of the next day in Poznan, a beautiful city in the heart of western Poland. Then we traveled northward by train to our home city of Szczecin. The landscape we were able to see from the train was so beautiful. We could not fall asleep even though we were all very tired.
Then the difficulty part of our vacation began – going around the city visiting our family; kissing and hugging aunts and uncles that we had not seen for so long. Each home we visited had a table loaded with delicious food. We quickly became spoiled and after a week it became a bit tiring. But boy – what great things people cook in Poland!
Mid-way through our vacation we took a break from “table-visiting”. My father, who has a sailing license, rented a boat on the Mazuria lakes for a week. It was a 6-person yacht but we only had room for 5 people in the car, so we made it a men-only trip: my father, myself and our 3 boys. Patricia stayed behind, hoping to avoid all the snoring and odor of dirty socks, etc. I personally believe she just didn’t want to become the ship cook.
We took off from Szczecin on a 500km drive around the northern part of Poland. We got to see many important Polish landmarks along the way: the Grand Dune in Łeba; the Malbork castle – the largest brick building in the world; Hitler’s war headquarters; and the site of the Grunwald battle, a battle that changed the history in this part of Europe. We arrived late at the Malbork castle, but we were just in time for the night show to begin. We walked for quite a distance from the parking lot to the castle gates and I realized that I had left my wallet in the car. I only had 30 złotys in my pocket, and the all the tickets added up to about 60. Against all odds, I approached the ticket seller and explained the situation. I informed her that by the time I got my wallet and came back, the show would be over. The lady let us in without much hesitation!
Sailing around the lakes of Mazuria was a beautiful time too – we have experienced almost everything that can happen: one day the wind was so strong, we had to fold our sails to avoid capsizing. On another day there was a perfect still – the surface of the lake looked like a flat mirror, and the boys were racing around the boat. Cooking meals on the boat and cleaning up afterwards was a great school of life. We learned that even things as simple as matches or a dish detergent are at times very important! We ate fish, which our boys never touched at home – yes, with fries, but also with sauerkraut – another item they never touched. All three of my boys fell in love with Poland. The greatest mission of this trip had been accomplished.
In the meantime Patricia was visiting two and even three relatives a day. She was exhausted from all the visiting and so we finally decided to spend our remaining time in a more laid-back fashion. We went to visit my cousins that live in a small town by a lake. No sailing this time. We did take some time to canoe and just plain swimming. The lake is actually a border lake between Poland and Germany – we crossed it on a canoe once and landed on the German side, even if for only a couple of minutes. So we actually visited three countries during our trip!
Lastly, we were able to take a walk in a forest. Forests in Poland are mostly public. You are able to pick wild blueberries and mushrooms. Our boys had had it by then and they didn’t even want to get out of the car. “Come on, dad. What’s so special – it’s just a forest! Can we go home now?” However, once they got out, we couldn’t get them back into the car! It’s so beautiful there, and the blueberries so delicious! Plus, of course there’s no poison ivy nor any snakes or dangerous animals.
On our flight back we were surprised again by God’s grace and care – for some reason our seats were upgraded from Economy to Plus class. We had wider seats, more leg-room and a better choice of meals. We arrived in Newark in great shape, almost fully rested.
So this is, in short, how God took care of our vacation this year – the year that we had the biggest credit card debt in our history, and absolutely no perspectives for any fun in the summer. It turned out to be the best vacation for our sons!
We received one last surprise this summer: just a few weeks after our return we received a letter from a sister in Community. In hearing of our financial troubles she was able to send us a gift of a check. The check was almost exactly the amount of our outstanding debt, though we had never shared that with anyone! In the end, we had a great vacation and we ended our summer debt-free! Praise be to the Lord who has created us and takes care of us every day!