by BRIAN JOHNSTON
If you lived through the 1980s, Poland probably isn't a destination you ever considered visiting.
You probably (like I did) have outmoded notions of a dreary communist nation with a horrible history, full of medal-chested Soviet-led leaders and disgruntled shipyard workers. You likely have dim memories of Lech Walesa leading the Solidarity trade union movement that eventually cracked Poland's communist facade.
In the 30 years since the fall of communism in 1989, Poland's peaceful transition to democracy, membership of the European Union and steady economic growth has created few headlines. As a child of the Cold War, what I stored away in my mind about Poland were newsworthy images of the Iron Curtain, army tanks and workers' strikes.
Such notions are hard to shake off. I concluded that here was a fringe country whose inhabitants drove tin-can Trabants, ate pickled cabbage and lived in cities of demoralising, disintegrating Soviet apartment blocks.
Now here I am in Warsaw in a state of constant astonishment – and constant dismay at my utter ignorance. Two days into my Collette country-intensive tour of Poland, and my every ridiculous notion is being rapidly reassessed.