In many ways, Poland is one of the success stories of the new Europe, transforming itself from a one-party state to a parliamentary democracy in a remarkably short period of time.
More than a decade of non-communist governments has wrought profound changes on the country, unleashing entrepreneurial energies and widening cultural horizons in a way that pre-1989 generations would have scarcely thought possible. Gleaming corporate skyscrapers have taken root in Warsaw, and private shops and cafés have established themselves in even the most provincial of rural towns. The country has a radically different look about it, having exchanged the greyish tinge of a state-regulated society for the anything-goes attitude of private enterprise - and all the billboards and window displays that go with it. Encounters with the people are at the core of any experience of the country. On trains and buses, on the streets or in the village bar, you'll never be stuck for opportunities for contact: Polish hospitality is legendary, and there's a natural progression from a chance meeting to an introduction to the extended family. Even the most casual visitor might be served a prodigious meal at any hour of the day, usually with a bottle or two of local vodka brought out from the freezer.