When I was an RAF Tornado navigator, the phrase ‘going to Poland’ would have meant the Cold War had turned hot and we were on a one-way trip to deliver nuclear Armageddon.
In my early days in the military, communist-ruled Poland was on our target list for destruction, and certainly a country forbidden to visit.
How times have changed. British stag parties head off to cities such as Warsaw for a weekend of debauchery, and we now have a large number of Poles settled in Britain.
Happy guests: John visited Poland with his family to attend the wedding of an old friend
More importantly, a few years ago my old friend Terence met Asia, a beautiful Polish girl working as a nanny in Sunderland.
And so it came to pass that I eventually went to Poland – not in an RAF Tornado, but with my wife and daughter, who are both called Suzie, on a more comfortable Ryanair flight and armed only with a wedding present for Terence and his bride.
Asia (the Polish nickname for any girl named Joanna) comes from Slawa, a small town 70 miles southwest of Poznan.
As we neared her home, her family and neighbours came out to give us a fantastic welcome, setting the scene for a weekend of enthusiastic friendliness and unbridled hospitality.
Water enthusiasts flock to the Lake Slawskie – the focal point of the town and its increasing tourist industry
We were staying at Bar U Dudka in the centre of Slawa, which was also the location for the wedding feast.
The owner, Jerzy Dudek, was a most convivial host, while the rooms were clean, comfortable and incredibly good value at about £50 a night, including breakfast for all three of us.
As we discovered, food was to play an ever increasing part of our brief stay in Poland.
Our first experience was at the local pizza restaurant, where 14 of us feasted on huge pizzas washed down with copious quantities of beer and red wine. The bill came to an embarrassingly small £100.
Breakfast the next morning took nearly an hour to complete, with platters of cold meats, cheeses, eggs and pastries flowing from the kitchen until we had to call a halt to the endless procession.
In an effort to diminish the calorific intake, we strolled through the dense pine forest down to the beautiful Lake Slawskie, the focal point of the town and its increasing tourist industry.
Watersports enthusiasts flock here during the summer for sailing and water-skiing, and in the winter for iceskating tournaments.
Back at Dudka’s for the wedding celebrations, I was amazed to see tables already groaning under the weight of salads, fish dishes, breads, cold cuts and countless bottles of vodka for the toasts.
To my astonishment, this was just the starter, and for the next ten hours an array of sumptuous dishes marched from the kitchen.
Flagons of soup were followed by endless platters of roast meats, fried potatoes and more fish.
Each course was interspersed with increasingly enthusiastic dancing, toasts, speeches and singing.
While the British contingent was small, we gave hearty renditions of Jerusalem and the National Anthem.
Towards the end of the night, our repertoire had faded, so we resorted to We Wish You A Merry Christmas and that Scout favourite Ging Gang Goolie.
I like to think we gave a decent account of ourselves, but the vodka may have affected my reasoning.
Finally, at 3am, as a gigantic wedding cake was brought in, I dragged myself off to bed, harbouring the uncomfortable thought that another huge breakfast was only a few hours away.
Our family trip to Poland was a wonderful insight into a bygone culture of openness and incredible hospitality. I just hope stag parties don’t ruin it for the rest of us.
John Nichol’s latest book, The Red Line, is published by Collins, priced £8.99.
Ryanair (ryanair.com) offers flights to Poznan from Edinburgh, Bristol, Liverpool and Stansted, with one-way fares starting at £18.99pp. It can also arrange car hire.