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This was the first half of our tour through Eastern Europe, taking in a number of countries that have some things in common but are more marked by their differences.

Poland had not featured very much in our thinking and it didn't conjure up images of a particularly exciting or "exotic" travel destination at first. We had an image of a heavily industrialised flat country. Well, it certainly was flat for the most part, with the notable exception of the Tatra mountains, and it did have some industrial bits too but far less than we had imagined. Instead we found a country covered with extensive forests, fantastic food, and we found the Poles themselves to be some of the most warm-hearted and friendly people we had met anywhere so far.

As for the trio of the Baltic states, whilst they were united geographically, there were some very deep differences between them, in terms of language and in their history, before the Soviet occupation during the twentieth century. This is where we experienced most what it must have been like "behind the Iron Curtain", travelling through parts of the former USSR. Lithuania was a former powerhouse of the region, its history intertwined with that of Poland. Latvia, with the Baltic metropolis of Riga, felt like the "piggy in the middle" but had its very own atmosphere. And Estonia felt very Scandinavian, in contrast to the previous two.

Update 14 February 2008: Still adding diary entries, bit by bit ...