Learn From My Mistakes!

Here are some things that I (as usual) had to learn the hard way.  I hope this helps someone.  Remember, this only applies to Kamien Pomorski and the surrounding areas.
1.  Hire a guide.  Even if you speak fluent German, even if you have the best Polish phrase and guide books ever published, if you can afford it you should hire a reputable local guide.  Without speaking Polish you'll miss a lot and waste a lot of time.

2.  Rent a car and drive.  The trains are cheap, but travel on them is rough.  The train station in Szczecina is a horror show - surrounded by beggars, con-men, and low-grade hookers.  Avoid the platform money-changers!  There's a reason they can promise such great exchange rates: they have no intention of giving you that money.  The train schedules the PKP sends to Germany are just pure fiction.  However, what you see on the actual Polish platform schedules will be accurate, and the trains run pretty much on time, but if you're depending on connections booked in Germany you have a good chance of being stranded for hours.  Even if you can't afford a car it's possible to get around by bus.  They're only pennies to ride and they serve every village, even if it's only with an old van (as in Gristow and Bünnewitz).  Unfortunately for me, I didn't figure out how the bus service works until my last day there.

3.  Don't go in the winter.  Even in November, that wind sweeping down off the Baltic is COLD!  It'll be more expensive in the summer, and hotel reservations will be hard to get (especially during the organ festivals), but you'll be a lot less miserable and you won't have to pack so many warm clothes.

4.  Nightlife.  Basically there is none, at least in November.  As a rule, I'd say avoid any place that just says "Bar" outside.  At best they're sad little places filled with men working seriously at getting drunk; at worst you can get into big trouble.  At a bar by the town wall near the Dom two guys attempted to roll me, I'm pretty sure with the connivance of the bartender.  Fortunately for me, I've lived a fairly sordid life and realized early what was going on.  They were also very drunk and very inept.  I wasn't.

    One exception to all this was a new place that had recently opened on the east end of Rejtana Street.  It was set up like a 1950's nightclub, with a maitre d', coat check room, elegant decor, and stunning waitresses. However, the banner outside said "Striptis" and "Disco Erotic Dance Party".  What those terms apparently mean in Kamien is middle-aged couples dancing to "Hello Dolly" and polkas.  I still had a great time there making a fool of myself by trying to polka.  It was the only place I saw in Kamien where it was possible to meet some single women.
5.  If you're a smoker, buy lots of cigarettes in Poland.  They're very cheap, but you should stick to the name brands.  Even then you need to be careful.  For instance, Marlboros are made in Poland under US license.  They're a little different from the real ones, but not bad.  You need to make sure there is Polish print on the pack, because the Russians are counterfeiting them and their versions are truly god-awful.  Remember that Germany only allows you to bring in one carton, but if you're on an American passport there's almost zero chance of you getting searched or even questioned (unless you look Arabic <g>).  Even if they catch you, the penalty is just losing the cigarettes.  BUT, do not buy Cuban cigars in Poland!!   If you want to smuggle some Cubans back to the USA, get them in Berlin (where the prices are great) or even at the Frankfurt airport, but in my experience the odds of getting a real Cuban in Poland are almost zero.  They do a superb job counterfeiting the packaging, labels, and seals, but they do a miserable job of copying the cigars.  Why take a risk with customs trouble for a cigar that will only make you gag?   
6.  Bring a good camera; one you're familiar with and that has a telephoto lens.  It just isn't possible to get close to everything you might want a picture of, and the telephoto will come in handy.  I bought a new camera for this trip, and it turns out I was losing the first two or three pictures on each roll.  Of course, I didn't know that until I got them developed back in the US, and I'm still blistered about it.  I could have avoided that by trying the camera out a couple of weeks in advance, and saved 21 pictures that are lost for good.  I also could have gotten my money back on that crappy camera.

7.   Bring along a bag of doggie treats.  Loose dogs were everywhere in and around Kamien.  They barked a lot, but only got nasty if I tried to enter what they considered 'their' territory.  I'm not sure if tossing them a bone or treat would have worked, but I think it's worth a try.  I just wish I'd thought of it while I was there.

8.  Spend all your Zlotys in Poland.  The bank or currency exchange may have been happy to sell them to you, but their attitude is going to be a whole lot different when you try and sell them back.  

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