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Published: March 12th 2016
Transnistria. Trans-Dniestr. Transdniestria. Pridnestrovian Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic. The country that doesn’t exist!
According the majority of the world, the enclave in the east of Moldova, isn’t there. It isn’t an East / West thing either in terms of recognition. Western Europe doesn’t recognise it as a country and neither does Russia. Moldova – who believes it is still their territory - certainly doesn’t, but has chosen to tolerate it in it’s own backyard since the brief but intense conflict in 1992. The rest of the world was looking the other way, when Transnistria separatists decided to take the fight to Moldova concerned about the new nation looking West when they wished to look east to Mother Russia. It is quoted that over 500 died in fighting, before an uneasy truce was made with the Russian speaking area.
had a visit to Sheriff Tiraspol in his sights and I agreed to join the mission. The research suggested that a degree of caution might be necessary. Along with the obvious difficulties such as a lack of consular support if it all when went wrong, questions arose such as was the travel insurance valid and
the like? There was talk of bribes at the border and travelling back in time to Soviet days. I decided to leave the long lense camera at home, as the Other Half had visions of me being rounded up by the local KGB for pointing it in the direction of an inappropriate building or member of the military. Wizzair cabin baggage allowance also influenced the decision. I checked a variety of sources on the internet, but the common theme seemed to be that nobody really knew what to expect and if they did, it could change very quickly. One of the titles of the few blogs on this site summed it up – “Notorious Transnistria”
We made our way to the Gara Central Bus Station in Chisinau, having arrived late the previous evening. The shared minibus transport seemed to be scheduled every 20 minutes and there were already a number parked up on the south-eastern edge of the bus station complex. We attempted to pay the first driver who looked like he might be about to depart, but were directed towards a ticket office just near the departure point. The tickets were duly issued, after we parted
with the princely sum of 37 Moldovan Lei (the equivalent of less than $US2). We left the chaos of the Gara Central behind and headed out of the city. The minibus was full. We were the only foreigners. The sprawl of Chisinau finished with a big hypermarket, Metro, that looked suspiciously like Ikea. The land either side of the road was largely barren with little cultivation or agricultural activity. A few small towns and villages were scattered either side of the main road, the most interesting feature of which were the water wells. They seemed ornate, but unused and I presumed mains water was now the order of the day.
I have to admit there was a degree of nerves, as we approached the border. The windows of the minibus were steamed up with condensation, so it was difficult to get a full view of what was going on outside. There was a temptation to try a couple of photos, but common sense prevailed. We proceeded through a check point barrier into some form of no man’s land. A small lightly armoured tank was dug in to one side and a number of fox holes with camouflage netting were
in evidence. The Moldovan side seemed manned by customs police and a few soldiers were in the buffer zone. We eventually arrived at the Tranisistrian border post and were ushered into a small office, where one official was examining passports and identification. The minibus driver went first to have his documents checked and dutifully counted his passenger off the bus to make sure he knew how many were going across with him. He stood by the counter, like a shepherd watching over his flock, to make sure all were processed. It was quite reassuring. It was our turn and we both approached the window with our passports and a confirmation of the hotel booking. After an extensive examination of the passports, the official studied the hotel booking. He clearly didn’t understand the Latin script, but conjoured the word “hotel” from nowhere at us. I responded with a name, City Club and he printed out an entry Visa with our details on it. The world has moved on from the hand written form examples pictured on the internet. The ticket about the size of a large bus ticket was our passport to entry and hopefully, exit! It was stamped with an
Friday afternoon...........an assault rifle, just in case there is any bother on the way home
exit time of 11.26 am – exactly 24 hours from arrival. We needed to get the hotel to sort an extension to allow us to stay for the Sheriff match the following day. I secured the Visa slip in my passport to keep it safe.
The minibus driver counted us all back on board and we were off into Transnistria. The first obvious difference was that the fields looked cultivated and the writing on any shop or building was all in Cyrillic Russian script. The music changed on the minibus from Moldovan to Chris Rea! It wasn't the Road to Hell ...... On The Beach actually - perhaps the minibus man had been to Marske, as well! We arrived in Bender. A blog title “Going on a Bender” was instantly appealing, but there could be a fundamental problem in finding a bar to start the process. Bender seemed without much life, the most obvious sources of business being ladies hairdressers and flower shops. One thing we became accustomed to in the next couple of days was the copious number of hairdressing places and the fact that you are never short of somewhere to buy a tulip or
a rose for the woman (or man) in your life)! We stopped briefly in the Bender Bus Station – well a square with some buses in it – and a few alighted. The military were in evidence on the outskirts of towns, guarding the bridge over the River Deniester. Once again, there was a light tank dug in and a variety of gun emplacements. The adjacent railway bridge was thoughtfully painted half in Transnistrian red and green, half in Russian red, white and blue. It was a short drive thereafter to Tiraspol.
The first visual thing is the impressive Sheriff football complex, the modernity of which is in stark complex to the rest of the city. We would visit the following day for the match. About 15 minutes later, we alighted in the square in front of the Railway Station. A few random minibuses were parked up, but there was none of the organised chaos we had left behind in Chisinau. We took a few photographs of the Railway Station – gateway to Oddessa – and no sinister characters appeared to confiscate our cameras, so the initial signs were good. I checked with a bus driver that
this was there the bus returned from and we got talking to a guy from Chile. He was keen to ascertain the time of the last bus, as he needed to get back across the border to Chisinau before his Visa expired. The driver confirmed that the last bus was 1840 hours every day. Mr Chile was just there on a whim, having detoured from Istanbul, Bucharest and Brasov to get a taste of a country that doesn’t exist! We sauntered off down the empty streets together towards the city centre, pausing to take photographs of an Orthodox Church in a park and the Kvint Distillery. We parted ways on the 25th
October Street and went in search of our accommodation.
The City Club Hotel was tucked away on Gorky Street a few blocks further south. We were greeted by the receptionist, who would be the only other English speaker of the day. We paid for the room in $US – the credit card is not a lot of use in Tiraspol. She duly relieved us of passports and precious Visa slip ………. “we will get the date extended, so you have no problems leaving
our beautiful Republic – our man will go to the office”. I never like to be parted from my passport, but in this case there was no alternative and it seemed a good option rather than sitting all afternoon in a mysterious office dealing with Soviet bureaucracy. I had chosen the hotel based on reviews that suggested most of the better hotels would sort the Visa slip for you, as opposed to an apartment or hostel where you would be doing the “sorting” yourself. We were shown to our spacious luxury room. We knew it was cut above our usual standard by the sheer size, but the real give-away were the complimentary slippers! We had free bottled water, a heated bathroom floor, working power points and speedy wi-fi. It had been a good choice, which was reinforced when the extended Visa slip and the passports reappeared when we returned to base a few hours later. We set off to explore.
The first port of call was to get some money exchanged. The country has it’s own currency – the Transnistrian Rouble………… we’ll call them Troubles for short. The exchange rate is approximately 10 Troubles to 1 $US
and 11 Troubles to 1 Euro. The £ didn’t seem to be the currency exchange of choice and most places weren’t advertising a rate. There was quite a lot of choice on 25th
October Street, although all offered exactly the same rates. We called in one, who promptly rejected our not so crisp $ US 20 note. A lesson learned – bring new notes, if you can. The offending note was happily taken at the place next door the following day, so don’t despair and try another exchange shop. A pocket full of Troubles and we set off to see the sights. Trip Advisor came up with a whole 7 attractions, so it shouldn’t take long.
If the local authorities were interested in who was town, they have installed the perfect magnet to attract all concerned – a T34 Russian tank mounted on a stone plinth. We proceeded along 25th
October Street keeping the river on our left. We passed the “embassy district” – which given that nobody much recognises Transnistria makes it somewhat smaller than other cities. If embassies of breakaway states are your thing, you’ll find a collector’s item - South Ossieta and
as an added bonus, Abkhazia. Trip Advisor hadn’t referred to the embassy as an “attraction”, so that makes 8 and 9! After another few hundred metres, an “I Love Tiraspol” written in Cyrillic draws your attention. The "attractions" were coming thick and fast now. We resisted the temptation to climb on the tank and diverted towards the river. I spotted the beach - landlocked Transnistria has it's very own piece of sand facing the city. The temperature made it easy to resist.
The Tank watches over the War Memorial - as series of tributes to the dead of both the Afghanistan campaign fought by Russia, but also the conflict with Moldova. An eternal flame burns as a memorial to those who fell - including those defending the city in 1941 and the liberators in 1944. A couple of policemen were busy puling over cars coming down the hill towards the city and concentrated on their task with great enthusiasm. We crossed the road towards the Parliament A statue of Lenin dominates the front entrance. I wasn't totally sure whether photographs were advisable, but we pointed our cameras and no members of the local security forces swooped on
us. The scare stories on the internet about oppressive Police seemed exaggerated and so far, there had been no issues with anybody. A statue of Alexander Suvorov stands opposite the Tank monument - no great city in Central or Eastern Europe is complete without a man on a horse. The city's founding father is commemorated by this monument, erected in 1979.
The Troubles we had acquired had so far remained tucked away in Football Travels with Ross' pocket! We were hungry, but a few hours of wandering had so far produced no eating options. The Green Market was visible across the park behind Suvorov. A police van u turned next to us, but respectfully stopped for us to cross the road. The market would surely have a cafe? Cigarettes. Food stalls with fresh vegetables. Organic carrots with real mud. It had it all, except a cafe. The corporate carrier bags bizarrely had a slogan ............. "Have a Happy Day"
. The 5 pence carrier bag tax at home has found a beneficiary in their availability as the carrier bag of choice in Tiraspol! We were back out on the street hungry. A new photo opportunity presented itself with the
Christmas Cathedral. Food eventually appeared with a mobile van nearby. A sandwich and a cheese burger. Beggars can't be choosers. We then spied that we had walked past the Tiraspol branch of Andy's Pizza somewhat earlier, but had been distracted by our Soviet world! We finished our dining. We were carrying our litter to dispose of. A guy walking hand in hand with his girlfriend next to us was carrying an assault rifle slung over his shoulder. Yes, no uniform or anything - but an assault rifle! Just a Friday afternoon in Tiraspol. Welcome to Transnistria........... and I was thinking up until this point, how normal the place was given all the hype. We decided to go back to base to make sure we had been reunited with our passports and the extension to the Visa!
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