Probably when reading the title various possibilities went through your head, but I am almost sure Transnistria was not one of them and I can’t blame you. Very few people have heard about Transnistria, which is a region of Moldova that considers itself to be independent, but is in the unfortunate position that the rest of the world doesn’t recognize this. Transnistria is sandwiched between Ukraine an Moldova and has about 500,000 inhabits and a United Nations peace army around it to protect the area.
Now you probably wonder how on earth I ended up in this place. Well, together with a few friends that I studied with in Krakow Poland we decided to go for a little trip through Ukraine and surroundings in February (little tip; pack warm clothes, as we encountered -23 degrees…) Once in Ukraine we heard about a little obscure region in Moldova with a separate currency, a firm believe in Lenin and an active secret police, we decided to explore for ourselves.
From Odessa Ukraine it is possible to share a taxi to the capital of Transnistria, Tiraspol. It is wise to take shared taxi with locals; as they will be able to lobby in your favor to get you quickly across the border. In certain cases this actually might involve bribes, depending on your story telling qualities and the person in front of you. But we got lucky and we made it to Transnistria, a city that I have to classify as probably one of the ugliest cities I have ever seen in my life. The city looks truly communistic, but architecture was never the purpose of our trip anyway. You could see every where you were in a communistic country; status of Lenin, posts of former Russia and a focus on the army.
We were warned we could only stay a maximum of 24 hours in the country, or otherwise we had to register at the military police, something we didn’t really want to do. However recent information suggests that registering is no longer required. So our quick one day visit began; we walked though the town were we stood out immediately, being the only tourists in the country probably.
One of the first things we did was to change our money to the local currency; the Transnistrian ruble, a currency which can only be used in that part of the world. Upon changing money we also realized that there were stamps available that were only valid between the 500,000 people in Transnistria, so we decided to bring them for our collection as well. Once we were packed our money we went for a sightseeing trip through the capital. The first thing we saw was a massive statue of Lenin in front of the parliament building which immediately set the tone.
Once we progressed the next sight doomed up in front of us; a tank, the national independence symbol of Transnistria. That in itself is fine; the most shocking thing was that we were there on a Saturday, the wedding day, and the tank apparently was THE item to have in the background of you wedding picture…. So couples were lining up in the snow to be the proud owner of an official wedding picture with the tank as decor…
After this eventful affair we decided to have lunch; finding a decent place to have lunch proved to be difficult, so we ended up in Andy’s pizza (I know, bad, local cuisine and all… But in my defense I usually try it out, but hunger makes you go for the easiest option…) Once we were done with our pizza we decided to continue our hike through the capital, crossing a local market (really cheap brandy, vodka and cigarettes) it was time to make our way to the bus station.
There are several ways to leave the country, but taking a bus or taxi is by far the easiest thing. We opted for the bus towards Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. As the only foreigners we again were pulled out of the bus, but the matter was resolved quickly and we were soon back on our way. All in all I have to say it was a fascinating experience visiting a communistic area; I am too young to have remembered the images of the Soviet Union. But seeing statues of Lenin, hammers and sickles, and idolization of the former Soviet Union is special. Transnistria is by no means a city for a weekend break, but as a stop between Ukraine and Moldova I can highly recommend it!