Transnistria is one of the weirdest fucking places I’ve ever been. Good weird. I can’t put my finger on what exactly is so weird about it, but it’s a place that is on the one hand connected to the world via their phones, and on the other, very, very isolated. You don’t get the sense that a lot of people come and go. Which makes sense, since Transnistrian passports aren’t considered by other countries to be, you know, passports. If a resident wants to go elsewhere, they’re going to need to try to also become citizens of Russia, Moldova, Ukraine, or elsewhere.
In case you are too addled to read one lonely post ago, Transnistria is, depending on your perspective, an autonomous region of Moldova (Moldovan and world perspective), or a sovereign state that only lacks international recognition (Transnistrian perspective), apart from three other unrecognized rebel states (Abkhazia, Artsakh, and South Ossetia). Transnistria certainly has its own borders, as my 24-hour entry visa will attest to. Transnistria is actually called Pridnestrovia by it’s residents, or by its full name, PMR (Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic).
Though it has a mix of ethnicities, as Moldova does, Transnistria has a dominant Russian, rather than Romanian, culture. Russian is the main language spoken. The country resembles the old USSR in its iconography and architecture.
From Chisinau, we hired a taxi to the Transnistrian capital, Tiraspol. The driver had to stop at the depot and figure out what he’d need to be be able to enter and leave. Good dude. Yay for Google Translate. It was about 50 miles, and it cost around $30. It’s a cheap place to visit.
Once we were firmly out in the middle of nowhere, we passed some idle Russian soldiers in an apparent no man’s land before the border. The border itself was both more and less imposing than I imagined. On the one hand, it was a border with a flag bearing a hammer and sickle. On the other, it was pretty casual. We just got out of our car, went into a bungalow, and took care of our paperwork. Happily, visas are free, but if you don’t make sure that you get one, you’ll be negotiating a bribe on the way out, according to what I read and heard.
Once we made it into Tiraspol proper, I was struck by just how…Soviet it appeared. Hammers and sickles, busts of Lenin, signless, imposing blocky buildings. There’s one big brand, oddly called “Sheriff” with a sheriff’s badge for a logo, which owns the sports stadium, the supermarkets, the gas stations, and countless other stores.
We continued on to the Like Home HJostel, where we were, as per the name, warmly greeted by Evegenia, its owner. We were hungry, and she didn’t hesitate to prepare some delicious local cuisine for us called placinte, a kind of fried dough pancake with various savory fillings. Was delish.
We went wandering and met a fellow backpacker originally from Corsica, and as a trio, we wandered around. Tiraspol has one main drag, a large boulevard. There are various small stores and offices. One notable place we passed was the “embassies” of the other three so-called “CIS-2” states, similarly unrecognized political entitles; they and Transnistria all recognized each other. It was the political bizarro world.
Nearby Bendery is smaller and prettier, and we walked around there too. We walked along the lovely Dneister river. Some people were clearly startled to hear English speakers, and younger ones approached and practiced their (presumably internet-learned) English with us. We took a sunset boat ride on the river, because why the hell not? It’s not like we had somewhere to be.
Transnistria is not exactly deep on restaurants. That night, we had dinner at the Cricova cafe, where we drank more locally-produced wine, ate more plates of meat, and had a very fine time. I was able to complete my collection of Transnistrian Ruble coins, which are made of colorful plastic. I had to trade $10 with the server to get coins worth about 5% of that, and which aren’t even recognized as currency outside of Transnistria, but I was drunk, happy, and didn’t much care. I think this whole trip, including airfare and airport transportation, cost me about $300 out of pocket.
The next day, Evegenia made us breakfast, and called for a taxi. Brian was obsessed with a brand of Transnistrian shoes he’d seen advertised, Romika, so he asked the taxi driver to stop at a Romika store. It was closed, but they opened for us, and we each got a pair of kicks, because fuck it, when is the next time we’re going to be able to buy Transnistrian shoes? Though it was probably the only thing on the trip that wasn’t cheap, and they weren’t down for haggling.
We then departed for Chisinau airport (where we, coincidentally, reunited with our Slavic Studies student friends). I kind of wish we’d stayed an extra night, because I wanted to talk to more people — it was such an odd place, and I didn’t have a feel for it yet. But I had fun.
I don’t know that I’d recommend Moldova as a specific destination in and of itself, but it’s well worth visiting if you’re in a nearby country. But Transnistria is a must-visit destination if you want to go somewhere truly unlike anywhere else.