Transnistria: Back in the USSR is written by Jacob Jørgensen
Transnistria – the country that does not exist
On the outskirts of Europe lies Moldova. And on the outskirts of Moldova, there is a country that does not exist. The country probably has its own border, its own money and its own flag, but it is not recognized by other countries. Welcome to Transnistria - in English Transnistria or 'officially' Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic.
Transnistria is in many ways a whimsical size. And those kinds of places you have to visit, I have learned from experience, because they can give you some completely different travel experiences. So Moldova and Transnistria were put in the itinerary, and at the end of May I flew with a friend directly to Moldova's capital Chisinau from Copenhagen.
I had pretty low expectations for the country beforehand, partly because I had met someone who thought Chisinau was the ugliest capital he had been in. I was in contact with a local guide before the trip, and she said that it best way to experience the country was to arrive without expectations, so thus uplifted we set off 2,5 hours to the south, with as few expectations as possible.
It turned out to be just the right way. Chisinau, located about three hours' drive to the border with Transnistria, turned out to be at its very best in full sun and with life in the city, and we wandered around the overtly European city.
In some places there were beautiful squares and beautiful buildings and in other places abandoned houses and dilapidated concrete blocks for human storage. A fascinating human-friendly mix, where fun houses and cafes appeared all around, and where you could easily walk around. Here were no beggars or scary types; only people who thought it was nice that we visited their country.
Chisinau is also green. Everywhere there are avenues, small parks, lakes and everything else that gives life to the small big city. We went out to eat and happened to run into a lot of Liverpool fans because there was a Champions League final that night, so we enjoyed ourselves at the local inn “Erik The Red” (!) With excellent food and locally brewed beer at affordable prices. It was just around the corner from our small cozy hotel, appropriately modestly named after the house number: Hotel 77/5.
A small town
If you want to do a "Tour de nedtur", you can find examples of dexterity in the city, for sure. But if you go for the city center and the surrounding streets, it is mostly a beautiful city that is nicer than eg Bucharest and Berlin.
If you know a Latin language, it's fun to guess what the signs mean, because Romanian and eg Italian are related languages, so you can usually understand what it says.
Chisinau is a small city and as a local at our small hotel called it, there is most “rural style entertainment“. Do not expect a roaring big city, but a cozy and sometimes rustic city that can be experienced on a weekend. The city is an excellent starting point for trips in the country, including to the world's largest wine cellar and a giant Soviet bunker in the mountains.
Transnistria: Until the Past
We drive from there in a public minibus. We have chosen to jump on an organized trip to Transnistria to get the most out of the visit, and we sweat while the bus drives off the highway to a border post where we are going out. A minute later we are sitting in the bus with a small piece of free paper in our passport: We are now in Transnistria - the country not recognized by some countries, only by a few other breakaway territories.
The language is Russian, the money is transnist rubles, and the Russian flag weighs side by side with the local flag, which has a hammer and seal.
Transnistria is an isolated pocket of time with its gaze fixed on the Soviet Union, which no longer exists. The first stop is the fortress Bender, where both a Swedish king and a Turkish sultan have passed by, and here you can look out over the river Dniester, which lays land to the autonomous territory.
We walk in the high sun of mildly worn roads to a large ugly parking lot, where a strange-looking concrete block appears at the end.
Back in the USSR
It is a Soviet bus station that has been converted into a cafeteria with food for almost no money, and everything imaginable of Soviet radiance on the walls: Flags, newspaper clippings from Pravda ("Truth") and old radios.
It's pure nostalgia in Transnistria, we really are back in the USSR, which The Beatles sang. The cafeteria is not targeted at tourists, for them there are quite a few of them here, but rather the locals. The food is good, popular and plentiful, and that may also be why such a Monday is well occupied for lunch under the red flags.
The oddities will keep popping up in the coming hours. In such a quite peaceful and knowledgeable way, our guide gives us insight into what it is like to live a life in the country that does not exist. About the local great man and oligarch who is called the sheriff and who owns a large part of the area, including the gas stations just called "Sheriff".
About the Russian tank on the square where the bride and groom get pictures taken. And about the special alcoholic drink that the first cosmonauts brought into the room, because you could not just leave without being able to drink in the fence. Or the spaceship, perhaps rather. We also saw a fine selection of 1/2-liter vodka in the lovely supermarket for the DKK 5 bottle.
We had just seen the first few episodes of the excellent series “Chernobyl” before we left, so the memorial in the center of town was a bit of an experience. More than 1800 locals were sent to clean-up work in nearby Ukraine, and the number of cancer survivors told a really sad story.
The main street in the capital Tiraspol has recently been refurbished, so there are wide neat sidewalks and flower arrangements everywhere. Danmarks Nationalbank, which is responsible for the country's plastic coins (!), Is also located right in the middle of the main street, and we settled down in a nice big place directly opposite.
Restaurant Mafia had been recommended by some locals we had bumped into and there were bling-bling chandeliers inside, but we sat on the terraces facing the street so we could keep up with the city life and there ordered everything we could possibly want could accommodate. It included a great steak and dessert and everything else, for the prices were so low that we could not help it. 100 kroner per person, it ended up, but then we had also ordered some of the most expensive dishes on the card.
The people we saw were most often in western clothes and in all sizes and hair colors, for by the river Dnestr many peoples have met through the centuries. We only met kindness and curiosity.
We walked towards our small, neat City Club Hotel a few blocks behind the main street, and as soon as you walked away from the main street, there was a whimsical world of small old townhouses in colors, disused Soviet industry, gray apartments, new shops and abandoned places that together well showed what a size Transnistria is: a country that is not a country that wants to develop, and perhaps still - at the very least - would rather go back to before 1989.
We took the bus directly to the airport in Chisinau for the large sum of 15 kroner, and if we would have been on other adventures, we could have also taken the train to Odessa or Moscow. But it must be another good time.
Good trip to Moldova and Transnistria.