The first question everyone asks is what is Transnistria? Transnistria is a breakaway territory located in Moldova in Eastern Europe. Whilst it has a long history its current status is mostly due to the Moldovan pro-Romanian movement wishing to form closer times with neighbouring Romania during the 80’s. This included changing the official language of Moldova from Russian and Moldovan to just Moldovan (Moldovan is the same language as Romanian). This change, combined with the prospect of Moldova merging with Romania in the future, led many ethnic Russians and Ukrainians to feel oppressed.
In 1990 Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet President, annulled Transnistria’s proclamation of independence with a goal of creating a unified Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic. This lead to various small skirmishes between Moldovan and Transnistrian forces culminating in all out conflict in 1992 culminating in a Russian brokered ceasefire which has more or less held to this day.
Transnistria sees a small amount of tourism due to it being a sort of time capsule of the Soviet Union. They retain various Soviet iconography, including prolific use of the Hammer & Sickle, and are the only place outside of Belarus to still refer to their State Security force with the notorious acronym KGB, whom I managed to have a little run in with. On top of this there is a lot of great examples of Soviet architecture on display as seen in some of the pictures in this post.
So how do you get to Transnistria? First you need to get to Chisinau (pronounced Kish-e-know) the capital of Moldova. By far the cheapest way to do this is to fly to Bucharest in Romania and hop on the daily sleeper train to Chisinau. I managed to get on the twice weekly London-Chisinau flight with Air Moldova, which is the only operator doing a direct flight, although I paid a bit of a premium for the time saved.
From the central bus station in Chisinau you can hop on one of the minibuses to Tiraspol or Bendery (Transnistria’s capitol and second city) which depart from the south-eastern corner of the bus station and run every 30-45 minutes. You need to get a ticket from a little Kiosk by the buses, that the driver will point you in the direction of, these will cost about 25 Moldovan Lei (£1.25) to Bendery or 30 Lei to Tiraspol.
The bus takes about 1 hr 15 m to Bendery stopping at the Transnistrian border post after 1 hour. It is important to note that if you are staying in Transnistria overnight you will need the address of where you are sleeping when filling in the immigration form, a piece of information which I did not have as I was meeting a guide at the bus station who would show me to the apartment I had rented for the night. This led to me getting into a bit of an argument with Immigration officer whom I realised mid heated discussion had “КГБ” written across his hat in large letters, which is the cyrillic for KGB. I backed down and he said I needed to go straight to the police once in Tiraspol and give the address I’d be staying at. Hey, at least I’d gotten in.
I then spent the next two days visiting various sights in Bendery and Tiraspol being shown around by my fantastic guide Lena who you can contact through this website (http://marisha.net/tiraspol/accommodation.htm). Lena can also arrange accommodation for you in Tiraspol and her cousin Marisha (the namesake of that website) can arrange accommodation and tours around the rest of Moldova.
Tiraspol and Bendery both have a few main sights that you can see in the pictures throughout this post but there are also other interesting tidbits in the form of the various ways that Transnistria are exerting their independence such as the Transnistrian Rouble (A currency you’ll have a difficult time changing once out of Transnistria) and their own set of postal stamps for the domestic mail system.
One note about getting the local currency at the many money changers in the cities is that they will not accept notes that are not in perfect condition (USD/Euros preferred, you will get a worse rate changing Moldovan Lei). There are a few ATM’s in Tiraspol that take Visa and dispense either USD (usually only high denominations) and Russian Roubles which you then must change. At a guess the ATM’s cannot dispense Transnistrian Roubles as it’s not a globally recognised currency and therefore banks can’t process it.
Another popular thing to visit in Tiraspol is the Kvint distillery, or the Kvint shop on the main high street. Kvint is a famous, locally produced, quality Cognac which when purchased in Tiraspol is fantastically cheap (think £1 a litre). It is available outside Transnistria but is much more expensive, I bought half a litre as a souvenir in Chisinau airport for 5EUR as I was only travelling with hand luggage.
One last thing before you leave is to change or spend all your remain local roubles as they’re almost useless once you leave, at a push you could trade them to the bus driver. The bus ride out of Transnistria was a far smoother experience than on the way in, border control just took a quick glance at my immigration form and I was through.