Time Travel in Transnistria, a Country that does not exist!!!
This is the (un)official flag of Transnistria.
So, If a country doesn't exist, How did we end up there? I'll tell you how.
Transnistria, in English, also referred to as Pridnestrovie, officially the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic(PMR), is a de facto state in Eastern Europe, not recognized by the UN. Transnistria has been recognised by only three other mostly unrecognised breakaway states: Abkhazia, Artsakh, and South Ossetia.
Parliament of the State of Transnistria.
But interestingly, it still has its own Parliament, own set of laws, own currency and issues its own passport to people leaving there!!!! Sound too exciting, isn't it? That was the reason we decided to visit Transnistria and see for ourself how a country that doesn't exist looks and feels like!!!
The Capital of Transnistria is Tiraspol and that's where we were headed. Buses from Chisinau to Tiraspol run frequently(every 30 minutes) and the tickets can be purchased at the central market in Chisinau. Buses depart from the central bus station, at the North-East corner of the Central Market in Chisinau, final stop is Tiraspol railway station. Just ask any person Tiraspol and he will take you to the counter where the tickets for the buses are sold. Prices are 36.50 Moldovan Lei (approx INR 150 and USD 2)!!! Then you get into the first bus waiting and once it fills up, you are off!!! I cannot describe the excitement I was feeling to be going to Tiraspol. As expected, soon the border check came and we had to get off from the bus and enter the "immigration" office. There we were asked about the ourpose of visit and duration of stay. We said we were on a day trip and we were given a piece of paper with entry and departure times mentioned on it. We had to leave Transnistria within the stipulated time(The piece of paper had given us 10 hours to stay in Transnistria). The guards and immigration officers were quite stern looking. Looking at them made you nervous. Photos or videos are not allowed at the Immigration. Since, I was unaware, I was making my blog when a very stern looking officer came and scolded me in a language I didn't know and pointed to give my camera and made us delete the video. After that he let us go. All the passengers in the bus were staring at us after this incident!!! But guess what? The officer couldn't delete the footage. I still have it with me(which can be seen in my youtube channel that will be started very soon).
Bus station at Chisinau
Bus station in Chisinau.
The distance between the official and unofficial capital is around 70 kms and the trip took approximately an hour and a half(including the time taken for "immigration"). I'm having fun with the word "immigration", ain't I?!!! Anyways, soon we reached Tiraspol and the bus dropped us at the train station(last stop) and also the place to get a bus back to Chisinau. We and another tourist were the only ones to get down there. All the other passengers had gotten down enroute. From the train station, we walked to our first stop-the bank. To change our Moldovan Lei to Transnistrian currency, that is, the Transnistrian ruble. Along the way we wandered around a bit, watched the neighbourhood, There were hardly any people around. And those that were there, were staring at us like they've seen an alien!!! Probably because of my brown skin and Vinay's beard)!!!! At the bank, located in the Zeleny market, there was a long queue, but it moved quickly. When our turn came we exchanged 200 MDL. the exchange rate is 1:1.
Entrance to Zeleny market. The bank is located inside to change the currency.
After getting our currency, we went inside the market. It was pretty small with very limited range of products. There was nothing much to see and buy there. It was a farmer's market. So, we went out and there was a church in Kirov Park that we went to see. The park itself was unimpressive other than the huge gate that was quite impressive to see. There were a couple of babushkas sitting in the park staring at us!!! The church(Russian orthodox church) was huge and impressive on the inside(we were not allowed to click photos inside). Many people tried to talk to us but we didn't know any other word in Russian other than "Privyet" and "Dasvidaniya", I think there were curious to know where we were from. We repeated "India" several times. I think they understood that we were from India. There several people who looked scared to see ;t us!!! Don't know why though!!! I mean, come on, I look cute don't you think and Vinay looks handsome, but not threatening!!!!
Gate at entrance to Kirov Park
Presentation of Child Jesus Church inside Kirov Park
Anyways, enough of our self praise. After visting the church, we walked to the KVINT Wine & Cognac Distillery. Unfortunately there were no tours being conducted. So we had to see the distillery from outside only. After that we had no other option, but to visit the other places. We walked along to see The Christmas/Nativity Cathedral. It was really, truly beautiful. We went inside(again no photography allowed) and it was quite austere, but there was a authentic feel to it that can't be explained in words. It is a Russian Orthodox Church completed in 1999 to serve as the Mother Church of the Orthodox Christian Diocese of Tiraspol. We spent some time marveling at the architecture of the church. A couple of nuns tried to explain something, but we couldn't understand them. So, off they went smiling at us.
The Nativity Cathedral
A couple of hundred meters ahead was the Monument to Pushkin. We expected something grand, but were disappointed. It was a rather small bust of Pushkin. With nothing to linger there, we went to see our next sight- Catherine Park. We had an offline downloaded map in which the name of the park was in Russian. It was only later when we were having lunch, we got access to the wifi and came to know that the name of the park was Catherine Park! Then we went to the Suvorov Square to see the Monument to Suvorov. The Square is named after the founder of Tiraspol Alexander Suvorov. It is surrounded by the Memorial of Glory, the building of the Supreme Council of Transnistria, the Palace of children and teenagers, the monument to Suvorov, and the De Volan Square. The Statue was huge and impressive. There were quite a number of localites there who idling their time in the square. A few came to talk to us and a few looked too scared to come near us!!! The Monument is worth seeing. Just a few paces away was the Monument to Zelinsky. Zelinsky was one of the founders of theory on organic catalysis. He is the inventor of the first effective filtering activated charcoal gas mask in the world and was the president of the Moscow Society of Naturalists. It was a simple bust of the famous chemist, nothing spectacular.
Across the road was the Parliament of the Supreme Soviet of Transnistria. It was a huge building. We had read that taking photos near parliament or any military building was forbidden. But we were not stopped by anyone. In front of the Parliament was the Monument to Lenin. Well we all know who Lenin was, so I am not going into details here!!! Opposite to the parliament and near the Dnister River is the Memorial of glory. It commemorates the Veterans and the dead of the Great Patriotic War, the Soviet-Afghan War, and the Transnistria War. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is the centrepiece of the memorial, flanked by an eternal flame. The eternal flame at the grave of the unknown soldier was lit by Mikhail Kharin, a participant Second Jassy–Kishinev Offensive. On 12 April 1972, the 28th anniversary of the liberation of Tiraspol from the Nazis, students of the Tiraspol Secondary School No. 6 posted the honorary guard at the eternal flame. It is currently dedicated to the memory of the war dead from the first outbreak of fighting on 3 March 1992. It is a truly impressive memorial. You can feel all the lives lost in the war standing there, an eerie feeling.
The tank Monument
Immediately adjacent to it is the Tank Monument. It honors the heroes of the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet people of 1941-1945. It is a T-34-85 tank (generally recognized as the best medium tank of the Second World War), mounted on a high pedestal in the area of the city's central square at the Glory Memorial. Nearby is the Orthodox Chapel in honor of St. George the Victorious. It was not a big Chapel, but quite unique. After spending a couple of hours watching all the attraction in Tiraspol, we went for a walk besides the Dnister River inside the De Wollant Park. By then We were famished. We hadn't eaten anything since breakfast and it was nearly 1pm in the afternoon already.
So we walked back, along the Strada Karl Liebknecth street and went to a highly recommended restaurant called Kumanek restaurant. The moment we sat down, we realized it was a typical tourist trap as all the staff spoke English quite well. But we were so famished we decided to eat there only. The food was priced much higher than if you had gone to a local restaurant. But we had no other choice. So, we ordered a Chicken Kiev for Vinay and frankly I forgot the name of the dish I ordered. With it we ordered Kvass(a traditional fermented Slavic and Baltic beverage commonly made from rye bread) and Kvint, the national drink of Transnistria. Since, we were in a country that did not exist, we had to try both. Truth be told, I liked the Kvass and drank quite a bit of it. But one sip of Kvint and my throat felt like on fire!!!! I left it for Vinay who had the same reaction. From the second sip, things got better. It was definitely an acquired taste. The quantity of food was good and after our meal we decided to just roam around the neighbourhood of Tiraspol, to see how people actually lived. Unfortunately for us, we saw very little people on the street. God knows why! There was no hustle and bustle at all.
Food we ordered at Kumanek restauarent.
After roaming around for an hour, as we still has some Rubles left, we decided to buy something from the supermarket. We went to the Tiraspol shopping mall. We had only a few rubles left(we had to have some left for our return journey), so we purchased some "made in Tiraspol" chocolates to give to our relatives. By then it was nearly 3pm. So after coming out of the mall we walked the long way back to the train station where we had first arrived. Near the entrance to the station there is a ticketing window where you can buy tickets from Tiraspol to Chisinau. We bough two tickets and there was one minivan already waiting to depart. We got in and off we went, leaving behind a strange country, still stuck in time, where there are no ATM's, you can't pay by card. Cash is the mode of payment. I wondered how the people really about living there. But perhaps they were used to it. But it was a very very interesting trip for us and we will come back soon to spend at least a couple of nights in Tiraspol. A day just wasn't enough to give full justice to explore the "country that doesn't exist".
I Love Tiraspol.