A country stuck in a time warp, a time before the Soviet Union collapsed – that ‘s how most travel blogs, herald this tiny strip of land. Well, I hate to destroy this phantasy of a completely different world. Yes, it is a bit out-dated, slow-paced, but this was a relief after the SUV Jammer streets of Chisinau, Skopje, and Pristina. A country that is completely dependent on Russia, economically, financially and politically after it broke away from Moldavia 30 years ago.But also this is changing…
Travelling to Tirastopol from Chisinau
The few foreign tourists who travel to Transnistria leave from Chisinau/Moldavia. From there a visit of Tirastopol can be done in a day-trip, although I am so glad that I spent two nights in Tirastopol. I did not travel anywhere else in the tiny country.
The Central Bus Station in Chisinau is behind the Central Market, which you definitely cannot miss if you visit the capital of Moldavia. The whole trip takes about two hours, from town to town, included the border stop. I forgot what it cost, but it was cheap.
I looked into trains as well, but I chose the minibus because it’s faster and runs more often, although I prefer train rides over anything. Crossing the border is super easy: our little marshrutka was the only vehicle. These are minibuses widely used in Russia and all countries ever associated with this country.
I got inside the small immigration building like everybody else and got a small immigration card in English and Russian. The bus waited at the side of the road for all the passengers to finish the border control and off we went to Tirastopol, the capital of tiny Transnistria, which broke away from Moldavia, which broke away from Romania.
I often read about the concerns travelers have, when going to such places, especially women travelling on their own. I must admit, I don’t know these feelings. I leave for these destinations with a kind of excited anticipation, never afraid or worried. I do have a deep respect for what expects me, always. This attitude towards my host countries was always a great companions on my many solo trips through unknown territory.
What is Transnistria?
A small land-locked country that spreads along the River Dniester which is reflected in its very name Transnistria. It declared its independence on 2nd September 1990 and is recognized only by Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Osetia. It borders the Ukraine and Moldavia and is close with Russia, in every regard. The Transnistrian flag even displays a sickle and hammer, this leaves no doubts which team the republic is in. Economically things are changing, now 70% of its export is absorbed by the EU, especially Romania.
Travelling Eastern Europe in times of Covid
A few words on this issue: the summer of 2021 I stayed close to home, just in case severe Covid-restrictions would be suddenly enforced.
Despite living so close to the many countries which once belonged to the Soviet Union and before to the Austrian-Hungarian Monarch I hardly visited them. Summer 2021 was the time to do this , plus it allowed me to return to Austria within two days by bus, During this whole trip through six countries (Kosovo, Northern Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldavia, Transnistria I never saw a person wearing a mask on public transport, very crowded public transport I should add. Only at checkpoints, masks went up.
The only time people wore mask was at OUTDOOR markets in Chisinau and Tirastopol. The most grotesque experience I have to share here: I was not allowed to enter the outdoor market in Chisinau, because I had forgotten my mask and the guard at the barrier stayed firm. All I could do was watch the people pass around the wooden pole, and immediately taken off their masks.
In Transnistria the sanitizing liquid always came in brown bottles, the same used for beer. The later ones can be refilled in stores.
Getting orientated in Tirastopol
I did not know if the final bus stop was far from my hotel, so I spelt out Elektromash Hotel to the bus driver, soon he stopped and pointed in a direction. Well, pretty much everything is within walking distance, as I later found out. By sheer luck I passed a money exchange booth and holding on to a wade of Rubel bills I felt equipped to check out this town. Try to spend all your Transnistrian Rubels, except the usual souvenir, before leaving. They are of no use anywhere else.
Staying at Elektromash Hotel
If you are in hurry, you can visit Tirastopol from Chusinau on a daytrip, but I chose to stay two nights, The Elektromash Hotel on booking.com looked exactly what I was in for. I loved the name and for the equivalent of 20€ I got a cozy room, attached bathroom and a full kitchen to use, not that I felt like cooking. The lady at the reception and I had no language in common, but she loved receiving a visitor from far away Austria. She pampered me by showing me around the hotel, bringing towels and the omnipresent bottles with sanitizer, since I travelled there during the pandemic.
Of course, I was tempted to see all the monuments heralding the Soviet aera: tanks, House of Soviets, Lenin statues, but I ended up drifting through town. This way you cannot miss 25th October Street – the main and most representative street of Tiraspol. My excitement grew by the minute, I admired wide side-walks, adorned with flower arrangements, modern busses and a wild mix of architecture.
By now I was super hungry and happy to spot a very modern restaurant that displayed its yummy dishes via colorful photos. These kind of presentation I became to appreciate when travelling in eastern Russia, after I only ate salad and omelet for days, since that was all I could decipher.
Inside I ordered stuffed peppers at the counter, which a young lady carefully weighed, also so very Russian. By the time I gobbled down a large chocolate cake, a lady approached me. She had been the bus from Chisinau and had recognized me.
I still remember walking by a sign saying Odessa on October 25th Street and I briefly thought, let’s quickly take a bus across to this port city in the Ukraine. Since childhood I had wondered what it was like. Back then my uncle entertained me with his travel stories to the Crime and Odessa. Looking back, I regret not having done it, with the war now raging in the Ukraine, I wonder when I will be able to see Odessa myself.
River Life in Tirastopol
A little map in the hotel had shown a river meandering through Tirastopol and I was now ready for a bit of walking along. Unfortunately, I could not find it, I asked several people, who had no clue when I was slowly spelling the word R I V E R and I was getting pretty desperate.
Somehow I found the river- it was heaven! I discovered the most tranquil, untouched place, where people sit on shaded benches, watch their fishing rod bob on the water and my absolute favorite became – a little ferry. I watched the two guys running it for a while -if there was no business, they would sit in a shaded place on a ferry and chat with a lady. It was so quiet that I could hear them talk from the river bank. Once a car arrived, they got the chains and cranks going.
Walking further upstream, loud music made me find out what was going on. I arrived at a large boat anchored on the bank, with a few people on it. I was not sure if it was a stationary thing or if it would sail off. I gave it a shot, bought myself a drink and eventually we took off. I had no clue where it was going and if it would return to Tirastopol.