One of the biggest mysteries of Moldova which everyone wishes to see is Transnistria – a piece of territory which has been autonomous since 1992 and is stuck in a frozen conflict. Advertised as a dangerous area, with most embassies not advising to go there, having russian military and the necessary border control, Transnistria has created quite an image for itself. But is it really that scary?
Historically Transnistria became a state of it’s own on 2nd of september 1990 when it was proclaimed “Dnestrian Moldovan Republic” right after the fall of communism. As Moldova gained it’s independence in 1991 and was registered as a member of UN on 2nd of march 1992, it signed a military intervention in the region to get rid of the rebel forces (which were helped by the soviet army) that have been taking over. After a few months of war and deaths, on 21st of july 1992 Moldova signed an agreement of peace with Russia. To this day Russia keeps it’s military and supports this region politically and economically, but it does not recognise it as an independent country.
Nowadays Transnistria has become quite a treasure for tourists. It has uniqueness, it’s own passport and currency. Entering the region one is required to register at the border control with a valid passport which takes a short time without any trouble and no bribery is needed or required whatsoever. Due to the influx of tourists they even speak a bit of english at the border now. You will be given a piece of paper on which the duration of your stay is written, so make sure to stick to that! In the case you stay longer than just the day, do mention when registering, also informing about your overnight stay – the address. Do not lose this paper, for it is needed to exit the region!
But how does one get there? From the capital Chisinău, Transnistria is only 1hr 30 mins away ride with the local mini buses, also known by the russian term “marshutka”. From the central market they leave every half hour in the direction of Bender and Tiraspol, a ride costing 2 euros (40 lei). Other ways are by booking a taxi/ private driver/tour guide, ridesharing or taking the train – the one departing to Odessa every fri/sat/sun( +thursday during summer season) leaves at 06:57 from Chisinău.
The first city after passing the border is Bender. Amenities to visit here are the Military Cemetery and Memorial of Military Glory which both are situated in the centre of the city near the “Praga” stop which can be requested to the mini bus driver. A bit further, just before approaching the Bender bus station there is the “Bender Fortress” which is situated right on the shore of river Nistru (Dniestr). Built since the 14th century under the moldovan ruler Ștefan cel Mare (originally named as Tighina), then later conquered by the turkish and reconstructed under Suleyman the Magnificent’s order. Since then it was witness to various wars between the turkish, russians and became even a retreat location for 4 years to Carl XII, king of Sweden. Please note that Transnistria has it’s own currency, so if you wish to pay your entrance at the fortress, museums or anything else, you need their local roubles. Entrance at the Fortress for foreigners is 50 roubles.
Other things of interest in Bender might be the local market or the flea market near the bus station, the USSR canteen or those target shooting places named as “Tir” (which also can be found at the fortress).
Despite Bender and Tiraspol are separated by the river, they are united by the famous Nistru bridge and they have the trolleybus 19 or 19a that connects both these cities. A ride costs 3 roubles. At the entrance of Tiraspol you will be greeted by the famous Sheriff Stadium which next to it has also a hypermarket and a gas station under the same name.
In Tiraspol itself most of the main amenities for visiting are situated along the main road, so getting lost is not much of a possibility. Suvorov’s Statue, The Government building and the Lenin’s statue, Tiraspol Museum, House of the Soviets, House of Advisors, The Eternal Flame Memorial and the Tank, ruins of the Fortress Tiraspol and the Sheriff Headquartes building are just walking distance from each other.
If you’re curious to try local delicacies, you could stop by the local market and taste from the great variety of pickled vegetables – cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, but also try out pickled apples or watermelon. Yes, you’ve read that right! But if you like alcohol more, then maybe you could book yourself a tour at the Kvint Distillery a very famous brandy factory, which requires booking in advance of at least 5 days. Taking the ferry on the river Nistru (locally known as Parom) or fishing is also possible.
But Transnistria does not end here. Besides Bender and Tiraspol there are other cities too. In village Târnăuca you find the “Bottle Museum” which is a private museum founded in 1988 and hosts around 20.000 bottles from over 170 countries. A fun fact is that is the biggest building in the world in the shape of a bottle! Staying overnight is also possible in their hotel, allowing you the opportunity to explore the village and the local alcohol. Nearby Tiraspol in Chițcani you can visit the beautiful Noul Neamț Monastery which is a monk monastery that provides overnight stays.
Driving more up north the country you can visit the Grigoriopol, Dubăsari or Rîbnița city which is considered the north Transnistrian “capital”. In Dubăsari you can visit the Buket Moldavii factory, which manufactures vermouth, sparkling wines, liquers, bitters, brandy and balsams – one of them being “Cosmic”, the famous balsam that was taken in space by the russian astronauts in soviet union.
Beatiful spots of Transnistria can also be observed from the left shore of Molovata, Saharna, Japca Monastery, Lalova and others which are situated on the Moldovan territory. During warmer season boat rides can be booked along the Nistru river which give you the opportunity to see both the shores.
Whatever your itinerary for your trip ends up to be, this will be an experience that you will not forget as it is a dip into the soviet past.