Transnistria: a visit to a country that doesn’t exist + VIDEO
Water bottle? Check. Just in case they don’t have existing water in a country that doesn’t exist.
Just kidding. Although.. To be honest I have absolutely no idea what to expect of Transnistria. But that just makes it even more exciting to explore.
With the bus from Chisinau to Transnistria
Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, looks a bit like a former Soviet-city with a lot of concrete, ugly buildings. Because in the Soviet times everything had to be efficient. There was no time or necessity to make a building pretty as well. By now Chisinau has some nice looking buildings, but the concrete blocks are still there as well. It’s early in the morning and the fog in the streets makes it a bit gray and gloomy.
I walk toward the central bust station. People on the streets are selling literally everything. Sport bags are filled with garlic. Every now and then I see some lost shoes on the sidewalk. Winter jackets are sold for 200 lei; that’s not even €10 euros. It looks chaotic, but somehow it’s all in harmony as well. It works for the people. And then I arrive at the bus station. There are busses everywhere. A few names I recognize, but most I have never heard of. There are even some signs in Russian. Some busses are army green, some are blue or red. Most of them are white. But none of the busses are the same. I see Volvo’s, Mercedes-Benz and more car brands.
Also read: 11 fun things to do in Chisinau, Moldova
There isn’t much information about Moldova or Transnistria. Only a couple of travel blogs that say you have to buy a ticket in the bus. Though the reception girl in my hostel told me that I have to buy it inside the station. At the crossroad of Strada Tighina and Strada Mitropolit Varlaam I see indeed the entrance of the blue bus station.
The line is surprisingly short and well
“A ticket to Tiraspol please”, I ask in English. I’m surprised the girl answers back in English. A ticket is 37 Moldovan lei; not even €2 euros. For a bus ride of 1,5 hours.
“Mersi”, I answer with a smile on my face.
When I leave the building at the other side
I see the busses. It’s a bit more calm here. Most busses are waiting until they
can leave. Not for a specific time: most busses just leave when they are full.
I pass some of the busses when a guy with a faded hat walks towards me. He
grabs my ticket and asks in Romanian where I’m going.
“Tiraspol”, I answer. He yells something that I can’t understand to another guy, not far away from us. The only thing I understand is “turistica”.
“Tiraspol?” I ask again to the other guy next to the bus.
“Da”, and he pushes me into the bus. It will not take long anymore before we leave. I’m sitting on the last available spot.
Passport control to enter Transnistria
Bright pink curtains are in front of the windows. A man with white hair and a surprisingly neat black suit walks into the bus to collect the money. He looks a bit like the Moldovan version of the Monopoly guy. I show my ticket. It’s totally fine, although I think it was fine to buy the ticket in the bus as well.
For one hour we drive on a bumpy road, full of holes at random places. I don’t think the bus can drive faster than 50 kilometers per hour. I check Google Maps: we’re near Tighina. I look outside and I see a gigantic red bow in front of us. It’s decorated by a yellow moon with a sickle, surrounded by grain. THE symbol of communism. All information signs are in Russian. I think we’re here.
The bus driver yells something to us and some people leave the bus. I follow them like a sheep. For a country that doesn’t exist this for sure feel quite official and like a border control. The border control gives me a permit to stay until 22.12 tonight. He slided the paper in my passport and gives it back. I have no idea what happens if I’m still in Transnistria after that time, but I don’t want to find out.
Back in time in Transnistria
After another 15 minutes we arrive in Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria. In Transnistria it looks like time didn’t pass for the last 30 years. When the Soviet-Union collapsed in the nineties a lot of Eastern European countries got their independence back. Moldova as well. But what happened to Transnistria? They were part of Moldova, but didn’t feel like being part of Moldova. They wanted to be independent. Transnistria is on the border of Moldova and Ukraine, but because they get financial support of Russia and everyone speaks Russian it kinda feels like it’s part of Russia.
Transnistria is not acknowledged as a country by any country in the world. Not even by Russia. Only a couple of other regions that want to have independence say they acknowledge Transnistria as a country. So technically it’s not a country. But for sure they want to be. For example there is the border control and the passport control with the permits. People from Transnistria have a Transnistrian passport and there is even a currency: the Transnistrian ruble. So when I arrive the first thing I’m doing is finding a currency exchange office to change my Moldovan lei for some rubles.
Local market and walking around in Tiraspol
I start my walk in Tiraspol at the local Zeleny Market. The market is partly covered and it’s a great place to see the local people in their element. Colorful bell peppers, gigantic heads of lettuce and different kind of potatoes are on the tables. There are even some wine branches for sale. If it wouldn’t take that much space I would bring one back home for sure. I mean: how cool is it to have a wine branch from Transnistria in your backyard?
From the market I walk towards the Dnjestr river. I see the beautiful Christmas Cathedral – although you can visit that one all year long – and through the Pobeda Park. This is not what I expected of Tiraspol. There are artists painting at the water side. Skating kids in the park. Photoshoots with newlyweds and their families. I even see some people on electric scooter.
A visit to Noul Neamt Monastery from Tiraspol
After my walk I decide to get a taxi to a monastery not far away from Tiraspol. Taxi driver Georghe wants to bring me to the monastery. That doesn’t go as smooth as in other cities by the way. Georghe doesn’t speak a word English and I know 5 words in Russian; and 1 of them is “cheers”. So we stop at a electronics store where some young guys and a phone with Google Translate help us to translate.
Once we’re driving we need to cross the river. With a rickety ferry. Did I already said we went back in time here in Tiraspol? Together with Georghe I visit the Noul Neamt Monastery. The walls and the ceilings of the buildings here are amazing. We also visit the grave of Noul Neamt. I know it’s disrespectful, but I have to laugh a little. I have no idea why, but there is an airconditioner in this small room, with only a grave in it. Why? Nobody knows.
Also read: the 8 most beautiful monasteries in Moldova
The Noul Neamt Monastery is big and not only monks are living here. We see some mentally disabled and homeless people as well. So I guess this is a place where they can live and sleep for some time. The monks are also making wine here. When we leave I buy a bottle of red wine. It’s in a plastic bottle, so it can’t be really good. But it’s only 25 rubles (about €1 euros) and it’s from Transnistria. Although the label says the wine is Noul Neamt: a monstery in Moldova.
Practical information for your visit to Transnistria
How do you travel from Chisinau to Tiraspol in Transnistria?
The capital Tiraspol is a good place to start your visit in Transnistria and get a good idea of the place. There are busses going from Chisinau to Tiraspol and back almost every hour. You can find the bus station at the crossroad of Strada Tighina and Strada Mitropolit Varlaam. It’s a blue building, surrounded by small busses. At Google Maps you can find it if you use “Enter Centru (Gara Centrala)”.
The busses leave once they are full, but since it’s a popular bus trip for locals you don’t have to wait long. Sometimes it can be 5 minutes, sometimes 45 minutes.
From Tiraspol there are busses leaving next to the train station. Keep in mind: If you’re coming to Tiraspol by train you also have to leave by train again, back to Chisinau or further to Odessa.
A bus ticket from Chisinau to Tiraspol is 36,50 Moldovan lei (less than €2 euros). A bus ticket from Tiraspol back to Chisinau is 43 Transnistrian rubles (a bit more than €2 euros). The bus drive including passport control is 1 hour and 45 minutes.
What to do during your visit in Tiraspol?
1. The local Zeleny Market.
2. A walk along the river Dnjestr.
3. KVINT Wine & Cognac distillery. Keep in mind this place is closed in the weekends.
4. The Noul Neamt Monastery.
5. The Tank Monument.
6. People watching in Pobeda Park.
What about money in Transnistria?
You can exchange Moldovan lei only in Transnistria, not in Moldova. For 100 Moldovan lei I got 92 Transnistrian rubels. You pay everywhere with these rubels, although sometimes they accept dollars and euros as well. They’re not a big fan of Moldovan lei, so they won’t accept that. Don’t forget to exchange your rubels back once you leave Transnistria. Although it’s fun to keep a couple of rubels as a souvenir.
Do you need a visum to go to Transnistria?
You don’t need to arrange a visum before you go to Transnistria. But it is important to bring your passport on this trip. Moldova doesn’t see this as leaving the country, but Transnistria does have a border control. So they need to check your information. At the border you get a permit, probably to stay for 1 day. If you want to extend or say longer you have to ask permission for that. This permit is a separate card in your passport, but it’s smart to take it out once you’re back in Moldova. They’re not the biggest fan of Transnistria and they are a bit suspicious about people who visit that place.
What language do they speak in Transnistria?
Transnistria gets a lot of financial support by Russia. Almost all the signs and information is in Russian. So most people in Transnistria speak Russian. It can be helpful to learn a couple of Russian words to make your trip to Transnistria easier. If you’re lucky you can use Google Translate on your phone (my internet wasn’t working in Tiraspol, but there are some hotspots in the city). And with some luck you will find some people who speak Romanian (/Moldovan).
Travel Movie: Transnistria
That was quite a cool visit! Would you like to visit a place like this as well? Of are you not interested at all? Or maybe you have already visited Transnistria and you want to share your experience. Let me know below in the comments!