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Trip Report In Less Than 48 Hours, Chisinau and Transnistria

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Another pleasant flight across the Atlantic and with a thump we are shrouded in fog as our Boeing 767 makes an early morning landing in Munich, Germany.

A few hours later the fog still remains as I am again airborne this time for a one hour and forty minute flight to Chisinau, Moldova. My journey to Chisinau started a few years ago when my interest was peaked by a colleague into visiting Transnistria an almost unknown neighbor and one time foe of Moldova.

Arriving in Chisinau, although the weather outside under an overcast gray sky is frigid, a friendly smile along with a warm welcome from an Immigration Officer makes me glad that I am here to pursue my interest and satisfy my curiosity.

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    Chisinau

    Although Chisinau Airport is rather small compared to many other capital city airports as I leave the Customs I am somewhat surprised by the openness and the amount of activity in the arrival area. At the information booth I find out about transportation to the city center after turning down numerous offers for a taxi.

    At a favorable exchange rate of about 17 to 1, I now have the 3 leu that I need to take Bus No. 165 into the city. Although Bus No.165 is more of a mini-van than a bus I can live with this sense it is costing me about 20 cents instead of 20 Euro to get to my hotel.

    It is about a 12km journey to the city and the scenery along way is about what I expected. A cold gray veil still hangs over the city with less than fashionable Soviet era mostly square buildings decorating the landscape. Despite their looks many of these buildings have stood the test of time and I have a feeling will continue to do so.

    Interestingly, from pictures on the internet I recognize some of the buildings and exit the bus just pass Cosmos Hotel where I had considered staying for the night. Back tracking in that direction and I soon find myself at the Grand Hall where an inviting sign pulls me in.

    At Ayasofya Turkish Cafe I have a delicious feast for lunch finished off with a cup of hot and soothing black tea all for less than US$8.

    A fifteen minute walk to Ismail 88 and after a checking in process which included surrendering my passport since I did not have a local phone contact, I am shown to my apartment for the night. A large bedroom and all the necessities I need for the night is not a bad deal for $24.

    Relaxed and with another layer of clothing to combat the falling temperatures I set out for a stroll around the city towards the Arca de Triumf. Electronic Casinos and Electronic Stores with flashing lights including multiple cellphone companies seem to be abundant along the main street. Also on Stefan cel Mare are many of Chisinau government building and a concert hall where the works of Mozart will be performed.

    In all of the busy night time activity on the street a few older gentleman still find solace in a tradition I think has gone on here for years, check mate.

    Video:http://youtu.be/WTb3Xo1V5U4

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    gertie3751,

    Yes, I believe Romanian was the language spoken with just a few people I encountered speaking very little English.

    I saw no fallout from drama in Ukraine but I get a sense there is no love lost for Putin here.

    On train to Odessa Ukraine officials were cordial although I did get a thorough interview. I did not find this too unusual since I guess not too many people are visiting Ukraine especially by train this time of the year.

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    To Transnistria

    It seems like a very long night as I wait in the darkness of my Chisinau apartment for the familiar sound of my traveling alarm clock. I am awake at 4:41am then 6:53am but at 9am I silence my alarm then I finally get up at 10am. There goes some of my plans for the day as I have to make my way to the bus station by noon for my trip to Tiraspol.

    Down str Ismail I navigate mud puddles from melting ice and snow before waiting to cross the street at a crosswalk. With the what I am told “crazy drivers” here, jaywalking is frowned upon and probably not the safest thing to do. Along str Mitropolitul Varlaam the morning activities are brisk as various street vendors hawk their merchandise from food to clothing and probably everything in between.

    Arriving at a very hectic bus station I make my way around the back entrance and with a little help find the ticket window where I must purchase my fare for Tiraspol. Giving up about 37 leu, less than $3, I board for the most part except where covered in street mud a bright orange mini-van for about a one and a half hour road trip.

    Here this time of the year there is not much change in the weather from day to day and the dull gray of winter still hangs over the city. Looking through a big tear in the tint of my window provides an almost depressing contrast with the dreary buildings and bare vegetation that covers the landscape.

    Going down the highway a set of oncoming lights flash at us and I am glad to see some local things are international. Just down the road is a “Bear Trap” and one unlucky victim has been caught. Soon our driver puts the “hammer down” as we still have a long way to go and a short time to get there.

    Before long we nonchalantly pass through a few checkpoints before stopping at another one. Here a few passengers disembark and we wait for them before pressing on.

    A few stops to drop off passengers at various points in the city and I began to get a little worried as I am soon one of two remaining. However, I have been given explicit directions to remain on the bus until the last stop and although I am not sure when that will happen I remain patient.

    Soon a building comes into sight and I find some comfort in seeing it. It is the last stop where across the street from what is the train station another waiting game begins in a cold park. I am here to meet a man I have only met by email.

    Through both of our failings neither one of us knows what each other looks like but I do know he is the only foreigner living in Transnistria.


    Video:http://youtu.be/QEj-or0SuXw

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    Tracked Down In Tiraspol

    From what I think is time to kill, I do a little exploring around the train station while avoiding what seems like forbidden areas. Climbing a set of stairs puts me on a pedestrian bridge that crosses multiple tracks below. Although there is an increased chill in the air, feeling like a “Lionel Kid” I stay for a few minutes to watch a Soviet made locomotive at work.

    Back at our planned meeting point there are more than a few men hanging around who could easily be my tour guide. However, knowing only about two words in Russian I am hesitant to approach any of them but I have developed a plan if my guide does not show up.

    In an email I was given an address and hotel name to use when I registered at the border crossing which I managed not to do. At this point I hope it is all valid information as my plan is to take a taxicab to the address if all else fails.

    In making my arrangements to meet under these conditions I thought for sure that when I arrived in Tiraspol I would standout like a sore thumb among the locals. Before leaving Chisinau I did send an email picture of myself but I am not sure if it was received.

    Another ten minutes of waiting and I hear my name in a question form being called from less than fifteen feet away. The whole time I had been pacing in and around the park so was my guide.

    To my surprise, apparently my smaller than usual backpack, black (fleece lined) cargo pants and knitted sock cap made me seem more like a local than someone he was expecting. We laugh it all off until I tell him that I never registered at the border which is a requirement for visiting Transnistria.

    I can see the wheels turning inside his head as Tim mulls this little dilemma over. In what seems to me to be said with a nervous smile Tim tells me, "we will worry about it later".

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    A Day Tour Of Traspol

    My tour of Tiraspol sort of officially begins but then it is quickly interrupted by a gentleman who approaches my guide as we are walking away from the train station. An engaging conversation takes place and I am impressed that my guide who is American is holding his own communicating in Russian. Tim gives me a quick insight into the conversation which is interesting to me.

    The other man is a taxicab driver who Tim used during the New Year holiday celebration when he had a run in with the local police.

    Surprisingly, the taxicab recognized him as we were strolling by. As is the norm here, so I am told, at the time of Tim’s run in with the police they took a laptop computer from him as a part of the items he had in his personal possession. In trying to retrieve his personal items at a later date, Tim was told it was this taxicab driver that stole it from him. In reality the story was just the opposite. Here there is no real crime just corruption and this is one example of it. Fortunately this gentleman has promised to help Tim get his computer back.

    An unusual introduction to Transnistria and demonstrates how it's citizens have little trust for government officials. Here I am told there is also little interest in the political system because of the way the government works. Similarly, I read that in Chisinau it took three attempts to elect the Prime Minister because voter turnout was below that required for the election process.

    From the train station it is a short walk into town and I need to lighten my load so we hop on the No.2 bus for a ride to my apartment for the night. Although on the outside many apartment buildings look dilapidated, on the inside maybe a completely different store.

    My apartment is in the process of being renovated and although a bit colorful it is still more adequate for me for one night. I enjoy the experience of being accommodated like a local.

    Back on another bus and we hop off at one of the famous parks in the city. Mostly deserted this time of the year, however, over fifty years of Soviet amusement park history is still here. With rides made of mostly cast iron they will probably still be here for another thousand and fifty years. Famous among the rides here is a Ferris wheel similar to the one at Chernobyl although this one does not have a glow to it.

    From the park we take a stroll towards Transnistria University which was founded by a Ukrainian poet. Even today there is still a close bond between Transnistrians and Ukrainians. Near the university we stop at a bakery/cafe that is popular with students because of it's cheap quart size beers. We both have hot tea while I sample a local pastry filled with potatoes.

    A stop at a souvenir shop then we pause a few minutes in front of the Transnistria Central Bank where they print “Monopoly Money”. The currency here is very controlled and can be pretty much only used and exchanged here.

    To my surprise some of the best Cognac in the world is produced here. A bottle that would cost you about 40 euros elsewhere can be purchased here for about 2 euros.

    Not knowing much about the Orthodox faith, I find it a cool learning experience when we visit the Christmas Church. Built in 1999 this church is a part of the Moldovan Orthodox Diocese. Taking in the works of art which I am told was painted by Transnistria University students is amazing as I listen to a beautiful and harmonic sound that echos from a hidden choir.

    From the Christmas Church we take a short walk to visit a few on Tiraspol more notable monuments which are less than a ten minute walk away. For me, the most sobering one of these monuments is a memorial similar to Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. Just a few feet from an old Soviet tank an “Eternal Flame” burns for about one thousand soldiers who lost their lives during a 1990's war with Moldova.

    Just across the street from this memorial is one of the largest remaining statues in the world of Vladimir Lenin former Soviet Union communist leader. For some perceived security reasons pictures of this statue can only be taken from across street as the Parliament Building is in the background. Although some believe close up pictures cannot be taken because they might capture government workers doing nothing.


    Video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VA-wDkzvSz4

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