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Johnny's Guide to Tiraspol, Transnistria - A Country That Doesn't Exist - Present Day USSR

I had never heard of the country that doesn't exist, Transnistria until just a few weeks ago, but as soon as I did, I was fascinated. Was there really still a country living under the old USSR flag that was holding out and hoping for someone like Joseph Stalin to return? Is there actually a country in modern day that still flies the soviet hammer and sickle on their current day flag‽ The answer is yes, and it's situated halfway between Ukraine and Moldova. Transnistria also known as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic or Приднестровская is only recognized by other non recognized countries, South Ossetia, and Republic of Artsakh. Transnistria is not officially on any map, but has a population of almost half a million people living under their flag. They have their own currency, the Transnistrian ruble, it's own borders and their own president.

For a place that doesn't officially exist, and one of the few countries that doesn't accept Visa or Mastercard, they somehow produce the world's best Cognac. I had to see this place for myself, and since I was already in the south of Ukraine, I figured it was now or never. But even announcing my plans to go, I had friends warn me not to, including someone that works at the US Embassy private messaging me. In this post I'm going to talk about how to get there, how to deal with visas for an un-official country, where to stay, what to do, eat, drink, and answer the question if you should actually go there yourself or give it a skip. Enjoy this blog post, it wasn't easy to research, travel there, or write.






How to Get There



But first, what is Transnistria? Well it's complicated, but basically On September 2nd 1990, the Transnistria, formally known as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed separate from Moldova during their civil war. With a population of around 475,665 people who still want to be part of the old USSR or modern day Russia. The problem is geographic as they are situated in between Ukraine and Moldova and the last thing these two countries want is to have Russia ownership or military bases there. Transnistria isn't officially occupied or annexed by Russia but has both a consulate there and offers their support to it's residents, including giving free or discounted natural gas for heating homes during the winter and other benefits.

Geographically as you can see from the map below, the only two ways to get to Transnistria or it's capital, Tiraspol is by either going through Ukraine or Moldova first. I took a direct bus from Odessa to Tiraspol for $5.03 that was actually a relatively easy trip, with the exception of long waits at the Ukraine/Moldova border. It total it was about 2.5 hours, even though the actual diving time for the 106km (65miles) is only about half while the border crossing is the other part. The good news however is even though I read a ton of info about corruption, bribes, and other dangers during the land border crossing, it was actually really easy and straight forward. Everyone on the bus handed their passports to the driver during each of the two border crossings and checkpoints, got out of the van for one of them during a random baggage search, and told the guard the address of where i'd be staying and for how long. 10 minutes later, I was handed back my passport with a "visa" which was actually just a loose piece of paper. The only strange part was that even though everyone warned that I wouldn't get a stamp when entering Moldova through Transnistria by car, I actually got both the piece of the paper and a stamp from Pervomaisc, Transnistria which allowed me to fly out of Chisinau a few days later without issue or fines.






Where to Stay in Transnistria 



Since you'll almost always arrive in the capital of Tiraspol, i'd suggest staying there for 1 or 2 nights. I chose to stay at the only hostel in the city center, Lenin Street Hostel thinking I'd meet some other people there to explore with. The problem was, there are so few tourists that go to Transnistria that I was literally the only person in the hostel both nights I was there. Not even the staff stays there so aside from the airbnb like check in process where I met the owner on the street corner at exactly 2pm and then again exactly at 7am during checkout I never saw another soul in the entire place. The only other hostel is Tiraspol Hostel which is the company I took the tour with, but their accomidation are located outside of the center which requires you to take taxis everywhere. The other option of hotels would have been a lot more expensive for not that nice of a place.  Your options really are limited, but Hotel Russia at $66 a night would be your best other bet. 

So even though I've ever once recommended Couchsurfing in any other blog post I've ever written, if I was ever to go back to there again, it's something I would have done for sure. There are a surprising amount of hosts in the city, however, it seems that most haven't logged in in the past 6 months so make sure you plan well in advance if you're looking to go this route. Leaving Transnistria was actually really easy. From Tiraspol I had the hostel owner book me a taxi the night before to Chisinau for only $14 which and the driver even allowed me to pay for in half USD (a $10 bill) and half rubles the 100 rubles I had left over, which made it easy since their currency is useless outside of the state. Here is a video I filmed while staying at Lenin Street hostel, which actually is located on the corner of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin Street on why I sometimes stay in hostels while traveling instead of hotels and Airbnbs. 







What to Do in Transnistria 


My first day in Tiraspol, I just walked around by myself and looked on TripAdvisor for restaurants and bars.  It sucked. Not only is there not that much information, there really isn't that much to do, places to eat, or bars to go to. Even being in the center of the capital, it was difficult to find enough to do even for one day. To make things worse, since I was only there for two days and because they use a phone technology that doesn't use SIM cards, I couldn't get mobile internet. If you're flying in from Moldova, you might be able to use theirs, but it'll be extremely slow. My Ukrainian sim card didn't work at all. Luckily the restaurants had WIFI, but judging from the name of the network, which they didn't bother to update since the restaurant changed it's name 5 years ago, it explains why it was so slow and almost unusable. Luckily the wifi in both Lenin street hostel and the nearby coffee shop was both fine to use. I booked a tour with Tim and Roman from Tiraspol Hostel based on a recommendation I got from someone I know on facebook, and was glad I did as it really made the entire trip. Tim was out of town, so it was just me and Roman and it honestly felt more like having a friend show me around than a guided tour. But it was everything I wanted and the fact that he took me out of the city into a local village really made it feel special and unique.

The only other tour in Transnistria that I could find was either the tip based free walking tour which I usually prefer, or the classic tour from a more professional company. But those tours are structured and are 2-3 hours long. The one I did with Roman went from 12noon to 12midnight, seriously. The actual tour itself ended around 6pm but we ended up having dinner, going to an event, then having drinks with people we met at that event afterwards. I'm not saying it wouldn't have happened with the other tours, but it would have been much less likely as those are much more official and the Tim/Roman tour is basically a whatever happens, happens kind of tour. I paid $40 for the tour and honestly even though it was a bit expensive for the region, it was well worth it and i'm glad I did it. Here is a video tour of both Tiraspol and the neighboring villages that I visited during my full day tour with Roman. 







Other Transnistria Travel Tips



Since they have their own currency, the Transnistrian Ruble which is currently exchange at 16:1 USD, you'll need to change money as soon as you get there. Luckily there are money changers on every other corner as it's common even for locals to have to get cash. The country doesn't accept Visa, Mastercard or any other international credit cards so most people, even locals are forced to carry around USD, Euros, Ukrainan UAH, or Moldovna Leu in cash to exchange when they need it. The only good news it that the exchange rates are fair and there's not a culture of ripping off tourists. In fact, if you watched the video above, I had people at the market giving me free fruit, and vendors at the flea market wanting to talk to me just out of interest. It's not a culture of ripping off tourists or evening seeing us as ATM machines, it's a culture of thanks for visiting which is a refreshing change of pace.

The biggest downside is not being able to communicate as everyone there speaks Russian. Luckily, I had been studying for the past month, mainly through the "Learn Cyrillic in 3 Hours" IOS app, and the "Russian Made Easy Podcast." Even though I can only say a few words, even being able to do that had helped tremendously in meeting and talking to locals and was appreciated. Make sure you cache your google maps before you arrive as otherwise you won't be able to use your maps in offline mode. As for places to eat, none of the restaurants in Transnistria are that great, but 7 Fridays (7 Pyatnits) was better than both La Placinte and Andy's Pizza which have the same owner. The only place I didn't get a chance to go to was Kumanek which is supposedly the best restaurant but more expensive, so instead we went to 7 Fridays  and had a great time. Speaking of which, local beers aren't very good, but the Chișinău Beer was decent and super cheap. Also the Kvint Cognac brandy was excellent, and possibly the best I've had anywhere in the world, including both Rémy Martin and Hennessy VSOP and XO. The best news is that it's ultra cheap. Get the 5 year bottle as a starting point if you want something cheap, but the 8 year and above is where it really starts getting great.  Officially the liquor has to call itself divin or brandy as it's not produced in the Cognac region of France, but it's basically the same thing, if not better, and definitely cheaper.  The best thing was that even at a restaurant, a 500ml bottle of 8 year old XO Congac was only around $10 and it was incredible. Try ordering a comparable bottle of Rémy Martin or Hennessy XO at a bar and see if it's less than $250.00.


16 ruble to $1 exchange, bottles are $3USD or less.

Celebrating my birthday in Tiraspol with a bottle of Kvint XO.


Dangers and Safety



Before I went to Transnistria, I was honestly worried and had actually started to regret my planned trip. Everyone I had spoken to, even local Ukrainians told me it wasn't safe and that I shouldn't go. An internet search showed the dangers of crossing borders and harassment or bribes by the military at checkpoints. I then asked myself, "am I going for the right reasons, or am I going simply because it's treacherous?" Up until few years ago I would do a lot of stupid, and often dangerous things just to do them and often to impress others or to be cool. But now that I'm older, I really don't care about that and really had to ask myself, why am I even going? It didn't help that a friend who works for the U.S. Embassy private messaged me this, just days before my trip:

"...it's just not safe for Americans to travel there and therefore was a restricted area for us. It's a renegade region effectively under the control of Russia (due to the Russian speaking minority and political ideology). While a lot of places in the world are dangerous and you're a seasoned traveler, just be extra vigilant as an American. Things that could happen there are the usual - bribes, various scams by officials: a supposed "invalid/illegal" passport that get taken from you, theft of goods, drugs appearing in your belongings, etc. Maybe I'm just being extra cautious, but just plan accordingly for contingencies and I'm sure you'll be okay. Of course you could probably say the same thing for North Korea...😉 Good luck and hope to hear about the trip on one of your podcasts!"

The verdict? I personally had no issues, and it was easy to get through the border crossings both directions and board my flight without penalty in Moldova. I felt safe throughout my time there, and honestly, there are so few people there that it feels like a small town where nothing really happens. However, I think the danger would be if something did happen, then what? There's no embassy or consulate there, and very few people speak English. You can't call 911, and you won't have internet access. On a higher level there is a ton of corruption and the country is ruled by an Oligarchy. That being said, the locals I met were very friendly, and kind hearted. If I had to give a statement it would be that you shouldn't worry about the people of Tiraspol or Transnistria, it's more of the infrastructure that might give you issues. We talk more about the culture, safely, and the local Sheriff of Transnistria and the empire he's built in episode 202 of the Travel Like a Boss Podcast, make sure you subscribe to the podcast to hear it as soon as it comes out. Until then, feel free to ask any questions or comment your thoughts below.


Noul Neamț Monastery in Transnistria


Warm Regards,


Johnny FD






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Post a Comment

  1. Feel free to add your comment or ask any questions here about the country that doesn't exist!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for sharing! Glad you braved it to share with us an area few even know exist.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Dang...I don't know what else to say. The more I travel, the more I realize I don't know jack sh*t about the world.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Very interesting post. Thanks for sharing a place that I didn't know existed. To answer your question in the first video, no I have never and never will stay in a hostel. I understand your reasons for doing so but living in barracks while in the Army was enough communal living for me. I'm all for saving money while traveling but I'd rather do it in another way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Happy to be able to share Terry! I understand why living in barracks was enough of a communal experience for one lifetime!

      Delete
  5. You showed me how to get there without this country
    duck life

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great post! I’ve actually heard of this “country” before. This is the video that introduced me to it: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=AdTAZlOhrM4

    ReplyDelete
  7. First of all, thanks for your Transnistria video on YouTube and since it's from this year, I'd like to ask for some advice! You seem to have had a guide you hooked up with somehow. Who is it, how do I get in touch and how much did you pay? I am looking to visit Transnistria in July or August 2019 while I am in the area anyway. Thanks! =0)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hey happy to help. The tour info and guide info was in the post above. I think the price was $40-$45.

    ReplyDelete

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