One of the reasons why I wanted to visit Chisinau was to go on a daytrip to Transnistria – a breakaway territory that is officially part of Moldova. I’ve always been fascinated with those unknown places, off the path, forgot by many, with difficult recent history. I can’t really explain why I’m so interested in them, could be the fact that I vaguely remember when those places (former Yugoslavia or Caucasus countries just to name few) were torn by the war or that I’m simply curious how the life looks like there right now. I just know that something pushes me there and even if I’m well aware that I won’t get answers to all my questions during these short visits they still are the highlights of my travels. It was the same with my daytrip from Chisinau to Transnistria.
Table of contents
- 1 What is Transnistria?
- 2 My concerns before visiting Transnistria
- 3 How to get from Chisinau to Transnistria
- 4 Entering Transnistria from Moldova
- 5 The way from the border to Tiraspol
- 6 What to see in Tiraspol, Transnistria
- 7 Money in Transnistria
- 8 Leaving Transnistria to Moldova
- 9 Solo female travel in Transnistria
- 10 Is it worth to go for a daytrip to Transnistria?
What is Transnistria?
Transnistria is a small landlocked territory, spread along the river Dniester (hence the name) that borders with Moldova and Ukraine. Its independence, declared on 2nd September 1990, is recognized only by Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Osetia (all of which are very high on my bucket list!), countries that aren’t widely recognized either. It is very much connected to Russia: politically, economically and symbolically. Even the flag of Transnistria bears sickle and hammer, leaving no doubts which team Transnistria is.
My concerns before visiting Transnistria
I must admit that until the last moment I wasn’t sure if I’m going to visit Transnistria or not. Partly because I really enjoyed Chisinau and felt it deserves more of my time (even if it was probably the most boring and unpretty capital in Europe) but partly because I was anxious. I didn’t hear many positive reports from trips to Transnistria, seemed like everyone dealt with some sort of problems there (either with bureaucracy or corruption). I was also going solo there and while I almost always have no problems with that on that very day for some reason I lost my confidence. The fact that Transnistria is such a close friend with Russia and the conflict in East Ukraine was rather nearby (even if I believe Ukraine is a safe country to travel in general) didn’t help me either. I believe that some things are simply not made to be and so I challenged myself and decided if I find a bus to Tiraspol easily – I will go, if not I will skip the trip.
How to get from Chisinau to Transnistria
The central bus station in Chisinau is located behind the Central Market, close to Boulevard Stefan Cel Mare, the main street of the center. It might seem chaotic at first as there’re numerous minibuses for various destinations through Moldova parked in the streets around. But in this mess it’s not difficult to find the actual bus station and once you enter the building things get very easy. There’s a schedule with all the connection and numbered stands, each of them with different destination. Buses from Chisinau to Tiraspol leave from the stand no 13 at the right side. The connections are frequent, every 10-30 minutes and the ticket costs 37 leu (you need to buy it from the small container that serves as the ticket office, it’s next to the stand). Don’t expect anything fancy, the bus are typical marshrutkas – the most common way of transport in former Soviet Union countries. Below you can find the picture of the schedule of all the buses from Chisinau to Tiraspol.
Entering Transnistria from Moldova
The bus from Chisinau to Tiraspol takes around 2 hours from one city to another, that includes „border” crossing. Foreigners who want to visit Transnistria can only cross into the territory via few assigned checkpoints but fortunately the one that the bus takes, close to the town of Bendery, is one of them. I’m always slightly worried at all the borders and checkpoints but here I was more anxious than usual, all the rumors about the issues and corruptions messed up with my head. There were no reasons why I wouldn’t have been let in but you never know.
As it turned out there was of course nothing to worry about, entering Transnistria from Moldova was really hassle free. You need to fill the migration card (it’s both in Russian and English so no problem with that) and with it you need to proceed to the checkpoint building on the right side of the road. Inside there are two windows where you can deal with the paperwork – I chose the one with the younger officer as I assumed he’s more likely to speak English. Well, he didn’t and asked the older one for help anyway. After giving the filled migration form I was asked only two questions: how long I’m going to stay in their country and what’s the address of the place I’m going to stay at. When I explained I’m going just for a daytrip to Transnistria they had no problems with that and issued me the migration card valid for 10 hours. I was required to keep the paper with me for all the time and leave Transnistria before 9:27 pm. The whole procedure took maybe 10 minutes and it was rather straightforward, despite the minor language issues. The bus waits at the side of the road for all the passengers to finish the border control. And most important – entering Transnistria is free of charge, if someone asks you for the fee it’s most likely a bribe.
An easier way to enter Transnistria is to use a train as then there’s no control at all. There’s one train per day, connecting Chisinau with Odessa, that stops in both Bendery and Tiraspol. It leaves from Chisinau around 7.30 am and takes some 2 hours to reach Transnistria, in the opposite direction it’s in the afternoon. But if you enter the territory by train you must leave by train too! Or you can register your stay in Transnistria in the local immigration office. If you plan to visit Transnistria by train from Odessa this post by Larissa will answer your questions.
The way from the border to Tiraspol
From the border it’s a short, maybe half an hour ride to Tiraspol – the capital of Transnistria. First stop is in the town of Bendery but before you reach the center look out to your left side to the Bendery Fortress – an impressive 16th century structure built in the Ottoman style. For years it used to serve as military base but now apparently it is open to public and you’re free to visit it (I honestly regret I didn’t do it!). When you leave Bendery towards Tiraspol you will cross a bridge over Dniester river. Look carefully when entering the bridge as between two sides of the road there’s a camouflaged Russian tank guarding the bridge (the other tank can be spotted at the checkpoint, on the right side when leaving Transnistria). The bridge itself is interesting too, painted in flags of Transnistria and Russia – guess this couldn’t be any more obvious that those countries have a pact.
What to see in Tiraspol, Transnistria
The bus station in Tiraspol is located next to the train station, within the walking distance to all the city’s attraction. It took me 5 hours (including the lunch break) to see all the highlights of Tiraspol and to feel the atmosphere of the city. Here’s the list of places to see in Tiraspol (in order I’ve visited them):
- Kirov Park – located very close to the train station, with newly built Orthodox church and a pretty bells tower (they were stairs leading to the top but the entrance was closed, unfortunately)
- Kvint factory – on the opposite side of the Lenin street than Kirov Park. Founded in 1897 this is one of the best cognac factory in Moldova and getting a bottle of two of the finest drink is a real bargain here
- Victory Park with old school vehicles for children and a closed, rusty funfair. Apparently this is one of the favorite places to relax for local people but when I visited on midday during the week there were only couple of mothers and grandmothers playing around with their kids.
- 25th October street – the main and most representative street of Tiraspol, where all the most important institutions are located
- Drama and Comedy Theatre and Transdniestrian State University, both located at the end of 25th October Street
- House of Soviets, now the City Hall, with a bust of angry Lenin in front and a display of the most memorable citizens of Tiraspol on the right side
- Transdniestrian Republican Bank where the local currency – rubel – is issued
- Old Believers’ Church
- de Wollant Park at the bank of Dniester river, with numerous sculptures (including Catherine the Great) and a pleasant cafe
- Bridge across Dniester river with a nice view of the city, a local beach and some rusty boats
- Small Orthodox Church, tank monument, eternal flame and war memorial with the names of all those who lost their lives in the 1990-1992 war. This is a rather sad place actually…
- Government of Transnistria building with a massive Lenin statue in front. Apparently it is forbidden to take pictures of this building but I wasn’t bothered by anyone.
- Palace of Children and Youth Creativity
- Monument of General Alexander Suvorov, the founder of Tiraspol and a military hero of the 18th century Russian-Turkish wars.
- City House of Culture
- Tiraspol-Dubossary Diocese and the Christmas Cathedral – the biggest and most beautiful church in Tiraspol
Here’s the walking route I did in Tiraspol:
One interesting thing I’ve noticed in and around Tiraspol is the brand Sheriff. The company was created by former KGB agents and until now they own more or less every branch of business: from local shops and supermarkets to petrol stations, local media and building companies. They even have their own football club, Sheriff Tiraspol – that’s the only thing that links Transnistria to Moldova as the club plays in the Moldovan league and has won it several times. Even the national football team of Moldova sometimes plays its games at the new stadium in Tiraspol!
Money in Transnistria
Transnistria has its own currency, rubles. You won’t be able to use Moldovan leu or any other currency when visiting Transnistria but there’re numerous exchange points around Tiraspol as well as couple of ATMs. I got my rubles in the bank on 25th October street and it was a rather straightforward process. Unfortunately the prices in Transnistria were slightly higher than in Moldova but still very affordable. Remember to exchange all the remaining rubles before leaving Transnistria as they will be of no use anywhere else!
Leaving Transnistria to Moldova
Leaving back from Tiraspol to Chisinau was as easy as getting there. The buses leave from the train station frequently, you need to buy the ticket in the office inside the train station. The price however is more expensive than on the way to Transnistria, 68 Moldovan leu. When leaving Transnistria the checkpoint control goes much faster – the border control enters the bus and collects the migration cards. And that’s it, you’re free to leave Transnistria, the country that doesn’t exist.
Solo female travel in Transnistria
I traveled solo to Transnistria and despite all my concerns I was all fine. I’ve heard about incidents with pickpockets aimed at tourists but there wasn’t even one situation when I’d have felt uncomfortable, let alone in danger and I dare to say Tiraspol is a rather safe city. During my daytrip to Transnistria it seemed like I was the only tourist in the breakaway territory, I haven’t seen anyone else wandering around with the camera. Local people were also curious of me, I was stopped numerous times and asked where I’m from and how I like Transnistria. Everyone seemed to be genuinely happy I’m visiting Transnistria. Those who could speak better English told me that they can’t really travel outside of their homeland yet they are very curious of the world out there so even the short conversations like we had are a great source of information, inspiration and motivation for them! At this point I regretted I didn’t stay there any longer.
Is it worth to go for a daytrip to Transnistria?
The capital of Transnistria isn’t the most beautiful city you will ever see, it’s just a random average size place in this part of the world but I still found it rather interesting. It seems like it’s the last bastion of Soviet Union, full of the remnants of the past. The streets are named after noble people of the Marxism-Leninism: Lenin, Marx, Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg; sickle and hammer are just about everywhere and there are at least two monuments of Lenin only on the main street. Most of the buildings are built in the Socialist Realism style and overall the city reminded me a little bit of Minsk, Belarus, just in the much poorer condition.
It was so interesting to visit Transnistria in the second half of August, I couldn’t have asked for a better timing! On 2nd September Transnistria celebrates its independence day and so the preparations to that event were fully on. Last year, 2015, was the 25 years of the independence for Transnistria and the fact that no one really recognizes the country didn’t stop it from the grand celebrations. The banners commemorating the event (as well as those saying „We love our city”) were everywhere, lots of works were done on 25th October street (i.e. the new electricity lines were put up or the curbs were painted) and you could feel something big is about to happen in the city soon. Apparently the celebrations on the Republic Day on 2nd of September are crazy and if you can try to visit Transnistria on that day!
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And so if you ask me if it’s worth to go for a daytrip to Transnistria I’d say yes! It’s probably one of the weirdest places you will get to see, transferring you back in time, but it is still a very pleasant trip that gives you a chance to get to know a true off the path place with friendly locals who still somehow live in the past. It’s not the trip for beautiful places, it’s for the experience!
Do you like visiting off the path places? Have you been to any unrecognized territories? Would you like to visit Transnistria?
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If you would like to stay longer in Transnistria here are the accommodation options in Tiraspol.
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