Umm? Transnistria?? You never heard of it? Don’t worry. 90% of the people I meet in my travels have never heard of it, too. Now you will become the part of the “chosen ones” and will discover what you can expect from going to this place.
If you fancy something alternative, here you are. It’s one of the destinations that is entirely “Off the beaten track” which only a few people would ever consider visiting. Be one of them.
What is Transnistria and where is it?
Transnistria (Please, don’t confuse it with Transylvania! There are no Draculas over there) got its name from River Dniestr (or Nistru). It is located on the bank of this river. Thus, “Trans-Nistru” means “a land over the river Nistru”.
This land, situated between Ukraine and Moldova, is a self-proclaimed country. Officially, it’s just a region of the Republic of Moldova, but de facto, since 1992 it’s a state with all its attributions such as Constitution, President, government, army, borders, custom authorities, currency and banks.
(I will not write here about the history and politics of this region, as it’s not my domain and I leave it to the politicians and historians. But please google about the different views on Transnistrian's past, present and future to have an idea.)
In the cultural context, Transnistria is a fusion of Moldovan, Russian and Ukrainian cultures. This is manifested in the local holidays, celebrations, customs and cuisine.
For example, Transnistrians celebrate Maslenitsa (the Butter Week during which people bake bliny, thin pancakes, play games, and burn a straw “Lady Maslenitsa” as a symbol of a leaving winter), which is a common religious and folk holiday for the Eastern Slavs, and also Mărțișor, a celebration at the beginning of spring, common for Moldova, Romania, and Bulgaria, when people make red and white string with hanging tassel and offer it to their friends and family on the 1st day of March.
So what are the reasons to go to Transnistria?
1 | Well, the first one is to put your foot on the ground of the country which doesn’t exist on the map. It’s a very valid reason :)
Just for the sake of this, it’s worth visiting. Believe me, it’s a special feeling: the mix of the excitement to experience something unusual with the anticipation of something risky and surreal.
2 | Travel back in time
Generally, if you walk around the capital of Transnistria, Tiraspol, the feeling of the Soviet era is present at every step.
One of its main attributes is money, a Transnistrian ruble. On the coins you will see the Soviet coat of arms with accompanying symbols: hammer, sickle and star. Other symbol of Transnisria with the USSR heritage is it's flag which is an exact copy of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic flag dating from 1952.
Next, the monuments of the leader of the world proletariat, Lenin, stand on the main squares in towns and you can find the slogans and the mosaic in the spirit of the USSR inside and outside of many buildings. Some streets in Transnistria are named after revolutionary socialists such as Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin and Karl Liebknecht.
To further deepen your experience of traveling back in time, you can take a ride on the old soviet trolleybus and spend a night at the “Aist” hotel, which still keeps archaic soviet furniture in the rooms.
3 | Pay in shops with plastic money
It may sound like a joke, but it’s not!
To commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the national currency in 2014, the Transnistrian Bank issued coins in denominations of 1, 3, 5 and 10 rubles made of composite. This type of plastic money is not produced anywhere else in the world.
Coins have different geometric shapes and colors. You can pay with plastic money in any shop in Transnistria.
4 | Drink Kvass from a giant jerrycan
Kvass… I am sure you will like it! It’s so refreshing, especially if you drink it on a hot summer day.
Kvass is a healthy and tasty fermented drink made from black bread. It is a non-alcoholic beverage as the alcohol content from fermentation is typically around 0.5 %.
In Soviet times, kvass was sold on the streets in giant jerrycans and you still can find it in Transnistria.
5| Taste Mamaliga, Okroshka and ....
If you like discovering new dishes when you travel, you will definitely find something yummy in Transnistria.
The specificity of cuisine in this region is that, thanks to the multi-nationality of its population, it’s a fusion of Moldovan, Ukrainian and Russian dishes with different variations of recipes.
My favorites are mamaliga, borscht and okroshka. I recommend you eat at the village-styled Kumanek restaurant, Tiraspol, Sverdlov street, 37.
6 | Shop for ecologically-produced Black caviar
If you are an animal welfare defender, please skip this part.
For others, whose ethics doesn’t prohibit eating caviar, there is something for you. You can find in Transnistria not only the remains from the past, but also modern shops and production sites like one of the world´s largest sturgeon recirculation facility, Aquatir.
This farm breeds fishes and produces black caviar with the innovative “no-kill” method: the caviar is extracted without killing the fish.
You can buy the caviar in the shops in Tiraspol at the producer’s price which is many times lower before it’s exported abroad.
7| Find out why there is a Turkish fortress in Transnistria
Bender Fortress, located in the city of Bendery, attracts history buffs from all over the globe. It was founded by the Turks in the XVI century, but restored and opened to the public only several years ago.
Built as a bastion, the fortress served as a protective structure for the troops of the Turkish Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, who captured at that time Moldavian Principality. Many have tried to recapture the fortress, but it was possible only in 1770 by General Panin during the Russian-Turkish war.
You will learn more about the colorful history of this fortress and the region during your visit of the fortress. It is open every day from 8 a.m. till 4 p.m. and on the weekends from 10 a.m. till 3 p.m. In the fortress you can also visit two museums and a souvenir shop.
8 | Learn what “the Commonwealth of Unrecognized States-2” is and visit the embassies of other unrecognized countries
No any country in the world recognizes Transnistria as a state. Except some other unrecognized countries, such as south Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia.
To support each other, they even created the Commonwealth of Unrecognized States in 2000, a sort of international organization for cooperation between the unrecognized states.
You can visit their diplomatic missions, - the Representations of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in
Tiraspol, 25 October street, 76.
9 | Come for a degustation of local wine at the Bottle Museum
Enter a giant bottle of 28 meters height and you will find 6 beautiful rooms that house more than 10 thousand bottles of different types of alcoholic beverages from 105 countries of the world.
You come across unique items, such as a bottle, which is 300 years old, or a bottle which was brought from the bottom of the sea, or another one, discovered during archaeological excavations.
Here you may not only look at the rare and exclusive bottles, but also taste wine and brandy of local producers.
The Bottle Museum is situated in Tiraspol, Ternovka, Karl Marx street, 13.
10 | Discover new unique landscapes
Go to Transnistrian countryside and you will find dreamy and peaceful landscapes of the River Dniestr, the fields of sunflowers, apple gardens and vineyards.
One of the picturesque areas is near the Stroienti village in the north of Transnistria. Go there to immerse yourself in the natural beauty and to forget about all the urban problems. You will see springs, streams, hills with vineyards, a mysterious "tower of the winds", which has its own legend, an old mill converted into a cozy restaurant, a little monastery and their bee-garden and an authentic village.
Nearby there is another village Rashkov, a place of three religions (Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Judaism).
Other places surrounded by beautiful nature and worth visiting are Kamienka and Cioburciu.
And..! A bonus, 11th reason to go to Transnistria
is to experience an authentic hospitality of Transnistrian people.
Transnistria is a not-touristic place and local people don’t meet here many foreigners, especially from the Western countries. That’s why when you get in contact with them, in the beginning, Transnistrian people may seem cold, reserved, distant and not-smiling.
But after a few moments when you make a connection with them, they will be truly interested in you, ready to help, to show you around and to invite you for dinner at their place. And you will receive a true smile “not for everyone”.
Some practical information
There is no visa required to enter Transnistria.
If your passport allows you to come to Moldova or Ukraine, then you can travel to Transnistria, too. However, at the Transnistrian border you will have to register indicating the duration, the place and the purpose of your stay.
If you are coming as a photographer, you’ll have to receive the accreditation in advance.
Since English is not widely spoken in Transnistria, the best option is to come here accompanied by someone speaking Russian or to hire a guide either from Chisinau or Tiraspol (or to find a local friend via couchsurfing) to avoid any misunderstandings with local border authorities and for help with logistics.
If you have a question about the practical side of traveling to Transnistria, feel free to post it in the comments section.
Happy and safe travels!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hi, nice to meet you! I'm Sasha, a “free spirit” and a world citizen at heart who was born in the country that does not exist: Transnistria. I am on my adventurous journey to discover alternative, quirky, unique and unusual things to do and to visit in cool cities around the world. Join me and try something new! I write in Globish, since English is not my native language, so feel free to correct me or to make fun of me :).