Tiraspol and Bendery
“The sights are ho-hum and the accommodation iffy; nevertheless, this is one of the most mind-bending surreal and distinctly memorable places in Europe” – Lonely Planet
Tiraspol is the capital of the unrecognised Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic.
An area or country that separated from Moldova. The city has origins going back to 600 BC but there is nothing to suggest this. Tiraspol is a soviet style city (read concrete, many war monuments, wide boulevards) described by guide books and others as surreal, living in the soviet times, or a city that time forgot. Those are words actually used by others and there is some truth.
It is not in its first instance alluring to tourists other than its soviet banners, architecture and people wanting a surreal experience but don’t misunderstand me. I liked Tiraspol. I didn’t go for the soviet experience but to meet my good friend Anna I had met via Interpals.
The journey into Tiraspol is supposedly an ordeal. Known for being bribe hungry (as Lonely Planet says) or as wiki travel says “Visitors should note that they are highly likely to face demands for substantial bribes from the border guards either on entry or exit from Transnistria bribery is rife and your passport may be destroyed if you do not pay.”
Well there is truth in this as some American I met said she met someone who went there that was stripped of all his currency upon going there, So I went prepared planning to take out the majority of my currency by card when in the country.
As it happened I had a seamless entry and exit. Whether you get asked for a bribe may have something to do with how many people are there, the mood of staff etc.. but I had no problems. The queue to hand in and get you entrance form stamped was a bit disorganised but soon I was in.
I then met Anna and her kind friend Tanya.
The first stop was that I had to collect my keys to my apartment that I had booked through Marisha.net. I had arrived late enough that I could not go before meeting Anna and Tanya. They helped me withdraw money, and off to Lena we went. We found Lena’s apartment and Anna and Tanya waited outside while I went in to talk to Lena. I found the apartment was not the location on the website but a bit further away. Lena gave me the key she also warned or strongly advised me not to take girls to the apartment. Perhaps thing because I arrived with two that was my purpose in Moldova / PMR (delete as necessary!).
I said I had no such intention and that Anna and Tanya are friends.
This didn’t seem to register as she then said she doesn’t care if I was to bring women to the apartment but an Italian tourist had recently brought back a girl from a bar to his apartment and when he woke up his camera, his passport everything was gone. I just repeated my assurance. In some countries people automatically assume that a foreign man and women together means some kind of sexual relationship must be taking place and not platonic.
She then also explained to Anna and Tanya, how I should register with the OVIR (police) as every foreigner staying more than 24 hours and the directions to my apartment.
It was great that Anna and Tanya accompanied me because you don’t enter the OVIR to register. You give your passport, and entrance form through the window. The receptionist then closes it and you just wait.. until some unspecified time you get it There were guys waiting by a winder. If I went by myself it might have been difficult for me to figure it out.
Afterwards Anna and Tanya showed me many places around Tiraspol.
They took me to a nice restaurant and we had a great time walking around several of Tiraspol’s site. Most of them are along a street 25th October. Where you can see places like a nice theatre, a statue of Alexander Suvorov), the parliament etc. They also showed me their university dorms and explained a lot about Tiraspol and the PMR in general.It was fantastic to speak to them both.
One of the greatest generals in military history, he joins a select list including such luminaries as Alexander the great who never lost a battle. He won a series of wars against the Ottomans (and other he faced) including liberating the city of Tiraspol and is considered the founder of the modern city. A statue of the great general graces the city.
I did come across an incident of an imbecile who objected to my presence (not in English) with them but it was easy to brush off. I met so many friendly people to be concerned with such people. However I mention it because I was so impressed with Tanya as she strongly argued with him. I advised Tanya, just to ignore him as he only wanted a reaction but I also felt grateful for it. Both Tanya and Anna have a great and kind personality and so I enjoyed meeting them a lot. I also tried some food Anna gave me that had been prepared by her mother.
I found people in Tiraspol very kind and friendly. The next day I made a new friend I met on the street. A friendly guy called Svyatoslav. Who was surprised to see me as apparently not many people of my complexion visit. He was with his friends and was very friendly.
I had met kind people on the way home the evening before to.
In the morning before going to Bendery I visited an Orthodox church to venerate the icons. There I met a priest who could not speak English but was very happy that I asked his blessing and then I later spoke to the deacon who could speak English. He spent several minutes welcoming and chatting with me. I mentioned if I pass through Tiraspol again (which I hope) I will attend liturgy.
Tiraspol is easy to navigate and very inexpensive. It is an ideal base for the rest of the PMR and I took a minibus to Bendery.
Belonging to the Turks
Bendery is more pleasing to the eye than Tiraspol. It has a different ambiance to but too but like Tiraspol it is short of sites, But it does have one major site the fortress built by Stefan cel Mare. It was conquered by the Turks along with the rest of the city. Bendery in fact means belonging to the Turks. Despite sites saying otherwise and another inadequate Lonely Planet map (did they visit there?) it is possible to visit. I did and I have the photos to prove it
Yes the area around the fortress has been turned in a military area, and of course you can’t go through there but the actual fortress is accessible either by taxi or as I did – a very long detour on foot.
I worked out roughly were it should be walked, and asked directions although no one knew what I was talking about. I then found a business complex where one buy understood what I meant. I walked through what could be a business park before the fortress appeared before my eyes.
As I walked around to the entrance there was nobody around except workers and when I went through the entrance there were just workers and a soldier walking out. I asked for permission to gone in, of which it was no problem. The soldier left the fortress entirely and builders inside restoring part I had the whole fortress to myself.
The views from the walls are great but there are no safety features yet. Yet walking the walls and up a tower gives a good view of the surrounding areas. I visited a big church possibly cathedral not on my guidebook map..surprise and saw the central market as well as some war monuments, including a tank and an eternal flame.
From Bendery, the journey back to Chisinau was problem free.