Cycling in Transnistria
Transnistria In A Nutshell
A breakaway section of Moldova that was historically not a part of it, Transnistria has long been somewhere you were warned not to visit. But now the wannabe nation is trying to clean up its act and put on a brighter front. It's even stopped extorting bribes from visitors at the border. It's definitely not without its problems but it's the last place of its type left this side of 80s Russia and worth a look.
Where and When I Went
23rd - 25th July 2018. No need for a map. I basically cycled in on the main road from Moldova's Chisinau, through Bender to the capital, Tiraspol, about eight miles away. On the way out I returned to Bender and then took a more rural border crossing to the south of Moldova.
And there really are issues worth noting.
First of all, you need a visa. Don't worry, it's free and you can get it at the border, which is only a border in the eyes of the Transnistrians since the Moldovans legally claim Transnistria still to be a part of their country.
Important: If you want to overnight in Tiraspol or elsewhere in Transnistria but are later continuing on to either Ukraine or Moldova (depending on your direction of travel), tell the border guard your travel goal is the relevant town in Transnistria. If you don't then there's a strong possibility they will assume you want a transit visa and this doesn't permit an overnight stay. Without the correct visa, you could be fined on the way out of the country, although I spoke to one cyclist who got away with it. The default visa is for three days although they will apparently give you a longer one if you just ask.
Also Important: Because of its unofficial status, the UK or whichever country you are from (unless it's Abkhazia, South Ossetia or Nagorno-Karabakh, which is unlikely) does not have any official representation here. If you get yourself into trouble, you are on your own. Try your best not to get arrested.
Also Important: Transnistra has its own currency, the Transnistrian ruble, which is only available within its borders and is worthless outside. They won't normally accept anything else.
It was a shame I didn't get a chance to see more of Transnistria, but I spent my time exploring the capital. It's a long, thin country and a visit to the north would put you in a very select group indeed. Just be careful not to show too much interest in that Soviet weapons dump in the far north of the country. That's what I mean about trying hard not to get arrested.
The capital, Tiraspol, has few sights but is worth a prolonged stroll. It is often described as a Soviet Russian time capsule due to its massive Lenin statue, hammer and sickle flag and crumbling infrastructure. But there is some money here, mostly in the hands of the Sheriff company, founded by a couple of former KGB agents and now in charge of everything from supermarkets, petrol stations, TV and radio and the local, Moldovan championship-winning football team.
If you just happened upon Tiraspol without knowing anything of its history, it might seem a little provincial and dull. But read around the subject and it's fascinating.
Not everyone is impressed by Transnistria though. On my way there I met a really well-travelled Spanish tourer who'd been there before and said it wasn't worth the bother. He said that if I did make it there, his only advice was "to stay drunk". I tried my best. I'm not sure this guidance is entirely fair for Transnistria but, in life in general, it's not terrible advice.
Transnistria's Road Quality
Generally, at least on the main road to Tiraspol, roads are better than Moldovan ones. In the city itself, they get a bit ropier. From what I've read, I wouldn't expect much of the roads further north or south.
Transnistria's Accommodation & Costs
Moldova may be light on accommodation options but Tiraspol has more. It even has a couple of campsites. I can highly recommend Red Star Camping, close to the river and handy for the city centre. Although basic, it only costs €4 a night and is run by two friendly English-speaking locals who are happy to talk politics if you're interested. I think I'm right in saying that the campsite has an attached hostel if you are without a tent.
Food is cheap, although there doesn't seem to be many restaurant choices. The supermarkets run by Sheriff are brightly-lit shrines to capitalism, which feels a little out of place here, and if you're an addict of some description you're in luck. A packet of 20 cigarettes costs from 60p and you can buy a half litre bottle of vodka for a quid. At those prices you'd think the locals would look happier.
It's quite difficult to spend money. I changed a single €50 note on the way in, had two beer-accompanied multi-course lunches at Andy's Pizza, a slap-up dinner on my last night at a posher place, paid for the campsite, had several other beers and snacks and left with a bottle of the local Kvint brandy and still ended up changing back €20 on the way out.
Russian is the tongue here. Moldovan, which I'm told is merely Romanian, is frowned upon.
Reasons To Go To Transnistria
It's a little bit cool to be somewhere you shouldn't really be, to see history with your own eyes, to see somewhere now that, if successful, will undoubted change and become more boringly westernised, to drink yourself to death for the price of a pizza.
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