Officially called the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, Transnistria is a breakaway state along the eastern edge of Moldova, bordering Ukraine and about 100 km from Odessa.
Two weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I was lucky enough to visit.
Over the past 100+ years, borders were quite fluid in the region. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, this territory was established due to its largely Russian population in the hopes that it would not become part of independent Moldova or Romania.
A short war broke out, eventually ending with a ceasefire which has held to this day.
Russian soldiers are still stationed there today, so the region is quite obviously on a bit of a knife edge right now, but hopefully it can avoid the brutal conflict next door.
Remnants of old Soviet CCCP influence can still be seen in abandoned factories scattered around the region.
However most of the companies now are run by the Sheriff conglomerate, created by two brothers (former special service agents). Their businesses include banks, supermarkets, TV channels and the local football team Sheriff FC.
Bender / Bendery
From the Central Bus Station in Chișinău (Stand 13), it is a few hours by bus to Bendery (Russian) or Bender (Moldovan).
Due to its somewhat independent state, you will need to bring your passport and fill out a registration card when arriving at the border (the bus will stop and wait for you). You will need to show this stamped paper when leaving.
My first stop is the 15th century Bendery / Tighina Fortress.
It’s a beautiful and tranquil fortress with great views along the Dniester River.
It was recently renovated and definitely worth a stop on your way to the capital of Tiraspol.
The Abandoned Train Station of Bendery
Next up is the abandoned Soviet era train station, Bendery-1.
Quite a bizarre place really.
No trains have come through here since the civil war in the early 90’s, however it is needlessly staffed and kept in immaculate, clean condition.
This ghost station is a real time capsule of Soviet socialist architecture and I can imagine that it looks the same as it did the day it opened.
Next to the train station is a war monument and military museum in an old train.
An old lady yelled at me for taking this picture… you have been warned.
Bendery, Transnistria – Things to Do
Next up is Transnistria’s naval port. It has seen better days.
What this tiny land-locked nation was doing with a naval port on a river is anyone’s guess.
There’s nothing I like more than an old amusement park.
I’m not sure if the rides are functioning since I went quite early in the year for the park to be operational.
Hopping on a bus at yet another tank monument (they love their tank monuments)…
I headed to Tiraspol, the capital city.
I got off the bus at the Monument of Suvorov, the founder of Tiraspol.
It’s a decent stop since it is next to the Transnistrian Parliament and National Museum.
I was reluctantly greeted at the museum by 2 caretakers that were not happy to see me.
As you can see, the museum is a must for people who really really really like museums.
Since declaring it’s unrecognized independence, Transnistria has kept close ties with its Russian and Soviet communist past.
Unlike the rest of Moldova, Russian is the main language – both spoken and written.
Before Russia was cancelled, I enjoyed amazing food at this Soviet themed restaurant. It was probably some of the best Soviet era food I’ve ever had. Borscht just like pappa used to make and perfect chicken kievs…
And the real bonus? A rarely seen Russian Navy Pasta cooked as per Borukh Solomonovich Kantselenbogen’s original recipe from 1952… mmmmm… and honey cake… lots of honey cake…
Finally, I washed it down with some lovely Transnistrian Cognac at the Kvint Factory.
Finishing up in Tiraspol I stopped at the surprisingly colourful City Hall and its bust of Lenin…
Since you can never have too many statues of Lenin in your travel blog…
Speaking of busts, Yuri Gagarin (the first man in space) has one just down the street.
With close ties to its Russian and Soviet communist past, Transnistria really is a unique place. It has its own government, military, police and post office.
The coolest part is the Transnistrian ruble (Transnistria has its own mint), which has plastic (composite) coins.
The make cool souvenirs in a place that doesn’t have a lot of souvenir shops, buut unfortunately they are hard to find since they never really caught on. Even though they were designed with unusual shapes for the vision impaired, the older population hated using them.
Anyway, thanks for reading… it’s been a while since my last blog, so thanks for your patience.
Transnistria Travel Advice
Money: you will need to change to Transnistrian rubles – remember to change back before leaving as they are completely useless outside the country. ATMs are random, so bring cash money to change.
Accommodation: the friendly and helpful Like Home Hostel is recommended to meet your travel needs.
Getting There: the bus takes about 2 hours from Chișinău Central station. It was Stand 13 when I was there and left very early in the morning (pay the driver on board). I would ask the day before just in case.
Getting Around: Bendery and Tiraspol can be easily explored by foot. Buses are fairly easy to find between the two.