Transnistria (also called Trans-Dniestr or Transdniestria) is a partially recognized state located mostly on a strip of land between the River Dniester and the eastern Moldovan border with Ukraine. Since its declaration of independence in 1990, and especially after the War of Transnistria in 1992, it has been governed as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR, also known as Pridnestrovie), a state with limited recognition that claims territory to the east of the River Dniester, and also the city of Bender and its surrounding localities on the west bank, in the historical region of Bessarabia. The names “Transnistria” and “Pridnestrovie” both refer to the Dniester River.
Unrecognised by any United Nations member state, Transnistria is designated by the Republic of Moldova as the Transnistria autonomous territorial unit with special legal status. –Wikipedia.org
Waking up at the crack of dawn from Andreas (my couchsurfing host)’ apartment, I walked my way to the Chisinau train station to board the one ride of the day to Tiraspol, the capital of the de-facto state of Transnistria, and was quickly greeted by Vladimir, my couchsurfing host and guide for the next two days. He studied tourism at one of the local universities, and wanted to give anyone interested in his country the ability to see it from a local perspective and break the stereotype of corruption and negativity that the media had created in recent times for Transnistria. We walked all over, exploring the main boulevards in his town, exchanging currency so that I could take home the souvenir of plastic coins that are used as a valid form of payment there, and he told me bits and pieces of history.
When we began to grow hungry, we went back to his university where there was a store specifically for students and picked up ПЕЛЬМЕНИ ХИНКАЛИ (Pelmeni Hinkali), a pasta filled with meat which we boiled in the kitchen down the hall from his room. I was actually in town for (Christian) Christmas, however the majority Russian-Orthodox students celebrated in January instead of December 25th, so I helped Vlad and his friends to paint the walls of his dorm building in a competition to see which hall was the most creative in Eastern European Christmas fashion. I couldn’t imagine an American University letting you paint the walls of your room, let alone the halls, but anything was fair game here I learned. Most of his friends didn’t speak English, but were all very friendly. I was probably the first American that the majority of these people had met, and it was nice to shatter any bad stereotype they may have had about people from the United States.
With dinner, Vlad let me sample his father’s homemade Gagauzian wine from back home, which was delicious, and we shared music while he showed me a hilarious book from USSR times that he’d gotten from a woman cleaning out her house. His favorite page is included below, which we both laughed about as we talked more of our interests in travel and realized we had so many similarities. Knowing that I had to catch another train back to Chisinau in order to take a shared bus over the official border to Ukraine early in the morning, we went to sleep and woke up before the rays of sun pierced the sky to trek back to the station.
This was the closest I would ever come to seeing behind the Iron Curtain in the modern day, and I was extremely excited to have had the privilege and experience with such a kind and fun host to make my time worthwhile. Thanks again Vlad!