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September 13, 2002

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People called us crazy and questioned our motives but we wanted to visit Transdniestr, a country that's not really a country within Moldova. Transdniestr is a breakaway province, a self-proclaimed country that mints its own money and issues its own postage stamps that are only recognized in Transdniestr. There is an 'international' border with Moldova although no one, including Moldova, recognizes it as such except Transdniestr. This is where our adventure began. The bus stopped and border guards pulled us off. They led us into the customs house and demanded 9 Euro each for a visa. Jill grabbed our passports and said, "No money. We go back to Chisinau." We walked out of the customs house and the guards didn't follow. We re-boarded the bus and it pulled away before we had a chance to decide if we were going to be true to our word and return to Chisinau. By entering Transdniestr without a visa we wondered if we had broken the law. The bus pulled into Tighini, the first stop in Transdniestr, and we jumped off. Police stood on every corner and we felt like fugitives. Avoiding eye contact, we scurried from the bus station to the nearest hotel. The hotel wasn't open and no one spoke English. With our level-1 Russian we found a bank, exchanged dollars for a wad of Transdniestr rubles, and then went to the telecommunications office and called our embassy. They told us that the USA didn't recognize Transdniestr as a country so we shouldn't have to pay for a visa. However, if the authorities arrested us we would be on our own. Comforting. If the border guards were trying to swindle us out of money, they had an elaborate ruse complete with a visa form, stamp, and ink blotter full of entries. Now that we were here, illegally or not, we decided to see what we could. Transdniestr is the only place where the Moscow coup of 91 succeeded. The people who live here, ethnic Russians, want to rejoin the Soviet Union. They're staunch Communists and Russian nationalists. Compared to Moldova, Transdniestr is poor and lifeless. The streets are quiet. Men in uniform seem to outnumber civilians. As we walked around the people stared at us but they also smiled and helped us find our way when we asked for directions. We explored Tighini and rode a local bus across a heavily guarded bridge to Tiraspol, the capital. Visitors are supposed to register their presence immediately upon entering Tiraspol at a local police office. We didn't want to head for trouble so we didn't go. We avoided police since they're known to ask for passports and check registration, and snapped a few pictures before buying some bread and cheese. We checked into a small hotel, relieved that the receptionist didn't ask why we didn't have a visa in our passport. Instead, she handed us a light bulb for our room. Forget about hot water.
Transdniestr's national flag sits on a quiet corner, just in case you forgot that this is Transdniestr, not Moldova!
A trophy taken by Transdniestr in the independence war with Moldova. The Moldovian army had three tanks, now they have two.
Play a little chess in the park. Bring your gambling money.
Tiraspol was the second largest city in Moldova before it became the capital of Transdniestr. The police require visitors to register at their station where they ask how long you'll be staying and the purpose of your visit. In return for this trouble you receive a registration paper; you can't check into a hotel without it. Good thing we won't spend the night in Tiraspol. We'll sleep in a hotel across the bridge in Tighina, a Transdniestr city where you don't have to register because it's administered by Russian peace-keeping forces.
The Drama Theatre, pictured on the 50,000 rouble bill. By the time this bill was introduced in 1997 inflation forced the government to declare its value to be a half million rouble note. From 1994-2000, Transdniestr money lost 750,000 times its value compared to the Russian rouble (it's like owning tech stocks).