Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a perfect 24 hours of Transnistria travel. In my last blog post about Moldova, I mentioned that it was the first time I had written a blog post about 24 hours in one country.
But today is really something special. This is the first time I am writing a blog post about a country that doesn’t actually exist. If you are spending 24 hours of Transnistria Travel, you are getting so far off the beaten track that you won’t even be able to see the beaten track anymore.
“But how can a country not exist?” you are asking. Allow me to give you the Cliffnotes explanation. Do you remember how I said that Moldova used to be part of the Soviet Union? Well, when Moldova proclaimed its independence, there were still a large number of Russian speakers who didn’t necessarily want to be in a majority Moldovan (Romanian) speaking country. These people live in a part of Moldova called Transnistria.
After a brief war between the Moldovans and Transnistrians, it was decided that Transnistria would be an autonomous unit within the country of Moldova. For a long time it was difficult to visit Transnistria, but in recent years the government has tried to encourage foreign tourism more. So we’re going to be lucky enough to enjoying 24 hours of Transnistria Travel. Follow me!
24 Hours: Transnistria Travel
Where to Stay?
You might not actually want to spend the night during your 24 hours of Transnistria travel. It’s perfectly possible to visit as a day trip from the capital of Moldova, Chisinau. But if you do want to spend the night, which I recommend, please stay at the Hotel Russia. This hotel is located in the main city of Transnistria, Tiraspol. I was told it’s where all special foreign visitors stay when they visit Transnistria. (I assume all special foreign visitors to Transnistria are Soviet spies and the like.)
If you’re spending the night in Transnistria, you should have your hotel reservation when you arrive. It used to be a lot harder to visit Transnistria because you needed to register with the local police and get a visa. But the government has relaxed these restrictions from what I have read, so you just need your passport and the name of the hotel where you are staying. Please research before your visit to make sure the information is up to date.
One thing I don’t recommend is entering Transnistria from one country (say Moldova) and leaving through another (Ukraine). This can lead to issues at the border.
If you’re looking for a great deal on this hotel, click here.
24 Hours: Transnistria Travel
Transnistria is hot in the summer so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
You’ll also need comfy sandals for all the walking we’re going to do. I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Finally, if you’re not from Europe, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with American plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hours: Transnistria Travel
There are two major cities in Transnistria: Tiraspol and Bender. We’re going to begin our 24 hours of Transnistria travel in the charming and historically important city of Bender. I visited Transnistria on a multi-day tour of Moldova and Ukraine, but the exact tour I took is no longer available. However, our group did use a local tour company called Go Transnistria to help us get around the area. I strongly recommend this company. The local couple that runs it speaks excellent English, and they were very knowledgeable. I’m sure with their help you’ll be able to see…
approximately top 5: bender
1) bender fortress
Bender Fortress is probably the most famous attraction in Transnistria. The name Bender actually comes from the Ottoman Turks. The Bender Fortress belonged to the Ottomans back when the town was under the Ottoman Empire. Bender has witnessed fighting between the Ottomans, the Moldovans, the Russians, the Ukrainians, and even for some inexplicable reason the Swedes. I can see why Sweden went neutral if they were getting involved in wars over in Moldova.
Our local guide was especially proud to tell us that Bender had the first constitution in Europe. It was written by a Ukrainian cossack back in 1710, and there’s a monument to it at the fortress. As you can see, it predates the American constitution by decades.
24 hour tip
The gift shop at the Bender Fortress is a hidden gem. I bought a vintage coral necklace there for four dollars. I don’t care if the necklace is actually made of plastic, that’s still a great deal. I can pretty much guarantee that this website is the only one out there recommending the Bender Fortress gift shop for jewelry.
2) movie theater
You might be wondering why someone would visit a movie theater on a tour. We’re not going to waste two hours paying a guide to sit next us while we watch a movie in Russian, right? Well, no. This movie theater dates back to the Soviet period. It’s so fancy because movie theaters were supposed to be palaces for the people.
See! There are even chandeliers inside!
You can tell that there’s still affection for the Soviet period in certain quarters in Transnistria. There’s even a statue of Lenin right across from the movie theater. And Transnistria still has the Soviet hammer and sickle on its money. (The local money is not valid in any other country. I was told that Transnistria has to commission a company that makes toy money to make their currency.)
3) bender train station
What a pretty building! Is it also a movie theater? No, Internet Stranger. This is the Bender Train Station. Nowadays there are no trains that come and go here. The station is more like a museum.
As you walk around the train station, you can see beautiful vintage trains and giant creepy heads impaled on metal spikes.
There are also war memorials in the area. Remember Bender has seen a tragic amount of fighting in its history. One memorial is dedicated to the Soviet-sympathizing locals who were killed by the Romanian army back in 1919. (My father’s family is from Romania, and I know the Romanians have a different perspective on the history of Transnistria specifically and Moldova in general. But when I visit a country, I try to listen to the locals’ perspective on their own history.)
4) frog fountain
But Bender isn’t all war memorials and giant sculpture of Soviet leaders. The cutest sight in Bender is this fountain with the little green and yellow frog statues. Apparently someone once tried to take them (perhaps to melt down the metal?) but the local citizens insisted they stay. I like that idea! Every community needs a symbol.
5) lunch at stolovka sssr
I’m sometimes prone to hyperbole, but believe me when I say that Stolovka SSSR is one of the most unusual places you will ever eat lunch. The staff speaks no English, only Russian, so you’ll need some Russian language skills or a guide to eat here. For lunch here, I ate beet salad, soup, meatballs, and potatoes for less than the price of a coral necklace at the Bender gift shop. It was all really filling and tasty.
But even wilder than the food is the walls. They are covered with memorabilia from Soviet times. Apparently people just started bringing in things they were finding around their house until the walls were covered. I thought about how my parents used to hide under their desks during atomic bomb drills at school back in the United States. What would they have thought if they’d known I’d be in a place like this some day?
24 Hours: Transnistria Travel
Now that we’ve seen Bender, it’s time for the “big city” and capital, Tiraspol. But keep in mind that this still isn’t very big, so we still had strangers coming up to us asking to have our picture taken with them, just because they were so excited to meet foreigners. Tiraspol is also where the hotel I stayed in, Hotel Russia, is located. Tiraspol is even more Soviet than Bender, so coming here can feel like traveling back in time. (I was really tempted to go up to people and ask “Where are your nuclear vessels?” but this seemed like a bad idea.)
Of course Tiraspol has more recent history as well, which you’ll see with…
approximately top 5: tiraspol
1) suvorov monument
Suvorov Square is the main meeting point in Tiraspol. It was named after an 18th century Russian military hero named Alexander Suvorov. He founded Tiraspol back in 1792. Our guide said that Suvorov is facing a giant statue of Lenin. During Soviet times people used to joke that Suvovrov was asking Lenin for food. Let it never be said that Russians don’t appreciate black comedy!
2) Memorial complex
Just near Suvarov Square is the Memorial Complex. This area is dedicated to fallen soldiers from Transnistria. This includes the War of Transnistria in the early 90s, but also the Great Patriotic War. (That’s what Russians call World War II.)
Remember when you spend 24 hours in Transnistria that the war is still a fairly recent and sensitive subject. Our guide was too young to fight in the war, but both his father and his older brother had. The country is still divided in a lot of ways. Even the name of the country is a complicated issue. Transnistria is the Romanian name for the area, and it means “Across the Dniester River”. But the Russian speakers call their country Pridnestrovie, which means…exactly the same thing.
The locals kept saying they want these conflicts resolved, as it’s very difficult for Transnistria to survive economically when its status is so uncertain. Many young people move to other countries like Russia or Ukraine for economic opportunity. Hopefully things will begin to change for the better.
3) soviet house
The letters in the Cyrillic alphabet on the top of the building say DOMSOVETOV, which means House of Soviets. It used to be illegal to take photos of this building, but our guide said it’s fine now. I’m glad to hear it! As much as I love sharing my photos with you, it’s not worth getting put in jail in a country that doesn’t exist.
The House of Soviets looks really fancy, but it’s just a Soviet administrative building. Our guide said that the large number of columns meant that it was a really important building, not just in Tiraspol, but in the USSR in general. I feel like if Tiraspol were so important, the Soviets could have made sure the citizens had enough food so they didn’t need to ask the statue of their founder for help. But maybe this is why I am not a professional Soviet.
4) victory park
If you really want to feel like you are traveling back in time, stop at the Pobeda Park, aka Victory Park. Victory Parks are characteristic of former Soviet cities. I truly don’t believe any of the rides have been updated since Khrushchev was banging his shoes on the table. I did not actually go on the rides because I didn’t want to disrupt all the fun the local Transnistrian children were having. I just slinked around the park pretending I was an American spy during the Cold War.
(PS. Don’t actually tell anyone you are an American spy. Again, you do not want to get arrested in Transnistria.)
5) kvint distillery
If Bender Fortress is the main attraction in Bender, the Kvint Distillery is certainly the most exciting place in Tiraspol. Kvint is famous for their cognac-like products. They are not actually allowed to call them cognac because they are not made in France, so they call the spirit divin. But it’s made using the same method as cognac. Kvint has been given as a gift to the Pope, and it’s also been sent to the moon with astronauts.
You need to book a tour in advance on the website, and they don’t do tours for solo travelers. However, it might be possible to join a tour with a larger group. It doesn’t hurt to ask! In any case, it’s very easy to buy Kvint in Tiraspol even if you can’t make a tour.
We tasted five divins, including one that was made for women, one that was a little rougher and made for men, and one special one called Surprise that was made for Soviet leaders. (Was the surprise finding out whether or not the Soviet leaders were displeased and if they were going to jail you for making bad cognac?)
I bought the cognac for men, Doina, as a gift for my dad. The Kvint guide told me that Doina is a woman’s name, and I should tell my father that they marketed the drink by saying, “You can take Doina to bed with you.” I really don’t even know where to begin with that suggestion.
24 Hours: Transnistria Travel
Late Afternoon: Dniester River Cruise
Our guides had ended the tour back at the House of Soviets, and we had seen the Victory Park and Kvint Distillery on our own. But they told us that we could meet them later for a cruise down the famous Dniester River. There would be live music from a woman they said was the best jazz singer in Moldova. My mother is from New Orleans, so the phrase “best jazz singer in Moldova” sounded weird to me. But after all, Louis Armstrong had a hit with the Russian folk song Dark Eyes, so why can’t Russian speakers sing jazz?
The River Cruise got off to a rocky start at first. The boat people (not our guides) had overbooked the cruise, so there weren’t enough seats for everyone. But once the Moldovan wine started flowing and the singing began, we all had a grand time. There was a large sing-along component to the concert, so I sang along with “Happy” and one member of my group was a big hit with “Don’t Worry Be Happy”. I don’t think either of these songs is jazz, but maybe jazz means something else in Moldova.
There was even a camera in the corner of the boat recording the whole thing for local television. So I just assume that I am famous in Transnistria now.
24 Hours: Transnistria Travel
Evening: Dinner at Kumanek
I’m not sure that there’s such a thing as Transnistrian food. It seems like a combination of Moldovan, Ukrainian, and Russian food. So I suggest ending our 24 hours of Transnistria travel with some Ukrainian chow at Kumanek, which is one of the best reviewed restaurants in Tiraspol. (According to TripAdvisor, there are 38 restaurants in Tiraspol. I started my meal with Ukrainian borscht. I’m not 100 percent sure what makes it Ukrainian, but there was meat inside, which I had never seen in a borscht before.
24 hour treat: cornmeal porridge
The Romanian in me was craving cornmeal porridge, which is called mamaliga in Romanian. In Ukrainian it’s called banosh, and you mix in different ingredients like cheese, sour cream, and meat. It’s extremely filling and delicious! I think this dish should catch on in the US because it’s a clever way of reusing leftovers.
I grew up in New York City where many of our best foods came from Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. My favorite dessert growing up, after the Sicilian cannoli, were blintzes, crepes filled with sweet cheese and different fruits. So I was excited to see these sugary babies available on the menu. At Kumanek they are called “blinchiki”, not blintzes. But it’s basically the same thing. How nice to find a taste of home in such a far away place!
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours of Transnistria Travel
What would you do with 24 hours of Transnistria Travel? Have you ever visited a country that doesn’t exist? And how famous am I in Transnistria? Please leave your thoughts below.
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY have 24 hours of Transnistria travel.