It’s amazing that a Chisinau and Vladivostok, some 7500 kilometers apart, as the crow flies, were once part of the same country. Chisinau has a decidedly more European, if eastern feel to it than Vladivostok, but the nearby Tiraspol could just as easily be any larger city anywhere in Siberia. The government building is still called house of the Soviet, a few Lenin statues still stand and the hammer and sickle can be seen all over the place, including in the country’s flag.
When the Soviet Union broke up, the Moldovan region east of the Dniester, Nistra, river had quite a few Russians living there, mostly related to the Soviets’ strong military presence. The Transnistrians fought to stay independent, afraid that the new country, with its strong ties to the region of Moldavia across the border in Romania, would seek to reunite with it’s western neighbor.
So far, Moldova is still Moldova, on the edge of the European union and supposedly the poorest country in Europe, though that’s hard to tell from the many cafes and restaurants lining the city’s streets. But, the breakaway province also believes it’s a country, even though it’s only recognized as such by two other entities, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and they are not even countries themselves.
I found Tiraspol nice and friendly enough, if very small and quiet. It’s easy to walk to the edge of town and, while walking, I bumped into several of the locals with whom i shared my bus into the country. And it seems the Transnistrian officials are no longer hassling tourists.
Up to a few years ago, crossing into the wannabe country would be frought with difficulties and the need of paying multiple bribes. Now, a successful policy change made crossing a total breeze. To the extent where it’s almost meaningless. On the Ukrainian side, the guards briefly looked at our passports, there is freedom of travel between the two republics.
Later, leaving Moldovia, on the Romanian side, the Moldovans checked the passports and tapped every part of the bus with a screwdriver, but did not check the luggage, while the Romanians didn’t check the bus, but did check the luggage in the hold, very briefly, but did not check the luggage which remained in the bus.
A Moldovan family on the bus was extremely fidgety until after the Moldovan checkpoint. It reminded me of a crossing from Lithuania to Poland by bus a good number of years ago, where nearly everyone was smuggling stuff, taped to their person.