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New Europe

Day Forty-eight: Chisinau to Tiraspol, Transdniester

Today's Moldovans 
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Some of today's Moldovans.
Michael Palin - New EuropeThis morning I rather tentatively enquire at reception about the possibility of getting laundry done.

'Where is your laundry?' asks the lady fiercely, as if I might have left it in Saudi Arabia or Macau.

The idea that the customer is always wrong might cling on here seventeen years after the collapse of the one-party system but tonight we shall be staying in a self-declared republic that finds places like this positively liberal.

It hasn't been easy to get permission to take a film crew into Transdniester, but there are two events which might have made things easier for us. One is a UEFA Under-21 international between Moldova and Switzerland being played in the capital Tiraspol tonight; and the other is Transdniester's National Day, when this schismatic republic that claims 2,000 square miles of Moldova will be celebrating its fifteenth anniversary. And breakaway republics love a bit of publicity.

The border is only 40 miles east of Chisinau. We have to negotiate three separate roadblocks at each of which Transdniestrian police and army check our papers beneath gantries proudly adorned with the emblem of the hammer and sickle, which, in the rest of Eastern Europe, you now see only in museums or flea-markets.

Once across the border all seems to conform to the Lonely Planet's description of Transdniester as 'one of the last surviving communist bastions'. The sad town of Bender is a gauntlet of cheap and identical housing blocks. Camouflaged military checkpoints guard the bridge across the wide and muddy Dniester, and a Russian tank sits heroically on a plinth in the centre of a roundabout.

From here on, though, the picture is confusing. On the outskirts of Tiraspol is a gleaming modern sports complex, home of the local football club FC Sheriff, the personal property of one Viktor Gusan. It is in the newly built hotel here that we are to stay, and indeed hopefully talk to Mr G himself.

We pull up outside the main office, beside a stretch limo and next to a Mercedes-Benz dealership.

A number of black-clad, shaven-headed security men stand at the front of the building, eyeing us coldly. One of them checks our papers and talks into his mobile in that low Russian guttural which the worst baddies always use on TV.
 
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Some of today's Moldovans.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Forty-eight: Chisinau to Tiraspol, Transdniester
  • Country/sea: Moldova
  • Place: Chişinău
  • Book page no: 121

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