Transnistria and its money…

The only money that you can change in Transnistria are US$, Euros, Russian Rubles, Ukrainian Rubles, Moldovan Lei and sometimes British Pounds.

So if you’re stupid like me, and you only brought what you thought you were going to spend in Moldovan Lei, and the rest in Romanian Lei, you need to go looking for an ATM. Finding them isn’t actually that hard, but finding one that (a) has money in it, and (b) doesn’t have technical difficulties at the time is a little more difficult. In the end I resorted to going into a bank. The first one didn’t recognize my card, but the second one did.

If you decide to get money out of a bank in this country, make sure you are patient, have a lot of time and don’t get worried too quickly. Have your passport, registration card and your bank card at the ready.

It took around 30 mins. To get some money, because the woman behind the counter had never seen an Austrian passport before. She had to check it out several times, ask her colleague and then make some phone calls before she could continue with the tedious data entry process.

The funny thing was that she couldn’t actually hand me any Transnistrian Rubles. She could only take out US dollars from my account, and then would have to change the dollars into Transnistrian Rubles. This really is a strange country.

Moldova’s independent regions: Transnistria and Gagauzia

Moldova in itself is a tiny landlocked country squeezed between the Ukraine and Romania and has played a role as a buffer between Europe and Russia. The country is incredibly split in this aspect of its politics…should they go towards a future with hopes of entering the EU, or should they start to make closer ties with Russia again?

Two areas where this debate is no longer necessary are Transnistria and Gagauzia. These areas have made their decision to join forces with Russia.

Transnistria

Transnistria is often called a de-facto state, but I am going to just call it a country. It has been working independently since 1990, a year after the fall of the Soviet Union in Moldova. It has its own parliament, government, judicious system, currency, university, flag, culture, and border patrols. Every Transnistrian resident has a Transnistrian passport as well as either a Moldovan, Ukrainian or Russian one.

Mostly Russian in heritage, the people feel a strong connection to Russia and thus are eagerly awaiting the recognition of the sovereignty of their state. From talking to Transnistrian teenagers I heard that many in their country are angry that they haven’t been recognized by the world because so many other states have. The example they gave me was Czechoslovakia and the creation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia when the country decided to split up. Transnistria has been an independent country for over 20 years now, and is still not recognized. In their point of view this was because of it’s strategic position as the border between the EU and Russia.

Having said this, within the country there seem to be two different views on independence. Due to the poverty in the country (with an income of around $US 150 per month and 2-bedroom-apartment prices between $US 80 and $US 150) some Transnistrians believe that their lives would improve if they were to become part of the Russian Federation again. The other part of the population wants to be a sovereign, independent state that can make its own decisions.

If it were to be its own country though, one thing they would need to focus on is options for youths, because one of the questions I asked the teenagers I talked to was whether they enjoyed living in Tiraspol and whether they wanted to continue to live here when they were done with school. As a response, I got that they did enjoy living here for now, but that they wanted to leave this country when they finished school. The most common answer was that they wanted to go to Russia.

Tiraspol is the capital and with its 200,000 inhabitants it is also the largest city of Transnistria.

As I walked out of the front door of the bloc I stayed in for the night and the cold, crisp air hit my face, I felt like I was sent back a couple of years to the time of the Soviet State. My new friend and guide, and I walked past trolley busses and huge, disproportionately large, empty boulevards to see the city centre of Tiraspol where statues and monuments overlooked the Sunday morning shoppers and market vendors. Past a Lenin statue and bust towards the University and the theatre until we reached Vadivostok park; half of which consisted of concrete roads that went through grass and patches of trees, while the other half consisted of old theme park rides and two gated playgrounds: one in Soviet style and the other in European style…this immediately made me think of the split of opinion of the nation…ironically the European playground was completely empty, while there was a small number of families in the Soviet playground. Foreshadowing?

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The country really did feel like the last part that was left of the USSR. It is a very strange place to be. It feels like its own country, but then again, I didn’t get a stamp in my passport on my way in. In some ways it feels like a normal small eastern European town, while in other ways it seems very Russian…that might be because everything is in Cyrillic and no one seems to speak anything but Russian.

Gagauzia

This region in the south of Moldova is not quite as independent as Transnistria. There are no border controls, they use the same currency as Moldova and the people have Moldovan passports. However, the region has some political autonomy and has made it known that if Moldova were to enter the EU, they would become an independent state…backed by Russia.

Although this city is a lot more welcoming than Tiraspol was, people still seem to only speak Russian. There are some signs written in the Latin script (mostly road signs), but most of the shops and advertisements are written in Cyrillic. As I go on my search for an ATM..because obviously all exchange places are closed on a Sunday afternoon…and since I had to give 100Lei to the border guard at the Transnistrian border (a separate post on my border experience is coming soon) I didn’t have enough to get me back to Chisinau. Anyway, as I go on my search for an ATM I find out that everyone assumes you speak Russian, and only a very, very, very small minority of the people actually speak Romanian or Moldovan. Anyway, at least I get to see a small part of Comrat, the capital city of the region, before I get on another bus to go back to Chisinau.

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Everything is new

Nepal has changed me for the better.

I’m sorry for being cheesy, but this trip did make me change my life. Not in the sense that I am now a vegan Buddhist monk, but in the sense that I learnt to love myself again and how to smile. I went through a rough time before I went on my trip, and I feel like I am back to my strong and happy self that I was several years ago 🙂

Having said this, I want to tell you all the new and exciting things I have planned for the future! Becuase I LOVE to plan things.

Since coming back I have moved to England and have started my MA Education in International Development and Education. Part of ther degree is a Placement. Since I am interested in homelessness (not really much to do with my library in Nepal ^^ but oh well!) and I have connections in Bucharest, Romania (from previously living there for 7 years) I decided to go back to that beautiful country to do my placement and conduct the research for my Dissertation (focused on the educational opinions and needs of the homeless and the informal education that is already going on–more on thsi in later posts).

Since I am doing a MA programme, I have quite a bit of time where I have no classes. And since I am organized and have stuff planned and can work efficiently, as well as the one month easter break in April, i will take some time to travel.
March will be spent in Bucharest conducting my research and April, and maybe some of May, will be spent TRAVELLING!

My initial plans consisted of South Eastern Europe, but after posting some questions on fodors.com my trip seems to keep getting bigger and bigger.

1. The initial plan: Live in Bucharest and travel to Moldova to visit old friends and then go off through Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, potentially northern Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bus and train travel is cheap, couchsurfing is free and food is inexpensive too! Ther perfect trip for a student 🙂

2. Moldova: In 2010 I volunteered in an orphanage in Moldova. This would be a PERFECT opportunity to go back and visit for a weekend or so 🙂 The last time, the situation between Moldova and Transnistiria was still very shaky and border patrols and guards were taking extremely high bribes. I was also told it would be very dangerous to go. Since I was 17 back then I did not want to take the chance.

After having posted on fodors though, I have gotten responses about the situation having gotten a lot better since the elctions in 2011. After a consultation on couchsurfing.com I also found potential hosts. So guess where I’m going for a night? That’s right. Tiraspol.

This leads me to point three. The crazy part of this trip.

Yes. I call THIS the crazy part…although I have gotten called crazy for wanting to visit places like the Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina (which I find extremely interesting)

3. Asia: I’ve been to Asia before. Actually, I was born in Asia. There’s a fun fact about me! ^^

Back to the trip.

So I was told the train trip from Chisinau (Moldova) to Tiraspol (Transnistiria) and then on to Odessa (Ukraine) is supposed to be BEAUTIFUL. So I have to take that person for their word…and as someone who loves to travel and who loves bus and train travel a statement like that is lethal.

I have been to Odessa before…but I remember it being a port town with Ferries. So…yea.

Internet + travel plans + google maps = oh my gosh!

So I found ferries to Georgia. Yep. And Armenia’s not far off from there…Tblisi is only a 5h drive from Yerevan (WHAAT?) and then I can go visit Ankara and drive through Anatolia! Take a beautiful old train to Izmir (my place of birth that I’ve been wanting to visit for years!) and then a ferry to Athens (where I’ve also never been)

From there on I can then continue my previously planned trip.

The only downside to this is missing out Bulgaria…but I’ve been there so many times, I think I’ll survive…And I’ll get to see pretty much three new countries (I’ve only really been to Istanbul in Turkey…)

What an adventure!