This is going to be a strange post because it’s about a strange situation so let me just dive right in. If you’ve read any of my introductions then you know I was geographically based in Odessa for about 4 ½ months in 2011. I use the term “geographically based” because although I was living and working there, I made it a top priority to travel around the region as much as possible. This ended up being almost every weekend or every other week once I hit my 90 day mark in Ukraine, if you catch my drift.
The closest neighboring country to Odessa is Moldova which may give insight into why I ended up there four times in four months. Three out of the four times I went was by bus/car via Palanca because my main source of travel information repeatedly said one should avoid crossings in the “Transdniestr area”. As did my Ukrainian friends, as did many other sources on the web…so naturally, I became intrigued.
What was this purported Transdniestr area? Why are people telling me not to go through it when logistically I can get to where I am going faster than the west-then-up route these “safer” buses are taking? The answer to my question came in the form of a cool Slovakian girl I met who was working (or still works?) at what appears to be the only hostel in Chisinau. Chisinau Hostel. Apparently, this Transdniestr area, aka Transnistria, is a 100% genuine breakaway republic where a war was fought in the early 90s and where now exists “one of the last remnants of the Soviet Union”. This got me excited and when I saw that Chisinau Hostel offered overnight chaperoned trips there I asked “why can’t I go alone?” “YOU CAN GO ALONE,” she yelled. Woah, calm down. “I’ve been going alone for the past 2 months every other weekend to see my ‘boyfriend’ and it pisses me off that all these websites are warning people not to go. It’s totally fine, I’ve never had problems with any corrupt border guards or the police in the city. You should go.” Ok, maybe I will.
Strange twist of fate found me having a coffee with this chick outside the Odessa train station a few weeks later. When I told her I really, really was thinking to go to Transnistria solo at some point before I left Odessa, she passed me a piece of paper that changed everything. It was step-by-step instructions of what one should and should not do if they want to spend some time in Tiraspol, or Transnistria for that matter. It was also written by an American guy who was living there and running the only hostel in the city, maybe even the “country” and his name was Timoti.
A few weeks later feet were feeling itchy and a free weekend was upon me so I thought it was time I hit up this Tiraspol Tim. It was a Friday and I told him that I wanted to come on Saturday, would it be safe for me to come alone, etc, etc. He responded with a big fat “YES” with the same detailed instructions plus additional good news that Saturday happened to be Tiraspol City Day which=party. Rad! Or, rad?
Whichever one it would end up being I still hopped on the first and only train to leave Odessa for Chisinau at 17:11. One thing he did mention was that taking the train is the easiest way to enter since no one checks anything except on the Ukrainian side. Turned out, this was true. And turned out, there was absolutely nothing that I needed to worry about. From the moment I crossed into Transnistria to the moment I left, I felt not only safe but dare I say…looked after? Aside from just Timoti who I was staying with (and who is awesome by the way—if going to Tiraspol you must contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org), everyone I encountered seemed to legitimately care whether or not I was doing ok there by myself and having a good time. Yes, I was, and having a great time!
(this is me, trying to look tough and smart at the same time)
So I’m not quite sure what the moral of this story is other than…just do it and don’t (always) believe the hype. Perhaps visiting an unrecognised country is an extreme example, but like SHABL constantly screams at you—you’ll never know unless you go. Tiraspol turned out to be just like any other city you’d find in those parts and in the end, it was the Ukrainian border officials that scared me more.
If there’s somewhere you are interested in going but intimidated to do it alone or at all for whatever reason, get in contact with good sources. This can be friends of friends or travel bloggers who have been, Couchsurfers who live there, online travel forums, etc. For me, my sources all happened by chance but sometimes that’s just how things go. Honestly doubt I would have made it to Tiraspol if I hadn’t stayed at Chisinau Hostel and met Slovakian chick. Also wouldn’t have stayed at Chisinau Hostel and met Slovakian chick had I not been concerned that I was about to get kidnapped. I’ll save that story for another day.
Fade out. End post.