ODT sports writer Alistair McMurran visited
Trans-Dniester this year and has now been to 195 countries
and territories on the Los Angeles-based Travellers Century
Club list. His travelling companion David Horne, who has been
to more countries than any other New Zealander, has been to
258 of the 321 countries.
Trans-Dniester lives in a time warp. It is a Communist-style
state and the people live a 1950s lifestyle.
It is officially part of Moldova and it is not recognised as
an independent country by the west. Its existence depends on
Russian troops who are stationed in the country.
There is no Internet access and the people have little
knowledge of the outside world.
It has all the elements of a Communist state that is safe and
comfortable to live in if you keep to the rules. But anyone
who steps out of line is stamped on.
Our guide Natalia Cojuhari found that out when an elderly
American tourist took photos at the wrong time.
''He carried three cameras and they thought he was a
journalist,'' Natalia said.
''We were arrested and put in a cage for three minutes. It
''He was quite a nervous tourist and was not smiling any
more. I told him to relax and enjoy the experience.''
We were given strict instructions by Natalia on how to behave
and could take photos only when we were given the green
We had a straightforward visit and did not have any hiccups.
It is tourists who try to go into Trans-Dniester by
themselves who have problems.
The officials are used to taking bribes and charging
exorbitant prices to those who try to enter without the
''You are experienced travellers and understand the
importance of having a guide,'' Natalia said.
Natalia and her driver Metri are experienced and know how the
system works to get their clients through the checkpoints
quickly. There was a disorganised queue at the checkpoints
but Natalia's skill and experience helped us to push our way
to the front and get our passports stamped.
It was easy going on the Moldovian side but there was a long
wait on the other side.
Natalia filled in our forms in the local language and pushed
her way to the front of the queue.
Our credentials were checked at another two posts before we
could drive through the country.
Trans-Dniester has been under Russian control since 1792,
when the Russian general Alexander Suvorov beat the Turks.
Trans-Dniester broke away from Moldova in 1990. Moldova
became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Trans-Dniester decided to stay with Russia when the Soviet
Union dissolved in the early 1990s instead of being part of
A civil war was fought for six months in 1992 before an
uneasy peace was brokered.
A memorial in the Trans-Dniester capital of Tiraspol recalls
the bitter internal squabble when 489 Trans-Dniester people
and 511 Moldovans died.
There remains an uneasy truce between breakaway
Trans-Dniester and Moldova. Russian troops keep the peace.
The memorial to the fallen is across the road from the large
parliament building where there is a large statue of Vladimir
Lenin. The parliament has 48 MPs.
There is also a large statue of Russian general Alexander
Suvorov on his horse and relics of a Russian tank that was
used in World War 2.
An important aspect of the history of Trans-Dniester goes
back to World War 2 when it was part of Moldova and fought
with the Soviet Union against the Nazis.
Nearby Romania backed the Germans and was brutal to the
The older generation retains that memory and bluntly refused
to become part of Romania after the collapse of the Soviet
Trans-Dniester was established in 1941 as a ghetto zone for
Jews who were expelled from Nazi occupied lands.
''It was called the March of Death when they walked naked in
winter,'' Natalia said.
''If they couldn't move, they were shot. A generation became
negative to the Romanians because of the way they were
treated in the war.''
Life is not all bad news in Trans-Dniester under its
They use the Trans-Dniester rouble instead of the euro as
currency and we had to exchange euros to get local money.
Once we had been cleared by security we passed through the
city of Bender.
''Vladimir Putin jokingly suggested that it should be called
Sherriff after the Russian-backed company that does a lot of
business in the town,'' Natalia said.
As we entered the capital of Tiraspol we saw people enjoying
themselves swimming in the local river and sun bathing on the
We walked through the town and had a drink of sweet ''Bread
Beer,'' served by a big and friendly Russian woman by the
bridge that overlooked the river. She gave us a big
Trans-Dniester has a population of 550,000 and 48% are
Muslims and 28% Russians.
We drove past the gates of a fortress where the Russian
troops are housed. It was built by a Turkish Sultan in 1538.
The capital of Tiraspol is still a focal point for the silk
and carpet trade.
Trans-Dniester is not recognised by the West.
''It doesn't exist as a country except for people from travel
clubs, who add it to their list,'' Natalia said.
After our visit back to the past in Trans-Dniester we
travelled back to Moldova and learnt that Chisinau is the
third largest city in area in Europe behind Reykjavik, in
Iceland, and Sofia, in Bulgaria.
Chisinau has a population of 750,000 and is punctuated by
large Soviet-style apartment blocks where most of the
It has 100 earthquakes a year and a big one happens every 30
to 40 years.
Ninety percent of the population own their own apartment.
Natalia's parents were given an apartment under the Soviet
regime when she was born.
Natalia lives with her parents in the two-bedroom apartment.
''Apartments are cheap,'' she said.
The average income in Moldova is 399 euros a month. It costs
Natalia 140 euros a month to live.
Moldova was the bread basket of the Soviet Union with its
rich black soil that grows grapes, sugar cane, egg plants,
wheat and tobacco.
It is a country noted for its walnut trees that grow
alongside the roads and can be harvested by the public.
At the London Olympics Moldovan athletes won two bronze
medals in wrestling and weightlifting.
''It was our first Olympic medals for 30 years,'' Natalia
''Thirty years ago we won a gold medal in wrestling and 40
years ago in canoeing.''
Tourism is important and 200,000 tourists visit Moldova each
Status: Break-away region of Moldova. Declared
independence in 1990. Not recognised internationally.
Main city: Tiraspol (158,000).
Area: 4000sq km.
Main religion: Christianity.
Languages: Russian, Moldovan, Ukrainian.
Currency: Trans-Dniester rouble.
President: Yevgeni Shevchuk.
Prime Minister: Pyotr Stepanov.