I've been here 2 full days and have pretty much exhausted what's to do here in Chisinau (Kishinev if you're a Ruskie). First up was a supposed trip back to a bygone era before the fall of communism, when no-one had even heard The Scorpions' Wind of Change, in the breakaway enclave of Transdniestr. The other to Orehiul Vechi monastery.
It turns out that getting into Transdniestr isn't the Orwellian nightmare that had been portrayed. I picked up the minibus/maxi-taxi from the central bus station in Chisinau for about GBP1.5 . Amusingly the town en-route to Tiraspol is called Bender. So I was asked numerous times "Tiraspol, Bender?". To which I obviously replied "yes I'm going to Tiraspol, and please don't call me a bender, we're not at school now".
After about an hour we got to the border. Some people got off, some didn't. Not clear why, but I guessed it was depending on whether you were Moldovan or Transdniestran. So I guessed, and was sort of told by a fellow passenger, that I should get off. Handed my passport to a Russian soldier who disappeared with it and several other peoples'. About 10 mins later the bus driver came back with mine and directed me to a booth where most the other passengers had already headed. Filled in a form. At the counter it took about 5 mins for the guy to type my details into a PC. More due to slow typing than any rigorous vetting of my application. I was told I had to be out within 10 hours and was handed my passport back with half the form. No charge either apparently, even though there was a tariff clearly marked on the window. Certainly no demands for bribes or anything like that. Then I had to run round the corner and jump back on the bus as I was the last one through the whole process. Not really my fault as I was the last to get my passport back but I still looked like the idiot foreigner.
I have to say that it wasn't at all the last outpost of communism in Europe that I'd been promised. In fact it didn't look a lot different from Moldova except for a couple of hammer & sickles and the odd statue of Lenin.
In reality it's not much of a communist state at all. It's an oligopoly run by a couple of gangsters who indulge in all sorts of stuff including arms dealing and are supported by the Russian army, who were very obvious, particularly at the border. As a result, on the street it was no more or less friendly than anywhere else in E Europe. It didn't feel oppressive. I never felt likely to be arrested and I had no compunctions about taking photos. Comparisons to Pyongyang? None at all, except that there are busy trolley buses in both, but then there are busy trolley buses everywhere east of Vienna.
Today a couple of us took a trip to Orheiul Vechi, Moldova's number 1 tourist attraction. In the case of today it was the top attraction for hot 19-year-old Moldovan girls. No idea why. Anyway, I digress. It's a monastery, part of which is carved into the hillside. Very beautiful indeed, with so much that we'd have liked to explore. And the same goes for the monastery (ba-boom tish).
And, since it's such a pain in the arse adding photos on blogger, feel free to connect with me on facebook to see all the other photos, including some of Chapita, the Moldova Hostel's cute dog.