We arrived in Tiraspol at about 7pm in total darkness, where we were greeted by some official looking chaps on the platform and escorted to a little window round the front of the station building, using the walk to wisely plan how to get out of having to bribe them if they tried to detain us for anything, and were pleased to find out we just had to fill in our registration forms so we could stay for 24 instead of 10 hours. It was a very professional and official looking set-up, where the bloke in the window had to hold back the blinds with paperclips so he could talk to us, and kept stopping to text his girlfriend. Once we were all official and everything, we headed off into the night (with no passport stamp, bad show!).
Earlier in the day while sat in the bar in Odessa, it had occurred to us that due to the drunken tomfoolery of the previous few days, that we had forgotten to book our hostel in Tiraspol. Well…we had attempted to, but their website was abysmal and nothing happened when you clicked either the “Booking” or “Contact Us” button. Since “Tiraspol Hostel” was the only hostel in the whole of Transnistria, we thought we had better get it booked just in case, so we emailed “Tim” the proprietor (upon finally managing to find the email address on the website) asking if they had room for us tonight. He replied quite quickly saying that yes, this was fine, we exchanged phone numbers in case we got lost and he sent us vague directions to “Andy’s Pizza” where we would meet him and he would take us to the hostel. Said vague directions were along the lines of “go right outside of the train station, past the park, right down the main road and Andy’s Pizza is on the left”, so we attempted to follow them and ended up miles from anywhere (after nearly being trampled by a stampeding horse and donkey being raced by what we can only assume is the Transnistrian equivalent of chavas– great first impressions of Tiraspol!) as we’d assumed the wrong road was the Main Road (they’re all main roads when we’re finished with them). We were glad we had his phone number at this point, and Susan rang him to see where we’d gone wrong and despite his offer to meet us at the corner told him to stay put at Andy’s Pizza and we would be there shortly. Upon finally locating the now infamous Andy’s Pizza, Tim was nowhere to be found. Susan rang him again and he had taken it upon himself to have a walk to try and find us instead of staying put, so of course we missed each other. After 10 minutes of hanging around, stroking the horse and donkey (a different horse/donkey combo than the ones we’d been stampeded by on Not Main Road) that were randomly tethered to the railings outside of Andy’s pizza and throwing a welcoming smile to any bloke who walked past in case it was Tim (before thinking better of it stood on a random street corner in a dubious break away Soviet state), the man himself finally turned up.
There was some mutual apologizing over the whole directions/getting lost issue then we asked where there was an ATM we could use as we’d tried a couple and they wouldn’t register either of our bank cards, and had no Transnistrian money. It turned out that none of the ATMs would accept our cards, as Transnistrian Roubles aren’t internationally recognized as a real currency, so we had to find the “special” ATM that dispensed US dollars and then locate a 24 hour Foreign Exchange office to change it into Roubles. After this clart on (and Susan getting jammed in the tiny ATM booth due to her rucksack, and then nearly falling on the Foreign Exchange woman) we announced that we were definitely overdue for a beer or two before Tim showed us to the hostel, so he took us to a rather fancy looking bar/restaurant. We immediately declared that it was too fancy for the likes of us and asked him if there were any dingy little bars (“where drunk old factory workers will talk shit to us” – come on, you know what we like by now!). “No, there was a great one but it’s closed now. They’re all like this…”. Badly played Transnistria! We were hoping for some serious dubiousness and dodgy dive bars and what we got was the Eastern European recreation of the Hard Rock!!! Imagine our disappointment! The place we were in had a very nice menu though, and we were absolutely starving so ordered some food and two rounds of drinks at once (Tim had warned us that the service everywhere in Transnistria is incredibly slow, so it’s best to plan for the worst!). We ordered a load of dishes to share, and Jill got chicken stuffed with spinach and ricotta (she was gutted she didn’t get to have a kiev in Kiev, or anywhere else in the Ukraine for that matter, and this sounded kievish enough to sate her urge) and Susan as usual managed about 5 bites before being full and donating the rest of her meal to Tim. It was at this point (i.e. after a couple of beers) that Tim came out with “OK, I have a confession to make…”
“OK then, lets have it…”
“I don’t actually have a hostel any more. But you can stay at my house!”
He proceeded to tell us the tale of how he had ran a hostel in Tiraspol for the last five years, but last summer a drunk American lad who was staying there ended up getting himself arrested and had brought back the police and the immigration officials to the hostel, where they found that none of the lads staying there had registered with the authorities on arrival (and thus were in the country illegally) so a right ruckus was kicked up, resulting in the police forcing Tim to close the hostel or pay a huge bribe to stay open. He’d refused to pay the bribe, and the police had visited all the neighbours, telling them to get in touch if they saw him letting anyone stay in the house. So, he said, we could stay in the hostel but it wasn’t really a hostel any more, and most of the stuff had been taken elsewhere but there were still beds, but we’d have to not be rowdy and make sure no one saw us coming or going! We said that this was fine with us, as we only really needed somewhere to crash. Everyone who we’ve told this story to since has responded with “but were you not scared he would kidnap you and sell you into the sex-trade?” to which we reply “NOR man! The girls around that part of the world are stunningly slim and gorgeous – nee one’s going to have any use for a couple of overweight, middle aged, cackling, large breasted, beer demanding animal touchers!”.
The meal was nice anyway, and we had lots of beer and vodka (which came in a carafe and you ordered by the 100ml, that we ended up having about a litre of) chatting to Tim who was quite an interesting chap and bore more than a passing resemblance in many ways to our trusty pie-fingered Albanian Brummie Andy (so much so that we kept calling him Andy), the hotel/strip club owner and tour operator who we met in Albania on the original Pinge & Wang trip. He was from That America somewhere (Susan correctly guessed which state, which has become another one of her fortes recently!) and had lived all over the place before settling in Transnistria “because there are not many places left where you can be the first to do something” to set up his hostel. He was in the process of doing up another place that was going to be his new hostel, a bit out of the way of the town centre where people could get drunk and have barbecues etc. without upsetting any neighbours or officials. When the bill finally came (he was right about the slow service!) we nearly wet ourselves in shock. The good kind! Despite the flashy interior and very nice food, a meal for 3 people (including sides), too many beers to count, about a litre of vodka and several apple juices only came to the equivalent of about $20. Well played, Transnistria!
We wombled back down a dirt track to the “hostel” with Tim, which was literally just a house and a pretty ramshackle one at that. Its main selling points for us were the adopted dog and 3 mangy but adorable stray cats that lived out in the courtyard, sleeping in crudely fashioned kennels made from wooden crates. They got a lot of petting as you can imagine! We sat around chatting for a while (in the tiny “communal area” which was about the size of Jill’s boiler cupboard) over a few beers, sharing crazy adventure stories before Tim headed off home (after agreeing to call in for us at midday so he could show us around the town properly) and we settled down in our beds. The settling was short lived however, as it soon became apparent that the house was absolutely FREEZING and Tim had only left us one thin blanket each. Jill kindly gave Susan the one from the other bed since she was sick, and had accidentally inhaled some spores from her blanket when making a nest for herself and was choking. Plus Jill’s snoring was so loud it was a) keeping her awake, b) making her really jealous that she wasn’t as cosy and asleep and c) The Pickwick Papers. So yet another rubbish night’s sleep!
We were awoken (just as the daylight had started to warm the place up a bit so we could get to sleep) by the arrival of Tim. Groans of “it can’t be 12 o’clock already!”. It wasn’t midday yet, it was about 9am and Tim had brought with him a Spanish lad that he’d just met (at Andy’s Pizza, obviously!) who was also going to be staying at the “hostel”. Jill was up and about chatting to the lads, before trying to rouse Susan with a lager bottom and a cup of tea as it was obvious that they were just hanging around waiting for us (that’s why we said midday goddammit Timothy!!!) as Daniel (the Spanish dude) was wanting the walking tour too. So once she emerged, bedraggled and declaring “I look like one of your cats!”, we headed out (checking that the coast was clear of nosey neighbours!) for Tim’s Tiraspol Tour. The tour was canny, we saw lots of old Soviet monuments (photos to follow!), popped into the Kvint brandy store to admire the selection of finest brandy and caviare, while lamenting the fact that we couldn’t buy any to take with us (Transnistrian brandy is supposedly amazing and if you buy in there it costs pennies, Tim told us of an Irish tourist who had dumped all his clothes out of his rucksack and filled it with brandy to take home and sell) and a random…I don’t even know if you’d call it a “market” per se…but a square in town where all the babushkas and dedushkas brought their old things to sell, spread out on tablecloths and blankets on the ground. There was the oddest selection of things you’d ever seen – rust old tools, bits of tap (which we were tempted to buy to add to our upcoming new comic “Part Susan, Part Tap”), the odd bit of Soviet memorabilia, Tupperware, odd shoes… One of the babushkas obviously had a thing for Tim, and spent about 20 minutes trying to give him her phone number – it took that long as she was pished as a newt on vodka. After a couple of hours walking around, we got concerned that the beer to monument ratio was getting severely adverse (Tim had promised us regular beer stops, but I think now we had Daniel with us he felt obliged to give the “proper” tour) and Susan, still feeling under the weather and not enjoying all the walking around, was absolutely gagging for a nice sit down and a beer so we persuaded the lads thusly, having shrugged off Tim’s polite offer to go into a shop for some beer and chug it in the aisle as it’s illegal to drink on the streets (even though we had already finished off the emergency Potato on the road). We headed for the trusty Andy’s Pizza only to discover some sort of hellish children’s party going on and every seat in the place full, so it was about 30 minutes walk from where we were to the nearest bar (which happened to be the one we were in the previous night) and we were like “Tim man, we’re not that bothered about going to THAT bar! Can we just go to ANY bar?” to which he replied that all the other bars are closed during the day!! Badly played Transnistria!!!! We had serious reservations about his last statement and kept an eye out for anything that looked like a bar on the way, but lo and behold, they were indeed closed. Susan was seriously lagging behind now looking like she was about to drop down dead. Tim’s encouraging shouts of “Come on Susan! Just one more block to go!” were met with “UGH! But they’re such BIG BLOCKS!!!”. Finally we reached the bar and beers were ordered. That Spain started perusing the menu at that point (we weren’t planning on eating there – it was just a beer stop and we were going to a “student place” a bit further down the road for dinner) and got a bit huffy when we said we were only stopping for a drink as he hadn’t eaten all day (big wow! It was only about 2pm! That’s when we usually think we might be ready to try some breakfast!) and declared that he couldn’t drink his beer unless he’d eaten something first. We politely but firmly managed to argue him down, since it had originally been OUR tour, with agreed beer stops and a midday start and we’d got up early and not stopped for beer since he had gatecrashed it, so he needed to stop his whinging! And gave him a packet of raisins (Jill had in her bag from the plane) to keep him going for the whole long 15 minutes until we got dinner. The “student place” was great – it was a bit like a canteen with plastic tables and chairs (but had a massive seating area out the front that I bet would be gorgeous in summer), buffet style food, shelves of bottles of vodka and brandy and fridges full of big bottles of pop and beer. You just bought your dinner and your booze of choice (the bloke in front had bought himself a nice meal deal of a pasty and a bottle of brandy), they gave you plastic cups to drink your booze out of and it cost literally pennies. We got some nice squidgy Russian salads, a couple of the nice looking pastry things for the bus later on and a couple of 3 litre bottles of beer. They also had a very impressive cake selection that Tim, Daniel and Susan got stuck into with gusto, however after haggling for ages trying to buy a small slice and ending up with a slab of what Susan thought was a cheese cake was actually a massive kind of marshmallow thing that was very bizarre, so we donated that to the lads. After a while sitting around chatting and forcing people to eat cake, it was getting to about 4pm so we thought we’d better head back to the house, pick our bags up and head for the bus to Chisinau. The buses actually ran quite late, but since we’d arrived at about 7.30pm the previous night, we had to make sure that we were over the Moldovan border before 7.30 that night as we had only registered to stay in Transnistria for 24 hours. We realized we still had a few Transnistrian Roubles left and it was only about $3 worth (so pointless changing back into dollars), so we went to the little kiosk at the station to see what we could get for our money. It turned out that you can by 8 packets of cigarettes and a litre of vodka for under $3. Well played Transnistria! The bus was a tiny little furgon thing that hung around for ages – we were over the moon at first that we had a nice bit of space, but more and more people kept piling on and there ended up being people wedging cushions between the chairs to sit in the gaps. The lady in front of us had a cat in her lap, that was mewing continuously. Who takes a cat on a bus? Apparently crazy Transnistrians do! (which doesn’t surprise me since they also seem to ride donkeys to the pub). Luckily, after our Central American adventures, we felt right at home being squashed in with the locals and the bus only took a couple of hours to get there and we were happy drinking beer and being entertained by Bus Cat. Stay tuned for our adventures in country #6 MOLDOVA!!!
We have to admit that we were very disappointed in the lack of dubiousness, but we think maybe this is down to Tim taking us around rather than let us explore ourselves (you know that dubiousness just lures us in – we’re like drunken moths to the dubious flame!). We weren’t disappointed by how MOTHERFLIPPING CHEAP everything was. Seriously, cheapest place EVER! Especially for booze and cigarettes! We would definitely go back but wouldn’t bother with Tiraspol and instead investigate some little rural towns. When we’ve learned some Russian, that is!
Best Food: Kiev and cakes.
Best Drink: Obviously the amazing carafes of vodka.
Prices: Did we mention how bloody CHEAP it was?!
Click on the circles below to bring up the photo viewer. Full photo’s to follow as there are loads!