Support your local Sheriff

I was actually a bit fearful that I’d get bored in Tiraspol, but in the event I didn’t actually get enough time to walk everywhere I’d intended to. This was mainly because I got distracted by something as simple as sitting in the park. That may sound strange, but if there’s one thing that Communists have done well, it’s town planning, and specifically local amenities. Victory Park (which looks and feels about as Soviet as it’s possible to get) is very pleasant inside, with large open areas where people can sit and look at statues/fountains. It’s also a good place to people-watch, although most of the people I saw were watching each other’s tongues rather than paying attention to nosy-parkers like me.

Tiraspol has a bit of a reputation (amongst people who’ve heard of it in the first place) as being in a kind of 25-year time-warp, where the 1980s never left. Musically, I’ll concede that most of Moldova itself is a bit like that (the first song playing in one of the Chisinau minibuses was an early Kylie number; lucky (lucky) me …), and certainly Tiraspol has its fair share of Soviet-era posters and buildings, but I have to say (and whisper it quietly), I actually preferred it to Chisinau. Possibly because it felt more ‘normal’ as a city, grid-like and structured rather than the chaos and randomness of Chisinau, and partly because maybe more of it looked more like how I perceive a small town to look – one long main street with shops, multitudinous side streets coming off it with smaller shops, churches, and residential accommodation. Like a small English (or even American) town. Or maybe that’s just me.

There isn’t a lot to do in Tiraspol for the average tourist, but then it’s not really a place for the average tourist to go. The ‘sights’ are limited to such things as the statue of Lenin outside the parliament building, the tank on the grassy ramp next to the high street that serves as one part of the war memorial to the Transnistrian dead (the tank is from the war of independence in 1991/2, the other two wars commemorated at the memorial are WW2 and the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. In my younger days I wrote a poem about that war for a school assembly. No copies of that poem exist. I’m not disappointed by this), the Dnieper riverfront and promenade (nice for a walk), and that’s about it.

Quite a bit further out to the west is the stadium of Sheriff Tiraspol FC, the leading Moldovan football side which seems to be bankrolled by a rich Transnistrian businessman who’s related to the previous president of the republic. Sheriff is a petroleum business, amongst other things, and has a monopoly on petrol stations in the republic. Indeed, the arms of the Sheriff business stretch across much of the republic and there’s not much where their money doesn’t come into play. Not just Soviet then, but modern Russian too.

The mother tongue of most Transnistrians is Russian, as opposed to the Moldavian/Romanian language on the other side of the Dnieper; and whereas many Moldovans study abroad and have relatives in places like Spain and France, the Transnistrians tend to study and work further East, in Ukraine and Russia. Odessa, the nearest major Ukrainian city (100km away) has quite a large Transnistrian diaspora; indeed many of the dead in the recent firebombing in Odessa were of Transnistrian origin.

(One of the things I always find important when I travel is to learn about the places I’m going to. It’s not right to just turn up, visit a couple of museums, have dinner in a fancy restaurant, and then bugger off again. Any fool can put a 15th-century religious painting on their wall.)

I spent the afternoon with my couchsurfing host’s son and three of his friends, who wanted to chat to a real life native English speaker, as we appear to be quite rare in this part of the world. It has to be said though that we ended up in an interesting place called ‘Freedom’, aka the ‘Anti-Café’. It’s quite an interesting concept – it has refreshments like tea, coffee, and biscuits, but also music, computer games, air hockey, etc, but rather than paying for everything individually, you pay for a period of time and in that time everything you want is free. I ended up watching them play Fifa14 on the Xbox…

In the event I was registered with the local police just fine, and now when I leave Transnistria all I need do is show them a little white piece of paper. No idea what’s written on it since it’s in Cyrillic, and while I can read the typed Cyrillic letters, I never got to grips with the written ones (written Cyrillic is supposed to use slightly different forms of letters, a bit like cursive writing in English as opposed to print-writing letters. I never mythered with cursive: I like to be able to read what I write).
All registration involves is my host going with me to the office, my host confirming their address, and then the office seeing my passport and giving me what effectively amounts to a visa, with a ‘valid until’ date on it, which in my case is Thursday 8 May. Since I intend leaving here tomorrow, that should not be a problem. How I leave here tomorrow, now that’s a problem…

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