26 February 2011

Tiraspol - The Capital of Transdniestr

Tiraspol is a strange place - we were told that it was strange by everyone who had been there. Actually, it is strange more in theory than it is in reality. After being in Belarus, the Lenin statues aren't as interesting and the military presence doesn't feel so threatening. It feels like most mid-sized, ex-soviet backwaters do - poor, constructed of concrete and somewhat lawless.
Of course, it isn't like all ex-soviet cities. Being the capital of an unrecognized, breakaway state, it has it's differences. A man staying in our hostel got arrested there a few days before we went. His crime: walking too close to a tank monument. Rebecca was approached by a man who forced her to delete pictures from her camera's memory card. We had to a cross a border to get here. It's in a frozen conflict zone. The US state department warns people that they won't be able to provide any consular help should a traveler get in trouble. It's a popular city for drug, weapons and human traffickers. It's also very, very poor - the whole city seems to be made up of huge buildings like this one or dilapidated shanties.
We took very few pictures because it is illegal to photograph any government buildings, employees or vehicles - there are a lot of things that fall into one of those categories in Tiraspol. Also, there are soldiers and police everywhere, and they would love to have a reason to make some tourist pay a "fine." Mostly, we kept our cameras tucked away. This, however, is the Kvint "Cognac" factory, which is the pride of the country. I thought that it would probably be safe to take a picture of it and the truck pulling out of it's gates - at home, I realized that the truck has "water" painted on its side and is, in fact, a street cleaning vehicle. Municipal vehicles probably aren't a big deal, really, but I'm glad nobody checked.
Like in Belarus, most of the billboards were for the country (if you want to call it that) that we were in. This one shows the president, Igor Smirnov, shaking hands with some un-identified, smiling man. Smirnov is on the right with the stereotypical "evil-villain" shaved head and beard.
We left our car in Chisinau because we didn't want to try to bring it across the border. The bus there took about an hour and twenty minutes, including a little stop at the border where we (because we were American) were called off the bus for some kind of registration. The bus back, from this little bus station, took about two and a half hours - not because of border troubles, but because our driver seemed unenthusiastic about driving anywhere. He stopped for a cigarette and coffee, for a bottle of cognac and for gas. Also, he was reluctant to go much more than thirty miles per hour or shift above second gear. It was quite dark by the time we got home, and we dozed in our uncomfortable, shabby seats for much of the ride.
One of the things that people say about Tiraspol is that it's strange to see statues of Lenin still standing in all of the squares. Like I said, in Belarus we saw them daily, so it didn't seem all that odd to us. This one, though, was amazing. It appeared that he had sprouted wings, or that he was wearing a cape in a gale. He had the typical Lenin stare and cocked head and he was positioned a good twenty-five feet above the ground.

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