So I found out how to get to Tiraspol today and did it...it involves going to the central bus station, which is not a station per se but a huge, seething organism made up of buses, micro-buses, maxi-taxis and throngs of my fellow alleged humans. You go from "sector" to "sector" (i.e. platform to platform) looking at the signs posted in the bus windows. Actually before I had found one that said "Tiraspol" the driver had found me. These guys are not shrinking violets. I paid him my 25 Moldovan Lei (about 2CAD) and off we went in our mini-bus, all 19 of us.
I was a little worried about the Transdniestrian border police; sometimes the less legitimate the border, the more officious the guards. I'm happy to report, however, that there are honest border guards in the world. After they marched me off the bus (with my fellow riders now goggling at my strange passport), I walked into a makeshift office where a guy squinted at my passport, vainly tried to engage me in Romanian, and then held up two hands. His right hand made a "five", and his left hand made a "three". Now this isn't an actual border and I'm quite sure they don't have an excise and customs exchange agreement with Canada, but I was prepared to pay something reasonable just for the experience. So I gave him 53 Moldovan lei (I was carrying 100 Canadian if that gives you an idea what I was fearing). Then he gave me 45 lei change. 5 and 3 make 8. Score!
Off we bounced into happy-go-lucky Transnistria, land of a thousand uniforms. Tiraspol is where depressed former Soviets go to relive past glories. Then they look around and shoot themselves. It's a two hour trip plus or minus the gravol (plus if you don't take it; minus if you avoid puking). It reminded me a bit of when I was a kid, how people from my hometown, Oddawa, would make day trips to MOREAL to sample UROPEEN Culture. Two hours out, two hours back. Except that there's no shopping in Tiraspol. I walked up and down the main drag desperately seeking a place to spend my converted Transdniestrian roubles. I finally found a cafe, uniquely called "Cafe 7". Nice place. Three guys had their faces in their pasta, but I expect that's a local custom.
Tiraspol is one of those points where Europe isn't European anymore. It's on the continent, all right, but folks here don't abide that democracy nonsense (hmm...maybe they have relatives in Florida). They have a one-party system with a life-time leader, the aptly named Igor Smirnov. The biggest business is the local brandy factory, Kvint. Imagine the slogans: "Kvint will make you squint." The brandy maker inhabits the only building constructed after 1932. It's on Lenin Street. These people are serious.
And damn it all if the women still manage to dress nicely. Fellows, we're running out of excuses.
The statue of Lenin is still out there in front of the government building, and there's a fetching Soviet tank at the end of 15th October St., commemorating all those fun times the Russians marched in and saved them from...the Romanians? Capitalism is making its inexorable way into the spleens of ordinary Transdniestropolitans, however. I managed to make off with a tube of Colgate toothpaste from a local kiosk, purchased for only 10.9 TD roubles. I smuggled it back on the maxi-taxi, after spending one more rouble at the bus station to pay the women-who-watches-you-go-to-the-bathroom.
Maxi-taxis are like mini-buses, but smaller. There were 15 of us this time. I was facing backwards, which was VERY hazardous for those seated within hurling range, and scrunched between a burly guy with three full bags and a comely Slavic lass full of jeans...
Jeans? Uh, hmm, sorry, that's all I remember. I'll take the fifth. But not the Kvint.