Breakfast this morning was a repeat of yesterday, without having to tiptoe thru the orthodox service though. It's nice to have our own bus and not to have to worry about catching public transportation.
Our trip today involves crossing the border into Transnistria, or as they prefer, The Prednistrovie Moldovan Republic (PMR). Transnistria literally means "the land after the Dniester River". This country is recognized only by 3 other unrecognized former Soviet breakaway republics: the Republic of Abkhazia, the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, and the Republic of South Ossetia. It does have it's own parliament, police force, currency (the Transnistrian Ruble) and coat of arms. They are more aligned with Russia, upholding Soviet values, than Moldova, who mostly wants to go with the EU. Moldova is in application status with EU although there is a large faction of the country that would rather go with Russia. Right now, Transnistria has a working relationship with Moldova (and uses Moldovan passports) but also has a large Russian army presence. If Moldova goes with the EU, Transnistria will have to decide whether or not to press for true independence but they will probably have a solid Russian backing.
We reached the border between Moldova and Transnistria in an hour. They collected all our passports and we were able to get off the bus while they looked through them. Our USA passports were the only ones they made copies of but it didn't hold things up too much. Then we had another hour drive to our first stop, Bender. We were there to see the 16th century Ottoman Tighina fortress. There are 3 miles of stone walls dotted with towers and gates.
We parked the bus outside the entrance area and walked the half mile to the gate through back alleys. We were met by our guide, who gave us a little introduction. In 1538, the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent conquered the town from Moldavia, and renamed it Bender. Its fortifications were developed into a full fortress under the same name under the supervision of the Turkish architect Koji Mimar Sinan. The Ottomans used it to keep the pressure on Moldavia. At the end of the 16th century several unsuccessful attempts to retake the fortress were made: in the summer of 1574 Prince John III the Terrible led a siege on the fortress, as did Michael the Brave in 1595 and 1600. About the same time the fortress was attacked by Zaporozhian Cossacks.
From the 18th-20th centuries it went back and forth between Russians, Romanians, Turks and USSR. Due to the city's key strategic location on the right bank of the Dniester river, 6 mi from left-bank Tiraspol, Bender saw the heaviest fighting of the 1992 War of Transnistria. Since then, it is controlled by Transnistrian authorities, although it has been formally in the demilitarized zone established at the end of the conflict.
Outside the main gate is a bust of Baron Munchhausen, the German and mercenary officer in the pay of the Russian army in The 1700's. He became famous for his fantastical tales of his adventures. It is told that in 1744, the baron was propelled on this huge cannonball to spy on the organization of the fortress, to prepare the offensive. That's Dris on the cannonball in the pics--he sat on it and sang "I came in like a wrecking ball"--LOL.
We spent a little over an hour touring the fort. As you can see in the pics, there was a "stick you head in the board" picture op so we did.
When we walked back to where our bus had parked, we found that we were saying good-bye to our bus and driver and getting picked up by Maria and Dmitri, a couple who would be doing a Soviet canted tour of Bender and Tiraspol for us. Their first stop was for lunch at an old Soviet canteen that one of their friends had fixed up. It had a lot of old Soviet memorabilia for decorations. There was a cafeteria line that we could choose from-- you can see in the pics what we had.
After lunch, they took us around to various places in the bus (driven by Svetlana--who looked very much like a Svetlana). We stopped at the old train station, bus station, Parliament building and various statutes. Since this tour was to tell us about the soviet way of life, they spent time on the architecture and how life was in those times. Many of the old buildings are empty and in disrepair but there are a lot of new, modern buildings going up as well. Transnistria is basically run by the Sheriff Corp--the second-largest company based in Transnistria, in the city of Tiraspol. Formed in the early 1990s by Viktor Gushan and Ilya Kazmaly, former members of the special services, Sheriff has grown to include nearly all forms of profitable private business in this small unrecognised country, and has even become significantly involved in Transnistrian politics and football. It is said that after the war of Transnistria, it was pretty lawless and these two came in as "sheriff's" to clean things up . Of course, there are monopoly and corruption charges against them and I think their influence is on the wane.
We did a lot of walking and the tour took about 3 hours. We were all pretty tired by the end! They dropped us off by our hotel--the Hotel Russia. It's very nice and is air conditioned! We had time to rest before meeting at 6:30pm to walk to dinner, a restaurant Dris had booked for us. There we had more traditional Moldovan food altho Jef and I shared a chicken Kiev and an order of pelemni, Russian dumplings filled with meat and covered with a dollop of sour cream.
Looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow since we have the day basically free!