Jun 152012

Since I’m in a small lull between trips (I don’t think anyone really needs to hear about my upcoming trip to Cedar Point, Ohio to ride roller coasters) I figured this was a good idea to catch up and post a few trips from the past.  First one will be my May, 2010 trip to Moldova, TransDniester, and Romania.

What, you’ve not heard of TransDniester?  According to Wikipedia, it is: “a breakaway territory  mostly on a strip of land between the Dniester River and the eastern Moldovan border to Ukraine. Since its declaration of independence in 1990, and especially after the War of Transnistria in 1992, it is governed as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR, also known as “Pridnestrovie”), a state with limited recognition which claims the territory to the east of the river Dniester, the city of Bender and its surrounding localities located on the west bank. The Republic of Moldova does not recognize the secession and considers the territories controlled by the PMR to be part of Moldova’s autonomous region of Stînga Nistrului (“Left Bank of the Dniester”).”

Wait, breakaway region with its own military, currency, parliament, border control, etc?  Sounds like a de-facto country to me…and of course I had to visit.  Naturally, you get there from Moldova…but since you can’t fly in, you get to take a sketchy mashrutka minibus.  I’m up for adventure!  Flights booked, it was time to head off!

United Flight 950
Washington, Dulles (IAD) to Brussels, Belgium (BRU)
Departure 17:44, Arrival 7:30 next day, Flight Time: 7:46
Boeing 767, Registration N654UA, Manufactured 1992
Seat 2A

One of my first flights in a newly-configured United 767 in first….and I was nervous how I’d sleep on such an early flight.  I’d learnt to pass out cold on the 10pm flights to London, but not sure how I’d manage on such an early departure.  Not to worry, however.  After meal service, plenty of wine, it was 8pm, and eyes shut…and I dozed all the way to Brussels.  I searched in vain for a lounge with a shower…no luck, and just killed time in the terminal.  Was my first time at BRU in several years, and I wasn’t terribly impressed.  Of course, considering it was 2am eastern time and I’d just gotten up from a 5 hour nap…that’s understandable.

Austrian Flight 352
Brussels, Belgium (BRU) to Vienna, Austria (VIE)
Departure 10:25, Arrival 12:15, Flight Time: 1:50
Airbus A319, Registration OE-LDG, Manufactured 2005
Seat 2F

Short hop over to Vienna, with very little to say on it.  This was my first every short-haul flight with Austrian, and honestly it felt a lot like Lufthansa with cheerier colours.  I dozed on and off the whole flight, and there was nothing overly special about it even though the load was 100% in the entire plane.

Austrian Arrows Flight 655
Vienna, Austria (VIE) to Chisnau, Moldova (KIV)
Departure 13:45, Arrival 16:30, Flight Time: 1:45
Fokker F70, Registration OE-LFG, Manufactured 1995
Seat 2F

This is where the fun started!  Only 90 minutes in Vienna, but had to exit the Schengen Area, and then hang out in the Austrian Senator Lounge.  Decent food like any Senator Lounge, plenty to drink, but was hotter than a Turkish Bathhouse.  I was unimpressed!  I tend to get extremely warm on long haul flights, and going on 12+ hours at this point I was less than impressed.  Oh well, almost there!

Flight was maybe 2/3 full, but I was the only one in “business” class if you can fall it that on a Fokker!  Landed, taxied up, and immigration was pretty much a non-event.  Surly immigration officers assured us this was definitely still closer to the ex-USSR than it was to the West, and we’d arrived for a bit of fun!

Took a taxi for 100 Lev which was no drama at all, and soon we were at the hotel!

Hotel was the Hotel Nobil which had been recommended by coworkers, and definitely lived up to its billing as the “only boutique hotel in Moldova.”  It wasn’t super fancy, but it was definitely approaching 4-star quality, which is something I never would have expected to find in Moldova.  First night we got dinner at Symposium Restaurant which was pretty awesome!  Local Moldovan wine which was nothing to write home about (but decent) and lots of small plates, and we were definitely full for the big trip ahead!  On the way to dinner we’d checked where the minibuses ran from, and with a bit of help from my Russian managed to determine they ran about hourly to TransDniester, the price, and we were more or less ready!

Up early the next morning we found a cafe for some coffee, and it was time to head on the adventure!  We easily found the minibus station again, and with help from a couple grandmotherly types easily purchased tickets (although, it would have been quite a bit harder without speaking Russian) to Tiraspol, TransDniester for 29 Lev (about US$2.25) each!  Remember, our taxi the previous day had been 100 Lev!  It was a rather large bus – definitely a coach.  The lady “working” the bus was quite grumpy to see US passports, since it would definitely mean more work at the “border” to TransDniester.  She probably would not have let us on had I not spoken Russian…she was seriously worried we’d hold up the whole bus at the border, but not to worry!

The bus was….WARM!  It was 25C out and rising, and there was nothing even remotely resembling climate control on the bus.  It was a very warm ride!  The ride, and border was a relative nonevent.  We got a bit of questioning from the TransDniester authorities, but were not required to pay any bribes or “visa fees” as others have reported, and were quickly through.  We definitely didn’t hold up the bus more than five minutes total, and from that point “bus mother” was much kinder!

Just upon arrival we verified that return buses ran every hour, and we were off to wander.  Just after arriving, there was a torrential downpour, which caused us to hide under overhangs for a good 30 minutes.

Continue reading »