postcards from Transnistria
The thin strip of Moldovan land on the left bank of the Nistru River holds an undeniable fascination for Western visitors, who long to see its still-venerated Soviet symbols with their own eyes.
Our Austrian friend was the second visitor we have taken to Transnistria. His curiosity aside, the primary motive for our visit was a tour of the excellent KVINT cognac distillery — about as innocent and apolitical a reason to cross the Nistru as could be imagined.
Soviet relics aside, there is not much outward difference between the land on the two sides of the Nistru River. The same popular Andy’s Pizza franchise plies its wares; the same Soviet-era apartment blocs dominate the landscape; the same odd mix of beat-up Ladas and brand-new high-priced imports compete for space on the city streets. Perhaps the biggest easily noticeable difference is the clear supremacy of the Russian language in Transnistria compared to its relative absence in right-bank Moldova.
Even the prominent Lenin statue, which stands in front of Tiraspol’s “Supreme Soviet” building has a counterpart in Chisinau.
The same sports director who had greeted D on his previous visit to KVINT was on hand to welcome us this time. He shook D’s hand with such enthusiasm that D feared his arm might get yanked out of its socket. The reason for such exuberance was the recent issuance of a visa to Tiraspol’s most promising young baseball player, who was offered a minor league contract by the Minnesota Twins.
KVINT is not unlike a casino, in the sense that one does not notice the passage of time once inside. By the time we finished the tour and completed our 10-cognac tasting, three hours had somehow evaporated.
After the tasting, we walked around the center of Tiraspol. The last time D visited was in February and the bitter cold had made walking around for too long impossible. This time, we faced the opposite problem — the pavement was practically boiling in the 100-degree heat.
We stopped by the “Supreme Soviet” building, checked out the monument to Suvorov — Tiraspol’s founder, and completed our quick loop by visiting the memorial to the fallen of Moldova’s brief civil war. The hostilities over Transnistria’s secession ended in a stalemate that persists to this day. In Tiraspol, the conflict is referred to as the “War of Romanian Aggression.”
On our way back to Chisinau, we made a stop at the Bendery fortress. For decades, the fortress was under Ottoman rule and, because of its proximity to the Nistru River, was rumored to be a favorite of the Sultan’s. The rebuilt fort is not much to look at, but is worth visiting if for no other reason than the special place it occupies in world literature.
The imperial Russian army stormed the fortress in the early 18th century, and though the attack was ultimately unsuccessful, it spawned a classic tale. The real-life Baron Munchausen served in that Russian imperial army, and — if the monument outside the fort is to be believed — the tall tales he told about his service during the Russo-Turkish War proved the inspiration for the fictional Munchausen’s escapades, which included riding on a cannonball during the siege on the Bendery fort.