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Bucharest-Chisinau-Tiraspol -> Ukraine

Bucharest-Chisinau-Tiraspol -> Ukraine

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Old Dec 10, 18, 2:04 pm
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Bucharest-Chisinau-Tiraspol -> Ukraine

I recently returned from an extended trip in Europe and wanted to share my experience with folks here. The places I went to are kind of off the beaten path for most travelers.

I started in Bucharest, took a 14hr train to Chisinau, then took a marshrutka to Tiraspol, then finally another marshrutka to Odessa. Here is my experience:

Bucharest: I arrived at OTP around 1:30AM and I have to say, this is one of the sketchiest airports I've ever been to. Most airports of this size are dead at 1:30AM, but this one had a main waiting area that was filled with scammer taxi drivers, people offering you rides, people trying to sell you random things, and just random people loitering.

I had heard things about taxis in Bucharest ripping off non-locals, so I opted for an Uber. The driver arrived within a few minutes and met me in the parking lot in front of the terminal (apparently they aren't allowed to come to the pick up area). The driver took a very long route which cost me almost double the estimated fare. Fortunately, I was able to submit a claim to Uber and they refunded the money back to me. So far, not a very good first impression of Bucharest.

Now onto the city itself... Overall the city is not very pretty, but I'm interested in Soviet and communist architecture, so it was intriguing to me. It seemed like there was graffiti on every street and in the Old Town area, many storefronts were vacant or abandoned. It would probably scare many travelers, but to me, this gave it some character.

The metro system is very clean and modern, although the system isn't as dense as in other European capitals. Since my hostel was near the center of town, I was able to walk most places.

What to see:

The Parliament building is the second largest administrative building in the world, after the Pentagon. It was closed for tours on the day I was there, but I heard the inside was interesting.



The old town had some good restaurants (I got a 3 course meal with wine for around $20), bakeries, and shops and was quaint feeling.





Communist style housing is still all over the city. Some buildings are in rough shape.



A nice mix of classical/romantic architecture and grunge



The village museum is fantastic. They moved homes and buildings from villages in rural Romania to a big park. I spent several hours here looking at the different homes.





The food was excellent. The highlight was the best kebab I've ever had.



I had two full days in Bucharest and felt that it was enough time to see the highlights and get a good feel for the city. I definitely want to return to Romania in the future so I can visit the Transylvania area.
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Last edited by poisson; Dec 10, 18 at 8:30 pm Reason: Photos
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Old Dec 10, 18, 2:31 pm
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Getting to Chisinau: Sure, they have quick 1hr flights from Bucharest to Chisinau, but where's the fun in that? I decided to take the infamous 14hr 106b train which leaves Bucharest Gara de Nord station every day at 7:15PM and arrives in Chisinau shortly after 9:00am. I bought the ticket online a week before and printed it at home. The cost was 569MDL or around $33.

There were around 50 people total getting on the train. My particular wagon only had two people, so I had the entire cabin to myself. It was fairly comfortable, but the ride was not pleasant at all. The age of the train meant you felt and heard every rattle and creak. Worst of all, the heat was on very high, so I stripped down to my underwear and a t-shirt. Meanwhile, it was snowing outside.

The train made about 12 stops before hitting the Moldova border. I was already awake around 3AM when Romania and Moldova border agents came on to check passports. Shortly after, the 2-3hr process of changing the wheels started (Romania and Moldova have different rail gauges). This process was VERY loud and made the entire train rattle.

The inside of my cabin. The Soviet train looked like it was built in the 1980s.



The bathroom was very luxurious. All "material" is dumped out onto the tracks below.


The train after arriving at Chisinau main railway station. It was snowing and puddles were everywhere.



Chisinau: Like Bucharest, Chisinau isn't known for being the nicest looking city. In fact, Moldova is the least visited country in Europe. There really isn't too much to see and do in Chisinau, but I figured two days is enough to keep me busy.

The Parliament building. Nothing too special. Looks like it's from the USSR era.


The presidential palace. It was built in the 80s, but was recently renovated and just reopened in October. Looks like something that would have Trump's name on the front of it.



A nice cathedral



Some locally made beers at the supermarket



I stayed at Hotel Chisinau. It was only about $25/night for a nice sized room. It had all the amenities you'd expect from a USSR era hotel. The free breakfast wasn't bad!



My favorite part was the central market. It had everything you could imagine. Hardware, plumbing, clothes, toiletpaper, soap, spices, fruits, meat, seafood, alcohol, etc. It's like the local version of Walmart Supercenter.

People in former USSR countries are very suspicious of cameras, so I definitely got some weird looks taking photos here. Also, I don't think they are used to tourists, especially not at the local market.









Moldova is known for their winemaking and was the largest supplier of wine in the USSR. There are several wineries located just outside of Chisinau. Unfortunately one of them required having a car to tour the tunnels and the other one was a bit far. If I had an extra day, I would have visited.

Last edited by poisson; Dec 10, 18 at 8:40 pm Reason: Photos
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Old Dec 10, 18, 3:03 pm
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Getting to Tiraspol: It's easy enough. The bus station is right beside the Central Market. Buses to Tiraspol leave every 20-30min. I found the bus with the Tiraspol sign on the front, and the driver walked me up to the window where I paid for the ticket. I believe it was just under 37MDL (around $2).

The drive was bumpy because roads in Moldova aren't great, but luckily it's only about an hour.

At Bender, you have to cross the Transnistria border. There were 4 other people on the bus and they all had passports that allowed them into Transnistria without a visa. Since I have a US passport, I was required to get a permit/visa (free cost) that allowed me to stay for 24hr. I walked up to a window where the guy took my passport, entered the information, and gave me the paper permit/visa.

Afterwards, he handed me the passport and said to walk with a guy in military fatigues. The guy looked at my bags in the bus, said OK Good, and then took my passport up some stairs. This is when I got worried because my passport was no longer in my possession. He came back about 10min later with my passport. I still have no idea why my passport was taken.

Tiraspol: The train/bus station is just north of the city. It's about a 10min walk from the main part of town. I arrived shortly after 12PM and had heard that buses to Odessa fill up quickly, so I asked to buy a ticket for a bus that left around 5pm. Unfortunately that one was full, so I was stuck in Tiraspol until 7PM.

Tiraspol does have a tourist office now! It's on the road leading to/from the train/bus station, about halfway towards the main part of town. The ladies working there spoke English and gave me a map in English. They also sold some post cards and other souvenirs (which I doubt you'll find anywhere else in town).

Also, since Transnistria isn't an officially recognized country, you can't use debit cards or credit cards and as far as I know, there aren't any ATMs that will work. I brought Moldovan Lei and was able to convert them to Transnistrian Rubles at exchange booths that are all over town. I didn't even have to say anything; just hand them the money and they know what to do.

I have T-Mobile in the US and get free roaming in many countries. However, my roaming did not work in Transnistria. Fortunately, I was able to get cell reception from Moldova in certain parts of the city.

Highlights were the House of Soviets with the giant Lenin statue outside



A Soviet era movie theater


A Soviet tank


And another Lenin statue in front of a government building


I also went into the Sheriff supermarket which is owned by a former KGB guy. The Sheriff brand is also a soccer team and a large hotel in Tiraspol.


The Kvint distillery in Tiraspol is known for producing cognac, vodka, and other types of spirits.


There really weren't many advertisements in Tiraspol except for local related things. Absolutely no capitalism here.


Overall, Tiraspol is an interesting place to spend half a day. It gives you a glimpse of what life would be like in a modern day USSR.
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Last edited by poisson; Dec 10, 18 at 8:45 pm Reason: Photos
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Old Dec 10, 18, 3:15 pm
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Getting from Tiraspol to Odessa took about 2hr in the bus. The most nerve-racking experience was at the Ukraine border. All of my bags were X-Rayed and I was questioned about several items in my bag and asked where I bought them. The border agent was very interested in if I had purchased anything in Transnistria or had any USSR souvenirs like coins or anything containing a hammer & sickle.

I crossed the Poland/Ukraine border last year and was not asked any questions like this, nor were my bags X-Rayed, so this is definitely a Transnistria/Russia thing with Ukraine.
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Old Dec 10, 18, 4:02 pm
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poisson, your photos are not showing up yet.... Thanks for the TR, though!
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Old Dec 10, 18, 4:44 pm
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Strange about the photos because when I copy the link, they show up. They were also showing up when I originally submitted it.

Does a moderator know what's going on?
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Old Dec 10, 18, 5:40 pm
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You're trying to embed images from imgur, which blocks hotlinking of images on external sites. You'll have to upload and link from another site that allows hotlinking such as photobucket/flickr/smugmug/etc
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Old Dec 10, 18, 7:07 pm
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In Bucharest it's confusing. You took an Uber. I took a regular taxi. You go to the machine first for a number. Then wait outside in line. It was stressful as it was raining. Otherwise no problem. Took regular cabs. When my mother lived here between 1938 and 1940 it was called the Paris of the East. I agree it certainly is neither Prague nor Budapest.But so much better than in 1992 shortly after the Revolution. the food is now good compared to then.

Last edited by Bretteee; Dec 10, 18 at 7:15 pm
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Old Dec 10, 18, 8:48 pm
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Originally Posted by Bretteee View Post
In Bucharest it's confusing. You took an Uber. I took a regular taxi. You go to the machine first for a number. Then wait outside in line. It was stressful as it was raining. Otherwise no problem. Took regular cabs. When my mother lived here between 1938 and 1940 it was called the Paris of the East. I agree it certainly is neither Prague nor Budapest.But so much better than in 1992 shortly after the Revolution. the food is now good compared to then.
I've read that the problem with Bucharest taxis is that they will go a long way to charge you extra or simply try to extort money from you by saying there's a tax for starting from the airport.

The best option seems to be to agree upon a price before starting the trip, or simply tell the driver to go off the meter, but first make sure to see how much the cost is per kilometer.
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Old Dec 11, 18, 6:56 am
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Interesting! Did they stamp your passport upon entry into Transnistria?
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Old Dec 11, 18, 7:11 am
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Originally Posted by hkskyline View Post
Interesting! Did they stamp your passport upon entry into Transnistria?
Nope, you get a paper visa/permit that looks like this:


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Old Dec 11, 18, 3:20 pm
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Nice trip report, always fun to see how first-timers find Romania and the surrounding countries such as Moldova!

You are indeed right about the train being from the 1980s. It is constructed in East Germany (DDR) by VEB Waggonbau Ammendorf.

As for OTP Airport - I understand your feelings although it has to be put a bit into perspective. There are still lots of flight arriving around 1am (from the top of my head many of the flights from Spain, UK, a Turkish widebody) so compared to other European airports it is actually a busy arrivals bank that time. Many people are picked up by relatives, friends, so easily 70-80% percent of those waiting are just there (maybe already for a long time having come from places further away in Romania or even Northern Bulgaria) to pick up people.

That said, the taxi situation can be intimidating for those who do not speak the language and do not know how to get a legit taxi. There are taxi-ordering machines in the arrivals hall to both the immediate left and the right, where you get a receipt with a taxi number/licence plate. The normal rate is nowadays around 1.80 RON/kilometer at any time of the day and those cabs which are ordered will stick to this as they know you can get them fired if filing a complaint with the receipt in hand (to the city centre it should be no more than 40-50 RON at max, even in more busy traffic). Taking an unsolicited taxi lurking outside without a receipt or going with the touts and you get ripped off - that would even be the case for those speaking Romanian. This is why I also advice those who don't speak the language to pick up a taxi lurking outside at the old town or train station, as you get ripped off (cab drivers refusing to put on the meter, saying they don't have change, taking a detour) - and that while any ride in the (city) centre itself should never be much more than 15-20 RON (less than 5 EUR).

For 99% of all my rides to the airport and back to town I use however Uber, The service is much easier, waiting times are much less (often you can wait for hours at those taxi-ordering machines at rush hour/bad weather/busy arrivals) and mostly the drivers are customer-orientated. You are however right that they are not allowed (read: get into problems with taxi drivers) when picking up passengers directly at the terminal, which is why they only pick up drivers from the top deck of the adjacent parking garage (for international arrivals) and the bottom floor (for domestic arrivals). I am honestly quite surprised (and sorry to hear!) you had a bad experience with Uber in Bucharest as generally the service works like a charm.
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Old Dec 12, 18, 1:20 am
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A cool trip in Eastern Europe. Great to take the overnight sleeper train to Moldova. Hope you liked Odessa too.
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Old Dec 12, 18, 1:43 pm
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Originally Posted by poisson View Post
Getting from Tiraspol to Odessa took about 2hr in the bus. The most nerve-racking experience was at the Ukraine border. All of my bags were X-Rayed and I was questioned about several items in my bag and asked where I bought them. The border agent was very interested in if I had purchased anything in Transnistria or had any USSR souvenirs like coins or anything containing a hammer & sickle.

I crossed the Poland/Ukraine border last year and was not asked any questions like this, nor were my bags X-Rayed, so this is definitely a Transnistria/Russia thing with Ukraine.
Yes, it is indeed a Transnistria/Russia thing with Ukraine. The Russian military is stationed in Transnistria, so Ukrainians are very suspicious of anyone coming from that place who does not conform to a typical border-crossing local resident. Now, seeing a US citizen "transiting" Transnistria would be quite extraordinary for the Ukrainian border guards; hence, all the questions. Also, all the Soviet symbols are prohibited in Ukraine while making up the majority of souvenirs in Transnistria itself.
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Old Dec 12, 18, 2:50 pm
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Originally Posted by König View Post
Yes, it is indeed a Transnistria/Russia thing with Ukraine. The Russian military is stationed in Transnistria, so Ukrainians are very suspicious of anyone coming from that place who does not conform to a typical border-crossing local resident. Now, seeing a US citizen "transiting" Transnistria would be quite extraordinary for the Ukrainian border guards; hence, all the questions. Also, all the Soviet symbols are prohibited in Ukraine while making up the majority of souvenirs in Transnistria itself.
That's what I figured. There was only one other person in my marshrutka, a lady with a Ukrainian passport. They scanned her stuff too, so that made me feel better.
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