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Monday, January 26, 2015

Transnistria, Tracked Down In Tiraspol


From what I think is time to kill, I do a little exploring around the train station while avoiding what seems like forbidden areas. Climbing a set of stairs puts me on a pedestrian bridge that crosses multiple tracks below.


2015-01-21 13.48.50Although there is an increased chill in the air, feeling like a “Lionel Kid” I stay for a few minutes to watch a Soviet made locomotive at work.





Back at our planned meeting point there are more than a few men hanging around who could easily be my tour guide. However, knowing only about two words in Russian I am hesitant to approach any of them but I have developed a plan if my guide does not show up.

In an email I was given an address and hotel name to use when I registered at the border crossing which I managed not to do. At this point I hope it is all valid information as my plan is to take a taxicab to the address if all else fails.

In making my arrangements to meet under these conditions I thought for sure that when I arrived in Tiraspol I would standout like a sore thumb among the locals. Before leaving Chisinau I did send an email picture of myself but I am not sure if it was received.

Another ten minutes of waiting and I hear my name in a question form being called from less than fifteen feet away. The whole time I had been pacing in and around the park so was my guide.



2015-01-26 10.06.42To my surprise, apparently my smaller than usual backpack, black (fleece lined) cargo pants and knitted sock cap made me seem more like a local than someone he was expecting.




We laugh it all off until I tell him that I never registered at the border which is a requirement for visiting Transnistria.

I can see the wheels turning inside his head as Tim mulls this little dilemma over. In what seems to me to be said with a nervous smile Tim tells me, "we will worry about it later".

Friday, January 23, 2015

Moldova, To Transnistria



IMG_0744It seems like a very long night as I wait in the darkness of my Chisinau apartment for the familiar sound of my traveling alarm clock.

I am awake at 4:41am then 6:53am but at 9am I silence my alarm then I finally get up at 10am.



There goes some of my plans for the day as I have to make my way to the bus station by noon for my trip to Tiraspol.

Down str Ismail I navigate mud puddles from melting ice and snow before waiting to cross the street at a crosswalk. With the what I am told “crazy drivers” here, jaywalking is frowned upon and probably not the safest thing to do.

Along str Mitropolitul Varlaam the morning activities are brisk as various street vendors hawk their merchandise from food to clothing and probably everything in between.

Arriving at a very hectic bus station I make my way around the back entrance and with a little help find the ticket window where I must purchase my fare for Tiraspol.

Giving up about 37 leu, less than $3, I board for the most part except where covered in street mud a bright orange mini-van for about a one and a half hour road trip.


2015-01-21 12.05.15Here this time of the year there is not much change in the weather from day to day and the dull gray of winter still hangs over the city.





Looking through a big tear in the tint of my window provides an almost depressing contrast with the dreary buildings and bare vegetation that covers the landscape.

Going down the highway a set of oncoming lights flash at us and I am glad to see some local things are international. Just down the road is a “Bear Trap” and one unlucky victim has been caught. With still a long way to go and a short time to get there, soon our driver puts the “hammer down” .

Before long we nonchalantly pass through a few checkpoints before stopping at another one. Here a few passengers disembark and we wait for them before pressing on.

A few stops to drop off passengers at various points in the city and I began to get a little worried as I am soon one of two remaining. However, I have been given explicit directions to remain on the bus until the last stop and although I am not sure when that will happen I remain patient.


2015-01-21 14.09.34Soon a building comes into sight and I find some comfort in seeing it. It is the last stop where across the street from what is the train station another waiting game begins in a cold park.

I am here to meet a man I have only met by email.



Through both of our failings neither one of us knows what each other looks like but I do know he is the only foreigner living in Transnistria.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Moldova, In Less Than 48 Hours, Chisinau and Transnistria


Another pleasant flight across the Atlantic and with a thump we are shrouded in fog as our Boeing 767 makes an early morning landing in Munich, Germany.

A few hours later the fog still remains as I am again airborne for a one hour and forty minute flight this time en-route to Chisinau, Moldova. My journey to Chisinau started a few years ago when my interest was peaked by a colleague into visiting Transnistria an almost unknown neighbor and one time foe of Moldova.


2015-01-20 05.26.33Arriving in Chisinau, although the weather outside under an overcast gray sky is frigid, a friendly smile along with a warm welcome from an Immigration Officer makes me glad that I am here to pursue my interest and satisfy my curiosity.



Although Chisinau Airport is rather small compared to many other capital city airports as I leave the Customs I am somewhat surprised by the openness and the amount of activity in the arrival area. At the information booth I find out about transportation to the city center after turning down numerous offers for a taxi.

At a favorable exchange rate of about 17 to 1, I now have the 3 leu that I need to take Bus No. 165 into the city. Although Bus No.165 is more of a mini-van than a bus I can live with this sense it is costing me about 20 cents instead of 20 Euro to get to my hotel.



2015-01-20 14.05.20It is about a 12km journey to the city and the scenery along way is about what I expected.

A cold gray veil still hangs over the city with less than fashionable Soviet era mostly square buildings decorating the landscape.



Despite their looks many of these buildings have stood the test of time and I have a feeling will continue to do so.

Interestingly, from pictures on the internet I recognize some of the buildings and exit the bus just pass Cosmos Hotel where I had considered staying for the night.


2005-01-01 02.20.28Back tracking in that direction and I soon find myself at the Grand Hall where an inviting sign pulls me in.

At Ayasofya Turkish Cafe I have a delicious feast for lunch finished off with a cup of hot and soothing black tea all for less than US$8.



A fifteen minute walk to Ismail 88 and after a checking in process which included surrendering my passport since I did not have a local phone contact, I am shown to my apartment for the night. A large bedroom and all the necessities I need for the night is not a bad deal for $24.




2015-01-20 18.45.47Arca de Triumf



Relaxed and with another layer of clothing to combat the falling temperatures I set out for a stroll around the city towards the Arca de Triumf.

Electronic Casinos and Electronic Stores with flashing lights including multiple cellphone companies seem to be abundant along the main street. Also on Stefan cel Mare are many of Chisinau government building and a concert hall where the works of Mozart will be performed.

In all of the busy night time activity of the street a few older gentleman still find solace in a tradition I think has gone on here for years, check mate.



Sunday, January 18, 2015

Bosnia, Stari Grad Sarajevo


Checked out of Hotel Konak we drop our backpackers off at our car that has spent a secured night parked next to the police station. Although we can still see our breath we appreciate the daylight and the slightly warmer temperature that it brings.



2005-01-01 00.15.44The first of two interesting stops for us in Stari Grad is the courtyard of Gazi Husrev-Beg's mosque.






We watch as the faithful come for morning prayers with men of all ages going in the main entrance while mostly older women enter a side entrance.



2005-01-01 00.13.45I find a posted courtyard sign with the prohibited items and behaviors cute but almost comical.






At the beautiful City Hall building a plaque gives us a small insight of the war time atrocities that occurred here. Over 2 million books were destroyed here by fire on the night of August 25th, 1992.

As if stepping back in time we get two close up views of the history of Sarajevo. From a street vendor we look at what seems to be war time items as an old white city tram which I am sure is older than at least one of us cruises by.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Bosnia, The Road To Sarajevo


We leave Mostar with enough daylight to enjoy more of the mountainous terrain that is an integral part of this area of Bosnia. Although a dull winter gray fills the afternoon air it only slightly distorts the beauty that is here.

Soon our path again follows a river through mountainous valleys lined with mostly naked trees. Through another roadside tunnel as night falls and eventually we leave the country road for a major highway but face a minor obstacle.

In front of us is a toll road and we have no Bosnian currency. Approaching the toll both we realize it is deserted and after pausing a few minutes we do what others are doing and drive on through. It seems there are no tolls because of the holidays, a nice gesture.



2015-01-02 22.31.02Public Drinking Fountain Stari Grad Sarajevo


From here on we could be driving towards most any major city in the world although I have read that one could easily get lost in Sarajevo. However, our hotel is located of a major street and Maps Me a new off-line navigation app that we are trying on our Android tablet has been working well.

Before long we are at Garni Hotel Konak in Old Sarajevo where after dropping off our backpackers I am guided to park our car next to the Stari Grad Police Station. Checked in, relaxed and again layered up it is time for a freezing night walk.

Starting at an old public drinking fountain we take in the atmosphere of Stari Grad with a few others who are brave enough to endure the chilled air. A few restaurants are still open and in some windows holiday lights still blink in the spirit of the season.



2015-01-02 22.56.05

Some of the streets are frozen and slippery and walking them is like begin on an ice rink without ice skates.

Other streets are still just wet and reflect the bright and colorful lights from the buildings that line them.





2015-01-02 23.05.38Sarajevo is known as a city where cultures meet and as I stand where I can see a mosque on one side of me and a cathedral on the other, I find that so refreshing.






Saturday, January 10, 2015

Bosnia, Road To Mostar


With a few days left to return our rental car we decide to make our way back to Zagreb via Mostar and Sarajevo, Bosnia.  


2015-01-02 10.00.12Leaving Dubrovnik we enjoy the beautiful coastal scenery we missed on our night time drive into the city. The weather is much improved from a few days ago.






2015-01-02 10.44.06It is still a bit on the cold side but much of the wind is gone. Under mostly clear blue skies, our drive is delightful.






A brief stop at a border crossings puts us in Bosnia where while descending a hill we get a nice view of the Bosnian coastline.

A few kilometers later and we are at another border crossing that puts us back into Croatia. Not as confusing as it seems as a part of Bosnia lies between two portions of Croatia's coast line.

A stop at “KONZUM” and we are again provisioned for our road trip with chocolates, cheese and tasty snacks.



2015-01-02 13.17.14Another border crossing that takes a bit longer and we are now 44Km from Mostar. It is hard to imagine that less than 30 years ago this area was a war zone.

Peace for most is definitely a good thing.



Along the way we find it interesting that a lot of the city signs with secondary names have those names blacked out graffiti style. Maybe something left over from the strife here.

Our journey to Mostar follows a river along mountainous landscapes with small communities and some vineyards along the way. Further down the road towering snow capped mountains can be seen in the distance.




2015-01-02 14.28.19The Old Bridge



Soon we arrive in the cultural capital of Herzegovina and take in views of the city from “The Old Bridge” built by the Ottomans in the 16th century. With the Neretva River flowing beneath us it is cool to experience another neat piece of Islamic architecture.


2015-01-02 15.12.50A brief stroll around the city and we stop in at Behar restaurant for lunch. Again, the food here is not only amazing but very affordable.





As afternoon calls for prayer are made across the city we get back on the road this time headed to Sarajevo.



Croatia, Stari Grad Dubrovnik


After a long night of celebrating the New Year, we barely wake up in time to stroll around the city just before sunset.


2015-01-01 11.03.24Today I think our situation is not an unusual one as the area around our hotel is quiet and almost seems deserted at three in the afternoon.

All of the restaurants and bars nearby are still closed but with lots of evidence left behind from last night's activities.



Walking towards the main area of the New Year celebration more life is evident as there is a small crowd out enjoying the city. At one of the city's gate we exit towards the waterfront and the views are simply stunning.



2015-01-01 11.15.55The tranquil harbor in front of us is sprinkled with idle boats many of them seeming to be miniature toys.






We make our way along the perimeter of the walled city and look across the harbor to see a landscape that has been painted a soft and mellow orange from the sinking sun. Around one corner of the wall we see why our path is a popular one this time of the day.  




2015-01-01 11.29.15Stari Grad Dubrovnik New Year Sunset



With a beautiful seaside view with a few islands just off shore, we join others in watching the first official Stari Grad sunset of the New Year, 2015.



2015-01-01 11.38.04Back inside the city walls we pay a visit to the Dubrovnik Cathedral then set off on a walk around the city.






Up a lengthy set of stairs we stop in at St Ignatius Church (1725) then stroll along narrow passages around the elevated inside perimeter of the city.



2015-01-01 12.29.10In one area we discover where Rudolph has sort of retired for the season but decide to take him out for a sleigh ride anyway.





This works up an appetite for dinner at Pizzeria Tomato. A revisit to a tent area set up with local food vendors and for 20KN we are served a cup of Nadine Prikle covered with sugar and cinnamon.



2015-01-01 12.41.26



With a warm delicious desert in hand we continue our walk around the city which has now really come to life. This time a sweet uplifting sound echoes through the air and along the now softly lit narrow city streets. The melody beckons us to it's origin but the mystery and listening to it from afar is so relaxing and soothing.

Our last night in Stari Grad Dubrovnik is one that leaves a great impression of this beautiful city that is already calling us to return.