This tour coincides with not only the Transnistrian Victory Day celebrations, but one of the only Soviet-style military parades left in Europe! Officially known the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR), and often referred to as the last of the Soviet Union – Transnistria is one of the four unrecognized countries and frozen conflict zones that litter the regions of the old Soviet Empire.
The trip begins in the wonderful city of Bucharest which is serviced by a number of low cost airlines. During the day, we will see Ceausescu’s grave and palace before jumping on the scenic train journey to Chisinau, Moldova: the least visited country in Europe. After a one day city tour and a night in a Soviet style hotel, we head for the highlight of the trip, Transnistria, Tiraspol and a big old fashioned military parade!
On arrival, we begin our tour to the darkest corners of what has been branded ”Europe’s North Korea”. Taking in Soviet time warps, gypsy towns, civil war scarred towns, USSR nuclear bunkers, Russian army defended dams, tanks, WW2 history and more!
We end the trip by heading back to Chisinau and jumping on the train back to Bucharest together.
Pre-tour meeting with your YPT guide and other tour members in the hotel at 6:00pm
We’ll head out to a local restaurant for a welcome dinner and drinks before going over the tour plan and getting to know each other.
Overnight in Bucharest
Friday 6th May – Bucharest
Free time for breakfast before we check out and securely store our bags in the hotel.
We’ll then meet our local Romanian guide for a day tour of Ceausescu’s Bucharest! No trip to Romania would be worth its salt unless we went and looked at everything and anything Ceausescu related, the don of Eastern Bloc extreme. We will do a local walking tour, seeing all the must-see sites from “revolutionary” times such as the enormous Palace of the Parliament, see where the Communist regime went down in flames on the bullet riddled streets around Revolutionary Square, see the churches that avoided Communist destruction by being placed on wheels and slid across the city and much more.
Free afternoon in Bucharest to explore the city at your own pace. You can use this opportunity to wander the streets of the charming old town, visit the ruins of Dracula’s palace in the centre of the city, explore the flea market near the old Russian church, view a severed arm that is said to bring you luck in one of Bucharest’s most charming churches, or you can venture out of downtown to visit the infamous Spring Palace. It was here during the decades of Communist rule, that Nicolae Ceausescu and his family lived in luxury. Preserved by the military during the violent downfall of Communism in Romania, the house looks almost the same as when the dictator and his family were in power. Expect gold plated bathrooms, gifts from Chairman Mao, and opulence like you’ve never seen!
The station features many supermarkets, fast food establishments and convenience stores. Here we’ll stock up on supplies for the night.
At 7:15pm, we’ll meet our transport for the evening: a Soviet era sleeper train formerly in service in East Germany. We will share 4 to a cabin and the train will be lifted off its wheels during the night to change gauge. This was a Stalin era trick to prevent invasion from the West.
The train often has a very retro bar cart attached which is a great place to socialise and watch the sunset over the Romanian countryside.
Overnight on the train as we head to Chisinau, Moldova.
Saturday 7th May – Chisinau
We’ll arrive into Chisinau around 9am. You will now be in the capital of Europes least visited country!
After changing some local currency, we’ll walk around 10 minutes to our centrally located and very Soviet hotel. We will be staying at either the Hotel Chisinau or Hotel Cosmos depending on group size.
We will try and secure an early check in and catch up on some much needed rest before starting our city walking tour of Chisinau. We’ll visit the abandoned National Hotel, see one of the most stunning monasteries in the city which was thankfully spared destruction under Communism, see the infamous city prison which has been declared a breach of human rights amongst other things.
We’ll see the enormous World War II Memorial and climb some tanks and surface to air missiles at the Military Museum!
Visit the local flea market, great for antiques and Soviet kitsch!
Lunch at a local Soviet style canteen followed by a free afternoon to explore the capital city of Europe’s least visited country at your own pace. This is a great chance to visit the national museum of Moldova, walk out of town and see the brutalist architecture masterpiece that is the partially abandoned Chisinau city circus (also the first circus in the entire USSR), or you can explore the bustling Central Market which is a great opportunity for unique photography.
We’ll meet up in the evening for dinner and drinks in the evening at a local restaurant.
Overnight in Chisinau hotel
Sunday 8th May – Tiraspol
We grab breakfast and meet our local fixers who will take us into the war torn, breakaway state of Transnistria.
We transfer to Tiraspol, passing Russian border guards and KGB controls, then check into our Soviet era hotel.
We’ll then walk down the main street called October 25th street which has a billboard of former President Smirnoff: The warlord who turned president for almost twenty years. We’ll see the embassies of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the foreboding HQ of the infamous Sheriff organization and stop at a bookshop to pick up some Russian and Transnistrian nationalist paraphernalia, a mug with Putin or a fridge magnet of ICBMs firing across the atmosphere, why not?
We’ll then stop at the impressive House of the Soviets, built in Stalinist style with a large bust of Lenin outside.
We’ll mix with students at the Dolce Vita cafe, an inexpensive place with great buffet style food and the eatery of choice for students at nearby Tiraspol university.
We’ll then transfer to the other end of October 25th street to see the North Korean style statue of Russian General Suvorov. Surrounding it are the flags of Russia, Transnistria and the breakaway brotherhood states of Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia.
Have you picture taken in front of a giant crest of Transnistria featuring the hammer and sickle!
Visit Parliament, housing one of the biggest statues of Lenin outside Russia.
Visit the Eternal Flame Memorial complex dedicated to the Soviet-Afghan war, WW2 and the Transnistrian civil war. Check out the battle damaged T-34 monument to WW2, it’s permitted to climb on it and get an awesome photo.
We’ll then switch it up and board an old Soviet ferry without an engine and cross the Dniester river to see how the village people live across from Tiraspol. This is an area truly lost in the USSR!
We’ll visit a still functioning palace of culture with an enormous head of Lenin outside, pockmarked with Kalashnikov bullet holes after Moldovan troops symbolically executed him during the civil war.
We’ll then visit a stunning and completely self sufficient monastery complex that has to be seen to be believed. We know many of the priests there and sometimes they allow us to sample their incredible homemade wine, however, this is subject to whether the one priest with the key is available on the day.
We pay a visit to a local store which hasn’t changed since the USSR and still uses an abacus to calculate the total. Here we’ll stock up on $3 Kvint Cognac (One of the best Cognacs in the Soviet era), $1 Vodka and local smoked cheese.
We then head to a stunning viewpoint and Soviet obelisk that was one of the most brutal battlefields during WW2. In the Russian speaking world, it’s respect to the dead to raise a shot of Cognac or Vodka in their honour and we’ll do just that!
Return to Tiraspol and head for dinner at 7Fridays, a Tiraspol institution
Afterwards we can head to one of the countries few nightclubs and try our hand at Russian karaoke!
Overnight in Tiraspol
Monday 9th May – Victory Day! Transnistria
We grab breakfast and coffee to go from the local Sheriff supermarket before grabbing a good spot to watch the parade of one of the biggest days in the Russian calendar. Victory day!
Prepare to see the force of the Transnistrian military on display in front of you, street parties, tanks and a whole host of bizarre.
After the parade you’ll be given free time to explore and photograph the various celebrations in the city. Events are rather spontaneous and will be confirmed closer to the time, past events held WW2 re-enactments and civilian entry into the local Russian military base.
We will meet up at an assigned time to head to the second biggest city in Transnistria: Bender.
We will stop in the centre and see the cheapest outdoor market in Bender, complete with a full old world meat and spices market. It’s a perfect opportunity to buy anything you want at old world prices! We continue to the oldest church in Bender, where there are massive weddings every weekend. Right near the church, we view the City hall, still riddled with bullet holes from the Civil War! It was suppression fire against Transnistrian rebel snipers!
We continue to the old Soviet Theatre and Lenin Park! We can enter a fully refurbished Theatre, now used for modern movies.
We will then tour the “Ghost Train Station”, after the civil war almost no trains go there. However, they maintain it immaculately.
Also, we view a real WW2 Soviet Train and war memorial and walk on a high walkway overlooking the entire station!
Visit the old Soviet Amusement park on the Riverwalk! Still functioning we can ride the rides unchanged as they were in Soviet Times.
See the HQ of the Transnistria navy! Yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds!
Now we move on to a Tank Monument to the Civil War with Moldova and after this we have lunch at the Old Soviet themed Communal Café.
Visit an ancient Bulgarian village in PMR. Boasting a beautiful WW 2 monument and Soviet Cultural Centre with a fantastic Silver Lenin!
Afterwards, we will head to the old Soviet Red Army bunkers which go on for hundreds of Kilometres, they have never been mapped but we know the way inside!
Return to Tiraspol
Overnight in Tiraspol
Tuesday 10th May – Dubasari
After breakfast, we will hit the road and head to the city of Dnestrovsk in the South of the country. The city is home to a giant steel plant and the Kuchurgan power plant complete with an enormous Lenin head on the front. Based on a nearby lake is a Mad Max style fishing village built right out into the water using scrap metal from the steel plant, it really has to be seen to be believed.
We will then head North straddling the Ukrainian border and passing through towns occupied by smugglers who ferry contraband back and forth between Transnistria and Ukraine.
Stop at bunkers and trench lines left over from the Transnistrian civil war, we often still find bullet casings and Soviet military ration tins left in the grass.
We then stop in the city of Grigoriopol to view their Silver Lenin and Monument of Soviet Sorrow, plus we are the only tour group allowed to enter their old Soviet Library and take all the photos we wish.
Right after Grigoriopol we stop at a massive Tank Monument on a large hill overlooking the battlefields of WW2, with an old Soviet T-34 tank that was found in the Dniester River after the war.
We then go onto Transnistria’s third largest city Dubasari, where we visit a surreal place: A Hydroelectric Dam controlled by the Russia Army, with a Russian Tank at the front! Right beside it is a beautiful beach where locals sunbathe. We can discreetly take photos of the dam and the Soldiers/Tank.
If time and conditions permit we will also cross into a very isolated enclave that is still a part of Moldova. We must pass the Russian Soldiers to accomplish this and only YPT groups have permission. The village is an eerily quiet place featuring an impressive war monument, a bullet riddled town hall and a cool bar with cheap draught beer. You can pay in Transnistrian Ruble but your change will be given back in Moldovan Lei.
Visit the central monument to WW2 and the very isolated forgotten Soviet Music College that is still in Operation! It has a large and beautiful Lenin outside and a perfectly intact giant Soviet Emblem. If the Director is available he will happily take us on a private tour and organise a private concert of students just for us.
Dinner and overnight in Dubasari.
Wednesday 11th May – Tiraspol
After breakfast, we head North to the heavily industrial city of Rybnitsa.
On the way we’ll stop in the isolated village of Toshlick to view their intact Soviet Cultural center and monument, with a map of the front line as it was in 1943.
We stop at a fantastic overlook of the Dniester River, including one of the few small islands, with many local fishermen and locals having BBQ parties.
Now we are on our way to Rybnitsa, the third largest city in Transnistria.
We’ll head to the huge bronze Lenin statue and Cultural Center, including a fantastic Soviet Mural.
We then bid farewell to Transnistria as we head to one of the tour highlights: The isolated old Soviet Nuclear War Survival Bunker. There are 2 of them descending 13 floors underground.
First, we must cross the large Ribnita Bridge, protected by Russian Soldiers. We must pass through their checkpoints and into the Moldova DMZ.
We will stop at a Moldovan supermarket and stock up on local food and drinks before we head deep into wastelands and forests passing isolated villages time forgot, and we are free to stop anywhere along the way for photos. Then we reach our objective and start a drive down a military road built into the deep woods!
The car can only take us so far, so we will need to walk some of the way before we reach an innocuous flat area. This is a deception meant to fool enemies. We then spend a few hours exploring the 2 Bunkers.
We will enjoy our picnic of the roof of an abandoned, Pripyat style Soviet apartment block built for the workers on the bunker.
Head to Soroca, the gypsy capital of Transnistria and check into our hotel.
Overnight in Soroca.
Thursday 12th May – Chisinau
After breakfast, we do a tour of Soroca.
Our first stop will be the infamous ‘Gypsy Hill’, a Roma inhabited area filled with some of the craziest looking gypsy mansions you will ever see! Some are even mini replicas of the US Capitol Building.
We’ll tour Soroca Fortress, a historic medieval fortress dating from the days of Ștefan cel Mare which now looks over the river into Ukraine.
Straddling the Ukrainian border we’ll head to the Thanksgiving Candle, a hilltop monument and chapel with an amazing view of all of Soroca. A symbolic walk up the many stairs is an acknowledgement of these lands that suffered under many invaders. They fought bravely and managed to keep their language, their culture and traditions.
Lunch and a relaxed drive back to Chisinau for the 4:55pm night train back to Bucharest.