Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Visiting the Breakaway Territory of Transnistria

Few travellers have heard of let alone take the time to cross into Transnistria. Officially part of Moldova, the breakaway territory claimed independence in the early 90s and is now only recognised by fellow breakaway territories. It has a reputation as a wild, Soviet loving nation with a penchant for bribes but is that what you'll really find once you pass through the military border?

Most visitors travel to Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria, on a day trip from Chisinau in Moldova and a few stop by from Odessa in Ukraine. Few travellers take the time to spend a few days in Transnistria and in doing so are missing out on a unique experience in Europe. Passing through the military controlled border is easy. No visas are needed and only a small fee is required by those driving into the country. Along with Tiraspol there is plenty to see including the town of Bender and a day trip to see a beautiful monastery rarely visited by tourists. We spent 3 days in Transnistria and it wasn't nearly enough to see everything I would have like to have seen.

The fact is, if you do something wrong in Transnistria, if you break the law, then you can usually resolve the problem with a bribe. We committed a minor traffic offence shortly after entering the country and the police immediately took the opportunity to solicit a bribe. We most likely could have forced them to give us an official ticket but it was honestly easier to pay a small bribe and move on. Paying a bribe is usually the most efficient way out of a situation. Later when leaving the country it came to our attention that we hadn't registered with the police as we required. Again that was our own fault and instead of having to return to Tiraspol to rectify the situation they let us out of the country after paying a small 'fee'. So yes, bribes are fairly common in Transnistria but officials are going to randomly solicit bribes, you'll only have to pay one if you're in the wrong.

So once you're in the country and any bribes and paid and done with, what exactly is there to do in Transnistria? You can start by checking out all the Lenin statues. They seem to be everywhere. Unlike in the rest of Eastern Europe, statues of Lenin have not been pulled down. Not only do they remain but the people love him and what he stands for. Many of the locals would like to unite with Russia and they currently enjoy a close relationship with them. Transnistrians are Russians after all. The people are not Moldovan and do not related the Moldovan society or culture which is part of the reason they would like to be independent.

Tiraspol doesn't have many sights as such so when visiting the country I recommend spending most of your time wandering are the centre of town, taking in the Soviet era monuments, tanks, parks and pretty Orthodox churches. Then try some local cuisine which is a melange of Russian and Moldovan cuisine which should be washed down with plenty of vodka. That basically rounds up the things to do in Transnistria.

In summary, Transnistria is a fun, unusual place to visit. It's once of the easiest Russian speaking nations to visit and probably the only Soviet era loving nation in the world. My only other tip is to avoid staying at Tim's Tiraspol Hostel and book your accommodation via Booking.com instead.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Destination Europe

Aussie in France is no more!

I can now be found at Destination Europe.

Stop by some time...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Amazing Race

I am a bit of a sucker for reality shows and can't resist watching crappy shows like America's Next Top Model, The Bachelor, and The Apprentice.

There haven't been many shows on during the summer although I have been watching the latest season of Project Runway which has been going for a couple of months. This is season 5 but is the first time I've watched it. I'm kinda liking it.

My favourite, favourite reality show is The Amazing Race. The new season is starting this Sunday and I can't wait to watch it. It's on CBS but I probably won't be able to watch it live as I think it'll be on during the middle of the night Paris time. So I guess I'll have to download it on Monday.

Hopefully some other good shows will be starting again soon too.

Poor Paris

Sometimes I forget that not all of Paris is as wealthy and beautiful as the 16th where I live. I spend most of my time in the 16th or in central Paris such as around the Bon Marche, Le Marais or around the Opera, where you'll find the most amazing architecture, wide boulevards, and beautiful parks.

Yesterday I headed to the markets at Porte de Clignancourt to pick up a cheap pair of Converse to replace my battered old pair. I've been to the markets before but not for quite some time. The area is pretty filthy, even by Parisian standards, and the suburb of Saint Ouen is full of your typical ghetto type apartment blocks. Not so nice.

After getting lost in Saint Ouen we walked towards Montmartre and le Sacre Coeur and then on to the Grands Boulevards where I had a run in with a nasty waiter who refused to give me directions to the nearest bank.

I also crossed paths there with the guy from the gym who is the sosie of Said Taghmaoui. He gave ma a dirty look then headed off with his friend only to then start following and chatting up a beautiful girl he passed in the street, who was way out of his league, even though he knew F and I were watching him.

As if we hadn't walked enough we then continued on to see the Opera house, Palais Royal, le Louvre, Musee d'Orsay, and then finally took the metro home. Exhausted.

It was incredible to see the neighbourhoods change as we moved from the periphery towards the centre of Paris. It was like two different worlds.

It's been ages since F and I have spent an afternoon walking around Paris and even though my feet were killing me after the 5 hour trek it was well worth it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Journées Européennes du Patrimoine

The journées européennes du patrimoine is an annual event where government and historical buildings are opened to the public. It's a great opportunity to check out some of the amazing architecture around the country and especially in Paris.

Last year I just happened to be passing by the Sorbonne when I saw it was open. It was great being able to look around such a grand old building.

This year I was walking past the OECD building in the 16th when one of the guards told me I could enter if I wanted to. Why not? The tour was conducted by a fellow Aussie and we got to see the OECD conference rooms and the beautiful Chateau de la Muette.

Interesting facts:

  • The OECD is international territory meaning I left France for an hour or so.
  • In the conference rooms, each country is represented around the table alphabetically, except for the Benelux countries. Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg are BFF and like to sit together.
  • The original chateau was used be Louis IV and Marie Antoinette for their honeymoon.
  • The current Chateau de la Muette was built in the 20s.
  • The chateau was used by the Gestapo during World War II.
  • The newest section of the OECD building was designed by IM Pei - the same guy who did the Louvre pyramid.

Not so interesting facts:

  • The Aussie guy who did the tour lives about 50m down the road from me.
  • I met my Greek neighbour for the first time that evening and she works as a diplomat for the OECD.
  • My spell checker thinks Pei is incorrect and should be either Penis or Peeing.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


For so many years, I've wanted to visit Munich. I'd seen it on travel shows and read about it in books and I was convinced it was the most beautiful city in Germany. Alas, that is not the case.

I spent 4 nights in Munich, just before the start of Oktoberfest, and was underwhelmed with what I saw. I knew before hand that Munich is big on beer but I didn't realise just how much. It seemed everyone was drinking 1 litre jugs of beer from the early morning to late at night. I did have one myself, just to give it a try, for fun, but I'm really not the least bit interested in drinking beer.

As for the food, meh. The problem with German food is that the menu consists of 99% pork and 1% beef. F and I don't eat pork and I don't like beef so eating in a local/traditional Germany restaurant was out for us. We ate mainly Italian and Spanish which was fine but nothing special.

I've always loved the berliners and cream cakes in Germany but aside from one amazing deep fried pasty shop, I didn't like any of the sweets they had on offer. That shop is definitely worth visiting if you are planning on going to Munich. Visit Cafe Frischhut, 8 Pralat-Zistl Strasse, near the Viktualienmarkt where they deep fry doughnuts and other pastries right before your eyes and you can sit and eat them warm, sprinkled with sugar.

Walking around siteseeing was a little boring. There are lots of beautiful parks in Munich and some pretty squares but it just didn't hit the spot for me.

Before returning to Paris we spent 2 nights in Stuttgart in the very nice Arcotel. 125 euros a night for a 5 star luxury hotel definitely cheered me up, along with my favourite Kase Sahne Torte.

The trip was a nice break though as I hadn't been anyway since early June and I hadn't seen F for more than 2 months. He'd spent most of the summer in Albania, taking care of some family business, so it was great to finally spend some time with him - even though it wasn't long before he started annoying me again.

Sugar Free

Finally Monop et al are stocking sugar free Red Bull. About time! In Germany last week I saw they had the extra large cans of Red Bull as well as Red Bull Cola (which was disgusting). I'm sure we'll get those here in 6 months.

I know how ridiculous it is to eat healthily and to stick to eating organic fruit and veges, only to wash it all down with the poison that is Red Bull/soft drink, but I can't resist. At least I don't drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or do drugs. That's something.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

On Parle Francais ici

One of my gym friends has been pushing me to do the cycling (spinning) class with her and last night I finally caved in. I was reluctant because I did it once before in Australia and was sore for about a week after! I swore I'd never do it again. Never say never I guess.

So I got to the class early and the prof explained how to set up the bike. I hadn't done any classes with this guy before and as soon as he realised that I'm not French, he started speaking to me in English.

Just before the class started he said to the whole class how he was going to speak in both French and English during the class - just for me! I was pretty embarrassed and it was completely unnecessary as I do understand perfectly but it was nice of him to try to help me out.

What I didn't expect was the looks of outrage on half the people in the class. They we're like, 'no, pourquoi' and one stupid cow said, 'on est en France, on parle francais ici!'. It didn't really bother me at the time so I just said to him to speak in French and he did for the most part.

Thinking about it after, I got really pissed off. He was just trying to be nice, to include me, and she was being a bitch about it. It's not like she said it as a joke, she was seriously annoyed.

Yeah, we are in France and I should speak French and I do speak French, albeit not very well. But what seemed to escape her is that he was being nice. Some people seem to have forgotten what that means.

As for the class, it was great. It wasn't as difficult as I remembered. I'm obviously much fitter now than I was then. I'll be doing it again for sure.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Celebrity Spotting in Paris

You'd think living in a city like Paris you'd see celebrities all over the place. I've lived here for 3 years and can't say I've seen anyone of interest, not of interest to me at least. Of course, I don't exactly live in the coolest quartier in Paris or go to any trendy bars or cafes so that could explain a few things.

I did see Thierry Ardisson last year walking down, funnily enough, rue du Faubourg St Honore. Does he count as a celebrity? Not really.

During Roland Garros earlier this year I saw Marcos Baghdatis walking down the Champs Elysees after a bit of a shopping spree. Well, not really a shopping spree but he was carrying a shopping bag. Fnac, maybe? Sephora?

There were also a couple of well known tennis players training at my gym during the tournament (I live just down the road from the stadium). I assume they were well known (Brazilian I think) because people asked for their autograph. Is it not weird for a grown man to ask another grown man for his autograph?

I keep thinking one of the regulars at my gym is Said Taghmaoui. It's not but he sure does look like him. Shame because I love him!

Earlier this week I saw Benjamin Castaldi in my hood and all I can say is that he's surprisingly short. Again, not much of a celebrity.

But yesterday, I think, although not at all sure, I saw Lenny Kravitz in the Marais. I did a quick search and it seems he does spend a bit of time in Paris and is possibly here at the moment - so it must have been him. I'm not a fan though so, bleh.

All in all, that's some B rate celebrity spotting.