A Soviet Holdover and Tastings GaloreTuesday, September 27, 2011
Moldova and Transnistria
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Next on the itinerary: New Year's Jazz in Italy
Snaking along the Istria river is a remnant of communist rule, the skinny Republic of Transnistria, 30 km. long and 5 wide.
We'd never attempt visiting on our own, since it's quite an involved process. Cultural Romtour has obtained the necessary permission, and Victoria patiently shepherds our minibus through the lengthy border patrol process.
We hand over our passports, wait to receive individual visas (the passports are not stamped - this country is not recognized by most of the world), half of which the patrol keeps, the other half we retain to turn in upon departure." Be SURE to hold on to this visa, Victoria cautions. "You will not be able to exit the country without it!" The bus driver has to complete a separate registration, and pay 40 euros with his assurance that he will not drive more than 40 kilometers, and will exit the Republic within three hours.
Our guide, Alexander, a young Transnistrian police officer, joins us on the bus, and we're on our way. Victoria has cautioned us not to ask any controversial questions, so we're all on our best behavior. We're also warned to ask about taking photos since there are places where that is not allowed, and we would all be detained if one person took a photo in an unauthorized place.
The ancient military fortress in Bender, originally constructed in the 1500's by the Ottoman ruler Suleiman's architect, still stands proud today. It was used as a rocket base for the Soviet Union, and only in 2008 was part of it opened to the city. Our guide tells us that we should consider ourselves lucky, since we are some of the very first foreigners allowed to see it.
The recently opened museum inside the wall shows the many nationalities that have ruled from the fortress, such as the Ottomans after their conquest of the area centuries ago.
A high school group is visiting the site, and is fascinated by we foreigners. The designated English speaker of a giggling group of girls haltingly asks where I'm from, what I think of Transnistria, and why we're here. "Do you know Hollywood?" one wants to know. "Yes, I respond, "I grew up in California." "Oh, excitedly, "do you know Paris Hilton?" "No." Are you a star? "No" again. "Well, you talk cool."
Kirk had noticed a very Soviet looking façade as we drove up to the fortress and asked if we could take a photo on the way out. Alexander agreed, but as we and others snapped our photos, concerned guards came out of the building. Oh no, will be be detained? Whew... just cautioned.
Transnistria used to be a part of Moldova, but preferred to stay a communist republic after the liberation of Moldova. Their flag and coat of arms still show the importance of Moldova to the Soviet state... it was a major breadbasket for the republics.
This heroic horseman was the founder of the city of Tiraspol, the capital.
The Sheriff emblem blazes from super- markets, car dealerships, gas stations, and more. It is a monopoly owned by a relative of the current President.
The park boasts the obligatory Lenin statue
and bag-laden shoppers chat on their way home.
Alexander points out the tank enthroned in front of an Orthodox temple, "This is the tank that won World War II for the Soviets".
We spend a cognac-soaked hour in the kVint factory, also now owned by the Sheriff group, where, after a tour of the facility we're treated to a tasting/lunch.
Silver, china, and crystal await us in the dining room.
Although the liqueur is made like cognac, it can not be called cognac since that name is only allowed for the French brandy. I've never had SIX cognacs for lunch before... actually have never had ANY for lunch. Just a sip of each is enough for me!
My favorite is the ten year old that tastes like a boozy crême brulée.
We doze on the drive back to Moldova, crossing the border at a different place, handing in our carefully saved visas, and in a couple of hours pull into the Purcari Winery, where we'll be spending the night after a wine tasting and dinner.
We've heard a lot about Purcari wines, renowned in ages past alongside the famed wines of France, and found on the tables of Queens and Kings throughout Europe. Then came Soviet rule, when thousands of acres of wines were torn up and land was used for other crops.
Once again, excellent wine is being produced on the gently rolling hills of Purcari, and this is a serious tasting, we see... a chart for tasting notes, and an array of glasses artistically set out at each place.
The winemaker talks us through whites, a rosé, and an assortment of reds. Let's see.... six tastings at lunch, and ten before dinner. I'm glad we just have to walk up the stairs and down the hall to reach our beds!