Not Edited Yet #17 — Practice

The second stop in my four-day hitchhiking journey to Potcoava Mountain Hideaway was the town of Onești, Romania.

My host Silviu was a rather inspiring character — he didn’t say much, and most of what he did say would come in small collected bits such as what you will hear at the end of that day’s clarinet practice — that’s enough, isn’t it?


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Not Edited Yet #16 — 7Km out of L’viv

Fair enough — i did know where we were after all — just outside L’viv, walking towards the spot where our hitchhiking ordeal to Chernivtsi that day would begin!

That was the first day of my hitchhiking journey to Potcoava Mountain Hideaway, a horseback riding resort on the foot of the Carpathians in Romania, where i spent a month as a helpx volunteer.


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Not Edited Yet #14 — Downhill in Moldova!

Moldova is a hilly country, which makes cycle touring through the country strenuous — and lots of fun!

I apologize to any of my multiverse counterparts who may have been injured or killed during the shooting of this video.


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Not Edited Yet #13 — More Cycling in Tiraspol!

A bit more cycling in Tiraspol, from my pleasantly uneventful time in Transnistria in May ’17 on my way by bicycle from Odessa to Chișinău.

This was actually my very first video experiment with my then recently acquired action camera — i learned pretty quickly that helmet mounts don’t yield the best angles :-p


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Not Edited Yet #12 — Cycling in Tiraspol

Tiraspol must have been the most pleasant city to cycle in and out of — it has so little traffic that it almost feels like a village! — but with much smoother roads 😀

I had a pleasantly uneventful time in Tiraspol, through which i passed with my bicycle in May ’17 on my way from Odessa to Chișinău. You may read the full account of my three days in Transnistria here.


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Not Edited Yet #11 — Ukrainian “Roads”

Let me spare you the euphemism — the roads in Ukraine suck catastrophically most of the time — they’re worse than in Romania — possibly even Moldova!

But why rush on a cycle tour? — i had a great time in the Odessa Oblast, where i traveled by bicycle in May ’17 along the Danube and the Black Sea.


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Not Edited Yet #10 — Rapeseed Fields Forever!

One of my favorite parts of cycling in Spring is the rapeseed fields — though some of them might be canola — i cannot tell the difference :p

This was shot in April ’17 in the Romanian countryside during my latest cycle tour, the North Cape Hypothesis.


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What May a Full-Time Traveler’s Vacation Look Like?

My wife and i have recently returned from our “honeymoon,” which was implemented in the course of about four months hitchhiking together across Europe and around Brazil. After such an extended period of time so close together, we both agreed each deserved a couple of weeks on their own. I decided that hanging out with my friend Fuji at his annual midsommar getaway was the perfect opportunity for that!

I’d joined him and his friends in Sweden both Summers before — the first time in 2016, after a 13 Km walk from the nearest train station, and the second time by bicycle, during my latest cycle tour last Summer.

What would be my dramatic arrival this time!?

Circumstances favored hitchhiking — they decided to rent a cabin in Estonian countryside this time, some 1,300 Km away from my current abode in L’viv, Ukraine but not requiring any ferry crossings — i didn’t have the time to cycle tour, or the money (or desire) to travel by other means 😀

still apprehensive about leaving

The prospect of leaving was no doubt exciting, as it is always the case — i was going to visit a friend i love spending time with, in a country i’d never been to before, and had been curious about since putting it on my map a couple of years before. I would also be traveling solo for the first time in a while, calling all the shots, and having nobody else but the crazy people inside my head to argue with about my decisions!

On the other hand, those four months hitchhiking with my wife throughout Europe and Brazil left me feeling quite worn down by the process. I consider myself an introvert, and the amount of socializing the hitchhiking process demanded from me was something i wanted some distance from — especially in contrast with the amount of alone time i get while cycle touring! I was also apprehensive about the unknown — i felt i could deal with it much better when i was cycle touring, which gives me a little more flexibility with regards to what and how much to carry, as well as where to go in order to address my problems along the way.

Despite having a place to stay in Estonia, i’d surely have to spend at least one night on the road to cover those 1,300 Km plus one controlled border crossing separating me from my destination — that would still have been the case even if i activated one of my connections in Lublin. It would have likely been easy to find hosts along my way in Poland, Lithuania or Latvia through hospitality networks such as Couchsurfing or Trustroots, but having such a goal for the day was one of the greatest sources of social stress during my honeymoon with my wife — more often than not, that required us to hitchhike nonstop to a late arrival at our host’s, followed by an early departure next day in the morning, for yet another whole day hitchhiking, thus reiterating the vicious cycle.

No — if i’m going to hitchhike to Estonia, then i’ll go “cycle touring style” — self-sufficient, process over product, and in real need for help only to find a place to set camp for the night, whenever and wherever i decide to call it a day!

With a little bit of creativity and not so many concessions at all, i somehow managed to fit everything i needed, including my hammock-camping gear, a stove and enough food for half a week, plus my tree-climbing gear into my 32-liter backpack.

And off i went!

on the marshrutka to the ring road circumscribing L’viv, where i’d start hitchhiking

I have so much confidence in this minimalistic setup that i’m sharing the details in a forthcoming blog post. I’m very happy about it — it would have likely been sufficient for me to remain on the road indefinitely — perhaps one day i’ll try some sort of ‘around the world in 80 days’ stunt, even if just for the fun of it.

the rides

Indeed, having a complete camping/cooking set, and not having a pre-determined goal for the day did make the process a lot easier to accept. I didn’t linger, but nevertheless took my time eating my meals and snacking — i stopped to look for a place to sleep when i felt like it, and where it was most convenient, not where i had to — even the occasional 2-hour wait was handled without much despair, joyfully surrendering to music, dancing and air guitar — the long walks were welcome breaks for introspection in between socializing with drivers, and i sometimes gladly took them even if they were avoidable.

With some drivers the language barrier didn’t allow for the conversation to go very deep, even though i’m still impressed with how much i can already communicate not only in Ukrainian but also in Polish, a language that had always read and sounded ferociously cryptic to me, and Russian! It seems like most drivers help for the mere pleasure and/or duty of helping, just because they can — wouldn’t you? — don’t we all? A few others thank me for the company, and seem to enjoy the stimulus from the occasional unpredictable conversation with an interesting stranger — many used to hitchhike when they were younger.

One driver picked me up because his wife saw me when she drove by and called him on the phone, “your car is empty, take him.” Another guy gave me a ride because that’s what he always does, even if it’s for just another 10 Km. Filip, who had already traveled and explored some of the world in other ways, had always wanted to hitchhike — he has just returned from his first hitchhiking trip, with a friend from Athens, Greece back to their homes in Lublin, Poland. I was the first hitchhiker he ever picked up — to inspire and help someone to take their last step to do something they had already wanted to is the core of what i want with Not Mad Yet!

Filip and his friend Michał, upon crossing into Macedonia

Special thanks to Agnieszka, Andrzej and Marcin, who turned back to pick me up!

Agnieszka, Andrzej, Marcin and i, when they dropped me off

These three jolly paramedics were returning, full of energy, from a course they were ministering at the border — they gave me not only a ride but also about a liter of beer, traditional Polish food, an emergency blanket, and a tube of fast carbs.

my first creep!

Pro-tip: beware rides that feel too eagerly offered — especially when you’re tired!

I’ve taken more than 200 rides across over 17,000 Km in 17 countries in this life, and i was probably pretty close to the point where it seemed like nothing bad could ever happen to me — and nothing ‘bad’ has ever happened to me yet — it was just uncomfortable this time — a reminder to remain alert and not to get cocky nonetheless.

After several hours trying to unsuccessfully hitchhike northward from Białystok, about 5 Km of walking, and climbing over a fence with my heavy backpack, i found myself very tired somewhere, where my prospects of finding a ride seemed no better. It was close to dawn, and i was debating whether i should simply call it a day and start looking for a place to get water and set camp, thus postponing the problem of finding a ride out of there to the day after, when a car pulled over on the opposite side of the road and asked me where i was going.

I said, “to Estonia.” The driver then told me he was going to Augustów, which was in my desired direction — although i thought that was a bit strange, i hopped in — maybe that was simply the first opportunity for him to take a u-turn? He did indeed turn back north towards Augustów — after swinging by a gas station to fill up his tank and buy a pack of condoms!

You must now be wondering how the hell i know he’d bought condoms — i first thought that bright purple box he took out of his pocket and placed on the dashboard, clearly wanting me to witness the event, was bubble gum — i was a tad sleepy and even considered asking him for some. He then started telling me about the prostitutes along the road, and asking me if i like sex — “excuse me?” — “sex” — “wait, what, why do you want to know!?” — “you don’t like sex?” His impertinence was accompanied by suggestive gestures, which at one point included picking up the box of condoms and shaking it at me — no need for bubble gum, i’m wide awake now!

The language barrier made it difficult to parse his exact intentions, but none of the possibilities in my model stood out as better than the others — how to deal with this?

I referred to the women hitchhiking solo i’d heard and read sharing such experiences, which seem to be an unfortunate component of the process for many (if not all) of them, including my wife — not every unpleasant situation carries the immediate danger of physical harm. Keeping my calm while trying not to let it fade into weakness, i continued talking to the guy while carefully scanning and sensing the environment. I eventually judged his advances as in fact far more naïve and socially inept than ill-intentioned. While my first few indirect dismissals in broken Ukrainian/Polish/Russian didn’t seem to have a lingering effect, he did stop after i typed into the translator on my phone, “PLEASE STOP TALKING ABOUT THAT. NOW!!” and showed it to him — he then switched to much less controversial topics such as the monument marking the alleged geographical center of Europe in the town of Suchowola. Upon dropping me off at the next gas station, he noticed the car right next to us had Estonian license plates implying that’s where they might be headed, and kindly suggested that i go talk to them.

Although he told me he lives in Augustów, which was another few kilometers further down the road, he pulled back towards where we’d come from — presumably looking for a prostitute to satisfy his needs, which he might be unable to negotiate otherwise? Honestly, i feel a bit sorry for the guy.

truck drivers are the best

I’m not sure why i don’t have any pictures of the truck drivers who helped me so much on this trip. Many of the truck drivers who helped my wife and i in Brazil told me that they could get in serious trouble if their bosses found out they were giving rides to hitchhikers. I guess that made it my underlying assumption hitchhiking in Eastern Europe as well? The language barrier made me reluctant to try and explain to them how i might use their photos on my blog, but next time i will!

Anyways.

People often ask me about them — in Brazil, we grow up exposed to a fair amount of prejudice towards truck drivers. I’d started shifting that perspective while cycle touring already, when i noticed truck drivers seemed to give me far more space when overtaking than most private car drivers — truckers on occasion even came to a full stop behind me if the road was too narrow. I didn’t need much more of their help other than their awareness of me while i was cycle touring, but the friendly and hospitable encounters at rest stops and gas stations gradually added up as well.

I’ve only had to find a place to set up my hammock in two of the four nights i spent on the road on my way from L’viv to Estonia and back — the other two nights i was offered the bunk in their cabin, where i slept safely and comfortably — not to mention the food they treated me with!

where else did i sleep?

So, i had a place to stay with my friends in Estonia, and i spent two of my four nights on the road in my truck driver’s cabin.

The other two nights i slept on my hammock — once “wild camping” in Tallinn somewhere i learned next morning seems to be a place where drug addicts hang out, and the other time on the backyard of Grzegorz and his uncle, whose name i didn’t write and now escapes me:

I was positively surprised to find out that something i’d gotten used to while cycle touring seems still quite possible while hitchhiking — skinny dips! Indeed, i had an option to bathe every single night on the road, whether it was a lake, a river, the Baltic Sea, or the shower for truckers at a rest stop.

and how was Estonia?

Oh, yeah, right — that’s where i was going!

We probably hear as much about the Baltic states growing up in Brazil as people growing up in Europe hear about the Guianas. As far as Estonia itself goes, i didn’t have many expectations about the country — a place with not many people, somewhat remote, perhaps with a few Russian sprinkles? As i said before, i was curious about it — but without feeling much of the need to “experience Estonia” in any particular way other than whatever came my way. And although any trip is for me yet another opportunity to experiment with travel methods and practices, push the boundaries of my comfort zone further out, and do some budget travel research, this was “vacation” with friends — i didn’t look for anything special to do there, or anybody else to meet.

Walking with my friend and his dog Zelda, i got to see a bit of the Estonian countryside, where there’s more intense and reckless traffic than i would have expected, and also a tour of a big chunk of Tallinn, where my attention was especially drawn to how the various generations of ancient and modern coexist in the city’s architecture.

Other than that, playing it by ear was the way to go — drinking beer, cooking, watching the world cup, playing boardgames, sauna, sharing YouTube videos from the quintessential to the awe-inspiring, tree-climbing, busking, helping my friends with my driving skills, watching a rehearsal of my friend Fuji’s visual spa, attending a performance of Omeulmad 2 (in which his partner worked as a producer), riding a bicycle in Tallinn, hiding a geocache, taking photos, writing on my journal and recording 20+ minutes of video logs, picking up trash from my campsite in Tallinn — that was quite enough 🙂

With the exception of ‘finishing reading a book,’ which took me an extra few days after coming back, i did everything i had “planed” to do in Estonia — plus and a lot and unexpected more.

Everybody should know what they travel for — for someone who essentially lives on the road, ‘traveling’ might as well mean ‘having a place to rest’ 🙂

What’s next?

Three other articles of a more tutorial nature are also coming out as a result of those couple of weeks on the road to Estonia and back — one describing my minimalistic hitchhiking (plus tree-climbing) kit, another one sharing how i hitchhike, and a third one contrasting it to cycle touring. Going forward i plan to write and share more such ‘how-to’ pieces for cycle touring and hitchhiking, as well as life in general, in addition to the more emotional accounts of my experience on the road such as this one.

After what could be construed as roughly two uninterrupted years on the road since i left by bicycle from Copenhagen to Istanbul in Fall ’16, it’s time to settle a little longer before my next epic enterprise. There is still much to be processed from my previous projects — i first wanted to say a few words about what i’ve been up to during those four or five months the blog was silent, but i plan to resume writing about the North Cape Hypothesis and All Roads Lead to Rom…ania, as well as my three months in Brazil with my wife and our journey hitchhiking across Europe, tree-climbing, and whatever else comes up!

Stay tuned!


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You may find more adventure inspiration in my chronicles and trelograms, where i share my current emotions in reaction to recent experiences. You may also browse for concrete, tested cycle touring, hitchhiking or general advice — just follow the links to read more 🙂

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Trelograms #8 — Is It Really Broken, or You’re Just Gonna Need to Walk Instead?

I might not have stopped to take pictures had it been in operation — especially not inside.

I might not have been able to walk on the left — even though i didn’t.

I might have been in a bigger rush.

I might have had a happier life.

I might not have had a happier life.


On the photo: Gara de Nord, Bucharest (November ’17)


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Trelograms is a series of short inspirational and/or inquisitive reads written in counterpoint to my chronicles and concrete travel advice on cycle touring, hitchhiking or in general. The series title is a word play between ‘telegram’ and ‘trélos’ (Greek for ‘mad’). Follow the links to read more, and sign up for the Not Mad Yet mailing list to be notified when new articles go live and get other updates


TNCH #4 — Nothing So Sinister about Transnistria

Country #4 in the North Cape Hypothesis, #17 on a bicycle — which country is it though? — my passport now has an exit stamp from Ukraine, but no entry stamp — what does any of that even mean?

Transnistria might have been the first place i’ve ever visited just a couple of weeks after first hearing about it. When i was still in Bucharest, preparing to leave on my bicycle towards Odessa and beginning to think about my route back to Ukraine through Moldova afterwards, my host Paul warned me, pointing to a map on their wall, “there has been some tension around this area.” A couple of days later, in Galați, i learned from my host Dan, who had been to Transnistria about ten years before, that the issues i might face had a somewhat different nature — i was not so much to expect the danger from an ongoing civil war as the unwritten rules of a breakaway state in an administrative limbo. Another couple of days later came my next host Yuriy, in Izmail, and that, too, went largely away — “I have friends there, I visit often myself, you won’t have any problems.”

In Odessa i then met Nastasia — “where are you from?” — “Tiraspol” — “Transnistria!?” — “oh, you know about it!” — “i’m going there!!” My initial reservation about what and how much to ask her wound up being totally uncalled for — she was delighted to share her experience growing up in Transnistria, and i was fascinated by her astute observations.

Still a bit apprehensive, but as prepared for what may develop as one could possibly be (and now also rightfully excited) i left Odessa loving my life like few times before.

very first impressions

On the border they first offered me only a 10-hour transit visa, as expected. But then i told them that i would like to stay longer — “do you have a hotel reservation?” — “i’m going to stay with a friend” — i gave them the address of my host in Tiraspol, and i now had a 24-hour visa, which i thought would be more than enough for me to figure out what to do. The customs officer was friendly and polite, and it went just like it does most of the time, with all the standard questions about my overarching objective and what they might find in my luggage — “personal items and camping gear” — “OK, safe travels.”

The first thing i noticed upon entering Transnistria were the roads, which were impeccable — quite a blessing after about a month in Romania and Ukraine, where road quality oscillates between bad and worse. It was the first place where i noticed the three-lane system, which i thought to be a rather clever concept — drivers in either direction use their respective right lanes, and the middle one is just for overtaking. Traffic was very mild anyways throughout the whole of Transnistria in general and Tiraspol in particular, which certainly helps a lot to keep the roads in good condition. Either way, i was grateful for the blessing — Tiraspol was by far the most pleasant city arrival of my entire cycle touring career to date — it felt much like arriving in a typical countryside village, except perhaps for the buildings and underlying infrastructure.

My host was in the other end of town, and it was close to dawn, so i slowed down but didn’t stop — we’ll do more sightseeing before leaving tomorrow. Two guys in a car paired with me, slowing me further down — it gets harder and harder keep my balance while talking to them, so we eventually all stop. It takes a little while until another car stops behind them and becomes impatient enough to start honking their horn. They start moving again, and pull into a small lot further down the road. I don’t remember whether or not it was clear that they did so expecting me to stop also and resume our conversation, but so i did — i hadn’t yet been able to find an open Wi-Fi connection, and needed help contacting my host. They offered to lead the way there, and i agreed to follow.
A rather warm welcome so far — diligent border officers, good roads, friendly locals!

the most interesting boring place on Earth

My host in Tiraspol, was a rather chilled guy, and we seemed to have quite a lot in common despite our diametrically opposed political leanings. I believe the best way to summarize it is that we seem to share a strong desire for the most uneventful possible existence — if i understand it correctly, he grew up in the capital of his home country (like me), was educated in the US (like me), set up a reasonable source of passive income and retirement security (working on that), then wound up in Tiraspol, where he figured he would be able to live a good enough life without too much of a hassle (precisely what i believe i found in L’viv). We parted ways on his apparent nostalgic feelings for Soviet times — though i will say that our conversations have at least made me revisit some questions for which i had thought i already had the best answers — what is/should be the role of government in our self-actualization? — to what extent do conducive circumstances for that hinge upon the underlying political context? — might Western democracies have simply created the illusion of freedom for their citizens at the expense of the reality of limitation of freedom for those outside their borders? — it doesn’t seem like many people under even the best-functioning representative democracies around have fully bought into such illusion anyways.

Vitaly helped me register so i could stay longer in Tiraspol, an opportunity i gladly welcomed. The procedure takes a bit of time from you and your host, but it’s otherwise quite straightforward — there were no lines, and i don’t believe the clerk even ever looked at me — she just seemed a bit irked from having to fill out (by hand) yet another handful of forms with the relevant pieces of information from our respective passports. They didn’t seem to care about how long i stayed, so long as that amounted to a number of days smaller than or equal to 45 — i asked for three days, they gave me a week — word has it that one could in principle keep re-registering for rows of 45 days indefinitely, and the only institution that could potentially have a problem with that is the government of Moldova — which i heard in turn rarely makes a big deal out of it either.
A great opportunity to experience more of the place — meet more chilled, friendly people, and engage with them in innocent activities ranging from having a weekday picnic in the park to attending a screening of Latvian cartoons,

venturing (by bicycle) out of Tiraspol, sampling the first layer of villages away from the city, only to experience the same flavor of countryside hospitality as anywhere else i’d been, and also across the Dniester River and into the nearby city of Bendery,

play with my recently acquired action camera,

and drink a fair amount of kvas, to which i got hopelessly hooked, and hoped i’d be able to continue finding throughout the former Soviet world.

They have their own money (Transnistrian rubles), which at present can only be bought and sold in Transnistria. It has some of the most interesting features of any currency i’d ever seen — this includes but is not limited to plastic coins (in different geometric shapes, not just the round one shown in the picture), and an actual photograph on the back of their 5 Transnistrian rubles bill!

I’m surprised nobody has found the person on the photo and made them a celebrity-for-15-minutes yet.

no red flags at all?

Sure. There are notable symbols of Soviet pride all over the place, such as well kept statues of Lenin, or the hammer and sickle in their flag.

In hindsight, i honestly have no idea what to make out of that.
A friend of mine reacted, seemingly upset, that they still use the hammer and sickle on their flag when i shared a photo of my arrival in Tiraspol on my FB wall. It turns out she’s from Denmark, which is ironically one of the many countries to still have a cross on their flag!

Apparently, symbols can be quite robust — ideologies, on the other hand, i’m not so sure anymore — while the church in Denmark has gradually become a cultural relic, with their buildings hosting an ever increasing proportion of avant-garde jazz recitals over religious services, Transnistria seemed to be, for better or worse, a free market society where it would not be difficult for a foreigner to come in and start their own business, as my host in Tiraspol had just done.

I don’t travel to discuss politics.

very first expressions

Incidentally, Tiraspol was where i started feeling an urge to stay longer than just a few days at the same place. Was it their quiet that i needed? Perhaps that urge was a reaction to the initial institutional restriction on how long i could stay? Or did the restriction simply draw my attention to something that in practice had already been the case all along?

I travel following and relying largely on the hospitality of locals. So, at least practically, my stay just about anywhere has also been constrained to the few nights my hosts have agreed to have me in their home — with a few notable exceptions, longer stays usually come with the expectation that you’ll work for them in return — may we call that a “working visa”? There’s no free will in this Universe — there are conservation law manifolds at best — we’re all stuck in a metaphorical elevator.

Walking down the street with my host Vitaly and his friend Ol’a, i noticed a language center — what if i found a place to teach English for a few months somewhere in the world? I figured walking in to ask wouldn’t hurt, and was encouraged by their openness to having someone from outside teaching English there — they heard my English, found my story interesting, and it seems like it would have been mostly a matter of working out the underlying paperwork — to my surprise, the possibility of just doing it as a visitor and getting paid under the table was never implied.

It was the cordial Natal’ja, from the Tourist Information Center in Tiraspol, who connected me with the folks at the language center.

I don’t remember whether i understood them to be connected with each other, or if simply first walked into the tourist information center by mistake. I told Natal’ja that i’d stop by when i came back for my appointment at the language center, and we ended up talking for quite a while. I was impressed with their resourcefulness, especially after hearing that they had only opened one week before. There was a variety of pamphlets and brochures describing suggested activities in and outside of Tiraspol, about most of which Natalja was prepared to talk at length. Their postcards and fridge magnets were simple and tasteful. They clearly want people from outside to visit.

go for it!

The gist of this is that my time in Tiraspol was about as uneventful as it could have possibly been — whether or not you consider that to be a good thing, nothing much happened there. Sure, i have not tried dancing naked on top of the tank in the WWII memorial in Tiraspol, or else testing the limits of Transnistrian authorities’ agreeability in any other stupid way. I minded my own business, and they minded theirs — whatever it is. In contrast, just before the beginning of this cycle tour, i was briefly detained and interviewed by the police right in front of the house where i’d lived for the previous two years in Copenhagen, Denmark — presumably for walking back from the train station at a leisurely pace while checking my phone.

So, are you nearby and considering whether or not to visit Transnistria? My only regret is not staying longer and exploring more of their countryside — next time 😀


All the content i create is made available to all, and for free. If you find value in it, then please consider becoming a recurring donor — it is the best way to help me continue doing it! You may also find alternate ways to contribute on the support tab.

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This article is the fourth one in a series about how my expectations and prejudices about each country i visited during the North Cape Hypothesis (my latest cycle touring project) have been challenged by my actual experience in them. You may read the first three about SerbiaRomania, and my first time in Ukraine by following the links!