You might have read my hotel and hostel reviews and wondered is that all I ever do, apart from the odd night camping. But it’s not, I’ve had countless homestays down the years in places like Ta Van (Vietnam), Montevideo (Uruguay), Tarjrish (Iran), Stepanakert (Nagorno Karabakh) and Mizra (Israel). The sad thing is I haven’t written about enough of them – the reason being I am sitting here now with a book of my travel blog posts I still have to write, and it’s up to 1,300 untold articles to date, so I better get a move on. What better place to start than the obscure city of Tiraspol. Tiraspol? Where is it? It’s the capital city of Transnistria. Transnistria itself an enigma and no doubt some of you will not have heard of this country (yet will pretend you had).
Transnistria is worth a trip – it’s a modern day homage to the USSR. A self declared Republic which has it’s own currency, it’s own passports, visas, borders, stamps, police, bank and beer. It’s a fascinating place.
Tourist wise, unless you want to be flashy, you have two main options as a backpacker for somewhere to stay:
OK so my first hunch was Hostels – and luckily there is a great hostel here, run by Timo, the only American in town! This is the Tiraspol Hostel on Karl Marx Street in town. But for a change, I went for the homestay option which meant I would meet my contact and host, Ilya, at the main bus or train station on arrival in Tiraspol and head to his flat to enjoy local hospitality and a cosy night in the capital city. Rather than do a usual “top 5 bla bla bla”, here’s a quick overview of my excellent homestay experience in the Balka district of Tiraspol, Transnistria.
Arranging a Homestay
Guess what everyone? I’m happy to announce that if you are travelling to Transnistria, it is easy to arrange a homestay with my host and friend, Ilya. Simply e-mail Ilya in advance and he will sort you out. (ilya-gondabesku at ya.ru) If he is busy and you can’t stay with him, he will defintely sort you out. Timo at Tiraspol Hostel has helped Transistria to be backpacker friendly and you can also contact him direct about homestays if you don’t fancy a night in the hostel. The hostel has some cool perks including free Vodka at night and a free guided tour of the city.
Getting to Balka
Once you have crossed the border into Transnistria from Moldova, you will head to the capital city, which is Tiraspol. Tiraspol’s main train station and bus station are together which helps with orientation. In most cases, your guide (most likely Ilya or Timo) will help by coming to collect you at the station, just email them with arrival time and use a phone too if you carry one.
Failing that, get a map printed and jot down the address in Russian as well as English and you’ll be all set. From the main station to the Balka area of the city, it’s a number 3 mini-bus which costs 3.5 Transnistrian Roubles (you can swap money from USD, Euros, Moldovan Lei, Romanian Lei, Russian Roubles almost everywhere in town including the rail station, shops, banks and even some supermarkets). When I arrived, Ilya met me and took me to his place himself so things were smooth and easy.
We get off the number 3 mini-bus and after a short walk in the rain, we arrive at his flat. He’s on the top floor of what I would class as an old school Soviet style building. Nothing classy or fancy, but everything raw, real and happy. A textbook place to spend a night.
Let’s be honest – if you’ve travelled this far, you’re here for the experience and the joys of travel and culture, not the f##ckin 4 star hospitality of a posh hotel. Then again, I’ll bust your illusions here. This homestay with Ilya was better than a 4 star hotel for the sheer experience and madness of it all…OK top 5 it is as it does seem easier 😉
1. Hot shower – had a great hot shower on arrival. Don’t let these cold winters have you feeling dirty, not even in dark, forgotten Tiraspol 😉
2. Home cooked meal – if you’ve ever wondered what home cooked food in Transnistria is like, then this homestay is the place to try it. You’ll probably need to email in advance telling Ilya you would like to eat here too, and pay towards the cost of course, but believe me – when you sit down to eat, you will love the basic tastiness of it all.
Tea, potatoes, vegetables, fish and a beer afterwards. Top notch. Great welcome meal to Tiraspol. Incidentally if you do stay with Ilya, just email him with “I want what Jonny ate and can I have a local Transistrian beer too please?” and he’ll sort you out.
3. Direct Internet Access
Instead of wi-fi in Ilya, I had a cable direct to my laptop with easy and fast direct internet access. Perfect for blogging and letting my Facebook page followers know what it was now like to have arrived in Transnistria!
4. Local Neighbourhood
I loved the fact I was staying in the city centre of Tiraspol and could explore the local neighbourhood. In fact it was just incredible seeing how life really is here in Tiraspol and it’s pretty damn good. Within a 5 minute walk, I visited all of the following, taking photos on the way:
– Local Bar
– Local Cafe
– Local Park
– Local Aeroplane War Memorial
– Local 24 Hour Supermarket
– Local Currency Exchange
– Local Off Licence By the Famous Kvint
5. Local Experience and Tour
Really I have to stress the importance of having a contact in Transnistria before you visit. It can be really really dificult to get by if you’re a lonely backpacker here. There are no maps, postcards and certainly no tourist information board to help you out. Having Ilya as my contact and friend was just inspiring.
It meant he could show me the sights of the city in his own time and I got to see and experience how local people here in Tiraspol live.
City tours can only be organised through your homestay, Hostel Tiraspol and if you’re here on tour with YPT you can get a 5% Discount by quoting Don’t Stop Living (I totally recommend Young Pioneer Tours – the same company I went to North Korea with in 2013).
I should also add, I had my own cosy room and bed for the night and also had my own free time to walk around. But having the homestay experience with Ilya was so rewarding and I pity anyone who ever travels to Transnistria woithout contacting a local first, so what are you waiting for!? Fire an e-mail to Timo or Ilya and get sorted for a homestay and a trip of a lifetime.
Timo/Tiraspol Hostel – tiraspolhostel (at) gmail.com
Ilya/ The Homestay – ilya-gondabesku (at) ya.ru
Tiraspol and Transnistria awaits you!!
Here are some videos from my time staying in Tiraspol, Transnistria: