11 Countries in 11 Months: World Race
Countries Discussed: Ukraine, Romania, Moldova, & Transnistria
The last leg of my journey around the world landed me in Eastern Europe. This fascinating region of the world consists of Gypsies to unrecognized countries (Transnistria). I spent just over 3 months exploring the region and here are some lessons that I learned along the way.
Lesson: The mood towards Americans has shifted a lot over the past 20 years.
Experience: I met up with an American that has lived in Ukraine for 20 years. He took some time to explain to me the growing distaste that Ukrainians have for Americans. When this man first arrive in Ukraine (early 90s), he recalled being treated as a celebrity. Everyone wanted to be around him and everyone wanted to learn English so that they could be like Americans. This gentleman explained to me that the current sentiment towards Americans is one of disdain and boredom. I experienced this first hand while trying to engage with locals at the university in L'viv and on the streets of Kiev. Many of them snubbed their noses at me and acted as though they were much cooler than me. This really didn't bother me to much, but it was something that I had not experienced in any of the other countries I visited. It took me off guard, to say the least. All this said, the people that would talk with me were very friendly and I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in this beautiful country.
Lesson: Never let the taxi driver turn off the meter.
Experience: Five of us were traveling in two separate taxis from the train station to our hostel in Bucharest, Romania. I was in the taxi traveling in the back. Early on in our trip, the driver reached over and turned off the meter. He explained (in broken English) that the taxi in front of us was keeping up the meter and that he would just double it to cover his car. I was immediately wary of being scammed. Upon arriving at our hostel, I got in a 10 minutes argument with the driver over the price of the journey when he tried to demand the equivalent of $20 for the ride that should have cost us around $5. Having just come off a 12 hour overnight train ride, I was not in the best state of mind and did not think to get the hostel staff involved so that we could get it down to a reasonable price. That's a bonus lesson for you: always get your hostel/hotel staff involved as they will make sure you are not being cheated. I ended up paying the two taxis something between $5-20 after I started to want a nice bed more than winning the argument.
Lesson: For an unrecognized country, Transnistria sure does operate like a sovereign land.
Experience: This was by far the most unique "country" I visited on my journey around the world. The border crossing from Moldova to Transnistria did not involve stamping my passport, but it was one of the most heavily guarded borders I have ever encountered. Once across the border (which was guarded by what appeared to be Russian troops), my whole team felt like they had stepped back in time to the Soviet era. Dark gloomy buildings, tall grey statues of leaders on horseback, big archways across the road, and mysterious government buildings cluttered the landscape. But beyond all this, there was a feeling of suspicion and oppression that seemed to fill the air. Transnistria is a "country" that is only recognized as a country by 4 other unrecognized countries. They are actively supported by Russia, which does not allow Moldova to just absorb it, as the "country" is within the recognized borders of Moldova. Transnistria is full of corruption, from its political system right down to the many smuggling businesses that are maintained by its people.
In each country I visited, there was much beauty to be seen and amazing experiences to be had. I would gladly travel back to any of these countries and hope that when you decide to take your next trip into one of these regions, the lessons I learned will help you to better experience the countries beauty and culture.