Have you ever heard of a country that is not a country? Have your expat travels ever taken you to a place called Transnistria? To my shame I must admit I didn’t learn about Transnistria until I moved to Moldova earlier this year.
Recently on a culture, food and wine tour (see more about this here), I had the opportunity to visit the region with a small group of tour operators and travel agents. Transnistria is often called a country that is not a country because officially the region is part of the Republic of Moldova, but the Transnistrians don’t recognize this. They declared their independence in 1990 which resulted in a two-year civil war that ended with a cease fire, but no official country status.
Just the same, Transnistria set up a border where you have to show your passport and fill out a form. The ten of us arrived at said border, filled out forms and handed over our passports which were examined by dour looking uniformed officials of a certain Soviet-looking vintage.
While waiting for the rest of our group to be processed, I noticed one of us was missing.
“Where’s Christina?” I asked another tour mate.
“In the bushes.”
With all the armed men around, none of whom looked filled with loving-kindness, it seemed a bit risky to head for the bushes at a border post (official or not), but I’d spotted no building with signs indicating there were any proper facilities for people with full bladders. Since I was in need of such a place I decided to inquire. I carefully approached one of Transnistria’s finest.
“Twalet?” I asked in my best Russian, which consists of four words (yes, no, thank you, toilet).
He waved at the bushes.
Okay, fine. I took off into the direction he had pointed and noticed hidden in the greenery a ramshackle outhouse affair.
From behind it now appeared our lost tour mate.
“Don’t go in there,” she warned. “Just go behind.”
Needing no further explanation, I heeded her advice. Much as I may feel for the Transnistrians and their plight, I’m thinking they might perhaps have made the entry to their territory a tad more welcoming, but who am I to judge. I’m a foreigner and a guest in their country.
So, why go to Transnistria, you ask?
Brandy! World famous Kvint brandy. Actually, they call it cognac, which they shouldn’t because only the stuff brewed in the Cognac region of France has the legal right to call their brandy Cognac. (See, I know my stuff!)
Okay, there’s a bit more than a brandy factory to see in Transnistria. Such as the ruin of an ancient fort, now being restored, which is interesting for historians and ruin aficionados. Terrible tourist that I am, what I found most interesting in the small museum that is part of the complex, was the present-day locals hanging out there. The museum sports larger-than-life replicas of various soldiers who fought in an assortment of wars, upheavals, conflicts, combats and hostilities in the area. And what was fun was watching a group of giggly college students draping themselves in various sexy poses up against these brave dead men and having their pictures taken by their friends. So I took one as well. Then they talked to us, practicing their English, which was also fun.
After cruising the ruins we drove to Tiraspol, the capital. A sort of nostalgia about the old Russian empire hangs over the place and a statue of Lenin still reigns in the center along with other monuments and statues.
Since it was one in the afternoon, and we were all thirsty and starving, it seemed like a good time to hit the bottle. Off we went to the Kvint cognac factory for a tasting. And some food. A good thing, since we were given seven different brandies to sip.
I must admit here that brandy and I have never developed a romance. When on occasion I do find myself getting intimate with brandy, it is always an unsatisfactory experience, not smooth at all, but involving a sensation of liquid fire running down my throat and the fear of being poisoned. I intended to approach this brandy degustation as a sort of therapy session to see if there was something to salvage in our relationship.
And yes! I found this session most informative, fascinating and intoxicating. I actually was able to taste the differences and acquired a smidgen of appreciation. So there is hope for brandy and me, and possibly Cognac as well. For further encouragement, Kvint was most generous and gave us all a goody bag with three small bottles of brandy of different ages. So brandy and I can continue our relationship, careful sip by careful sip. You never know where it might lead to.
And how did the day continue? We staggered back on the bus in high spirits, drove across the border that is not a border and south to the beautiful Purcari winery, where we had – what else – a wine tasting. A degustation of ten, I repeat ten, wines. Not just any old village plonk, either. No! We got to sip the wine of kings, queens and tsars. http://www.celestialwineandspirits.com/
We had a lovely dinner, with more fabulous wine. And somehow we managed to find our beds, also provided by Purcari, in beautiful rooms on their lovely estate. Very convenient. After a day of tasting seven brandies and ten wines, you don’t want to have your bed to be too far off. Our livers got a workout that day, but more was waiting for us the next day when we visited two more wineries, but I’m going to have mercy on you and quit this tale here.
Enough is enough.
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Any good wine or brandy stories, anyone? Sure you do! Probably better than mine, so confess!