London to where? Trasnistria? Where the…?
Never heard of it I hear you say! Well, that’s because it doesn’t technically exist.
I just survived a trip to the breakaway separatists of the Tranistrian Republic, somewhere in the no man’s land between Moldova and Ukraine, and with Christmas just around the corner, and the first part of my epic overland adventure drawing to a close, I thought I’d give all you avid readers a solid update on where The Travel Tramp Journey has taken me so far, and how successful I’ve been visiting nations which don’t exist.
Almost 3 months- well, 10 weeks if you want me to factually pedantic- after leaving England behind in a spray of sea salt and seagulls, I’ve travelled roughly 4000 miles in a ridiculously circuitous route from the United Kingdom to Moldova. And the final stop before Christmas? Just a casually short side trip -only 15 hours on a train- to Kiev, for a Ukrainian special. I’m treating myself to a day out in the Exclusion Zone, and a lovely jaunt through the radioactive wasteland of Chernobyl.
I’ve crossed seas by ferry, tackled entire countries on high speed trains in a matter of hours in Western Europe, and then spent hours travelling on rickety Soviet era trains to cover barely any distance at all- I’m looking at you Moldova. Buses, cars, trains, bikes, boats and even tractors have all been utilised thoroughly for the purpose of transport on this trip.
In the Channel Islands, I visited Europe’s last remaining medieval fiefdom- Sark. Ancient and weird laws abound, no one drives cars- only tractors or bicycles- and the locals inhabitants of what is possibly one of the UK’s most isolated and archaic community thrashed me in a round of pub quiz.
Then the mad rush across Europe began, as I smashed it to Luxembourg, Cologne, then Prague, Bratislava and Vienna in a matter of days, trying to see as many places in the meagre time my inter rail ticket allowed. French turned to German, then German turned to Czech, while all the time I ate an inordinate quantity of Bratwursts, Currywurst and Schnitzels and explored underground nuclear bunkers.
I had a bath in Budapest, went to the beach in Belgrade and escaped a room of zombies in Zagreb. In the Balkans I drank Rakija, learnt about Tito and saw cities scarred by war. Sarajevo gave me coffee and I found that the safest place in a minefield is on the bobsleigh track.
I tried to find Liberland in Serbia, the first stop on my list of countries which don’t exist, but I was told everyone had gone home for Christmas. It was only October then. I guess nation building is tough work though. At the same time I saw refugees trying to find their own new nations, filling the trains to Croatia and camping along the border.
The Balkans were beautiful, and I travelled from Split to Kotor, with a Games of Thrones throwback in Dubrovnik along the way, and I found the mountains of Montenegro to be, well, mountainous.
I saw a man walk a bear down the street in Albania and then I crossed into Kosovo, the first country which doesn’t really exist that I actually managed to visit on the trip. These guys weren’t on holiday. Except when it was Albanian Independence day, then they rioted.
In Pristina, I chilled with Bill Clinton, and then from Kosovo I saw the statues of Skopje. Giant, giant statues.
Then I entered Sofia. The capital of Bulgaria of course, and soon after found myself in the land of Romania. People had spoken Serbian, then Albanian, and maybe some Russian here and there along the way, but in Bucharest Latin was in the air. And I got to see the world’s largest parliament building. It was big. Bloody big.
I got a 1950’s Soviet train to Moldova, where they also spoke Romanian, and where the border guards asked me if I had any guns or narcotics in my bag. I’m not sure I would say yes if I did. Then I nervously crossed the border to Tranistria. Moldova claims they don’t exist. But they do. I’ve seen them. They all speak Russian and I got the feeling that the days of the Soviet Union were the glory days for these chaps. They even have a statue of Lenin outside the parliament. And a tank next to the Christmas tree. I was a little bit annoyed that I didn’t have to bribe their KGB border guards to escape though. It was almost too easy.
What have I learned from all this? That everyone in Europe is the same really. They’ve all tried to kill each other at some point. I think though, that if people were simply allowed to live in what ever country they wanted to, under whatever flag they felt best, it might just be a better world.