The driver and passengers on the rickety bus taking us across the demarcation line are garrulous and friendly. As we get to the Russian-controlled checkpoints the chattering comes to an abrupt halt as our passports are taken away, and then quickly returned. But then the conversations liven up again. In between sarcastic jibes about curious tourists visiting the breakaway Soviet-style enclave, the graying driver insists we visit the Tighina or Bender Fortress, a well-preserved former garrison built by the Ottoman empire in the 16th century, a relic of a previous occupation of Moldova.
Others insist that the smattering of foreign visitors among the day labourers and commuters aboard the bus simply must visit Transnistria’s other sights: the monuments, monasteries and covered marketplaces of the breakaway region, the sprawling Soviet-style squares and ancient fortresses.
But as we enter Transnistria and make our way into the capital city of Tiraspol, the capital of this region of Moldova recognised as a country only by other rogue Russian-dominated enclaves, the most striking and prevalent presence along the wide boulevards are the billboards and subsidiaries of a small obscure private firm that seems to be everywhere: the Sheriff Company.
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