Wolodymyr the Dacia Duster in Tiraspol, Transnistria.
Our 10 countries in 10 days in a Dacia Logan epic journey was such successful with you BSCB readers that Dacia Romania agreed to lend me a Duster for 18 days in September 2019, nicely earlier than COVID-19 journey restrictions quickly put an finish to such travels. And I assumed what higher time than now to start out dreaming of future voyages with this new odyssey? Why the Duster? Simply as a result of, offered beneath the Renault, Dacia and Nissan manufacturers, it is likely one of the best-selling SUVs worldwide (#10 in 2019 with 413.000 units to be exact), and the 2nd most popular SUV in Europe. Last August, the Duster even peaked at a stunning 2nd European place overall under simply the VW Golf. That’s the very best rating ever hit by an SUV in Europe with the VW Tiguan which additionally ranked #2 one month earlier (July 2019). And final however not least, in keeping with BSCB knowledge the Duster can also be the preferred Renault Group automobile worldwide, toppling both the Sandero and Clio for 2019. If the Logan was the precursor to Dacia’s success in Western Europe, the Duster has managed to make its method in direction of the highest of the booming SUV section in lower than a decade. Given this take a look at drive occurred after Vance the Toyota RAV4, we’ll identify our Duster Wolodymir which is Ukrainian spelling for Vladimir – though my Ukrainian tour information had one thing to say about that as we’ll see in Part 2…
Our playground for this take a look at drive and Part 1 itinerary
Although exploring 10 nations in simply 10 days within the Balkans with the Dacia Logan was a problem, all-in-all “only” 4076 km (2530 mi) had been pushed over that itinerary. I wish to push it quite a bit additional with the Duster, with the nation depend nonetheless at 10 however a a lot larger journey in retailer. Like final yr, we begin from Dacia’s headquarters in Bucharest, Romania however this time the target is to journey into nations across the Black Sea in a huge loop of virtually 9000 km (5600 mi). First heading north to Moldova, Transnistria, Ukraine and Belarus, then south throughout the Black Sea and east to Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and at last west to Turkey, Bulgaria and again to Romania. Border crossing are positive to be quite a bit trickier throughout this journey and the Black Sea crossing can solely be achieved by way of a freight ferry that solely operates twice per week… Some enjoyable forward certainly. Our itinerary for Part 1 of this journey takes us from Bucharest via the japanese countryside of Romania, to the capital of Moldova Chisinau then to the mysterious and non-recognised “country” of Transnistria, an interesting Soviet time warp.
Suicidal Romanian roads and a cheerful Apple CarPlay shock within the Duster.
As it was already the case for the Logan last year, Dacia did issues nicely with the Duster I’m driving which is the high quality 1.5 dCi 110 4×4 Prestige. In France, it’s accessible for 19.550€ (US$ 21.200) which, though the very best doable value to pay for a Duster, continues to be extraordinarily affordable and leaves the nameplate with out true new SUV opponents in Europe, bar maybe the Suzuki Vitara. This variant provides auto air conditioning, rear view digicam and a contact display screen that includes GPS navigation throughout a for much longer checklist of nations than the Logan (even together with the Caribbean French island of… Martinique) however no Moldova! Thankfully, the Prestige variant additionally comes with Apple CarPlay so Google Maps it will likely be for all the journey. First impressions taking the wheel of the Duster in Bucharest: it does really feel love an SUV – not a automotive on stilts – and the automobile appears to me rather a lot bigger than I anticipated, in a great way. The sound system is excellent, and though the 6 velocity guide gearbox is nicely levelled – head and shoulders above the screaming Logan gearbox, the first and 2nd gears are a small abrupt and the automotive is a small pushy in fifth. As anticipated, the Romanian countryside options all generations of Dacia Logan together with fairly just a few 2004 first gens stored in pristine situation, in addition to a shocking quantity of Dokker vans. The Dacia Pickup (pictured above) can also be nicely represented. But the principle “attraction” of this a part of the world is a bizarre and intensely harmful 2 x 1.5 lane highway (pictured above), with most vehicles driving throughout the fitting lane and the embankment and overtaking ones launching themselves proper throughout the center marking within the hope nobody will come full frontal. It takes a little bit of getting used to to say the least.
Our Dacia Duster staying on the Hotel Dacia in Chisinau, Moldova. Of course.
After being requested for the “passport for my car” (aka inexperienced card insurance coverage and possession papers) by a smiling border officer who solely actually wished to inquire my opinion in regards to the new Duster, we are actually in Moldova, inhabitants 2.7 million. Part of the Principality of Moldavia for 500 years, this landlocked nation grew to become often known as Bessarabia in 1812 and has oscillated between Russian and Romanian rule over the next 180 years. The Russians dominated from 1812 to 1856, from 1878 to 1918 and from 1940 to 1991, and was a part of Romania from 1856 to 1878 and from 1919 to 1940 though disputed by Soviet Russia through the latter interval, earlier than declaring independence in 1991. The Dacia Logan has been the best-selling vehicle in Moldova for at least the past decade, however within the capital Chisinau I not often noticed any personal Logans, most of them being taxis. The Moldovan automotive park is very segmented, with nobody automotive standing out. Among new ones the Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage and Suzuki Vitara are comparatively frequent however I used to be shocked by the quantity of Audi, BMW and Mercedes latest used SUVs (pictured). The Lada Niva is overwhelming within the countryside. Everyone I used to be involved with in Chisinau was continuously smiling, from the lodge receptionist, to the restaurant waiters and repair station pump operators. Really nice to see. I couldn’t resist staying on the aptly named Hotel Dacia in Chisinau, and it didn’t disappoint by displaying all of the anticipated soviet touches together with elevator buttons that push in and noisily clang out once you attain your flooring. Where’s the KGB hiding?
Welcome to Transnistria, the nation that doesn’t actually exist.
Now to essentially the most fascinating part of our Part 1: Transnistria. Never heard of it? Don’t panic, I solely found it the evening earlier than driving via it because of the Lonely Planet… Transnistria, inhabitants 1/2 million, formally the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR) is a breakaway state in japanese Moldova between the river Dniester and the Ukrainian border. Transnistria has solely been recognised by three different principally non-recognised states: Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Artsakh, these 4 entities being post-Soviet “frozen conflict” zones. Don’t imagine me that this can be a completely different nation? Well anticipate it: the border crossing (pictured above) is actual, the extra highway tax I needed to pay on prime of the Moldovan one to spend 4 hours within the nation is very actual, there’s a native forex and the vehicles have completely different licence plates… What the heck occurred right here? After tensions between Moldova and the breakaway Transnistrian territory escalated right into a army battle in 1992, a ceasefire appointed a Joint Control Commission composed of Moldova, Transnistria and… Russia (not neighbouring Ukraine) to oversee safety preparations, however the territory’s political standing stays unresolved to at the present time. Transnistria is an unrecognised however de facto unbiased semi-presidential republic with its personal authorities, parliament, structure, flag, nationwide anthem, army, police, postal system, forex and automobile registration, and considers its beginning to be in 1990 (see above billboard).
Wolodymyr visits Transnistria.
In the border tax container-office, huge “Stop Corruption!” indicators encouraging “Dear travellers” to “immediately inform the Hotline in case of inducing to bribery by Pridnestrovian customs officers” are placated proper above the aforementioned officers. If you ask me, the necessary highway tax quantities to bribery because it turns into apparent as you drive in that not a single cent was ever spent sustaining the roads of this nation… Entering Transnistria is love travelling again in time to – what I assume would have been – the late Soviet Union, and driving via the capital Tiraspol is likely one of the strangest experiences I ever had. Time actually stopped in 1990, full with Soviet-style huge and seemingly empty buildings, outsized avenues and Lenine statues together with, as we’ll see under, the huge majority of the automotive park. It is the one nation on the earth nonetheless utilizing the hammer and sickle on its flag and these symbols are nonetheless quite common in Tiraspol. Everything is written in Cyrillic opposite to the remainder of Moldova, individuals gown and look love Russians that are the most important ethnic group within the nation (34%) – not Moldovans. In truth many Transnistrians even have Russian citizenship, but Transnistria isn’t recognised by Russia! Don’t ask. The first fundamental city I cross is Bender, and the one register English is “Sheriff” which I naively thought can be the Police Station however after seeing one at nearly each nook I realised that is the principle grocery store chain within the nation, but that is an insignia I wouldn’t by no means see once more throughout this complete journey.
Transnistria automotive park: a sea of Ladas, Moskvitch and Volgas and a… Tesla?
As was to be anticipated on this time-warped Soviet nation, Lada is the language each Transnistrian speaks, with legions of Zhiguli sedans of every of the previous 4 a long time swarming the town streets and a military of Niva 4×Four dominating the countryside. But that’s not all: the Moskvitch 2141 pictured atop the images above, launched in 1986, is a frequent sight as are the Moskvitch 2140 (1975), the GAZ Volga station wagon (1972) and most up-to-date sedan (1985) in addition to the UAZ Hunter (2002). I didn’t see any completely new automobiles through the time I visited, notably no Dacia Logan or Duster despite the fact that they’re the best-sellers in Moldova in 2019, however I did spot one Tesla Model S registered in Transnistria (pictured above)! Also widespread are Audi 80, 100 and BMW 5 Series from the eighties, probably imported from Germany by way of Albania (?). The most up-to-date automobiles I noticed had been a handful of Hyundai Genesis and Sonata such because the one pictured above, with the Tiraspol licence plate system having progressed to T 865 MX by September 2019. Travelling east in direction of the Ukrainian border, the poor highway situations resume with pot holes, moss and cracks: it does really feel love driving on an deserted highway. Where did my highway tax cash go? But as I already witnessed in the Logan last year, Dacia automobiles are made for unhealthy roads and I hardly discover any bump, a sworn statement to the Duster’s dealing with whereas the vehicles I overtake can solely slowly creep as much as keep away from to breaking beneath the staggered highway.
Next we go from unusual to stranger as we subsequent go to Chernobyl in Ukraine… Stay tuned!