The Carpathian Mountains make a broad loop through Romania between its two northernmost regions, Maramureș and Moldavia.
Tradition is of real importance here traditional houses, traditional ways of farming, and most of all traditional dress. (Click any photo to enlarge.)
Carrying on east through wheat and sunflower fields, I crossed the Prut river to Europe’s least-known country, Moldova.
Moldovans look enviously towards Europe, except in two strange enclaves called Gagauzia and Transnistria.
Gagauzians have an Ottoman background, and speak a language similar to Turkish. The Moldovan government has cleverly allowed them to be an autonomous region within Moldova.
Transnistrians look to Russia, and after a short but vicious war in 1992 they angrily seized independence and have since been in a state of frozen conflict ‘a country that doesn’t exist’.
Transnistria has a government, an army, a flag, banknotes and stamps none of which are recognised by any other country.
Mr Putin and Mr Lenin seem to pop up everywhere. This may be a clue to how Transnistrians see their future.
The capital Tiraspol reminded me of the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
‘I love Tiraspol’ looks fine till you see what’s behind.
A friend called Natasha Jueva said “We’d really prefer to be part of Russia. That way we could live as normal people again.”
But Natasha knows her wish can’t come true without sparking off a terrible conflict with Moldova, and ultimately with NATO.
After talking to people in Odessa and Kiev, I’ll carry on in August to eastern Ukraine, where I suspect things may be much more tense.