Can you imagine living in a city which speaks with two completely different languages, pay with two currencies and when you walk your dog, you will pass signs with the warning „Caution! crossing national border“ I recently visited such a city.
Wikipedia says this:
These two cities, which were previously one continuous city were in 1920 divided to the Estonian Valga with an area of 16.5 km square and the Latvian War with 14.2 kilometers square.
I got to Valga by train from Tartu one Sunday morning . The journey took one hour and 29 minutes and for a one-way student I paid 2.50Euros . The time in train has passed very quickly, since it was the 1st December and big clumps of snow began to fall . Train raced through dense forests and birch groves and I was enjoying this white spectacular view. We arrived to Valga at 11:30am , and train remained there standing till 6pm on the way to Tallinn, which is almost 5 hour journey across flat Estonia . I believe that this frequency of connections is here only on Sundays and holidays. On the other hand , Estonia has a highly developed network of bus routes and this Sunday left 7 buses to Tallinn. The first departed in the morning at 6:30am and the last one at 6om . It is very easy to get to the Estonian capital from Valga in less than five hours , but since half of the city is in Latvia , it is close to Riga as well . Bus trip takes just over two hours and it’s very interesting route Saint Petersburg – Tartu – Valga – Riga . I traveled this route pretty often and the bus is full of Russians, who fly to Europe, especially from the airport in Riga. The airport in Saint Petersburg is much more expensive . This long bus route is operated by two companies, Ecolines ( cheaper alternative ) and LuxExpress with large comfortable buses with Wi-Fi , newspapers and coffee / chocolate for free.
The train arrived on time, exactly at 11:33 local time. I put my jacket, scarf, hat and gloves. I set up myself for the first contact with the cold and snow this year and exited the train. The first thing that I noticed was awesome silence. Compared with the Tartu what is the second largest city in Estonia, Valga was an oasis of calm. Maybe it was due to the fact, that it was Sunday. After an hour and half in the train I had to go to the toilet, so I headed straight from the platform to the station building. It was a big white building with a sloping roof, huge wooden doors, low windows, which were also made of wood. In Estonia, there are a large number of wooden houses today. However, the station building was closed so I aimed it to the closest tree.
By the army of white flakes I got into the center of town . The center is very small . It is one street with alleys of trees and sidewalks in the center. On the sides are shops, restaurants and a few cafes . Overnight stay would be really enough. The population density is also not very large. There are mixed Latvians with Estonians . Valga is a small town where you can dine cheaply . The only tourists there are those, who pass between Riga and Tallinn and Saint Petersburg, I guess . The names of some streets are bilingual. But it is not Estonian and Latvian . It’s Estonian and Russian. In fact this hasn’t surprised me because sometimes I think, that in Estonia there are more Russians than in Russia itself . I slowly approached the border and passed board with the words “ Läti Vabariik “ which says the Republic of Latvia begins right here. And it was. Without notice , you are no longer in Estonia but in Latvia. The only thing that will alert you, that you have just crossed the state border is a high pole with black striping and lettering Latvia .
In Latvian part of this town called „Valka“ it is not very different. You just pay here with Latvian currency (till January 2014) and speak Latvian. Near the border is a bus station where you can get a bus to nearby towns and especially to Riga. I had a couple of Latvian coins from my last visit of this country in my pocket, so I spent it in the market on „kohuke“. I must admit that the Latvian „kohuke“ tasted a lot better, was bigger and more creamier. It is a typical delicacy Baltic – Cheesecake bar with different flavors. I highly recommend it to try! One kohuke costs an average of 0.30 cents and has a brilliant taste.
In Latvian part there is a very nice recreational area and even the hill (!). I was happy because the last hill I saw was from the plane somewhere over Norway during a flight from Oslo to Tallinn. Yes, Estonia and even Latvia are very flat countries. Public parks in Estonia and Latvia are maintained and most of them are renovated. They have a network of trails from wood, which looks very aesthetic and have less impact on the environment and its devastation. Defines where to move, what is valued especially in protected areas.
I ever wanted to be at two places at once , so I stood at the border with one foot in Estonia and and one in Latvia. After small sighteeing I decided to have a coffee, but to my unhappiness on Sunday afternoon, in both cities it is not granted. I had less than two hours to the departure of train back to Tartu so I decided to stop by in only one open restaurant in the whole town. Something in the style of a Thai restaurant and that was the last thing I wanted, to eat in a forgotten Estonian- Latvian town in the Thai restaurant. Why the hell Thai? But I did not have a choice and I felt pretty cold. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised , the atmosphere inside quickly reminded me where I am. English speechless staff looked at me like „who the hell you are“. I got an excellent Russian Soljanka with olives inside. I do not know whether Soljanka should contain olives, because I assume that the olive tree does not grow in Russia , but it tasted good.
Later it was a time to come back to Tartu. The train station was closed, of course, and outside it was getting dark. I stood there, cold and thinking about the city I just visited.
Valga or Valka is a small town that definitely worth a one day visit. People live here their slow life, all of them – Latvians, Estonians and Russians, and you never know who you just met. From this place, it is almost as close to Riga as to Tallinn. You can get right to Saint Petersburg from here and in fact, it is really close to Belarus. When you ever have way around, be sure to stop.
Milan Bardún 2013