Lithuania Has Many Unique Ways to Enjoy Visits During the Pandemic
By Sierra DeWalt
From a large painting of pink soup to a pop-up beach in the center of the city, Vilnius, Lithuania has been actively improving life for Lithuanians and tourists alike. Hot air balloons soar into the sky and the largest dreamcatcher can be found in the forest.
Far from letting COVID-19 beat them, Lithuania has thought of creative ways to improve the situation. Here is a taste of what is new and exciting in Lithuania this summer.
Eco-tourism is on the rise all over the world as environmental awareness grows. Due to its beautiful and spacious forests, Lithuania has a growing amount of eco-tourism and is promoting itself to the world as a natural destination.
The forest is the perfect setting for the popular activities of forest bathing, dragonfly-watching, and herb-picking. These activities are common in Lithuania, as herbal teas are used as natural remedies and dragonflies are tagged the way butterflies are in other countries.
Lithuania’s Forest Bathing
Forest bathing (also called shinrin-yoku) is a Japanese custom where a person walks slowly through the forest, using all five senses. The practice is believed to help with focus, physical and mental health, and restoration of the spirit. Forest bathing is particularly important to Lithuanians.
“Historically and culturally, the woods meant a great deal to Lithuanians, not just because it was a source of food products and other materials, but it also symbolized the love of nature and country, as well as the freedom fights during the Soviet era,” says Gintarė Stakėnaitė from Travel Lithuania. “To this day Lithuanians spend a great deal of time in the woods — mushrooming, berry-picking, picnicking, taking walks or runs.”
To experience even more woodland magic, you can explore the forest dunes and the forest gramophone. Sand slopes decorate the trees in South-East Lithuania. In Western Lithuania, a giant gramophone echoes the music of the forest when you sit inside this wooden creation.
When traveling to Lithuania, you may be surprised by a painting of pink soup in the Vilnius airport. This šaltibarščiai soup is one of the most popular summer foods in Lithuania.
A cold pink beetroot soup, this dish inspired the airport installation, which is titled “Discover colors you never knew existed.”
Tourists can take a selfie as if they are in a bowl of cold pink soup. Gintarė Stakėnaitė explains, “The idea behind it was to invite tourists to come to Lithuania for the colors they have not experienced so far.”
Other unique Lithuanian colors include Baltic blue, rye bread black, deep forest green, and Vilnius rooftop red. For a proper introduction to these colors, watch this video.
Vilnius’ Open Beach
In Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital, a man-made beach has become one of the city’s biggest attractions. Since summer travel to other countries has been limited by the pandemic, Vilnius created its own beach for city residents. Mayor Remigijus Šimašius decided, “If people of Vilnius cannot go to the sea, then the sea will come to Vilnius.”
And it certainly has. Three-hundred cubic meters of sand were brought to Lukiškių Square in Vilnius, along with beach sounds, a Telia brand TV for movie nights under the stars, and lounge chairs. But this beach has not come without controversy.
A Bloody Past
Lukiškių Square has a bloody past. Lithuanian insurgents were executed and hung by the order of Tsarist Russian leader Mikhail Muravyov in the 1860s. During the Soviet rule, the square had a monument for Vladimir Lenin.
Some Lithuanians, including President Gitanas Nausėda, believe that the Open Beach does not properly commemorate the freedom fighters who lost their lives. Others, however, think that the beach does not detract from the square’s historical significance.
Go Vilnius Director Inga Romanovskiene states “Open Beach represents a view that the best way to honor history is by enjoying the freedom which has been won by our ancestors, by dedicating public spaces of the city for creating and sharing joy.”
“Vacation in Vilnius” Weekends
Vilnius residents and visitors also get to have an international summer experience with the new “Vacation in Vilnius” weekends.
Every second weekend has a theme of a particular country and the activities for the weekend stay true to the theme.
The first weekend was Italy themed and included Vespas for people to drive around, Italian food, music, and even a Venetian carnival-inspired performance.
Flamenco and Spain
Another weekend had a Spain theme and offered a flamenco performance, film screenings, street food, Zumba, salsa lessons, and even Spanish lessons. Most of the activities are completely free of charge.
“Thanks to this project, Lithuanian tourists may experience global travel without leaving their home country,” says Romanovskiene. “This project is also very important for the local travel industry — restaurants, hotels, tourist guides, and others. It helps to have more local clients this year when due to the pandemic there are fewer international tourists in the city.”
The Italian weekend brought hundreds of people to Vilnius to enjoy the cultural immersion. Other themed weekends are inspired by India, France, Germany, the U.S.A., and Japan.
Measures Against Coronavirus
Despite the parties and festivities, Vilnius has pandemic safety measures in place. During their period of quarantine, information about COVID-19 was spread by drones, money was raised for medical equipment, and groups of volunteers formed.
Two of these are Gedimino Legionas (Gediminas Legion), named after the founder of Vilnius, and the national volunteer coordination center Strong Together.
“The most important restriction allowing to maintain a small number of COVID-19 cases is border control,” says Gintarė Stakėnaitė. “The list of countries from which the tourists can or cannot arrive is constantly updated.”
People from countries where the incidence rate in the departure country is below 16 can travel to Lithuania with no self-isolation. Travelers and returning Lithuanian citizens where the incidence rate is above 16 must quarantine for 14 days.
The incidence of infection in Lithuania is very low: only 5.7 cases per 1,000,000 population.
Hot Air Balloon Welcome
Due to their low numbers of COVID-19, Lithuania (and Vilnius in particular) is considered one of the safest travel destinations in the world. Celebrating this, hot air balloons flew in the sky to welcome visitors. Why hot air balloons?
“Hot air balloons have been a trademark of Vilnius tourism, as Vilnius is one of the few capitals in Europe featuring hot air balloon flights over the city,” says Romanovskiene. “That’s why it was logical that the city flew its message with the hot air balloons.”
Thirty-eight colorful hot air balloons were flown on June 15th to entice visitors to explore Vilnius. Some even had messages streaming from them.
Despite dark times, Lithuania brings moments of joy and hope to citizens and tourists through their many initiatives. Strong pride in their country and commitment to working together has helped them through. Unity is a core Lithuanian value.
“There is a long-time tradition for Lithuanians all over the world to sing the national anthem at the same time wherever they are at that very moment,” says Stakėnaitė. “It is not about being home, it is about feeling you have a home to come back to and celebrating the existence of that safe place.”
Perhaps another color that can be discovered in Lithuania is safe-haven scarlet.