Roman Holiday: Lithuania capital turns Italian as virus stops travel

Vilnius – With virus travel restrictions preventing summer holidays abroad, Lithuania’s capital is offering a low-cost alternative by mimicking the look and feel of different countries at weekends.

France, Japan and the US are among the more than half-a-dozen nations that Vilnius residents can get a taste of without leaving the Baltic city.

Last weekend Italian music filled the Old Town, while local restaurants offered Mediterranean dishes as green, white and red flags fluttered nearby.

Aurelija Baniulaitiene, a Lithuanian civil servant who came with a friend to an open-air restaurant, said the southern European atmosphere helped her “leave the lockdown cocoon”.

In the weeks to come, the theme will change to India, the United States, France, Spain, Germany and Japan.

Rasa Kliostoraityte, a translator who presented three books by contemporary Italian writers as part of the initiative, hoped it would allow “people to enjoy the Italian spirit without leaving the city”.

Her husband, Italian-born singer Mario Di Pasquale, had mixed feelings before taking his guitar to the stage near the 17th century St John’s Church bell tower that dominates the city’s skyline.

“I had to think if it is fine to celebrate Italy now, when it is suffering so much pain,” the 44-year-old told AFP.

“I have not forgotten the victims for a moment and I pay my respect with my songs. Italians themselves started singing folk songs from balconies when the outbreak started,” he added.

A short walk away, in a former Jewish neighbourhood, jeans designer Milda Paukste used pieces of denim to stitch an outline of the Italian peninsula on a sheet laid out in the street.

“On top of it, I put everything Italian that I found at home, from spaghetti to a Versace perfume and a cup of espresso. I see it as a creative way to educate people,” said Paukste, 35.

In the nearby Town Hall Square, hundreds of Lithuanians admired a collection of iconic Vespa scooters and Alfa Romeo cars.

Lithuania itself re-opened for tourists from most European countries earlier this month after containing the spread of the disease.

Reported COVID-19 deaths stand at just 71, with case numbers at 1,720 in the eurozone nation of 2.8 million people.

 

– ‘Great for kids’ –

 

Many European countries are beginning to re-open their borders but health concerns are hindering efforts to bring visitors back and the travel industry fears steep losses.

In the capital’s Bernardine Gardens, the entrance gate invited visitors to enjoy “An Italian holiday in Vilnius”.

Inside the park, a children’s entertainer was disguised as the video game character Super Mario, an Italian plumber.

“This is great for kids after the quarantine. A nice opening of the summer season,” Justina Sapokiene said as her five-year-old daughter played with the character in his trademark red overalls and a blue shirt.

By Vaidotas Beniusis

Reported COVID-19 deaths in Lithuania stand at just 72, with case numbers at 1,727

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