KLAIPEDA - Don't be surprised if a local from Klaipeda neglects to mention Christmas or Easter while talking about his favorite holiday of the year. The fact is no other event quite compares with the three-day buzz of the annual Sea Festival for the people of Klaipeda.
But this year the event is especially significant as it celebrates two key historical dates. It was 70 years ago that Antanas Smetona, Lithuania's interwar president, held the first sea celebration in Klaipeda, the aim of which was to promote marine culture among Lithuanians and to introduce Klaipeda as a dependable port to foreigners.
In addition, this year's Sea Festival, which runs July 23 - 25, will be the 45th time that it has been staged. And the locals will expect more people than ever to turn out for it.
While the festival is, as you'd expect, mainly all about the sea, there's still a wide range of entertainment and activities on offer to make this immensely popular event attract people from all over the country.
There will be various sporting events, free concerts, conferences discussing literature, street theater, fish markets and a mini-ocean's worth of beer being consumed throughout the city.
Each evening on Tiltu St. there will be impressive circus scenes involving mimes, magicians and actors on stilts from the Sermuksnis, the international street theater festival
In Mazvydo Alley, meanwhile, you are likely to meet hundreds of children performing their songs and dances on stage or simply improvising with a piece of chalk on the street. And on July 25 this same spot will turn into a dream setting for flea market amateurs.
Dozens of pop, country and jazz concerts will also be held all around the city center, with the main concerts being held in Theater Sq., in the heart of Klaipeda's Old Town. Prominent Lithuanian acts will be performing throughout the festival, with the obligatory firework display bringing things to a head following the closing concert on July 25.
If you are more into sports, however, then head to the sports events at Smiltyne or Melnrage beaches. Various volleyball, football and rugby tournaments will be taking place there until sunset. There will also be - of course - a special fishing competition, starting at 6 a.m. on July 24 at Smiltyne, where you could go to relax after having partied all night long in the Old Town.
Just don't be surprised if you come away from the Sea Festival harboring daydreams of chucking in your old 9 - 5 for a life at sea. o
Klaipeda Sea Festival 2004
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