CHRISTMAS TREE PAGEANT: Visitors come not just to see the decorations, but also to taste the regional cuisines.
KLAIPEDA - Anasty blizzard was impairing drivers’ eyesight, making a string of fluffy snow-covered cars literally crawl to their final destination – Palanga resort. The town on Lithuania’s Baltic coast, struck with such hostile weather, otherwise would be a soulless wintry place, but that evening all was different – many Lithuanians and foreign guests streamed to the town, where the second Baltic Sea States’ Christmas Tree Alley was about to take off. Amazingly, just before its festive commencement, the nasty weather, as if giving in to the splendor of differently adorned silver spruces, calmed down, spilling revelers’ exuberance and cheers to the vicinities of the Christmas trees, festal bars and cafes. This year, 11 Baltic countries – Russia, Poland, Germany, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – show off their Christmas trees, adorned in national decorations, in the main promenade of the Lithuanian resort, Basanavicius street.
While the Christmas trees to some may appear quite similar, Christmas national foods and drinks, represented by each country in the local cafes-turned-embassies, are not. Palanga’s bars and cafes, most of them decorated with a respective country’s heraldry and Christmas decorations, have become temporary - to be exact, until January 16 - festive embassies, offering national delicacies and drinks. Thus, trendy country-style log bar 1925, located in the beginning of the avenue, has turned into the Finnish Embassy, luring passers-by and Finnish food lovers with traditional Finnish cuisine - beef stewed in beer, herring, served with whipped cream, curry, tomatoes and eggs.
If you do not feel up to that, you may relish Kalakeito, fish soup made from salmon, or Maitokalekeito, cod stewed in milk. If you decide to skip the dishes, you may want to nibble a slice of Kalekukko, fish pie. Its dough is prepared from rye flour, while its stuffing consists of minced salmon and fat. In order to ensure the taste of the pie, it should be baked for three hours on a very light fire. The bar’s wait staff acknowledged that Kalekukko is the trendiest item in the bar-turned-Finnish Embassy. If you enter 1925, the chef of the bar may kindly ask you to try Finnish rye bread, baked in the bar’s bakery as well. “Finnish dishes are really popular in our bar.
To be honest, during the opening evening, they overshadowed our Lithuanian menu. Six Finnish Embassy staffers, who had tried the dishes, maintained that they were very good. Some asserted that our baked Finnish fish pie is even tastier than that made in Finland,” Vytautas Veisas, director of the bar, admitted to media. In case you dislike Finnish cuisine, you may find your liking in other Palanga cafes-turned-embassies. For example, Viking salads in the Norwegian Embassy, Zeppelins served with jam in the Swedish Embassy, mutton soup and pancakes with whipped cream and mashed blueberries in the Icelandic Embassy.
If luck is on your side, you may be served a plate not by ready-to-serve Lithuanian wait staff, but by a high-ranking diplomat – Russia’s Consul General, Sweden’s Honorary Consul or Iceland’s Honorary Consul to Lithuania – which all participated in the opening of the venue. Some of them promised to come back with a larger entourage. If you miss the chance, you should not flagellate yourself, as the Christmas Alley will last for another 5 weeks, attracting to Palanga numbers of Norwegians, Russians, Poles, Germans, Danes, Finns, Estonians, Latvians, Icelanders and Lithuanians - not just beer-loving grassroots, but respectful businesspersons, journalists and embassy staffers as well.
If not for the festive venue, three Norwegians, Mathea Skaalvik Pihl, Gaute Th. Omdahl and Arne Kristian Lovik Stellander, would have never ended up in Palanga resort. “It is a great feast. Norwegians are very eager to see and participate in this kind of venue. However, though there is a direct flight between Palanga and Oslo, the venue lacked publicity in Norway. If you advertise the Christmas Alley as a part of a Christmas Holiday package, offering not only it, but also moderate-priced Christmas shopping in nearby Klaipeda, it could attract many Norwegians to the resort. Obviously, it is a very good venue in this time of year,” Arne Kristian Lovik Stellander, journalist by profession, admitted to The Baltic Times. For Mathea Skaalvik Pihl, a journalist as well, it was a first trip ever to Lithuania. She admitted the resort’s wintry beauty and, most importantly, Baltic Sea States’ Christmas Alley surprised her so much that she is going to do a story on it once she goes back to Norway.
With local and foreign guests admiring the Christmas trees and savoring different cuisines, the venue’s spearhead, President of Palanga’s Hotel and Restaurant Association, Gintaras Siciunas, rejoices over the successful event. “It is not about business, but about our wish to introduce different Christmas trees and cuisines to everyone. Maybe many people cannot allow themselves travelling to Norway and trying out local dishes there, but, certainly, they can come to Palanga and savor Norwegian dishes here. Obviously, after the event took off, more people come into our cafes and bars. That is our best achievement,” Siciunas emphasized. Ramunas Stulovas, Sales Manager at hotel Palangos Vetra, agrees: “It is nice to see double hotel occupancy in December, a result of the Christmas Alley.”