If you haven’t yet swung by the Baltic resort of Palanga, in western Lithuania, this year, and particularly in the summer, now is the right time to do so. Not only for the wide, powdery sand beaches, the luscious nature, the renovated Amber Museum, those excellent bike lanes stretching along the seaside, but certainly also for Palanga’s exclusive importance in Lithuania’s cultural scene this year. As the Lithuanian Capital of Culture 2013, Palanga has been bustling with cultural events. Sarunas Vaitkus, the exuberant mayor of Palanga, agreed to answer The Baltic Times’ questions about Palanga’s exclusive cultural mission, as well as about this year’s tourism high season.
Has Palanga appropriately prepared for the role? What has been done?
Being called the Lithuanian Capital of Culture and, subsequently, hosting the mission’s events, is a big honor and responsibility. We have prepared long and responsibly for this duty. After we were awarded the right to host the event, a special working group consisting of different-level specialists had been set up. In order to work out the most attractive ways to introduce the country’s culture, and the variety of art genres, they sought the advice of Lithuania’s prominent cultural experts. With the joint efforts of the cultural community, we have compiled a thorough calendar of cultural events and created a logotype - Palanga is Lithuanian Capital of Culture 2013 - as well as an event-devoted Web site www.palanga2013.lt, which brings to the public all the mission-related news. Besides, we have put out a special publication, both in English and Lithuanian, and tackled the issue of popularizing the events in other forms.
The Lithuanian government has slashed funding for the cultural mission. Won’t it suffer because of that?
The financing is as it is. We do understand that wishes sometimes don’t match the reality. Therefore, when we were planning the event calendar, we had the reality in mind. When looking now at what we’ve succeeded in doing with the reduced budget, I’m happy that, with the efforts of our culture representatives, we’ve managed to set out the plan and calendar of the cultural events in such a way that Palanga’s Lithuanian Capital of Culture 2013 mission would not disappoint anyone. Like no other cultural capital so far, Palanga is offering everyone a record number of events, ranging from festivals and concerts, to exhibitions and to various art projects.
What are the key events of the mission? Will Palanga host any international cultural events during the stint?
Besides the traditional festivals Palangos Stinta (Palanga Smelt), Kurortas, Palangos Stalas (Palanga Table), Birute Botanical Park, the resort this year aims to attract art lovers with new cultural events and festivals. We do count a lot already on a number of traditional but, art-wise, exceptionally high-level and professional music festivals, like Klasikos Balsai (Classics’ Voices), Ave Maria, Nakties Serenados (Night Serenades) and some other traditional events. Sure, Palanga will also introduce some novelties, like Culture Night to be held at the Baltic seaside on July 6. During this, the two-act national opera-melodrama Birute, created by composer Mikas Petrauskas and play-writer Gabrielius Landsbergis-Zemkalnis, will be shown. We are also to show more new events, like a textile installation in Meile alley, an exhibition of experimental photography and video-art, also the mobile project Menu Ekspresas (Art Express). Another big-time novelty this year, is the international Mykolas Konstantinas Ciurlionis Music Festival that is to take place July 7-12 in Palanga. During it, a number of concerts given by world-famous artists, like the star pianist Kevin Kener, the F. Chopin competition winner Lukas Geniusas, professor Vytautas Landsbergis and a number of others, will be organized in Gintaro Muziejus (Amber Museum).
Lithuania is about to take over the EU Council Presidency from July 1. Does Palanga intend to cater part of its events to the traffic flows?
The key event that we expect will attract the EU Council Presidency guests is the Night of Culture at the Baltic Sea on July 6. Namely, that day we’re hoping to see lots of high-ranking guests both from Lithuania and the foreign delegations. By the way, speaking of the Presidency events, it is worth mentioning that on July 14 the Palanga Amber Museum will host an event for EU member states’ ambassadors residing in Brussels.
Do you believe that Palanga, charged with the Lithuanian Capital of Culture 2013 events, has the potential of increasing its popularity regionally and, perhaps, internationally?
No doubt about that. The events were put forth in such a way that, through them, Palanga would be able to introduce itself as a town of culture, in which both art amateurs and professionals thrive.
How will Palanga attract tourists this season, besides the Lithuanian Capital of Culture 2013 events?
There are the wide, powdery sand beaches, the magnificent sea, the expanded and improved infrastructure of bike lanes, high quality hotels and wellness services. Palanga is exceptional for being able to provide excellent relaxation and entertainment to any guest of any taste. Those enjoying mingling, people-watching, or the bustle, can definitely have a stroll along Jonas Basanavicius Promenade, or arrive for the annual Omnitel 1,000 km car race and enjoy other action-related activities. And those who enjoy a relaxed saunter will walk over to Birute Park not only for a stroll, but also to combine this with the traditional Night Serenades or Palanga Orchestra performances. I’d emphasize that Palanga is a family-friendly resort.
Palanga is still called a summer resort. What is being done to change that view and have it vibrant and happening year-round?
To diminish the seasonality, Palanga organizes a slew of events over the course of the year. Besides, the municipality has already taken on building or rehabilitation of the major structures of the local infrastructure. Rehabilitation of Vasara Estrada (Palanga Concert Hall) will begin in the autumn and a universal sport complex will be launched next year. Meanwhile, in Nemirseta, a modern, European standard camping facility will open, also next year.
Do you share the notion that the three Baltic States of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania should develop their resorts of Jurmala, Saaremaa and Palanga, respectively, with joined efforts in order to attract more international visitors?
Each resort is particular, with its own tourist flows. For example, when it comes to Palanga, it is especially liked by Belarusians and Russians. These kinds of Palanga guests thirst for quiet relaxation at the seaside. On the other hand, there’s a kind of the so-called transient tourist who enjoys active free time, and this type [of guest] usually doesn’t stay long in the resort. This could be particularly attributed to the Scandinavians, who arrive here with camping vehicles. They usually aim to visit as many towns during a single trip as possible. The idea of a tourism packet that includes visiting all three resorts, and maybe some others in the region, is definitely interesting.
What three spots would you suggest everyone to visit in Palanga?
Well, first of all, our wide and well-maintained beaches. For most visiting Palanga, this is the main destination. They are really worth seeing, both during the day for enjoying the sunshine, the sea and the sand, and in the evening for a stroll, which perhaps will start in the beginning of Basanavicius Promenade and end up on Palanga Bridge for seeing the sun set behind the horizon. I’d insistently advise taking a stroll in Birute Park, which is considered one of the most beautiful parks in Eastern Europe. I dare to say all remain mesmerized by its tranquility, the beauty of the nature and the recently rehabilitated Amber Museum. A holiday in Palanga will perhaps lose part of its charm if you don’t take advantage of saddling onto a bike for an hour-long ride along the excellent bike lanes running from Palanga to Sventoji in one direction, and to Klaipeda in the other.
A UK newspaper as well as some other media sources have included Palanga beaches in the Top 20 European beaches list. Don’t you think that the acknowledgments of Palanga are sometimes overlooked by Lithuanians, but very much appreciated by foreigners?
Quite possibly. I reckon that those foreigners who appreciate quiet rest at the sea are aware of the quality of Palanga beaches. For ten consecutive years, Palanga beach has been awarded the Blue Flag, an international evaluation of European beaches.