May 18, 2020 / 2:54 PM / in 17 days

Visitors return to European landmarks, but only in miniature

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Visitors were back at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, London’s Houses of Parliament and the Grand Place in Brussels on Monday, not flouting lockdowns but at the reopened Mini-Europe miniature theme park.

A worker wearing a protective mask is seen during the reopening of 'mini-Europe' theme park where people can wonder across small scale models of European capitals landmarks as Belgium began easing lockdown restrictions amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium, May 18, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

With many of the European Union’s borders closed by the coronavirus pandemic, the park in Belgium hopes to give locals a taste of the tourism that lockdowns have made impossible.

Belgium began easing its 8-week lockdown on May 4 and reopened museums, zoos and open-air markets on Monday. Mini-Europe, with its 350 model landmarks, hopes its spacious, open-air park will be a draw.

“I saw on the television that Mini-Europe was restarting so I made the reservation online,” said Kristof Meert, 38, at the attraction in Brussels with his two children.

Entry must be pre-booked and visitors must observe strict hygiene and social distancing measures.

Even some of the miniature model people wore face masks, including tandem riders in the Netherlands - on a suitably stretched bike - and visitors were reminded to keep 1.5 metres apart - that’s three crates of beer for figures in the Belgium section.

The London models mark Britain’s departure from the European Union.

“At the bottom of Big Ben, we have added a small figure of (British Prime Minister) Boris Johnson campaigning for Brexit and there are demonstrators carrying an (EU) flag and saying ... ‘we miss EU already,” the park’s founder and chief executive Thierry Meeus told Reuters.

Opened in 1989, the park received almost half a million visitors in 2019, but expects just 150,000 this year.

Meeus said with an area of 20,000 square metres, “welcoming 180 people per hour is very reassuring.”

Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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