Around the world, communities celebrate love through myriad festivals, rituals, and holidays. Though observed worldwide, Valentine’s Day is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to romantic traditions.
In Wales, for example, a custom dating back to the 17th century involves men showing their love and commitment to a woman through the gift of a lovespoon. These hand-carved wooden spoons are intricately decorated with symbols of romance: horseshoes for luck, locks for security, and hearts for love. In several Asian countries, including Japan, Thailand, and South Korea, women customarily give chocolates to men on February 14. And a month later, on White Day, a holiday created solely for their partners to return the favor, men bestow confectionery gifts to commemorate their love. And in Romania, people of all ages join in the celebration of Dragobete ― a holiday dedicated to lovers and the coming of spring ― by gathering flowers to present to their significant others.
Though many travelers venture to these places to experience their customs first-hand, others choose to create their own rituals while exploring abroad. For the hopeless romantic, love and travel are inextricably bound, and travel itself becomes an act of searching for love in the unknown of foreign places. And, just as different cultures around the world perform unique romantic customs, the global community of travelers has developed its own rituals to find and foster love on the road.
Hidden on the tip of the Akamas Peninsula in Cyprus lies Aphrodite’s Grotto, an oasis of lush greenery and crystal waters. Shaded by a fig tree, the area’s natural caves draw visitors from all over the world. As the story goes, Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, bathed in the pools, and it is there where she encountered Adonis ― and where the two instantly fell in love. Ever since their notorious meeting, legend has it that those who bathe in the spring will be granted eternal youth, or will fall in love with the next person they meet. Even today, travelers searching for love visit the grotto to wash their hands in its waters, hoping for magic.
Across the Mediterranean in Italy, travelers flock to sites that are endowed with meaning and with the supposed power of bestowing love or luck. Thought to be the inspiration for Shakespeare’s famous balcony scene, the 13th-century Casa di Giulietta in Verona is visited by thousands of people each year who are drawn by the romantic magnetism of its courtyard. Lining the building’s ancient stone walls are countless letters from the lovestruck and the lovelorn ― notes about heartache and falling head-over-heels, about lasting love and fleeting feelings. For the lost, lonely, or in-love, Juliet’s home is a kind of pilgrimage site and a locus for the traveling community to commemorate both the risks and rewards of romance.
In the heart of Paris, the Pont des Arts also became a destination for amorous adventurers. For many years, the bridge glistened with a kaleidoscopic mass of thousands of padlocks. Bewitched travelers and Parisians alike immortalized their romances by writing their names on love locks, affixing them to the railing, and tossing the key into the river below. A symbol of eternal and unbreakable love, the locks also represent the way people from across the globe, and from all different backgrounds, share the desire to realize and honor the love in their lives.
While none of these rituals are tied to one specific cultural background, what unites them is more universal: no matter the place or destination, people live and travel in pursuit of love. And when on the road, these rituals become even more essential. Visiting somewhere briefly instills a certain kind of pressure to make permanent what may be ephemeral, to record and treasure a certain time, a certain place, or a certain person. From scribbled initials on bathroom walls to the thousands of keys on the bed of the Seine, people document and celebrate the paramount importance of love wherever they go in whatever way they can.
These rituals, as idealistic and venturesome as they may be, are emblematic of the way travel affects us. Travel throws wide the door to the world, inviting us to see and experience life with curiosity and openness. With this in mind, we partnered with our friends at Qatar Airways to explore the connection between love and travel: through an idyllic giveaway, we celebrated the love stories of the Passion Passport community and honored how global travel can impact intimate relationships. Because travel, like love, has the power to change us.
It doesn’t matter that Juliet’s balcony was actually a 1920’s addition to the original structure, or that the railings on the Pont des Arts have been replaced with plexiglass, or even that the waters in Aphrodite’s grotto cannot grant eternal youth; what matters are the countless journeys people have made to experience these places ― the borders crossed and miles traveled ― all in the name of love. As the revered travel writer Pico Iyer wrote:
“And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it is a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.”