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As February 14 approaches, there is no shortage of options in the Balkans for those wanting to seal their love for all eternity.
A romantic school kid or a teenager heads to school more carefully on February 14, afraid they may fall in love with the first person they see.
Squeezing a passionate valentine letter into his or her pocket, the youngster squints, saving the first look of the morning for that special person dear to his or her heart.
St Valentine, probably imagined by these youngsters as some powerful flying Cupid, will take care of the rest.
On the other hand, in the grown-up religion of love, it is small gifts, short trips and romantic dinners that are the normal rituals, along with cards.
The holiday’s real meaning revolves around the idea of “locking” one’s love, making it strong and permanent.
Most couples will spend a romantic night together, at home, or at a restaurant, before listening to a performance by some popular singer of sentimental love tunes.
Although most tour companies offer “romantic” destinations such as Berlin, Paris or Prague, almost every tourist resort in the region has a special programme for Valentine’s Day and expects lots of visitors.
There must be something in our DNA that responds to the first scent of spring, as even the earliest known civilisations had a holiday similar to this, celebrating the bond between couples.
The Ancient Greeks celebrated the divine marriage between the chief god, Zeus, and his wife, Hera.
Catholics mark the day in honour of a saint of whom little is known, except that he was buried near Rome on February 14.
Medieval legends say that Valentine was a 3rd-century martyr, killed after attempting to convert the Emperor Claudius II to Christianity.
The Orthodox Church, on the other hand, celebrates St Trifun, a Dionysus-like patron of winemakers, presented on paintings as a young man with a cluster of grapes, or a knife for cutting vines.
This is why February 14 among Catholics is more connected to rituals of courtly love, while in the Orthodox world it is more to do with fertility and wine.
Meanwhile, most people today celebrate an international feast of love, not looking much into church calendars.
From the 14th century onwards, from the rise of the phenomenon of courtly love, Valentine’s Day became the day when people chose mates, exchanged love messages and sought out a romantic ambience where they could freshen up their feelings.
A place to spend Valentine ’s Day needs to have that something special, which turns a night-out or short break into a romantic adventure, be it a unique landscape, charming architecture, or just a concert.
Many music stars look forward to Valentine’s Day, because their concerts traditionally sell out that day.
While couples in Belgrade will have the chance to listen to Sergej Cetkovic, Josipa Lisac, Zoran Predin and Vlado Georgijev, lovebirds from Zagreb have a choice to hear Hari Roncevic, Neno Belan & Fiumens and Massimo.
Nina Badric will perform in Sarajevo, while Skopje will see the performance of the popular alternative band from Bitola, Foltin.
Those who wish to skip sentimental concerts and opt for some real Valentine’s Day action can head for Serbia’s Vrnjacka Banja and enter the competition for the longest kiss, which takes place every year on the “Bridge of Love”.
Couples who wish to give it a try should know that professional kissing is a demanding discipline.
The longest kiss in Vrnjacka Banja lasted 68 minutes and 40 seconds, and the rule says that after the first 15 minutes the kissing must be done standing on only one leg.
The oldest couple to enter this competition in its six-year history were more than 77 year’s old.
The bridge, which lies near the main pedestrian zone, forms part of a popular love legend.
A hundred years ago a teacher called Nada and a soldier called Relja fell in love there. They wished to marry but World War I came between them.
Relja went to Greece and there met a beautiful local woman, never to return to Vrnjacka Banja. Nada later died, heartbroken.
Girls still come to the spot bearing padlocks with their names and those of their loved-ones carved on them.
They then toss the keys into the river, symbolically locking their love eternally.
No wine – No love:
These words, written by the 5th-century BC Greek tragic poet Euripides, serve as a perfect recommendation for a Valentine’s Day destination.
Although wine is available everywhere, drinking it at a vineyard, overlooking the next crop of the season, adds a special taste.
Many wine regions in the Balkans organise celebrations around this day, dedicated to grapes and their patron saint, Trifun, which include open-air events, music, dining and a lot of wine talk.
It is a modern variation on an old custom in wine-rich regions of Bulgaria, Serbia and Macedonia, in which the owner of a vineyard visits his property, cuts branches, and spills some wine over the ground to awaken the land after the long winter.
Winemakers in this way celebrate St Trifun, who cured people and cattle by performing miracles, and who, like St Valentine, died for his faith.
It is believed that this patron of winemakers and restaurant owners planted a cinder in the ground on February 14, so that the snow began to melt. If it snows on St Trifun’s Day the year will be fertile. If not, the land will suffer from drought.
One of the largest wine celebrations in the region will take place in the southern Macedonian town of Kavadarci, which is famed for its high-quality grapes.
Traditionally, a church ceremony takes place in the vineyards, along with exhibitions, wine-tastings and shots of rakia brandy.
Wine competitions enriched with cultural programmes will also take place at Demir Kapija and Negotino, also known for fine wines.
In the Vellusha area of Prishtina, men in beards and women in full veil are a common sight, as hard-line Muslims stake a claim to part of the Kosovo capital.