Sitting down face to face, something felt different. His green eyes studied mine and I tried to understand what was going on between us. As the tram came to an abrupt stop, we broke eye contact. “I’m trying to read you,” he said, “but I can’t,” and I realized that Zagreb would be beyond what I had expected.

Date: May 23rd, 2016
Time: 9:27 p.m. – 21:27 EST
Location: Ferry from Split, Croatia, to Ancona, Italy

The train-ride to Croatia felt like it lasted forever. When I finally made it into Zagreb I was exhausted and much to tired to even attempt the 45-minute walk to my hostel or figure out the tram system; instead I just decided to shell out the 100 Kuna ($15) for the cab ride. Upon arriving, I knew I had made the right decision on where to stay. The hostel, Mali Mrak, had a very Earthy vibe with a big outdoors area and a cool terrace. A big group of travelers were sipping wine and chatting outside at one of the dinner tables, and everyone greeted me with a warm smile.

When I entered the front desk area I enthusiastically informed the nice guy that my name is Sofia and I was there to check in. “Are you sure you’re checking in tonight?” he asked me, “Umm yeah, I made the reservation this morning, unless I booked it for the wrong night,” I responded with a bit of nervous laughter. “One second,” he clicked the mouse a few times and then promptly said, “yup, you booked it for tomorrow night.” “So what happens now?” I asked very embarrassed. “Well if the weather is nice, you can sleep on the terrace,” he said half joking.

Since there wasn’t any other options and it was already 11:00 p.m. I decided I’d take the terrace after all, “If it gets too cold, you can always find space in the common room,” the owner assured me. He set up a mattress as well as a bunch of blankets and pillows up there for me. Then I went down to introduce myself to everyone and to enjoy a much needed glass of their local wine. “Hi y’all, I’m Sofia and I’m American, except I’m not because I was born in Mexico, but really I’m Southern,” I said, sounding very congested and exhausted, but excited to be meeting new people. Everyone went around sharing where they were from. Chicago, Denmark, San Fransisco, etc. As I looked at my fellow travelers I could see the Danish guy rolling his eyes at me probably thinking, “How charming, another American.”

I went into a local spot full of food trucks to grab a late night bite and like the American that I am decided on a juicy burger for less than the equivalent to $3. When I got back to the hostel, I back sat down with the travelers who were still there and settled into a comfortable spot on the bench to enjoy good wine and good company. I ended up sitting there until about 2 a.m. discussing everything from Kanye West to socialism to Eastern philosophy with an interesting group of people ranging in age from 21 to 35. After all of the wine and debating it’s safe to say I slept like a baby.

I woke up around 9ish in the morning excited to explore the little city of Zagreb. Travelers were enjoying breakfast outside on the patio, and I bumped into the guy from the night before who didn’t seem too fond of my Southern Charm. “Is that oatmeal?” I asked him. “Yes, here’s a pan if you want to make some,” he politely responded. “Well I’m lazy and I heard a bunch of people are going to breakfast at a local spot, so I think I’ll just wait for that,” I said. He laughed and snorted, “Yeah, I’m going to that too, this was just a pre-breakfast.” Then he walked away, and left me waiting for the group to get together.

At breakfast, I met a few new people. “How long are you traveling for?” asked one of the guys to the girl sitting next to me, “Well, I’ve been traveling for six weeks now and I have about two more years to go,” she responded. My jaw almost dropped when I heard that. I wanted to know everything about her, in fact, I wanted to be her. Kelsey, from San Fransisco, had just graduated with a degree in Developmental Psychology and wanted nothing to do with that industry. Instead, she had saved up somewhere close to $30,000 and was now traveling around solo. Hearing her made me realize how desperately I craved to continue on my own adventure. At times I felt lonely, yes, but I also felt strong and confident. I felt more secure bouncing from place to place than I did staying in the same city. Although part of me longed to be home, I knew that I wouldn’t be the same when I returned, I knew that I needed adventure.

I overheard the Danish guy discussing something about a good spot to hike, and I perked up, excited at the thought of getting out of the city for a little bit. “Are you going hiking today?” I asked. “Yes,” he said curtly. “Do you mind if I tag along?” I asked enthusiastically. “Well, umm, actually I was really looking forward to being alone,” he responded politely, but obviously slightly annoyed.

The whole table went silent as the atmosphere got a bit tense, but then we all burst out in laughter at his response. “Maybe I can just tag along to the trail head, and then we go separate ways. I’m sure there’s more than one route, I just need helping getting to the right spot,” I said, I also like solo hiking and I wasn’t going to let the opportunity go to waste. “Sure, I’m a good guy. Why not?” he finally conceded.

We walked back to the hostel, picked up some backpacks and then headed over to the supermarket to buy snacks for our individual hikes. On the way there I tried to make small talk, “What’s there to do in Denmark?” “Are we really going to talk about that?” he asked. “Fine. You’re right. I’m so exhausted of telling people the same things about Atlanta,” I responded. “So why are you so angry with the world then?” I pushed. “Well, I just got my identity stolen and up until two weeks ago I was facing jail time, but they finally caught the guy who did it, and now I’m trying to escape all of the madness.” Oh.

When we got onto the tram and sat down facing each other, something in us snapped, and everything change.

To be continued…

*The featured image does not belong to me