“CROATIA WILL ALWAYS BE THERE.” The phrase was simple, but its timing was profound. The words were said to me by a random traveler sharing a carriage with me on an early train from Zagreb to Ljubljana. I was retreating, dejected from the Croatian capital. I’d spent close to one week in a basement level hostel, without having so much as set eyes on the country’s famed coastline. End of season timetables had made internal transport and ferry timetables intermittent, and when I shared this disappointment on the fellow traveler sharing a carriage with me, his sincere words offered me comfort. Though at the time, I had little idea when, or if, I’d ever return.
Two years later, a succession of spontaneous decisions had brought me to the small Slovenian town of Piran. Early one morning I boarded a bus south, with the words of the anonymous traveler running through my head. As we wound our way along the snaking coastal road, the toothless driver smiled over his shoulder: “Passports please,” he said. “We’re approaching the Croatian border.”