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CROATIA | Wednesday, 16 October 2013 | Views [657]

Zagreb, Croatia; 6:00 AM, 22 kilo pack and a unknown walking distance to the train station.  For one reason or another I didn’t buy a comfort fit travel pack but more of a duffle bag that could be worn for reasons fit necessary, but not at all built for it.   My back hunched over as I dragged my way toward the clock tower I belonged in.  The empty streets paved with cobblestone and lined with dark neoclassicism architecture that made you feel the war might not be quite over.  The only woman I saw was on her way to work.  After seeing me, she made a point to cross the street to walk on the opposite side.  I, myself have done that a few times before to those that looked disgruntled and I didn’t want the hassle over asking me for money.  I knew at the point how I looked from a far.  I kept dragging on.

Eventually after turning enough corners I see the station a few streets ahead.  I push on, not even bothering to wipe the sweat from my face.  As I walk in I notice people lined against the walls, some with nothing, some with bags in their laps as they hunch over them trying to sleep, some with big packs on the floor using them as pillows.  I drag my bag to the window of tickets for endless experiences and say hello to the stoic woman behind the glass.  Unbelievable, an entire 50 Kuna to get to Vienna, how do these people do it?  She points to the dirty white board, an hour until my train departs. 

I walk outside to smoke a cigarette, or however many until I leave.  A man that has woken from his slumber digs through the ashtray for his morning ritual.  A coffee, shit, I went inside to find a machine and hopefully enough change. 

As I smoke, I look at these monstrosities sitting in their tracks, clanging and breathing as they await their passengers.  Beautiful, black, dirty, greasy time travelers.  Fascinated with the age of these machines and the diversity of their purpose; to excite young travelers to new destinations, to introduce new cargo and ideas to different parts of Europe, to bring home soldiers to their wives, to flee families from communist countries and to transport victims of ethnic cleansing their ends.

Only 20 minutes until my train leaves, Platform 9.  There are 3 trains pulled in and of course none of the platforms have numbers.  I walk to each train to see the piece of paper on the conductor’s window for destinations.  Two are definitely not it but I’m not confident on the third either.  Now 10 minutes. 

An older woman, about my grandmother’s age, sits with a small suitcase and a purse on a bench outside the train.  She has a red coat with a knitted scarf.  Her hair is short, white and curly with a pair of pearl earrings.  She sees me looking at her and stands.  I smile and point to the train.

“Is this train going to Vienna?”

She shakes her head and motions to her ears.  Deaf? Or… I point to her.


She shakes her head again and points to herself.


Shit.  I start looking around for another train that might have pulled in.  The woman walks toward me and points to the train.

“Slovenia-Vienna.” She smiles.

Ok, let’s hope, or I am going to Slovenia.

I get on the train and sit in the first cabin.  The woman follows me in and watches me lift my heavy bag over the seats.  She sighs a surprise and nudges her bag toward me and sits down.  I put hers up too.

The train starts to move and another woman around the same age comes in.  She only has a small bag and keeps it next to her.  I look out the window as I finally leave Croatia.  It’s beautiful outside of the city, farmlands, lots of green.  The two women are speaking some Slavic, Serbo-Croatian language I suppose.  It sounds crazy, I look over and the woman is looking at me smiling.  She motions to me.


I shake my head yes and smile. 

“Wow.” She’s impressed for some reason.  She speaks to the other woman and I can tell she is describing me hauling my bag over my head onto the rack.  She looks back at me, points and raises one finger.

“Yes, alone.” I raise my finger.

She laughs and translates to the other woman.  She motions to herself and holds up 6 fingers and then 7, points to herself and then points to me.  67? I do the same back, 2 fingers on one hand, 3 on the other.

“Wow.” She’s impressed again for some reason. She motions to the other woman to tell us her age who just laughs shortly and waved her hand away.  She points to herself again.

“Smilka.” And points to me.

“Caitlin.” We shake hands.  She is so giddy and excited. She sits closer to me and puts her hands on my leg.  She motions to herself.

“No English.” This I had assumed.

“No Croatian.”

She laughed. She points to my foot and looks up at me.

“Shoe.” I said.

“SHU” She repeats. I nod my head smiling and point.


“SOK.” Her mouth stays open trying to imitate how mine moves.  She points again.


“Leg.” That one was closest. This went on for some time and she reached for a small notebook and pen.  She motioned for me to write and said again.

“SOK.” And points at the paper and she translated in Croatian.


A woman comes in and checks tickets.  Smilka is chatting her up, the woman is laughing.  I bet she is hilarious.  The ticket woman asks me something in Croatian and I shake my head I don’t understand.  She doesn’t speak English either.  Oh well, here’s my ticket and passport.  After she leaves, Smilka smiles looking me, points to her chest and then to mine.

“Soul.” She says.

Surprised I laugh, nod and repeat.


The woman across from me, whose name I never got, takes out a bag of chips.  I take out my bottle of water and take a drink.  She motions to me a chip.  I shake my head and smile.  She takes out an orange juice and motions it to me.  I shake my head again smiling.  She gets a look on her face, stands slightly and puts it next to me.  I motion gratitude.  Smilka takes out her sandwich and forces it in my hand.  These women definitely remind me of my grandmother.  Thank you, thank you, thank you I try to motion.  Now I have a pile of snack foods, orange juice, water and a sandwich on my lap as these women look for anything else in their pack.  I try and motion that’s enough please.  Thank you but I’m great.  They smile at me. 

Smilka raises her hand like she forgot something.  She reaches in her bag and takes out a small stuffed animal cow.  She pretends to sleep with it on the sleep and then hands it to me. 

“No thank you, that’s yours!” She keeps pushing it at me and showing me how to sleep with it.

“No, your cow, your pillow.” She won’t give up.  Now it’s my cow to carry around the next couple months.

“Name?” I motion to myself. “Caitlin.” And point to the cow.  She smiles and points to the cow.

“Smilka.”  Got it.

The train starts to slow down after something is said over the speakers.  She gets out another piece of paper and we exchange information.  She stands and smiles at me.  She reaches and grabs my face, kissing me on my forehead, eyes and cheeks and then waits a moment smiling into my eyes.  The joy and kindness is radiating from her soul.  I loved her at that moment and I know she loved me too.  A two hour game of charades with a complete stranger completely restored my faith in humanity. 

The train slows up to a station and she motions to me and then to her bag.  I got it down for her and walked it out to the door for her. I smile at Smilka as she gets off the train.  She picks up her bag and looks toward the exit.  A huge smile floods her face as she walks as quickly as she can toward a younger man smiling just as big back at her.  The train starts to move again.  She dropped her bag and hugged that man like she hadn’t seen him in forever.  I wonder who he was, her son maybe?

I walked back into the cabin and sat next to the window again.  I wanted to capture that feeling and keep it in a jar.  I wanted to carry it with me everywhere.  I already missed her but I was never more ready to take on a unfamiliar destination with an open heart.  So I rested my head on my new fluffy friend and sat comfortably in the unknown.




It's rare to meet people that radiate so much light.  Once you have expereinced it in places you'd least expect, you don't want to let it go.  But even after their light has disapaited into the distance, it still shines within you and consciously or not, you're giving it everyone around you. Love.

The amazing thing about it is Smilka and I's story does not end here.  :)



Caitlin Bond Murray






Tags: alone, cow, croatia, love, on the road, train, traveler

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