An unexpectedly romantic story. A young couple is left with no option but to sleep on a park bench when train schedules are incorrect, proving that their love can survive one night as transient travelers shivering on a park bench love nest. Hopelessly in love.
Our trip started out fantastic. A short getaway from Osijek, inland Croatia in Baranja, to visit friends in Pula for an Easter weekend on the coast. This meant train travel direct to the city of Rijeka, where we would change trains once and head to Pula.
The connections were great, and we arrived in Rijeka with plenty of time to walk around and explore the beautiful port city before catching our train to Pula. Smooth sailing so far and all of our information and schedules were accurate.
The connection worked out perfectly. The train arrived to Pula just in time to marvel at the sunset creating spectacular reflections of the sky in a glassy harbor. Our weekend seemed to be off to an idyllic start.
Rijeka was beautiful for the day and we arrived at our destination happy. Spending time in Pula with new and old friends was a wonderful experience to share. The city itself was magical for us too. Seeing the beautiful colosseum, the stone work everywhere, the beach, markets, the food.
Travel was smooth thus far. We loved every bit of Pula. We loved it so much we later named a dog after it.
While travel is best when its flawless, in reality that rarely occurs. Sometimes the more disastrous travel experiences become enjoyable, comical, and most memorable.
Travel can test a relationship. How would we deal with the adversity? Hopefully negative situations seem better when you are with someone you love. You never know until you face it.
A day in Pula went by, not everything was going smooth.
A sudden downpour left us walking around completely soaked with no umbrella and very little clothing.
After our first night in the hotel I had developed pink eye badly in one eye. Which by the end of that day had quickly spread to the other eye. I looked like a fire-eyed demon woman. Sunglasses quickly became a staple for me regardless of sunlight.
Still we laughed and enjoyed ourselves. Damp. Red eyed. In love.
But they do say bad things come in threes. I was counting my eyeballs as both bad thing two and three, we did not expect a third.
We took the train from Pula back to Rijeka. It is a short train ride between the two coastal cities, we planned on a late afternoon train to maximize our day in Pula.
We arrived with 30 minutes before boarding the later train in Rijeka. We would now board the long overnight train direct to Osijek where I was living.
Now mind you, not many Croatians speak English, train maps aren’t in English. This is a pretty basic train station set up. No tour agencies or information desk. A few benches, a few employees, a few trains, and us.
We made sure all our trains times, numbers, and tickets were accurate before we left Osijek because I was familiar with that train station. I had friends there who could help me with the tickets, assuring that we would make it there and back if I just followed the trains I had planned on.
As time passed, it seemed our train would never leave.
Sun setting. Temperature dropping. The train was just sitting there. No announcements. No passengers. Just us.
Now confused and concerned about our departure we approached the one office open with people working. Through broken English and hand gestures we found our final bad thing to make it a solid three. An asterisk on the schedule indicated its a seasonal train. No key to the symbols, you were inherently supposed to know it’s meaning. That night train didn’t start running until the following weekend.
Me: “When is the next train going to Osijek?”
Him: Points at time table, 6 am.
Ok. Not the end of the world. Optimistic, we walk up the street to find some hotels. We quickly begin to feel like the only humans awake in Rijeka. No taxis, no cars, no humans, and certainly no hotel in sight.
Returning a bit defeated we wait inside the empty hall of the train station prepared to sit there until 6am. We find a bench next to a heater and get comfy.
We are in love and happy we are together.
Around midnight we were met with a train employee. They were locking up the train station and kicking us out.
Not that where we were sitting was warm, but the train station is by the harbor and at least inside we were protected from the wind and moisture of the sea at night .
After asking (with hand gestures) to sit in the office we were in earlier we got rejected, even though they would be there all night. Thanks.
Now by process of elimination we are left outside. No blankets, sleeping bags, or winter coats.
We showed no anger, no resentment, no bickering. Simply acceptance and problem solving.
Perfect, we found two wooden benches that weren’t bolted down. We pushed them together forming a flat-ish space big enough for both of us, situating it in a somewhat wind protected area.
We bundled up in all the clothing we had and cuddled up on the bench. It wasn’t so bad, right? We were together.
At this point we were exhausted and worn down from the confusion. I fell asleep for a bit, our bodies innertwined for warmth and comfort, telling myself I wasn’t cold.
But the warmth never came for me. Odd how time seems to stand still in situations like this, 30 minutes felt like hours. I got colder and colder lying there on the drafty bench. Somehow he kept sleeping soundly, which reassured me this could be done. We could actually sleep together on a park bench.
He woke up when I would get up to do jumping jacks, lunges, and pushups to get my blood flowing a bit then lay down again. I did this periodically throughout the night combined with cuddling on our park bench love nest.
Sometime after 5:30 am we were nudged by a train employee. Of course, now we were getting kicked off the bench! After waking up enough to process what was going on we realized they were telling us to get on the train early. The train that was sitting vacant at the station last night was now up and running, full of life, warming the engine and prepping for the journey.
We had survived.
I will never forget the joy we felt getting in our train car. I will also never forget how it looked velvety red all over, made from excess material from Snoop Dogg and Santa. Our warm, warm train car.
We immediately took our shoes and socks off putting our bare icy toes over the heater vents, smiling ear to ear. That moment overshadowed all the things that had gone wrong.
We looked at each other and just laughed at what we had been through in the last 10 hours. So much to be angry frustrated and defeated about, but yet still we were smiling ear to ear—simply happy to be together.
It may not be a glamourous love story filled with decadence but that is love.
Love is messy, unexpected, and sometimes more good than bad.
We managed to make a love nest out of a park bench. I am confident that our love can survive adversity, travel and otherwise.
There is no one I’d rather warm my toes with. I love you.
See more stories from See C Go on Maptia.