“Yes, I think so. I believe in serendipity,” I told him.
It was 2am and I was sitting in the dark next to Split’s Riva Harbour as it slowly wound down for the night. The grand palace of Diocletian illuminated next to us, but the lights were mostly blocked by a row of palm trees standing guard on the water’s edge.
I was in the middle of a Before Sunrise moment with an Italian stranger named Christian.
We’d met just a few hours ago, but I had already shared so much with him. Our legs hung over the edge of the harbor, the slightly choppy Adriatic splashing the soles of our bare feet as it crashed against the concrete.
“You know, I didn’t like Split that much until tonight,” I said, sort of to him, sort of speaking my thoughts aloud as they came to me.
I was supposed to leave the coming evening, to carry on my travels. And I hadn’t been too worried about leaving before. I wasn’t enamored with the place. There were a lot of things about Split that made it difficult for me to love.
But now, as I stared out over the sea, into the darkness, watching the last few lights left on the other side of the harbor flickering, I felt a pang in my chest. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.
“I don’t think I want to leave, Christian.”
“Don’t then,” he said, as if it was the easiest thing in the world.
We met on the beach earlier that afternoon.
I hadn’t been planning on going, so — not wanting to get my clothes dirty — I sat on the slanted border wall at the back of the beach, on a section just low enough that I could wiggle my toes in the soft sand below.
I was staring out to the sea, enjoying the feeling of the sun on my bare shoulders, when I was pulled out of my reverie by an unfamiliar voice asking if I knew the time. Before I knew it — long after I had given him the time — the sun was starting to dip and Christian and I were still chatting away on that wall.
He asked if I’d like to meet later on for dinner and, not wanting to go back home to England full of regret, I said yes.
Later that night, just past sunset, I found myself sitting on another wall.
The smooth stone one surrounding the fountain at the end of the Riva, waiting for my new Italian friend. The fountain was just underneath the clock, which chimed every hour, announcing the time to us as it did to the medieval inhabitants of Split in days gone by.
When Christian arrived, we greeted in typical European fashion with a kiss on each cheek and joined the throng of other holidaymakers enjoying the warm summer’s evening. He said he wanted to take me to a popular restaurant he’d heard about with menus in a plethora of languages and traditional Croatian dishes.
The restaurant was full, so we were seated at a table already inhabited by two French women. Christian wanted fish, but became flustered when he couldn’t translate the dish from his Italian menu, so I giggled and helped him find it on my English one. He joked around with the waiter, poured me more wine when my glass was empty, and told me about his life across the sea in Italy.
We spent most of the rest of the evening wandering along the waterfront.
We chatted about our lives as we explored. I’m not usually one to share a lot about myself — especially not with a complete stranger — but being in a new country let me open up to people and give in to spontaneity.
Even if the relationships you make on the road are short-lived, the memories will last a lifetime.
In one of his stories, Christian recalled being 10 and hearing the warplanes fly overhead on their way to what was Yugoslavia at the height of the Yugoslavian conflict. He said that he didn’t know what they were at the time, but looking back on history has made him realize that we need to take time out for ourselves every once in awhile, to relax in the warmth of another place, and to feel the ocean embrace our bare feet.
I told him that sadness and a desire to see the world is what had brought me here. It felt a little silly after he’d told his tale, but he reassured me that it wasn’t.
When we found ourselves back on the Riva we wandered into the palace and down through the narrow stone streets, soaking up the atmosphere at night. Couples strolled past with huge, exotic-flavoured ice creams, taking in the history all around.
The restaurants were mostly empty by now, but the bars were in full swing. It was getting late, but we wanted a cocktail before the bars closed.
After closing time, we had nowhere to go but no desire to part just yet. And that’s how we found our legs dangling over the harbor’s edge, being splashed by the sea, talking about serendipity.
A comfortable silence filled the air around us as I pondered his suggestion.
Should I stay? I hadn’t considered it before.
This was one of the many reasons why I had embarked on this solo trip in the first place: to meet beautiful strangers and live carefree, changing plans at the drop of a hat to follow my heart’s desires. But now that I was actually here, it felt different.
Was it a good idea to get more attached to a complete stranger, knowing it would only last as long as we were both in the same city? Would we stay in contact after we went our separate ways? Did it even matter if we didn’t?
I couldn’t help but think that it didn’t matter if we never saw each other again. That the memories alone would be enough.
It was Christian who eventually broke the silence.
“If you stay tonight, we can spend the day together tomorrow. Maybe go to the beach, and then we’ll go for dinner and drinks at night,” he said. “But it’s up to you, of course. I’d like you to stay, to have a bit longer in your company, but if you don’t want to I understand.”
The waves crashed harder as a small, engine-powered boat entered the harbour. Christian put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me closer. I turned to face him and opened my mouth to reply, but he cut me off.
“I don’t want you to answer,” he said.
I looked up at him, puzzled, and he smiled down at me.
“We both believe in serendipity, so let’s create our own. If you decide to stay another day, meet me at the fountain at 2pm tomorrow. If you decide not to stay, get on your bus and don’t worry about leaving.” I felt like Céline and Jesse.
He told me that he felt like we were supposed to meet that afternoon, for one reason or another.
I lay my head on his shoulder and turned back to look across the water. I couldn’t help but smile to myself at the thought of how lovely life could be sometimes.
Maybe this Italian stranger wouldn’t be in my life for very long, but I’d be very glad for the time he was — if only because he would serve as a reminder to always follow my heart’s desires.
I knew in that instant I’d be at the fountain tomorrow afternoon. After all, it’s serendipity, right?
Have you ever had a serendipitous encounter while traveling? Share in the comments!