I felt it. That warm, tingling sensation of a truly blissful moment. Sipping my espresso, with my already-tattered copy of Shantaram opened face-down on my lap, I gazed out at the remarkably glittering blue waters. That’s when I felt it. And for once, wasps swarming my lunch didn’t bother me.
These instances are rare, and similar to hearing the bridge to your favorite song and feeling goosebumps cover your arms, making their way to the back of your neck. These moments of pure happiness and love are unnameable highs, like an injection of bliss manifesting itself through smiles and spine-chills. And just as soon as they swoop in, they’re gone.
I’m lucky, I suppose. I’ve experienced what I judge to be an enormous amount of these moments in my past year of travel. That is what brought me back to Croatia. This country was the setting for an inordinate number of them.
I remember sneaking over to an abandoned hotel just south of Old Town, Dubrovnik last year. Lying on its roof, surrounded by now-dull shards of glass and graffiti, I watched the sky, making mental notes of which clouds looked like bunnies and which ones looked like bulls. For a brief time there, away from the crowds and buzzing streets of the city, I felt it again. That moment of bliss, of being truly in love with my life.
Several more of these incredible moments popped up a few days later, in Split. In that city, I decided to continue traveling instead of heading home a few months later. That decision was terrifying, of course, but exhilarating. Split is where I fell in love with my partner. If Croatia is my own hotspot of these moments, then he was the personification of them. Split is also where I got to throw my dad a birthday party almost as crazy and fun as he is.
I fell in love with the water, the city, my travels and my life there. Maybe it was the people—I’ve had Croatians pick me up hitchhiking simply because they were “having a bad day and wanted to help someone.” Another friend of mine from Croatia loaned me a spare bed when I was sick and a pair of shoes when her dog chewed up my own. Or maybe the act of falling in love with all of these things makes you fall in love with the place itself. Perhaps that’s why I am here again. Even in the past few days in Mljet, a small island off of Dubrovnik, I felt more glimpses of that all-too-perfect sensation wash over me.
I’ve never spoken about these moments out loud, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who experiences them. I’m not advising anyone to go to Croatia to find joy or bliss out or anything like that. But when you find your perfect moments, as I have with traveling, it’s nice to know you can go back to those places and people. For me, Croatia holds some strange key to these small experiences.
I don’t believe in God, necessarily. But I have found that most things in life—love, despair, happiness, sadness—have no real explanation or motivation for their occurrences. This impossibility makes them feel more real, just like the inexplicable perfection of random but certain assortments of seconds.
Most of the time, life is far from perfect, especially while traveling. But the rarity of these moments makes them all the more valuable. As Gregory David Roberts wrote in Shantaram, there is a “monstrous and pitiable understanding that no happiness exists without its woe, no wealth without its cost, and no life without its full measure, sooner or later, of sorrowing and death.”