I’ll never know for sure if they were angels.
I’m talking about two men who seemingly came out of nowhere to help me with car trouble in Croatia.
But, let’s back up.
My one night in Zagreb, Croatia
This was November 2019. My last solo international trip. My longest solo international trip. After visiting five countries in about two weeks, I was in Zagreb, Croatia for my second-to-last night in Europe. The next day, I planned to drive four hours from Zagreb to Vienna, Austria and spend my final night there before a super early flight from Vienna’s airport back to the US.
I arrived late afternoon after driving over five hours from southern Bosnia and Herzegovina.
At that point, I wanted out of the car. My goal was to freshen up at my Airbnb, then explore the city while searching for a dinner spot. Unfortunately, getting into my Airbnb proved a challenge. It was a true comedy of errors. Let me tell you.
Finding the building for my Airbnb in the city was easy. Its large door matched the photo and address the host sent, and I knew the next step was accessing the box next to the door for my key. Directly in front of the door was a tow away zone on a busy street, and though I assumed it would only take a minute or so to jump out and get what I needed from the box, I didn’t want to risk it. In the US? Sure. In a foreign country where I don’t know the laws or fees or language? Nope. So, I circled the nearby blocks, hoping for a close-ish spot. I circled and I circled and nothing came available.
Frustrated, I expanded my radius. All I knew was the instructions had said something about getting the key from the box, and that I could park in the courtyard. But WHAT COURTYARD? As far as I could tell from the outside, it was a solid building, and I wasn’t sure if the details were lost in translation. I held onto hope that whatever was in that box by the front door would give me more answers. And yes, I tried messaging the host, but my internet signal was spotty AND I was driving.
And no spots were to be found.
The further I drove from that Airbnb, the more desperate I became to simply find a parking spot. A full hour had passed. There were tears, y’all! And prayers. Lots of prayers. The only thing I knew to do was keep looking. And then, I found a spot—barely enough room to parallel park one small-ish car—but there was room. I’ll also add that this was probably a mile away from my Airbnb, at best. But I didn’t care. Did I mention I was desperate?
By then, it was dusk. The yellow glow of streetlights was all I had to work with in terms of visibility. I pulled up next to the car in front of the spot. MY spot. Once aligned, I slowly backed up, ready to start turning the wheel. While I am far from the best at parallel parking, I can certainly hold my own—especially on a quiet street.
But then, I heard something that had me slam on the brake. Screeching metal. Did I hit that car?! No, that’s impossible! Still in the driver’s seat, I craned my neck toward the rear right side of my car to assess the situation. Though my car was mere inches away from the car next to me, it didn’t look like they were touching—and even if they’d bumped, it shouldn’t have made that noise.
Still, I slowly pulled forward to put distance between the two cars. My intent was to then get out and check the exterior, but as I pulled forward, I heard the noise again. What?! I was baffled. I’m moving away from the other car! Why am I still hearing that noise?!
At that point, I stopped the car, flung open the door, and ran around to the rear. If you can imagine simultaneously breathing a sigh of relief while also being terrified, that was me.
What I saw was my right rear bumper half torn off my car, with jagged edges. It had caught on the rear left tire—yes, TIRE—of the car next to me because, apparently, that driver did not straighten the wheels after parking. That back wheel was turned out at a 45-degree angle, which I never noticed from inside my own car.
That relief I mentioned came from knowing I didn’t damage someone else’s car. I mean, what do you even do in Croatia in a situation like that? Leave a note? Get a fine? I was instantly thankful I didn’t have to find out.
But, the terror came from the fact that my bumper was dragging on the ground. It was after 5pm, so what auto shops would be open? And, I had to drive four hours to Vienna the next morning! All these thoughts came in the span of maybe 3 seconds. At least that’s what it felt like. All the emotions hit me at once.
And then, out of nowhere, two men rushed to my side and started speaking Croatian. I say “out of nowhere” because (1) I was completely oblivious to my surroundings in that moment; and (2) it wasn’t a busy street. Even before I attempted to park, I saw maybe one person on the sidewalk. So, the fact that these men showed up seemed like a miracle to me.
Once they realized I was American, they started speaking broken English and got right on the ground to fix my bumper. And by “fix” I mean wedge it back into its original shape so it was no longer hanging on the street. How they did it, I don’t know. They gave me a few instructions to help, but it was all a bit of a blur, to be honest.
Less than ten minutes later, my bumper was back in place. Still cracked. Still something I would have to take up with the car rental company. But one dilemma at a time, right? My main concern was getting to Vienna, and these two men made my car drivable again.
I did my best to express the level of gratitude welling up within me. In fact, I hugged them, these two strangers who helped me with no hesitation. In my desperation. With a language barrier. I was still shaken—and they could tell.
As I sat in the driver’s seat of my car, saying goodbye to them before they walked on down the street, one of the men stopped by the window and asked, in his broken English, if I was in a hurry. No, I’m not, I managed. And his next words were exactly what I needed. Something to the effect of, I think you should sit here for a minute and just breathe. I nodded, and they walked away.
And I did. I sat in that car and took deep breaths, all the while processing what had just happened.
And then, I called my dad.
Why? Because those two men reminded me so much of my dad. It was exactly something he would do for anyone in need. So, I called my dad, told him what happened, and said, Dad. God sent me TWO of you to help.
But, the story doesn’t end there. I’m sure you want to know if I ever got into my Airbnb, right?
It’s a funny story, really
I drove back to my Airbnb and somehow found a signal to send a message to my host that I couldn’t find parking. He messaged me back, confused. I was supposed to park in the courtyard, he said. Just as confused, I replied to ask how to access the courtyard. And that’s when he said I could just drive through the door.
Yup. That front door with the box. It opened wide enough for a small car to drive through. Who knew? I just thought it was a large, old, European entryway door. But no. It was more like a gate into the courtyard. If only I’d known it was that simple.
Back at the building, I pulled up on the sidewalk, so the front of my car was facing the giant door. I got out and used the provided code to open the box for the door key. The instructions to actually open the door were questionable, but I got it to work and managed to close it behind me. Gosh, it was tight; but, sure enough, my car fit inside, and there was the courtyard with my parking space and door to my Airbnb apartment.
At first, I’ll admit I had some negative thoughts. Really?! If he’d just told me to drive THROUGH the door, that whole nightmare could’ve been avoided. I only have one night in Zagreb and that wasted SO MUCH time. Now, I have to deal with the rental car company. Oh yeah, and I’m starving!
But, once I got that out, I had to laugh. It really was comical. And, I survived. And, I got to witness a miracle. All in all, worse things could have happened!
Thankfully, I still had a few hours left to explore the nearby city center. Being November, though the sun had set, it wasn’t all that late.
For dinner, I popped into the grocery store across the street from my Airbnb, because my motivation to sit at a restaurant was nil by that time. I nuked the food, then went to bed that night ready to head to Vienna for my final day of the trip.
And, I tried not to think about what would happen after I returned my damaged rental car.
Paid in full
Remember when I said my flight was early? Well, it was so early that the rental car company wasn’t even open. I’d planned to explain what happened, but just had to leave the car in a parking space and head to the terminal.
Within 24 hours, I received an email with the damage report and repair charges to my credit card in the amount of $2,216.80 USD. Ooof. The day after I got home, I submitted an insurance claim through my credit card, hoping to get my money back.
Two months later—January 2020—I learned that the claim was approved and a $2,216.80 credit was applied to my card statement. Thank you, God!
Looking back on that experience in Zagreb, I’m still in awe of God’s provision in my time of need. I truly believe I witnessed a miracle with that unexpected help from strangers. Even if my credit card insurance didn’t pay for the repairs, the help I received would have been enough. But God always does more.
In fact, He already did the MOST for me, and you, and everyone! His son Jesus died for our sins.
The refund for damage fees reminds me of this truth—that all my sins are paid in full. Jesus paid it all, and it’s grace I didn’t earn. Grace I don’t deserve.
So yeah. I like to think those men were angels. They were certainly doing God’s work that day.
Have you ever witnessed an angel-like experience?