Brent and I are “slomads”, digital nomads who practice “slow travel”. We stay in most of our destinations between one and three months. And because of that, I get to know the places we stay a little deeper than I otherwise would.
But life has a way of humiliating you.
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At our current home in Split, Croatia, I was recently whining to a fellow nomad how after two months I was bored. “Split is so small and I’ve seen it all!” I said.
“Can I see some of your photos?” ” she asked.
“Of course,” I said, still happy to show off my photos.
“Very well,” she said. “I see you have all the ‘big’ things.”
I could tell basically, she meant obvious.
“Is there something I missed? ” I asked.
“Have you seen Varoš?
“What is that?” I say, confused.
“It’s a neighborhood,” she explained. “It’s not particularly famous, but I still think it’s very special. And I’m surprised you missed it since you live practically right above it.
“Guess I need to check,” I said, feeling chagrined.
After he left, I did a Google search and found that, of course, Brent and I lived right next to Varoš. I had walked every day just outside the entrance to this old neighborhood.
The next morning, camera in hand, I took it upon myself to explore the neighborhood – which dates back at least to the 15th century, when it was first officially mentioned in religious records.
I quickly discovered that while this neighborhood of tiny, winding streets didn’t contain any obvious wonders – like the 3,500-year-old sphinxes in nearby Diocletian’s Palace or the sweeping views from the top of Marjan Hill – it definitely had its own charms.
And perhaps small wonders. All you had to do was look a little closer to see them.
How narrow are the labyrinthine streets? In some places it is possible to reach out and touch either side.
Naturally, there are no cars – although there are specially designed one-person garbage trucks capable of making their rounds to pick up trash.
As I wandered around the neighborhood, I couldn’t help but marvel at the tiny stone houses. Brent and I had spent much of the past four years in Europe, famous for its small settlements.
But nothing quite matched what I found in Varoš.
Determined not to repeat my past mistake of missing the forest for the trees, I explored Varoš slowly, paying close attention to my surroundings.
And sure enough, I immediately started noticing things.
Like that Santa Claus perched on the wall long after Christmas.
Or this cat watching passers-by.
I had read that despite its small size, Varoš was home to several churches, including the Church of St. Nicholas (Mikule), which according to historians was first built in 1056 CE.
But Varoš is a maze of dead ends where the narrow streets end in courtyards or abandoned buildings.
Despite my efforts, I could not find the church. Then I spotted a nun. Nun = church, right?
I followed her.
And, shortly after, she drove me to the Saint-Nicolas church!
Although – ironically – it wasn’t her destination, and she kept walking right past it.
Unfortunately, the church door was firmly closed.
But so early in the morning I had the area all to myself and could take pictures at my leisure.
Varoš grew up around St. Nicholas Church, a neighborhood of fishermen, farmers and poor peasants who built small stone houses for their families.
The district was considerably larger, but much of it was razed in the 17th century to build ramparts to defend against invading Turks from the mighty Ottoman Empire.
It made me wonder what those long gone streets looked like.
During the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, Varos steadily declined. Many residents left for “better” neighborhoods, leaving behind empty buildings that slowly fell into disrepair.
Those who remained struggled to maintain their homes, let alone upgrade them.
But ten years ago, things started to change again. Varoš was rediscovered by wealthy Croats – and even more wealthy Europeans from other countries.
They began buying and repairing the dilapidated structures, turning them into modern apartments and boutique hotels. I met an architect at the local coworking center and she showed me a fantastic conversion she had just completed.
The renovated apartment is on the top floor of the building on the right.
All this made me happy for the people of Varoš — and Split. After all, what good is the plague to anyone?
Of course, Varoš’s transformation isn’t over yet. There’s plenty of elegant decay left.
And I was happy to see him. Isn’t there also beauty in imperfection?
Or maybe I feel this because my own imperfections almost caused me to miss the hidden gem called Varoš.
I hope I’ve learned my lesson and never miss what’s right under my nose again.