Our Home Land

Side story: One expression of our attempt to be focused and clear about finding land where we can create a home manifested the week after we arrived in Romania. Andreea began to purchase a local advertisements newspaper “Piata” which is published every Tuesday. She began to look at real-estate options so we could get a sense of what was out there. We didn’t make any calls or go to see anything. Some weeks later when we had an initial sense of what we were looking for, Andreea began to put together a spreadsheet list of potential properties. She would review it every week, update properties that were re-advertised and add new ones. Over a couple of months this gave us a sense of how long properties were on the market and changes in their asking prices. Still we didn’t call anyone or go to see anything … though by now we were beginning to feel a little guilty about it.

After our trip around Cluj we were geared up to dig our hands deeper into real-estate dirt. We were now focused on two areas – Cornesti (where Andreea’s phone number began, and maybe still is, circulating) and Mociu. Mociu appealed to us more then Cornesti – it felt more spacious, lighter and younger – and it came to us by surprise! So Andreea began to make some phone calls. One of the calls left Andreea exhilarated – she described a charming conversation with an old man looking to sell 10 hectares of land in Mociu. Andreea was all giddy with excitement – for no logical reason – though we’ve both learned to recognize and appreciate that when this happens to her we’ve come across something good.

Later that week, last Friday (February 18th) Sabin and Ina once again came to our karmic rescue. They borrowed a car from a now mutual friend (thank you sooooo much Alex) and we drove together, the four us and the land-owner, to see the land.

Mociu is about 40km (30 minute drive) east of Cluj. The name Mociu relates to both a communa (an area that encompasses numerous villages) and the central village itself. It feels like a developed village – it’s center feels like a living public place (not a typical village scene) – including kids walking around (even less typical). At the center of the village we took a left turn and the property we came to see is about 2km removed from the center. Now is a good time to let some images do the talking.

We couldn’t arrive directly to the house with the car because the final segment of the road leading to it will only be completed this coming spring. So we drove into a nearby field and began walking in.

It sloped and led us to a small bridge over a small stream

and this is the view that opened up before us (slightly to the left/north because a blinding sun was shining down on us from the south) – it’s a panorama – so you are welcome to click on it to see more (that invitation extends to the other panoramas on this page as well).

We continued, passed one property where a young farmer greeted us and arrived at our designated property – this image looks back at the path we took to the property – the land on the right hand side is one of the agricultural hectares belonging to it.

and just passed it is this:

from left to right: garage (red doors), summer kitchen (pink walls), main house (long blue structure), and finally a barn (great space for all the wood working in our future) … and there are smaller structures for firewood, pigs and chickens. Both the main house and summer kitchen are built of thick cob walls. The other two structures were built in recent years. The whole “complex” is perfectly oriented with protection of both a hill and trees on the north and then complete opening to the southern sun. It is also hooked up to electricity and telephone lines (no gas and no sewage).

Across the “street” (to the left) are 6 additional hectares sprawling up a gentle hill of land and a water well (amazing water!):

The summer kitchen is a small structure with one room and a stove installed behind one of it’s walls (with access from within the room)

And this is the main house – a 60 year old structure which testifies to the strucutral quality of both the land and the construction.

We wouldn’t want to live in this house but we are also not happy to tear it down. It’s also very useful for us for living in while we build the main house. We are considering leaving it as is for now and maybe using it as a basis for the Feminitate center we have envisioned.

To the east of the entire complex is a beautiful clearing where we could easily envision our house being built.

We fell in love with the place and speak of it as ours.

For those interested in the workings of Karma here’s one amazing fact about this place. I didn’t know this until we arrived back back in the city and parted from Ina and Sabin – that’s when Andrees told me about it. This was the first real-estate listed in Andreea’s spreadsheet. It has been with us, waiting for us, from the first weeks we arrived in Romania. We had to patiently follow a trail of clues for it to appear before us.

By the way … the property to the east of us (just beyond the clearing above) is also for sale 🙂

Journey Around Cluj

Last Saturday (Feb 12) was an exhaustive and hugely fruitful day. We hired a taxi driver to tour around Cluj to get an impression of the lands in the area.

Side-story: When we landed in Cluj, over 3 months ago, we exited the airport and wanted to take a taxi to the city. We were heavily loaded with luggage and the second taxi in the taxi queue was a station-wagon car which could have taken all of our things (the first taxi was too small) and so we approached the driver. He couldn’t help us because there is no way out of the queue (it is blocked in) until you are the first car and he suggested we consider taking two separate cars. We opted to wait and a few minutes later someone took the cab ahead of us and we were good to go. The driver, Florin, was very friendly and curious. Four days later when we moved into our apartment we called him to help us move our stuff. Florin, the first person to greet and service us in our new life here, was also our countryside-tour driver.

Following some suggestions from our architect (who also sent us to see Suceagu) we headed out in a south-west direction. Our first stop was a 25 minute drive from Cluj (timed from the Pollus mall exit) somewhere between Savadisla and Finistel:

The villages in this area are surrounded by hills and mountains – which makes them windy and cold. When we stepped out of the car to take these images we were met with some of the most severe cold we’ve experienced since we’ve arrived together with very strong wind and hail. Apparently, in this area, this kind of weatther can strike out of nowhere throughout the year. Lands in the area seem to be relatively small in size and expensive. According to Florin prices are 30-50 euro per sqm because local politicians are intent into making this into a touristic area. Andreea made some phone calls later to advertised real-estate and the prices were indeed on that level. Many of the villages in the area are Hungarian speaking. Though we were happy to be out of the city and into a village setting we did not feel welcomed.

Andreea and I looked at each other and decided to follow our instincts. We asked Florin to turn around and to head back towards Cluj and towards Cornesti which is an area north of Cluj that seemed to call out to us. As we were driving back towards the city Andreea explained to Florin what we are looking for and he confirmed that the Area we were in was not suitable and that Cornesti was.

As we were exiting the city on the other (eastern – Airport) side Florin invited us to make a stop at his house for a cup of coffee. We did and it as a lovely visit. We met his wife and saw how what was once a village was slowly being swallowed into a suburb of the city. We also got to see a proud Florin show us his new self-built house. Though it is a typical brick-built house it was impressive and inspiring to see that indeed self-building is feasible. Florin built his house over a period of 5 months.

We then continued about 20 minutes up the road heading north from Cluj until we took a left turn towards Cornesti. Within 2 minutes Andreea and I were both smiling and our bodies were at peace. Beautiful area, great energy … this was much more like what we were looking for.

… and spectacular agricultural lands

We came across this house which had a “for sale” sign on it – it was a small house sitting on about 2 acres of land. Andreea called and inquired about the asking price was 12k euro – which we felt was unjustified!

Towards the end of the Cornesti village (Cornesti is also, as is typical in Romania the name of the area which includes numerous villages) we saw these two beatiful strips of land (left and middle of the image – probably ~1 hectare each), we got out of the car, I looked at them and said to Andreea “I want these”.

On the way we back we stopped and Florin and Andreea got out to talk to one of the villagers (I took the image from inside the car). He showed them an additional plot of land and told them that the two strips we liked belonged to two quarrelling brothers.

Side-story: EVERYONE warned us to hide my being a foreigner – as that would cause a sharp increase in the price of land. So where possible I stayed out of the way or to the side. Florin was generously helpful standing in my place with Andreea (at one point he said that her being a woman on her own may have the same effect of me being a foreigner). I will write up a separate post accumulating some tips on looking for land here, but for now suffice to say you should be talking to people in three places: the pub, the church and the local grocery store.

We headed out of Cornesti happy and hopeful. There was still daylight and Florin wanted to take us to see another area and we gladly agreed. We drove back to the main road and continued a bit further north towards Gherla and then headed out of the city on a road that curved south-east and then south-west. It was a very scenic road.

We eventually arrived at the soft, abundant hills of Mociu.

Mociu felt more spacious and vibrant then Cornesti and we fell in love immediately. It was clear that Florin loved the area, I have a feeling he would also love to move to that area. We were really confident in the advice Florin gave us (we learned a lot on the way) – he understood us and we connected – and in the end we realized that what we should have probably done is simply asked him to show us his favorite places.

It is now a week later and we have found the land of our dreams – the place where we are going to build our home. It is in Mociu but that deserves a separate post … coming up soon 🙂

Suceagu

Our architect (so wonderful to be able to say that, deserves and will be treated to a separate post) Horatiu sent us to see Suceagu. We were taken on a tour of the village and area by his friendly and generous friend … and so our land-finding journey and education continues.

Suceagu is rather large village 12 km north-west of Cluj. It’s hidden in a valley that actually worms back in the direction of Cluj – it’s about an hour walk from the city limits to the village. It is half Romanian and half Hungarian village. The part of the village closer to the main road and train station is Romanian dominated and deeper inside and higher up is Hungarian dominated – though there is some intermingling. The lower, Romanian part is very crowded – houses felt packed together. As we traveled deeper into the village there was a bit more sense of space. Towards the end of the village there actually was space. I am guessing its crowded because of it’s proximity to the city – and from what we were told there is a movement of people from the city to the village.

Once we got to the top we got out and this is the view that appeared before us (click the image below to see a larger image):

This image is looking back in the direction we came in – facing north (on the left side is west, on the right east), it is ~10:00am – you can see the sun shining from the east – brighter on the western side. We liked this area very much – rounded and spacious hills with plenty of light.

Though it looks fairly flat – it has good north-south orientation – if you look closely you can see that on the left the hill rises gently to the north – creating a subtle but effective potential shielding from the north (if a house is properly sited).

Also, the left (west) side is very accessible by road, the right (east) side is less so and in some parts there is an additional valley that needs to be bridges to get to it.

Our host made a stop on the way down to ask about these lands. It seems that, typical of Romania, the lands are very fragmented – small plots (2 or 3 acres) owned by different people. This makes it difficult to purchase a larger area of 1 or 2 hectare. The village is also growing and creeping up the road – which means that in the future it may not remain so spacious. From what we can tell lands prices are currently ~10euro per sqm – way beyond our budget.

Our host then took us to see lands on the other (northern side of the main road) a couple of minutes drive out of the village.

We loves this land even more. These are deserted (from the 90’s) fruit tree orchards with excellent north-south orientation. The land here is clay-heavy (maybe good for people interested in building with cob?) and therefore less suitable for diverse farming. Otherwise a nice place, great view, spacious and close to the city.

Visiting Suncuius

Around 3 weeks ago we joined Ina and Sabin on to see Suncuius where they purchased land for their house. It was an exciting first – not only because of the prospect of becoming land-owners but also of creating a life with friends and neighbors like Ina & Sabin.

Lesson1: Romania is Beautiful

I’ve not yet had an opportunity to travel and spend time in the vastness of Romania. This was another glimpse into how simple, direct and beautiful it is. A set of landscape images from the area was published separately on my personal-blog.

Lesson2: 4 x 4

Ina and Sabin’s land is in the higher and more remote area of Suncuius. Getting to it from the lower area of the village is about 7 km out most of it on un unpaved road. We had a beautiful sunny day but the road was snowed over. On the way up we got stuck on our way up on an icy part of road we failed to negotiate. Ina and I got out and sat on the hood of the car (it was a two front wheel drive car) to give it more traction while Sabin attempted to get us past the hump in the road. These are my legs hanging over the car:

This is the wonderful view that opened up when we got past it.

… and this is where we moved back into the car

… and this is the breath-taking space we arrived at.

If you are going to be living in an elevated place in the mountains then you may want to consider getting a 4×4 vehicle – it makes getting around safer, more reliable and more pleasant.

Lesson3: Generosity

We arrived at the house of the family who’s land Ina and Sabin purchased. I was quickly reminded of the welcoming generosity that seems to be typical of Romanian villages. Though the homes are often old and run down – home-grown and cooked food and drink is always offered. An abundant life reaches my consciousness from village life here.

Lesson4: Plentiful Land & Water

The fertile lands and plentiful water in Romania is a big part of why we are here. Having land and the skills, tools and knowledge to work it is a unique, if not the most sustainable form of richness I can imagine. This is where we are heading.

Lesson5: Draw in Snow

While Sabin was off making some arrangement in town Ina took us to see their land. While we were there we made some markings in the snow to simulate what their thoughts for a house would feel like. This was a really useful exercise – seeing the house oriented on the land, experiencing distances, room sizes can be very eye opening – much more then many drawings. The snow makes it very easy to make markings, if you don’t have snow use sticks and rocks … but don’t miss out on doing this.

Lesson6: Classic Construction

We are building the first hemp-lime house in Romania. I took great pleasure in seeing this classically built Romanian house. I don’t know how old this structure is but it shows signs of durability.

Though we aim for something much better, more resilient and more ecological there are a few things I liked about it: simplicity, basic do-it-yourself construction, reliance on local materials, practical wood-joinery and stone foundations (instead of todays popular concrete).

Lesson7: Do Your Homework

A few months ago we had no idea what to look for in land and who to ask. Since then we’ve accumulated a list of things we’d like in our land to support us and make our life pleasant. We will probably have to compromise on some of the things – but with this list we know what it is we are compromising on and what we are getting.

Though the place was beautiful and we would love to be neighbors with Ina & Sabin we realized there were a few things missing:

  1. As we intend to extend our home into a place of learning, retreat and eventually birthing – this part of Suncuius is too remote and inaccessible. Suncuius is great if you want to retreat to a remote and intimate life – but we still have work to do engaging other people. To do this we need to remain accessible.
  2. We are planning to do diverse farming to provide for ourselves. Suncuius is in a high location making it too cold for growing grains. Suncuius also sits on top of many caves (there are sink holes all around) which effects the fertility and versatility of the land.
  3. To do the caves below water isn’t found in near-house wells. There is a spring in the area from which the village gets its water. Connecting to it may be a challenge.
  4. Accessibility may be an issue in winter months and also during construction when materials need to be brought in.

Had we not thought about these things in advance and known our needs and preferences we could have easily fallen in love with the place and overlooked them. Sabin is asking around for us about lands in the lower area of Suncuius (closer to the road, train station and on flat-lands).

Choosing Land

We are going to buy land – a special piece of land where we will make a home. What should we look for when buying land? At first we didn’t know how to begin answering this question. But by now we have a better idea of what we want and we put together this list of wishes we hope to balance together:

  • Designation: land that is designated for both construction and agriculture – the majority of which is for agriculture. Sometimes there is one part of the land where the house is built and the agricultural lands are separated. We are looking for land that is a combination of both. In Romanian this is called “intravilan” – land that is “inside the village” – meaning the housing area. We have plans for additional structures on the house – including a birthing center.
  • Orientation: North-South orientation – with a view in the south. That way we can enjoy both the view and passive-solar energy by having south facing windows (the north wall will be fairly closed to insulate from cold winds. It is preferable that the house can be placed in such a way that the entrance is from either the south, east or west (as the north is an uninviting fron).
  • Fertile Land: We want land that is easy to cultivate for diverse crops. Preferrably without stones, comfortable summer climate (not too cold so we can grow crops like wheat which suffer from cold weather) and ground that is not too acidic or salty.
  • Water Table: We expect to pump our water from a well. The water table should be between 4 and 10 meters. A water table that is too high can damage house foundations. A water table that is too low can be more difficult to pump and is more likely to dry up in dry seasons.
  • Flowing Water: Hydro-electricity is one of the most reliable and affordable green-electricity solutions. We hope to find land with running water with enough head to generate eletricity.
  • Near Water: If there isn’t running water on the property then we would like to live within walking distance from a body of water.
  • Proportions: We prefer land that is well proportioned – not too elongated. It should also be at least 50 meters wide to accommodate the potential length of our house (15-20 meters) with additional space on both sides (10-15 meters on every side).
  • Accessible: We prefer a town that is accessible by public transportation (bus or train) to and from a near city. Our land should be within a short driving distance from the town – preferrably even a short walking distance of ~ 20 minutes.

There are also a few things we know to look out for. Thanksfully this list it small and we hope it stays that way:

  • Altitude: If the area is prone to be flooding then our land should be located at a higher altitude so that water can easily flow away from and not accumulate on it.
  • Quiet: The land should not be situated on a main road.