Categories
Blog On The Way

Roots

Monday we visited Mociu again hoping to meet with the mayor of the village to talk about fixing the road that leads to our property. It was also an opportunity for us to show our beautiful corner of the world to a friend who was staying with us.

It had been raining lightly and consistently for almost a day so this time we encountered muddy terrain and we rejoiced that we listened to Horatiu and got a 4×4 car which carried us in with confidence.

Our neighbors prepared a kind of petition request and they got all the people who would benefit from this road to sign it. We then drove back to the village center and filed the petition. The mayor wasn’t there but we met with someone else from the municipality who was attentive and helpful (and also interested because his property is just after hours and the lack of car access has made it difficult to sell it). We have already gotten word that this person spoke to the mayor and that our request was received positively and that hopefully work on the road will commence soon (this issue has been on the table for some time).

We spent some more time on our property, walked around with our friend and visited the Tilia tree we planted a week before. We found a tree filled with fresh green leaves and even new growth branching out from the ground. Indeed we are putting roots into the ground πŸ™‚

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Blog On The Way

Planting a Tilia Tree

Saturday we drove out to our land by ourselves for the first time. We came with the intention of planning a Tilia tree (that we got the day before). It was a beautiful sunny day.

We stopped at our next-door neighbors to ask borrow digging tools. That led to a lengthy and pleasant conversation over coffee and cakes. We got a little better acquainted – they too have recently (a year ago) returned to living on and working their family’s land. We found much in common. We talked about organic farming and permaculture and water and the road that needs to be fixed so that there is reliable decent access to our properties.

We then moved on to our property and began a tree planting ritual. This was an event dominated by Andreea’s wishes and intention and she led the way for us. It was a transitional ritual … letting things from the past come to a rest so that more new things can grow in our lives.

We dug the hole and filled it with water. This turned out to be an excellent water percolation test – we already new that our soil has high clay content – but now we also know that it is very slow percolating as well (something that needs to be factored in our grey water system planning and good for making future ponds). We left the hole and the water to settle and we parted energies for a while. Andreea stayed and I roamed.

Our neighbor’s cows were grazing on our fresh green hill.

I began walking up the long hill that makes up the majority or our arable land.

This time I went all the way up and realized how large it truly is. The top part flattens out so that it is invisible from the bottom. At the very top I found these fresh blossoms:

And then this view to the south-west – at the foot of the hill I am standing on you can see a part of the “road” that reaches our property – currently passable only with a 4×4 vehicle.

As I headed back down I saw Andreea was stil engaged …

By now the sun had moved to the west and offered excellent light on our small valley – so I paused to take yet another panorama (click to zoom in):

I rejoined Andreea and we completed planting the tree and setting up an improvised fence around it to protect it from wild-sheep that roam the area.

Andreea stopped to say hello to the cows, especially a young calf that was grateful for her attentions:

We also revisited the new house markings we left behind during our previous visit and decided to leave our house oriented with the natural curve of the land instead of the precise magnetic north-south alignment. We decided where we will build our compost pile … and finally I took advantage of our car’s 4×4 capabilities and took Andreea up the hill too:

On the way out we stopped by the neighbors to return the tools we borrowed and we were gifted with fresh milk (from the above mentioned cows) and eggs from their farm. It was soooooooooo wonderful to be out there. We hope to complete the acquisition process in the coming weeks and to move out there at the beginning of June.

We will be heading out again this week to meet, together with our neighbors, with the mayor to discuss the issue of the road which needs to be fixed for us to be able to bring in construction materials.

 

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Blog Pondering

Another 1st: Our Car

We wanted to live without a car but we chose to live in a rural area and self-build our home – which pretty much forced us into getting a car. We deliberated what to get for many weeks … we put off making a decision as long as possible. We were intimidated by another large expense taking a bite out of our finite “creating a home” budget. We were also intimidated by the actual act of buying a 2nd hand car in Romania. Finally it became a hindrance andΒ  we had to take action.

Our needs were:

  1. 4×4 to give us access to and from (and on) our land all year long (including snowy winters and muddy springs).
  2. Automatic – Andreea is not used to driving a stick-shift … and thinking into the future of driving with kids in the car … convinced us to go with an automatic.
  3. Not a pick-up truck – although it would have probably been very useful in the short term (construction project) it was (a) too expensive and (b) yearly taxes are higher because it is considered a commercial vehicle.
  4. Limited engine size (2.5L) – again a tax consideration – the larger the engine volume the more expensive the tax – and it rises drastically.
  5. Powerful enough to tow a loaded carriage (instead of the open bed of a pickup truck).

We narrowed our search to Kia Sorento, Nissan X-Trail and Hyundai Tuscon. We had the opportunity to ride and witness the capabilities of the Kia thanks to Horatiu (our architect) who owns one – including driving to and arriving at our property. So we focused on the Sorento.

We were strongly advised against purchasing a 2nd hand car in Romania (poor maintenance, poor roads, unknown and untraceable history, plenty of devious ways to disguise car problems). Instead, we were told to purchase a car in Germany. This used to be a good option until the end of 2010. Then Romanian lawmakers imposed extremely high registration taxes for foreign cars. The tax is based on the car pollution/ecological rating – naturally the older the car the lesser the rating and the higher the tax. These taxes made it irrelevant to bring a car from Germany (or any other country for that matter).

So we started by lots of online searching. At one point, to bring more focus into our efforts, we visited a very large car-market outside of Cluj city and that only fueled our fears. The market was overwhelming and according to rumors (which we could feel in the air) is dominated by local organized crime. So we headed back home happy to have made the effort, but dismayed by its results.

We hit the online searching again and found a very few (we only need one!) appealing cars. We had two primary cars listed (both Kia), one in Bucharest and the other in Costanta (we also had one or two other cars as secondary options in both cities). We were still inhibited and had no specific travel plans (~9 hours by train to Bucharest + another ~4 hours to Costanta) until Horatiu came to our karmic rescue and invited us to join them on a drive to Bucharest. We still deliberated until the last day but decided to jump into the water.

The owner of the Kia in Bucharest was kind enough to come and meet us where we arrived in Bucharest (near Horatiu’s in-laws). We looked over the car, it’s service record and spoke to the owner. Horatiu was again with us and supported us in looking at the car and communicating with the owner. It looked well kept, immaculately serviced and loved by its single owner. It already had a tow-hook installed (valuable for us) and many other extra amenities (less valuable to us). Andreea and I each looked inside our hearts and bodies and then at each other and decided to go for it.

We made an offer that the owner was reluctant to accept. We openly shared with him that we had another similar car waiting in Costanta but that we would be relieved to spend a weekend in Bucharest instead of having to travel to Costanta and happy to buy his car. We asked him to consider it and let us know by the end of the day, so if need be we could prepare to continue our travels the next morning. Later that night he called and agreed.

Despite all the warnings about buying a Romanian car and the nagging bureaucratic processes involved we had a smooth and great experience. The owner was pleasant, understanding and supportive. We drove around the city (making arrangements) with him an entire day and were happy that he was a safe and pleasant driver (not typical of Romanian drivers) which also reflected on his use and care of the car. At the end of the day, having recognized our discomfort in navigating the vast and unfamiliar city, he left us where we were staying and took a taxi back home. He was sad to part with the car. He also invited us to contact him if we have any questions on using and or maintaining the carΒ  … really a great all around experience … and this is now our car:

We are happy to add this to our magical list of firsts:

  • The 1st taxi driver – the one that drove us from the airport when we first arrived in Cluj (and also moved us into our current apartment) was also the driver who took us on our 1st and only tour of the county to Mociu where we found our land.
  • We are currently living in the 1st apartment we saw (though we did see more apartments we came running back to it).
  • Horatiu is the 1st and only architect we met with.
  • Our land in Mociu was the 1st property we listed in our spreadsheet and the 1st and only property we saw.
  • Our house plans, though they have gone through numerous iterations, are true to the 1st sketches Horatiu drew for us.
  • Our car is the 1st car we physically saw.

Our process repeatedly involves a lot of waiting, thinking, feelings, talking and research followed by clear and focused action yielding magical results. We usually arrive with an odd mix of clarity and doubt that together seem to guide us with phenomenal precision.

Today we are going in our 1st car to to our 1st land to plant a 1st tree:)

Categories
Blog Construction Inspiration Resources Timber Framing Videos

The Woodman’s Cottage

This comes to us, and you, complement of our architect who, amongst other things, today, presented us with a first 3d model of our future house … and this inspiring movie of a beautiful house:

More behind (and in front of) the scenes of the this project … and this is the construction method – Roundwood Timber Framing:

 

Categories
Blog On The Way Resources Videos

Natural Swimming Pools

Beautiful, inspiring, fun … something to look forward to creating in coming years πŸ™‚

Available on DVD

Categories
Blog Buying Land

Visiting Mociu with the Pros

Last Friday (April 1st) we visited our land in Mociu a 3rd time, this time with a team of professionals. Every visit has awarded us a different color – the first was snow-white, the second earth-brown and this visit was dominated by fresh-greens. The last kilometer of road to our property can hardly be called a road (can only be accessed by a 4×4 vehicle or horse-drawn carriages) so we were fortunate enough to have had a few dry days which meant that the two non 4×4 vehicles managed to get to the property (with their gear) in a round-about way.

The first thing we did was decide on an approximate location for the house. We then planted a first stake to mark the south-east corner. Then the geological testing guys setup their drill in what we later realized was pretty much the center of the house …

… and began drilling to test the composition of the soil which needs to be taken into consideration in designing the foundations.

At first they drilled to a depth of 2 meters and then to a depth of 5 meters. They did an initial analysis using good old human touch (which showed tightly compacted clay) and then packed the materials in plastic bags that were sent off to a laboratory for analysis which will result in a detailed geological report. Here they are going over the findings with Andreea and Horatiu (our architect) as an audience.

Darius is an intern who works with Horatiu and will be involved in our project. He also had a long day of work making sketches and taking measurements of the existing structures. This will help us in landscaping work and in future renovations.

We also had with us a couple who do topographical maps. They set out to measure and map our terrain and the precise location of existing structures and other elements (such as the well) on the property. Here you can see the measurement laser being setup and in the background our neighbor plowing his land.

This was the first time we realized just how large our property was – especially back into the hills behind the existing house.

For the first time, in our presence, someone actually walked up the hill to the border of our property (supposedly marked by a corner-stone). Yes it’s the hills across the valey – and just to give you a sense of distance:

For someone who grew up in a lifestyle where 500sqm was large and 1000sqm was huge … this continues to be mind-boggling … but I am quickly getting used to it (more on that in the future). Here Andreea is explaining where our property ends to the east.

Which is that line of trees behind them:

Meanwhile we completed roughly measuring and marking (with stakes in the ground) the periphery of our future house. Here you can see Andreea stretching a thin rope to mark the periphery and then Horatiu placing the last stake that marks the end of our spacious front porch.

… and then Andreea, having made a full circle made her way back to the first corner post before jumping in joy and giggling crazy πŸ™‚

Andreea and I walked up on the opposite hill to have a look at our property from it’s other end (though we only climbed up half way!).Β  On the way we encountered the neighbouring property covered by sheep we had seen earlier traversing the top of the hill.

Finally I asked Andreea to walk back ahead of me and to go stand on our future porch – and again to give you some sense of scale:

It was a spectacular day – a huge leap forward. Though it wasn’t physically demanding it was emotionally very intense! Our dream is transforming into a living reality πŸ™‚

 

 

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Blog Buying Land On The Way

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 πŸ™‚

Categories
Blog Buying Land

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 πŸ™‚

Categories
Blog Buying Land On The Way

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).

Categories
Blog Pondering

Growing is Forever

This beautiful work comes to us as we prepare to manipulate trees and other natural resources to make a home for ourselves so that we too may grow.