Skip to main content

16 Reasons Cluj Is The Ideal City For A New Start

I wanted something different. The big-city rat race wasn't doing it for me. I wasn't in any state to settle at my job, to put a down-payment on a thirty year condo mortgage, to get a long-term girlfriend and then to rinse and repeat. A lot of it had to do with not knowing what I wanted exactly, but I knew I didn't want 'this'. And even when I first visited Cluj in 2010, I didn't think Cluj would be 'it'. After all, what could a Romanian city with less than half-a-million inhabitants have to offer anybody from a North American metropolis? It was almost a quaint notion. Still is in some ways.

Crossing the entire city, end to end, in twenty minutes? That's like a drive to the grocery store in Toronto. Tallest building has like, what, fifteen floors? Ha, how puny. There are bigger roller coasters back where I'm from. Oh, is that an Indian restaurant? Yes, the one and only. There is also an  iStyle for all your Apple needs. What's iStyle? Also, with the only escalators in the city at Iulius Mall it sounds like I'll be doing a lot of my own stair climbing. Confirmed.

And yet, three years later, here I still am. 

Turns out walking to the grocery store is way better than driving there. And the lack of tall buildings means I get a nice view of the surrounding hills. Does your big North American city have hills? No, didn't think so. Also, escalators aren't quite as picturesque, are they? As for iStyle/Apple, who cares, I never bought an Apple product and I'm perfectly fine. The one Indian restaurant is owned by an Indian gentleman, a Colonel mind you, who hires the chefs from India. Nothing to complain about there. But I've already suggested Cluj might be the best city on earth. Granted, that was all based on my own experiences. So let's take a look at some hard facts.

1. Lowest Air Pollution in the EU - A recent research project carried out by a French magazine in collaboration with the "Respire" association found Cluj to be the best city in the EU for air quality, edging out Edinburgh in Scotland. The mountain air helps, as does the relatively small size of the city, but the report mentions that it ought to be taken with a grain of salt, as Cluj only has two stations that measure pollution levels. That being said, you can feel the clean air here anytime you get away from the main roads or the busy city center. I even forgot the word 'smog' while living here. 

2. Overall Satisfaction - The most recent version of a EU report that aims to determine how citizens perceive quality of life in their home cities had Cluj sandwiched between Amsterdam and Graz, in 8th place, out of 79 EU cities. Ninety-six percent of respondents declared themselves "satisfied" (or better) with life in Cluj. They didn't ask me, but count me in!

3. Integration of Foreigners - The very same report asked its respondents whether "they agreed or disagreed with two specific statements regarding foreigners: firstly, that the presence of foreigners is good for their city ; and, secondly, that foreigners who live in their city are well integrated." Cluj was in first place, with 91% of respondents issuing positive responses to both questions. It's not surprising though, Romania as a whole is friendly to foreigners, and most people in the larger cities have, at the very least, a basic grasp of English or another major European language. 

4. Cluj is Open for Business - Some will say this is contentious. I was just talking to a friend who says the city is being held back by corrupt officials. Indeed, a former mayor just received a four year prison sentence for corruption, the head of the Cluj County Council is also under arrest in a kickback scandal, and there is very little trust in the public institutions in general. But, things do happen. I've seen the growth over the past three years and it's obvious that the city isn't stagnating in any way, on the contrary. 

To complete the list, here are a handful of business and self-employment opportunities in or around Cluj:  

5. Startup/ IT Business - Talented developers, government incentives in the IT sector, and blazing fast internet are just the tip of the iceberg. Earlier in the year Intel acquired a company with a local office. Facebook has recently done the same with Cluj-founded LiveRail. HP, IBM, Yardi/ Property Shark, and SDL also number among the big names here. While outsourcing is still the bulk of software work done in Cluj, startups are catching on in a big way.

6. Art Studio - A new book names Cluj alongside eleven other 'art cities' to watch in the future. The local market may be in its infancy, but there is a big community of talented and creative people here. Check out this steam-punk bistro pub.

7. Bagel Shop - The staple of any good breakfast, those delicious bread donuts, are nowhere to be found in Cluj. You can weep or you can seize the opportunity and be the first to serve up beautifully toasted bagels with a variety of delicious spreadables. While Romanians are not the ideal early adopters, the bagel might be familiar enough that it could quickly go viral. 

8. Freelance Work - You got skills? Why not do your writing, photography, video, music, design, or software development from one of the coolest cities on the planet? Located near the crossroad of Europe and Asia, you're only far away from Australia. With the low cost of living, you'll manage to live a well-balanced lifestyle.

9. Teach English - While the language is already widely spoken, Romanians are always happy to get extra practice from native speakers. It's a no-brainer.

10. Open the first Resto-lounge - You know those places that serve fusion cuisine, offer uncomfortable dining seating, and combine the atmosphere of bistro, club, and bar? What the hey, Cluj should have one of those. 

11. Open a proper Korean, Mexican, Vietnamese, or Lebanese restaurant - Mexican and Lebanese has been done but I'd say location and quality is what killed 'em. Like anything else, if it's actually good, I have a feeling it would go down pretty well. 

12. Indoor football (soccer) field(s) for winter - In Toronto there were some good choices for winter soccer games. Consider that every winter in Cluj, there are people who play in the snow in -10 degree weather. Can you imagine how they'd line up for a spot in a heated indoor soccer center? The one covered field here is a joke, a wedding tent offers more protection from the elements.  

13. Refurbish the Continental Hotel - The iconic city center landmark has the potential to be the coolest boutique hotel in the region. Apparently there are some property disputes and legal battles surrounding the issue, so it might need plenty of time in addition to money. Nonetheless, it's a gem. 

14. Buy a football (soccer) club - I believe both of the local clubs, U Cluj and CFR Cluj, are on the market. If you're an oil-rich sheikh, you'd be paying pocket change for a team with real European potential. 

15. Build a sustainable Eco-Tourism business - I visited The Organic Art Ranch a couple of weeks ago and enough said, just look at the gallery. A story that struck me though was that of a wealthy businessman who'd visited and insisted on sleeping in the grass under the stars. That's really low overhead.

16. Invest in real-estate - I kind of hate to even suggest this because I'm not a fan of real-estate speculation. However, in this market, it's going nowhere but up. Buy for AirBnB hosting,  to rent, as a second home, or for long term investment. It will bear fruit. 

Some of these suggestions require millions in investment, the others, a willingness to take the plunge. One thing's certain, if you're a self starter, you won't be at a loss for what to do in this little big city. 



Comments

  1. You forgot Salina Turda! I'm not sure how often you could re-visit the place, but it's still pretty cool just living in a place where you can take tourists (and scare them half to death on walkways silly distances in the air). Your job, done.

    I must say Matt, whatever Cluj Tourism is paying you, it's not enough. This story really didn't help me to get over my longing for Romania, aaaaargh. I'm not so sure if it had to do with the country or just how great it was discovering it with Iulia, but there were undoubtedly many amazing people there I'd love to get to know better.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Matt isn't getting paid by Cluj Tourism but we should get a petition going for him to make some moneyyy! I'm sure he would then invest it into making this city even better :)

      Delete
  2. Matt, another great column pointing out the many positives about Romania! I'm a little partial to Timisoara (where some of the same things apply) , but having been to Cluj, I get it. Keep writing. Noroc! Andy

    ReplyDelete
  3. Interesting article. Cluj would be glad to have Pilates instructors, writers and pye makers. I remember the beautiful botanical garden in the city. Cheers from Peru.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Is Cluj The Best City On Earth?

It's a question I ask myself at times.

Let's put it this way; I've been around. Maybe not all around the world, but halway-ish maybe. Sailed the canals of Amsterdam, biked from one end of Paris to the other, took the train from Budapest to Berlin, drove the 405 in LA, and yeah, I even rode a hay cart back in the day. But other than enjoying all these forms of transportation, I got to enjoy the places I visited. I don't know about you, but when I visit a place I always ask myself,  'would I live here?' While the answer is often 'yes, why not', the only place I moved to was Cluj.

Cluj, how do I love thee, let me count the ways:

1. I love your smell. It's like earth, and air, and city. I will never forget my first day here, when I  walked out of the arrivals building at the airport and breathed in your smell. Spring. You're the city of eternal Spring. On a balmy day, it's what you smell like, even if it's December, or August.

2. I love your…

10 Reasons Why Romania is Better Than America

Really? Yes, really. Let me count the ways.

In America you can get everything you've ever dreamed of: GameBoy, Sega Genesis, plants that look like faces, and more.  Maybe if you work really hard long hours at the job you hate (but that you tell everybody you love lest you appear to be a miserable person), you can even get a flat panel home theater TV that takes up half your basement (on credit, of course). Awesomeness!!
In America you can always be sure to be on top of the latest fad, such as devil sticks or Tamagochi and you will be first to read bestsellers like The DaVinci Code and Fifty Shades of Crap literature. Basically there are thousands of ways of feeling accomplished -or pretending that you are - you just need to be there to catch all these wonderful trends on time!

I know what you're thinking, how can Romania possibly top all that considering America is also the land of Root beer floats and Antoine Dodson?

Everything's been done in America, that's why peopl…

Are Romanian Women The Most Beautiful In The World?

More than once, I was asked to write about the beauty of Romanian women, but...

I have no words. Besides, I may be biased, but clearly it's a rhetorical question.

However, there is no shortage of Facebook pages and Tumblr blogs dedicated to the subject.






Image: Geanina Olaru @ weheartit

10 More Reasons Romania is Better Than America

I get it. The US is special. I hate to say it, especially as a Canadian, but it is.

But it's mostly special because of the America that it used to be. The idea of America is special.

There was, once, an American Dream within the reach of any hard working man. It was a country that offered unprecedented freedoms and opportunities unmatched by any other. The great melting pot was about inclusion towards one common goal, it was not divisive, individualistic and driven by a Bergeron-esque vision of 'equality'. Assets were not based on decades-long lines of credit, and salaries kept up with cost of living increases. I could go on about 'the way things used to be' but you can look it all up if you're interested. If you live there, you should be.

The reality in America is different now.

Sure, it's still the land of plenty. But the plenty is not all good. Plenty of debt, plenty of poverty, plenty of obesity, plenty of civil unrest coupled with plenty of heavy-hand…

Here Is Why Romania's Future Is Bright

The festival is only in its second edition, but following last year's inaugural event, Electric Castle has stirred up enough buzz to attract visitors from beyond Romania's borders. Walking around the festival grounds I had the impression that every other group was comprised of foreigners speaking Hungarian, English, German, or French. And judging by the license plates in the parking lots, every county in Romania was well represented. While there's plenty to be said about the artists and the music, there's something else I want to discuss in this post.

When you think "music festival", the image that comes to mind is that of overly excited youth on a drug and alcohol infused rampage, laying waste to everything in their path. Maybe it has something to do with the way festivals like to promote themselves; these are basically the images that stand out on most 'Official Aftermovie' videos from major music festivals. But obviously the experience is defined b…

What I Learned About Driving In Romania

I get it now. I understand Romanian drivers and their follies. It's something I thought would never happen. All it took to shape me into a Romanian road rage machine was one month of driving around Cluj and a 400 km round trip. I'm kidding about the rage part.

The idea of driving in Cluj was intimidating. Last time I'd driven manual shift was almost ten years ago when a co-worker asked me to drive her and her newly purchased, Pontiac Firefly home because she had no idea how to do it. So of course I stalled that little bastard all over the place. Little surprise that the idea of driving along busy and narrow European streets was unappealing - especially after years of driving automatic on wide, North American roads.

But I managed. Stalled an average of once per trip during the first week, and then a couple of times in the second week, and now, a little over a month later, I sometimes stall at stoplights when I forget I'm driving stick and leave it in gear when I release…

The Cluj Guide to Dining Out

Note: This is a 2016 update to the post originally written in 2012. 

Back in 2012, Toulouse was the only place in town to serve a halfway decent hamburger. How things have changed. There's been a veritable burger revolution and you'll be hard pressed to find bistro-style restaurants that don't offer the king of sandwiches. There are also several new, and very good, additions to the city's fine dining roster. But maybe the most positive change is in the market itself. Patrons have become more discerning about their options, there is a deeper appreciation for consistency, and, as a result, restaurants have responded with an elevated level of service and quality overall.
But there's still no authentic Mexican...


So, with no particular order in mind, let's get into it, shall we?

Via- The simple name denotes understated excellence. At least that's how I look at it now. Over the past couple of years, Via has cemented itself as one of my favourite Cluj …

Rosia Montana - An Informed Reply

It's always a pleasure to see a new email message from somebody who's been reading this blog. In this case, the message came in from a reader who first contacted me last year. He moved to Canada quite a while ago and settled in the Northwest Territories. He wanted to respond to the previous post on Rosia Montana, but given the length of the reply, I've asked him to allow me to publish it as its own post. He asked me not to share his name, but outside of that, I'm copying it verbatim.

(Edit: In Romana mai jos)

Hello Matt,

Here we go again: Rosia Montana. I got involved in this project about four years ago. I had had phone interviews with radio stations in Bucharest; I published several articles in two or three magazines in Bucharest. I hosted, guided and loaded up with data and portable computer equipment one “Romanian explorer” as the Romanian media called her: Uca Marinescu. Perhaps the name rings a bell. Anyhow she never got back to me; there was no feedback, no follo…

Why Romanians Don't Like Romanians

To my knowledge, this national self-loathing is a uniquely Romanian experience. Maybe we share it with some of our neighbours, but I doubt it. I've never seen a people dislike their own as much as the Romanians.
This is going to be highly generalized, but as with most things I write here it's rooted in personal experience and observations. Don't hate the player, hate the game.

1. Romanians like the exotic, to be Romanian is the antithesis of what it means to be exotic.

2. Romanians are often prejudiced. The thought process goes something like this: If you're Romanian you're probably bereft of interesting experiences and financially limited. You're from 'the-worst-country-on-earth', after all. If  you're well off, then you're just a rich asshole (probably a thief, too). Either way, your Romanian-ness ensures you're seen as a person with limited horizons who likely can't offer anything new or different.

If you're Western European or Nort…

Johnny Angel And The Stray Dogs Of Romania

There's this bullshit petition that's been floating around on twitter. An update to Romania's laws on stray dogs is going to result in the euthanasia of Romania's stray dog population. The animal activist set is in an uproar. In other words, in a country where a significant number of people survive on subsistence wages, and where they suffer the added indignity of being attacked by flea-bitten strays, this is the primary focus of the international civil society. I'm not going to link the actual petition because it has zero merit, but I'm going to address the absolutely false, misleading, and pretty much insane claims that it makes, one point at a time.

Let's start with the law itself. It defines a several new provisions to an already existing 2001 law that deals with "ownerless dogs" aka. 'Maidanezi' in Romanian, aka. Strays. I'm not going to put every single bit of it, just the clearly relevant aspects of it. Also added emphasis in bo…