After traveling the world, guest writer Matt Sampalean moved from Toronto to the Romanian city of Cluj, which he loves in more ways than one.
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 people. I used to think they talk funny, but it's because they sing when they talk. They're calm, your people. I remember the time a neighborhood hooligan was 'yelling' all kinds of obscenities at a guy on the soccer field. Even though I understood the death threats, it still sounded like he was singing a lullaby. We kept playing, the cops came and took him to the drunk tank, and that was that. No biggie. 'Keep calm and carry on'. Invented in London, embodied in Cluj.
3. I love your eclectic architecture. The Gothic church, the Baroque buildings in Unirii Square. Let's hope they get the restoration work they deserve. If it happens, there's a chance people will confuse you with Prague. You can handle it.
4. I love your bohemian spirit. You're ready to welcome anybody from anywhere. The Dutch businessman, the British expat, the Latin American/Tunisian/EU Citizen student, the German and American tourists. You're equally willing to let your citizens fly out and explore. Plus, not many cities are equidistant from three European capitals.
5. I love that you're growing. You have to take the good with the bad sometimes. You might gain some weight in cement, but it will help swing your weight at the higher levels of governance. And it's exciting to see you grow.
6. I love your curves. The only things that should be flat are roads and tables, the rest is up for debate. It's nice to be nestled by hills, it reminds your people that your backyard is rich and beautiful. What mysteries do you hide in your haunted forest? What's your good side, the north or the south? Maybe it's the view driving in that distracts drivers and causes those accidents up on Feleac.
7. I love your cabbies. They never take the scenic route and they have some of the best stories.
8. I love your food. You got all the staples here. Good steak, good burgers, good duck, probably the best Pad Thai this side of Europe, and let's not forget the Doner Kebab. But this is just the restaurants, because when summer comes around, it's a pleasure to be a stay-at-home vegetarian. Ah, and the drinks - well, they don't have all to be local, good job on shipping that Oban.
9. I love your malls. There are only two. I like that, I'd go crazy if I had to stroll through more than two malls, ever. Also, they both have cinemas, which is nice.
10. I love your art. There's always some artist killing it with a cool display in the city center or with beautiful gallery work. The music scene could use some help, but there's no shortage of places to enjoy music from elsewhere. But the art that truly excites in Cluj is the vibrant creativity. Slowly but surely entrepreneurs are bringing in new ideas and concepts to the city. It's the easy networking and connections between various types of people that create the electric buzz of a city that's coming of age.
It is what it is. I know where I've been, and this is where I am. Although Toronto is a world-class metropolis, I'm living the dream in Cluj.
I can travel anywhere in Europe within 3-4 hours via direct low-cost flights from the local airport; quick flights got me to Paris, Amsterdam, and Barcelona in 2013. I can watch movies at the cinema, sometimes before they come out in the US -and pay less for the ticket. I also have faster and better internet access than I could dream of anywhere in North America.
It also goes without saying that I'm paying much less for rent here than I would for a very crappy apartment in Toronto, or that my commute to work is 10 minutes on a bad day. Although, infrastructure wise, it can be rough around the edges, it's the safest city I've ever been in - but this goes for most of the country.
I don't think I could ask for more, I'd feel greedy. I already live in the perfect city.
By Matt Sampalean, guest writer