Hello dear reader! It’s been a while. To be precise, I haven’t posted since June 2022. All this means is that life away from keyboard has been very eventful indeed. I think I’m going to need all of 2024 to process all of 2023! If you’re following me on Facebook or Instagram you may have noticed one major change in my life: we found a house in Romania and I’m now mostly living there! Let me walk you through the highlights. I’m going to start with the lowlights though, because they are what made me move. Hold on to your seatbelts, because it’s quite the ride!
The Lowest of Lows
As a longtime depression patient, I wasn’t surprised to experience a loss of energy in the winter of 2021-2022. I wasn’t feeling very low mentally though, but I was extremely exhausted physically. To the point where even combing my hair was an ordeal, sleep no longer helped, and I felt permanently cold. I realized this might be something different, so I went to see my GP, who took a couple of blood tests and referred me to an endocrynologist, because I had reason to believe my hormones were off. But they weren’t off enough, so I got sent on my way again. Despite feeling very sick, nothing could be found, so I was supposed to live with it. Which I wasn’t going to.
In the end I found a more holistically oriented doctor, who was prepared to do a bigger checkup. The result was staggering: I had developed a plethora of food intolerances due to stress and I was supposed to overhaul my diet completely. No more dairy, wheat and eggs. And miraculously, I started feeling better once I started doing that! Why am I telling you all this? Because this lowest of tides made me realize that I was running out of time.
Staying in the Low Countries literally made me feel low. I needed to aim high. Moving to Romania had been in the cards for a long time, but we never put much pressure behind the idea (although we did search). But more than ever, I now realized that I needed to find a home under the Romanian sun. Soon. The stress I had accumulated wouldn’t go away as long as I didn’t put my roots down where I felt I belonged. I could no longer afford to live a semi-nomadic life, veering between liberty in Romania and restriction in Belgium. And so I set out on my quest, determined to find something before the year was out. And I did.
Our new home
So this is how it went. In August 2022 I happily stumbled upon the house that turned out to be ‘it’. Someone posted in a Facebook group that there were lots of houses for sale in his village; upon which someone else commented that her daughter’s house in a nearby village was also up for sale. (My everlasting thanks, Nicole!) It was this comment that I followed up on. The pictures looked good, so I travelled to Romosel, at the foot of the Sureanu Mountains – which I didn’t know at all. But I knew it was close to the Retezat Mountains and those I like well enough.
I met the owners and inspected the house best I could together with a friend, and I soon felt that I didn’t need to look further. The house was unassumingly pretty and habitable (although in need of some TLC); the backyard led straight up the mountain; the village felt friendly. Discovering that the Via Transilvanica – Romania’s 1400 km-long answer to long-distance hiking – ran by the front door was a major bonus.
Semigrating to Romosel
We came to an agreement with the owners and signed a precontract in November 2022. Very kindly, they already let us move in straight away. Little did we know how much time would pass before we could call ourselves the owners of the house – in fact, the business is still not concluded. But the main thing was that there was now a place in Romania that I could begin to call home, albeit with some incredulity. But mostly I greeted this new chapter with boundless excitement, joy, and relief. And so we set about making the house a little more habitable. This involved getting wifi (oh the three week wait), having leaks repaired, and laying our hands on firewood that was actually dry enough to burn.
Meanwhile, we tried to continue living as if nothing had happened (aka get some work done). Honestly, this first winter was quite a stressful phase. But exploring our new surroundings helped – it proved the move was definitely worth it! For this purpose we had a pair of mountain bikes shipped into the village straight away. One thing we learned is that Romosel and neighbouring Romos were established by – of all things – 12th-century Saxons from what is now Belgian territory (from the town of Rumes, to be precise). It was clear from the beginning that we had landed in a corner of Romania teeming with life and stories. Or, as the Dutch like to put it: we’d landed with our bums in the butter. Sometimes you follow a path that is long and winding but you know it will wind up somewhere beautiful – then when you get there you cannot believe how beautiful it really is.
One thing I put a lot of work in from the start was the garden. Now, a garden may seem like a luxury to the average city-dweller; but to me, a garden is essential. I’ve always longed for a more self-sufficient, more resourceful life. So one of the first things I wanted to accomplish was to transform the wilderness behind the house into a nourishing garden once more. Our trusty handyman Mircea and son Gabi made short work of the overly enthusiastic brambles and stray saplings. Neighbours Paul & Dorina then brought in their plough and two horses, Stella & Pusa. Another neighbour, Dani, came with the motocultor to chop up the most resistant roots. And so we got our first taste of the village and its warmth and resourcefulness. All I had to do was ask around. The village provides!
What a welcome! Fast forward to the summer of 2024 and see how the garden became a source of joy and, of course, wholesome and colourful food.
A little foolishly perhaps, I expected to get a lot of hiking done in our first two months in Romosel. In fact, we only got to do one. But it was worthwhile! We explored Sarmizegetusa Regia and its surroundings. Sarmizegetusa Regia is where the Dacians established their capital in the first century BC. Although the Romans destroyed much, the remains of the Dacian temples and other structures are truly awe-inspiring. And this is not the only Dacian fortification of which the ruins remain to this day; ancient gems (Dacian and Roman) are scattered lavishly across the Sureanu Mountains. It feels utterly magical to walk around in a place where ancient history literally lies at your feet, and nature adorns every step resplendently.
Every step on this exciting path leads to new insights. Here are a few I gathered over the past year.
Balancing is primarily an act, not a state
Throughout my adult life, I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, stress and fatigue. The road to recovery is a long one, but I’m definitely on the right track now. Being in Romania, doing what I love most (hiking & writing about it) has always helped. But being able to actually live in Romania has helped even more. It’s frankly astonishing how much resilience I have gained during our first year with Romosel as a base. Paradise lost can be regained – sometimes with surprisingly great strides – if only you manage to create the right conditions: an environment you can thrive in. This, I know from experience, is no mean feat. It requires insight into the self, and heaps of courage to take the required leaps – but also time and resources. I’m aware that not everyone has these privileges, but I do urge you to take whatever small steps you can towards the place and state you feel you need to be in to thrive. God, the long sentences I write. But nuance and brevity often don’t sit well together.
However, balance is not just a state that you reach and then comfortably dwell in for the rest of your life. Balancing is primarily an act. It requires constant attunement, and motion. Stagnancy often signals death. It’s not exactly like I’ve reached Nirvana now, but I’m in a place where I can put my roots down and spread my wings, and grow stronger as well as more supple. I feel like I’m no longer walking a tightrope where the slightest challenge makes me fall off. It’s more of a suspension bridge these days. And I do love a bit of suspense.
Embeddedness & Belonging
One of the boxes our ideal Romanian home had to tick was being part of a community. A mountain cabin has its attractions and I do love solitude, but at the end of the day, I cannot exist all by myself. I love how our village and our house give me the perfect combination of seclusion and connection. Seclusion, because I can close the gate so that no-one bothers me (although some people can knock very persistently). Connection, because the moment I step out of said gate and take a walk through the village, I will invariably meet people and talk to them. People always greet each other in Romosel, and everyone knows who the Dutch people are. The villagers are incredibly communicative and supportive; people are deeply aware they need each other here, and happy to help me out. In turn, they know how to ask for, and accept, help themselves – so I can do something in return. Carrying a heavy watering jug up to the flourishing grave of a loved one; running an errand for someone with a sore foot; exchanging vegetables with my neighbour.
This is how it works in practice. Behind it is a discovery, gradually uncovered, in process: I long to be embedded. Not tightly tucked in, like under the bedsheets of my childhood; but like the stream that runs its merry course in front of our door. It has a home, yet it is free to go wherever it naturally flows. I want to be embraced, but not suffocated. I want to roam whenever I feel the need to. And come back, without feeling like a lost daughter. A warm embrace, and a warm letting go. This need arises from some aspects of my upbringing that didn’t quite agree with me. I didn’t fit in. It’s truly heartwarming to discover it is possible to build a new home and be accepted and welcomed by my new surroundings so quickly.
Figuring it out
Figuring out what it is I really want in life and actually doing it has been the main path towards healing for me. And by healing I specifically mean healing from depression and everything it encompasses or was caused by – but also a moving towards who I am.
“Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you, so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.”Paulo Coelho
This move in itself is not a cure; but it does lead towards sanity, and most importantly, joy. And relief: it turns out I do have a rather capacious capacitity for happiness. Nothing is inherently wrong with me. We all fit in somewhere.
I used to feel guilty about this escapism thing. I thought it was ungrateful of me to not want to be where I was born; in a prosperous country, with lots of privileges. But gradually, I came to realize that birds (amongst other animals) migrate too. And a fish doesn’t question why it needs water to survive. So why shouldn’t I search for a more fitting environment? There’s nothing selfish in that – if anything, my environment will benefit from my regained joy.
Inward and Upward
And so it turns out that this post mostly deals with the last few months of 2022; although the lessons learned certainly spun out over the course of 2023 too. Last year will have to churn for a bit longer. But there is no rush. It will lie still, in the past. For now, let me deal with the beginnings of 2024 – which involves travelling back to Romosel very soon – and I will get back to you shortly. I strongly feel 2024 is going to be a year of looking inward and upward. I need to shield myself from the world a little bit more to heal more fully from the burdens of the past; and to closely listen to what it is that I really want to do, and what I should be doing. (The Japanese call this finding your Ikigai.) The ‘upward’ part you can take quite literally. And I do intend to share parts of this journey with you! Do let me know if there’s any way in which I can help you find your path, if it involves Romania. Check out my self-guided tours offer here if you want some extra guidance!
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Buy my guidebook!
Are you planning to go hiking in Romania? You might want to buy my guidebook, ‘The Mountains of Romania‘! It offers 27 multi-stage treks and 10 day hikes all over Romania. It contains an extensive description of each hike, lots of practical info, overview maps, an accommodation appendix, a language guide, and comes with free gpx files. There is an e-book version as well! This is a project that I put my heart and soul in; I’d be so chuffed if you bought it! If you buy it directly from the publisher I get 10% royalties. You can also buy it directly from me; drop me a line here.
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