The Ideal Getaway or a Temple of Holiday Boredom - A Sceptic’s Take on the Russian Dacha
Ok, let me come clean, right at the beginning, so I can't be accused of hiding or concealing anything: I hate the Dacha! I know that it’s a highly controversial and unpopular sentiment among Russians, who believe that it’s the ultimate recreational ideal, a place where you can pick mushrooms, laze in the sun and enjoy the opportunity to dive into an atmosphere of cozy countryside houses and summer gardens full of fruit trees, vegetable seedbeds and flowers.
But when I was a child, I was forced spend every summer there, when I would much rather have stayed with my friends surrounded by such benefits of civilization as a shower, heating system, which is extremely necessary when summer forgets to be warm and sunny, and many other things people are used to.
Instead, I had to spend three months far from the city life, in the countryside together with my granny, who’d received a piece of land in the Karelian Isthmus in the Soviet Period.
On one hand I was surrounded by picturesque views and the relaxing atmosphere with its small countryside houses and their dwellers that were never in a hurry. Despite the fact that I was surrounded by these wonderful things, this was for me a summertime prison!
At the same time I can appreciate the enthusiasm of friends, relatives and co-workers, who all seem to revere and adore this very Russian institution. For their sake, and for everyone out there who has never experienced the joy – or the tedium – of the Dacha, I will try to emphasize its wonderful positive attributes and qualities. Perhaps, I’ll even convince myself!
Here we go.....!
Everybody in Russia knows that a dacha is more than a piece of a land with a small house outside of the city. It is a part of the Russian lifestyle and leisure, it is a place where friends and relatives gather together to spend a weekend without being distracted by gadgets. Here are some things you should know about the dacha.
To understand how over 30% of Soviet families received their dachas, let’s come back to the USSR. Most dacha “owners” were engineers and factory workers, almost every family could easily get one if at least one family member had worked for a set period of time (usually at least 5 years) at the same factory or plant. It is very important to add that the word “owners” is in quotes because according to the law of a communist country, ownership is limited, as an owner cannot sell or rent what he possesses.
Having been built many years ago, most houses are small and usually don’t look impressive. Sometimes owners build new houses near old ones as it’s unnecessary to invest a lot in the old ones. They are not supposed to be fancy (in most cases).The only requirement for a dacha house is that it has to be cozy, warm, welcoming and full of good food and conversations that create a specific atmosphere – it must seem very exotic for those who experience this for the first time.
Despite the fact that I am skeptical about the dacha, I can’t help but mention that it can offer several interesting activities. Dachas are more appropriate for summer vacations, though they are considered to be year-round second homes, so your Russian friends can spend their leisure time there anytime. Let’s start with the most common like picking berries, fruits or veggies, and there's something meditative about that process, like you're finally using your hands and finally learning where all those things you buy at the market or in cans actually comes from.
The extremely important activity for Russians, which surprises guests from other countries, is mushroom picking. Usually they are afraid of picking something that was not cultivated and grew in the middle of the forest. To tell you the truth, they have reason for concern since you will come across some poisonous mushrooms. To avoid any issues, you have to be aware that you will picking mushrooms under the guidance of an experienced mushroomer (“gribnik” in Russian) who never loses their direction in the forest and knows which mushrooms are inedible.
The dacha is also the best place for BBQ parties (called "shashlyk" parties), samovar tea parties, singing songs with a guitar near a bonfire, swimming in rivers or lakes, taking sun baths and biking. In the winter, one can go skiing or skating if there is enough snow and if the temperature is sufficiently low for the lakes to freeze over.
One more physical activity that you are unlikely to do until you go to a dacha is splitting firewood. Usually rural houses are not equipped with a heating system so the only way to make it warmer indoors is a fireplace or heating stove.
All these glorious “options” made me think for a moment that it was unfair to judge dachas so harshly. But, when I remember one more detail I become a skeptic again: when staying at a dacha you will not have an opportunity to check your e-mail or click “like” under a photo of your friends on Instagram. The reason for that is absence of internet connection - you must be ready for inability to come back to your lifestyle with its digital bonuses. Some say that when visiting the dacha you don’t want to even touch a device as there's so much nature and it’s so quiet, you already feel so relaxed.
However, it is very stressful, so you’re better off limiting your dacha vacation, especially if you are not ready to be deprived of your habits for a long time - you can start with a couple of days, it is enough for the first time. Here we can implement the golden rule – good things come in small packages.
Now that I’ve summed up all the for and against arguments, I understand that I am ready to stay at a dacha but assuming that my visit will be short-term and I will stay together with pleasant company!
Anyway, one can have various attitudes towards the dacha - it may leave somebody cold or, on the contrary, visiting the dacha is kind of a hobby for others, but it is definitely an adventure with lots of new impressions – you will never know how you feel about it until you try!