A vacation at the dacha

Summer heat slowly comes back to Moscow and it’s time to leave the city, at least for a weekend. Every Muscovite I met so far has one – a dacha outside the city, a realm of relaxation, gardening and shashlik (barbecue). While some dachas even lack plumbing (vault toilet and no shower included), others represent an entire palace of summer holiday feeling with a banya (Russian Sauna), pool and all luxuries. A dacha can be anything from a small tool shed to a villa.

Probably the most prestigious area in which to have a dacha is Rublovka Shosse, in the western suburbs of Moscow, but some dachas are 200 km or more from the city and require intensive driving. Dachas are best to reached by car, but mostly old people take buses or commuter trains to their dachas.

Dacha settlements usually consist of dachas, a little general store (selling the most important groceries alcoholic beverages and snacks) and maybe playgrounds for kids. Other dachas can be located in villages, next to highways – basically there is no limitation what people regard as dacha. In some cases it is even an old bus converted into some sort of trailer and used as a dacha. Wherever dachas appear, the supply stores are not far: tiles, construction material, simply everything for garden and dacha can be purchased in such stores.

Everyone loves going to the dacha: Kids, teenagers, and grown-ups enjoy it as well as the elderly. Shop assistants as well as general directors and CEOs enjoy their dachas, presumably differing in size and location. I heard a story from friends when they saw a rather impressive car approaching a dacha, a perfectly dressed man gets out, but after a few minutes he would take off his suit or fancy clothes and exchange them for comfortable shorts to mow the lawn at his dacha. On the dacha you can just be yourself, far away from the stressful life you live in Moscow.

Considering the small typical Soviet-era apartments in Moscow, it is a way to finally get out of your four tiny walls and enjoy open space, breath and relax. Many people here know their dachas from their childhood, when grandparents or great grandparents lived there. It is something like coming home, forgetting the stressful life of Moscow for a weekend, without internet and if you are lucky without a phone signal. However for ambitious businessmen and women, billboards on the highways advertise fast internet options for your dacha.

Since my boyfriend and I are not lucky enough to own a dacha of our own, we fully depend on the gratitude of our generous friends inviting us to theirs and letting us enjoy this important part of Russian life.

Dacha life seems to have various functions:
Relaxation, sunbathe, swimming (if a river, reservoir or lake is available), gardening, planting vegetables and fruits, fishing, meeting friends, getting things done around the cottage and getting help from friends, shashlik grilling (basically the most consumed food on dacha), socializing, discussing plans to hook up friends of yours with other friends of yours (something that is a very famous activity in Russia and if you are recently divorced or single you can always count on friends or their friends to introduce you to someone in the same situation), enjoying Banya, party, sports, mushroom picking and in any case an excuse to stay dirty for the weekend if you do not have plumbing, Banya or a river at your dacha to jump in order to wash yourself.

There are many stories about the dacha that friends have told me: For example a horrified German student recalling a dacha weekend filled with gardening work, enforced by her mom; a story of my friend’s childhood when she saw her parents and their friends storming out naked from the Banya rolling in snow; or my personal story that I will post in my next blog.

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