Dacha and banya: traditional culture of rural Russia
What is dacha?
Russian "dacha" is a traditional country houses which are usually wooden, have small garden plots and used only at summer. You've already know that Russia is the largest country in the world with vast but sparsely populated countryside. It is especially impressive arter Asian over-populated countries or after Europe with its small towns, villages and rural areas between them. Wide open spaces in the middle of nowhere are the reason why Russians prefer to live in cities and towns with all infrastructure and go to "dacha" just for weekends.
Now almost every family in Russia has dacha! They firstly appeared in 19th century when tsar gifted small country estates to the nobility. At the end of the century, many wealthy people rented peasant houses or "izbas" to live there, usually with several other families. In Soviet times, dachas were given to comminist members; living conditions were bad, several families could live in the single house. Mass production of dachas started after WWII because of the food shortage. A lot of dacha clusters were built near large cities at that times. People had no money and no food so they spent all weekends at dachas growing garden crops and even raising livestock for survival. All dachas could have only small land plots (600 m2) for gardening; there were also strict limits on the house size and height. Despite all limitations, dachas were extremely popular in the Soviet Union, because people had no opportunity to buy land and build a house where they wanted, and also because they lacked other opportunities to spend their time and money. New dacha boom began after communism collapse when private land ownership was returned. During the rapid urbanization, many village houses was sold to be used as dachas. People prefer their greater land area and larger distances between houses despite longer distance to travel.
Dacha culture nowdays
Now the dacha culture is so popular that traffic around large cities becomes very hard during the weekends. Many seniors still like gardening just out а habit. They grow potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, aubergines, onions, carrots, strawberries, currants, and get them canned for the long winter. Five years ago 40% of Russia's food was grown by dacha communities! It means that Russian people still feed themselves. Is it something in DNA that creates the desire to grow the own food? Or just a habit that has fed people for centuries? Whatever it is, it also strongly connects people with the nature.
In contrast, younger generations prefer to take a rest at their dachas. They invite friends, grill meat, eat berries, have a banya, do sports and other activities. The dacha is the best place for moral relaxation after working week with all these drinking tea on the terrace, endless talking, singing, walking and, certainly, some alcohol. The dacha culture is a kind of compensation to a city dweller for the living conditions in large cities with small appartments, crowds of people and air pollution... Whatever the dacha is like – it has a very important place in the life of common Russians.
What is banya?
Banya is a Russian type of sauna, a kind of steam bath and is one of the oldest Russian traditions. Despite the fact that this tradition is several centuries old, the banya is popular even today. You can find banyas in large cities and small towns. Usually those Russians who have dachas often build their own banya there. Spending time in bania is very good for your health and the best activity after a physical labor ar dacha!
Russian dacha tour: local village and land-art museum
Dacha is a traditional Russian summer house for spending the weekends. Every family in Russia has dacha! It is, in many ways, the heritage of Soviet times when people had no money and no food, so they had to grow vegetables and even raise livestock. At the present time, many seniors still like gardening just out а habit and younger generations prefer to take a rest at their dachas. Dacha is the best place for a one or two day trip from Moscow!
In the first day of our Russian dacha tour we will travel almost 200 km to visit small village in Kaluga region where we have our own dacha in the old peasant house. The place is very beautiful and unspoiled; it's surrounded by light pristine pine forests where you can find a lot of berries and mushrooms. The village has several agriculture fields covered by wheat and oat, beloved place of white storks. Local people keep their ownd households which is not easy for city dwellers! The comfort of an average village house is rather relative... The toilets are outside, the roads have deep pots, and banya is the single place for bathing. You also need to enjoy bringing buckets of water from the spring many times a day! Several local families have been living there their whole lives. They even remember stories of their oarents about German occupation during WWII. There are still a lot of traces in the village and its surroundings. We have the shell crater near our house and all forests have fortifications which are still evident - small shelters, trenches and observation posts. After we will visit local peasant's farm to see how they keep livestocks and taste fresh milk and eggs. Russian banya will finish our day!
In the second day we will visit "Archstoyanie", the biggest in Europe land-art and architecture open-air museum. It is located at the edge of the "Yugra" national park. Land-art objects are integreted into the natural beauty of the landscapes. The place is wonderful to spend whole whole day gathering around and wondering about imagination of its creators!