Once upon a time, I lived an enchanted life in Ufa with two fabulously funny flatmates from England and a Russian artist fiance. We four frequented a dacha (small country house) in the countryside on the weekends. The dacha, a simple affair with running water, an outhouse, and variable electricity, was part of the fairytale I fancied I was living.
Located an hour outside of Ufa city center, we took a marshrutka (a bus) until it reached the middle of a field, and then we yelled at the driver to stop. Luckily for me, there was a marker to a nearby village that indicated our stop. It was more complicated if I went with other friends. They would just yell out for the bus driver to stop. I would look out the window and there would be a field. Just a field. They would head out of the marshrutka, walk into the field while I trudged behind asking, “You are sure this is the correct place?”
We took a shrutka until it reached the middle of a field, and then we yelled at the driver to stop.
“I mean, I can still stop the marshrutka so we don’t have to wait 2 hours for the next bus while you check to make sure this is the right place.”
“Eve, no stress. It is there.” They pointed and the field opened to reveal a cleverly hidden path. I never understood how they knew which row of corn was the right one. I was frantic about being stranded in the middle of the fields, and I would desperately look for our marker about a half an hour into the trip to our dacha, afraid that we might miss our particular transition to the middle of nowhere.
We gleefully stomped our way through the snow to the front door.
The 20-minute summer walk from the road to the dacha took much longer in the winter as we gleefully stomped our way through the snow to the front door. Well, most of the time I gleefully stomped through the snow. I can’t say exactly how the others were feeling. The days when it was minus 30 C were a bit rough as the wind whipped through the open spaces and chilled me to the bone.
On one particular occasion, I was following in my fiance’s footsteps, which were harder and harder to see. How strange, I thought to myself. It may be getting dark though it is only 4:30, but I feel as if I am losing my vision. I raised my gloves to my eyes and rubbed. Crunch. I stopped walking. My eyes just crunched. I removed my hands from my eyes and slowly opened them. I could see clearly! The crunch had been the ice releasing from my eyelashes. These were the days the banya, or sauna, which every dacha has, was very much appreciated. Roast me please! I required about an hour of roasting, then, I would join the others for the mandatory naked roll in the snow before running back to the banya.
Summer was an entirely different beast: Hot, sticky, humid, muggy, painful, etc. The dacha transformed itself into a wonderful cabin of delights; we hid under the canopies of trees; marinated and grilled shashlick (kebab); beat ourselves and others silly with birch branches in the banya; played cards; and sang and danced into the wee hours of the night. (It helped that the sun doesn’t set until 11 pm-12 am, so you don’t realize that you’ve made it into the wee hours.)
Some days were spent gardening. Wait, Eve gardening? That’s impossible, you say. She kills everything by looking at it. OK, OK, you caught me. Some days when I was not there, my fiance’s friend’s parents, and rightful owners of the land, were gardening. Much of the food produced at the dacha was canned or turned into jam so that it will last the whole year. The dacha is, for some, far from a fairytale. It can be a means of survival. However, that summer was a fairytale summer for me, and the only reality that hit at the dacha was when I got really sick eating too many raspberries. I learned that, while raspberries look wonderfully inviting with their skins an inflamed pink and nearly bursting with juice, they are best eaten in 2 groups of 10 over the course of an entire day.
Want your own dacha experience? You can sometimes rent dachas throughout Russia and create your own experience, or you can visit with a family –a much more rewarding experience. Russians are known for their hospitality.
Know before you go: Many dachas have cats. Take allergy medicine if you are allergic.
Caveat: Parts of this article have been fictionalized to create a more exciting story. The author did live in Ufa, had English roommates, had her eyelashes frozen shut, and had the described fiancee. The dacha belonged to the family of her fiance, and she never visited this specific dacha in the winter. She visited one in Kolomna.