The Russian Dacha is a family home outside the city where everyone goes at weekends and holidays. In England you have to be very wealthy to have a country home as well as an apartment in the city, but in Moscow, Russian families of all sizes and incomes seem to have one. Dachas vary with some being large modern houses that you can live in all year round, while others are mainly used in summer because the toilet is at the end of the garden and there isn’t any central heating (and the simple nature is a big part of the appeal).
While school is out, children spend the whole summer at the Dacha with their grandparents and cousins – with working parents joining them for as much time as their schedule allows. It is so much a part of the Moscow psyche that you relax at the Dacha in summer, that some of our Russian friends seemed quite concerned for our health when they discovered we would be in the city all summer.
So it was a real treat to be invited to a Dacha for the day. It was wonderfully relaxing to sit in the shady garden watching the children running around having fun. Watching them at the park always requires effort – especially when they run off in different directions! But in an enclosed garden, they could explore opposite ends of the large space while I sat on a comfy chair on the patio drinking home-made blackcurrant juice and chatting to friends.
The blackcurrants in the juice were fresh from the garden – everyone we know who has a family Dacha uses the land that surrounds it for growing fruits and vegetables. We’ve benefited from Dacha harvests on a number of occasions – Russian guests have brought jars of delicious home-made pickles and jams, and our doorman gave us a huge number of pears last autumn. On this visit, our very kind hostess sent us each home with a bag of apples and bunches of the Lemon-Melissa herb which makes a fabulous green-tea.
The children had a wonderful day. There was a trampoline in one corner of the garden where Little Pickle spent so long bouncing up and down, I wasn’t sure I’d ever persuade her to get off again. But once the water-pistols came out she decided drenching the big boys was too good an opportunity to miss.
Beanie-boy loved having so much freedom, and as we got on the train to go home he asked if he could go again next week. When I explained that we’d have to wait for an invitation, he sighed and said “I wish we had a garden”, I sighed as I pictured spending the summer growing fruits and vegetables at a Dacha, and replied: “Yes. Me too.”