Sunday, June 15, 2008

Dacha Delights

This weekend I partook of the quintessential Russian experience, the weekend at the family dacha. While I have been to dacha’s previously, they tended to be corporate or palatial residences owned by wealthy acquaintances. This was my first time at a truly family dacha in the middle of nowhere 75km from Moscow, complete with no running water.

This was no ordinary dacha experience either. Katya had invited me to spend the night with her Mum & Stepdad, so not only did I have to navigate the complex niceties of overwhelmingly generous Russian hospitality, it was combined with meeting a girl's parents for the first time- in Russian!

As we headed to the suburbs in her brand-new turbo Range Rover (don’t ask), Katya was unfazed by my abject fear at the prospect of being stuck deep in the forest with her parents.

We found them sampling the most technologically advanced banya in existence at a friend’s apartment, then armed with groceries, we headed for the woods. As we stopped en route at a fresh spring in a hidden glen to top up our water supplies, long-buried Siberian memories of mosquitoes the size of sparrows (my new favourite Russian word “Komari”) flooded back, as we defended our perimeter with swatches of birch leaves.

Upon arrival, we were presented with the cutest two-story wooden dacha, surrounded by forest, replete with matryoshka dolls and an outdoor bathroom (watch for wild pigs late at night, I was warned). As stepdad fired up the open fire to begin grilling shashlik, I tried to make myself as helpful as possible either stripping the burned-out shell of the banya for firewood, or preparing the various local delicacies on offer.

Shortly thereafter, we had a delicious meal of salmon and lamb shashlik, accompanied by quintessential Russian staples of local veggies, sparkling red sovetskoe champanskoe, kvas (fresh fermented black bread drink), and some great Aussie & Georgian wine. We made toast after toast, Ven told Russian anecdotes, and all made a huge effort to make me feel welcome, despite language issues. Katya’s Mum, who is a renkown yoga instructor, had also just returned from Nepal, and I did my best to understand her passion for her art and its philosophy, not entirely sure whether it was the Russian or the yoga terminology that was more confusing.

After sitting by the fire, finishing all our wine, solving life’s problems, and mounting an increasingly futile battle against the mosquitoes, we retreated for a night’s rest.

12 hours later (yes, it’s true- I can sleep occasionally!), we awoke and Sveta plied me with more traditional breakfast food than I could jump over. We lay in the sun for a while, then headed into the nearby Golden Ring town of Dmitrov, where we visited the 12th Century monastery and saw the local sights.

On the drive back to Moscow, I reflected that it was an unforgettable and truly Russian experience that I felt really fortunate to have been invited to and been a part of. I hope I made a good impression!

The photos are here.


david santos said...

EURO 2008

RÚSSIA Congratulations!!!!!!!!!!

Raghav said...

Damn the sparrows. They were hideous.