First nail in the Dacha, last nail in your coffin

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The Dachas – the country houses that many Russians own – are one of Russia’s strongest social and cultural phenomena. About half of the people I met in Russia own Dachas, and all of them were going to dachas in the weekend or are attached in some sort of way (family, friends etc) to a dacha.

A dacha is basically a summer weekend holiday home, similar to the New Zealand Bach, the only difference is that New Zealanders are saying that the Bach is a refuge – but they go there to relax and not to work for rainy days, the Russians are saying that the Datcha is to relax in the weekend, but they go and work there like mad, building, growing fruits and veggies, trying to produce food. This is how my relatives Datcha near Saint Petersburg looks like:

As you can see, the Datchas are built in the forest, and this is exactly how it is: in that case, the government gave 6 Sotkas (Sotka = 100 sqm) which is about 600 sqm to every worker in the factory that my mother in law worked for (it was a chocolate factory). So they took the forest, gave 600 sqm to each of the 1,000 worker, and so on to the workers of other factories. The responsibility to clear the forest, build roads, build the Datcha shack, drill for artesian (“Bore”) water, toilet facilities etc – is completely on the owner – they hook you to the power grid (not everywhere) – but the rest – is your problem. That’s how the Datcha villages started to develop – they are arranged in a community like villages (like how community villages are arranged in Israel – with a board, and community budget) – while every family is doing its best to develop their own relaxation holiday house. Relaxation we said? Well, most Russians work very hard, sometimes 12 hours a day, and then on Saturday morning 5am they hit the jammed roads or the noisy soviet-era trains on their way to the Datchas. It may take 2-3 hours to drive the awfully bad roads, and once they get to the Datcha they work hard, very hard, to cultivate the land. Then, on Sunday night, they hit the roads back to the city, with baskets full of veggies, fruits. I took one of those trains back from the Datcha – I couldn’t breath from the BBQ odors that people had…. many of them didn’t shower during the weekend (no hot water facilities in many Datchas), but their baskets were full of amazing harvest – the dream of any self sufficient idealist.


From the garden to the table – having lunch at the Datcha from locally grown veggies

I personally think that there are several reasons why the Datchas are so strongly embedded in the Russian culture:

  1. Historically: it was given by the Tzar to loyal vasils (Wikipedia claims that “Datcha” means “given” in Russian but my Russian friends say that it is not true). Anyway, it means that if you were connected to the Tzar, you had a Datcha. The Soviets continued and empowered this tradition by basically giving Datcha land to everyone (which had a job or were part of the party). So… if you have a Datcha, you are one of us.
  2. Practically: Russians has very very bad economical times… when they didn’t have even not basic food. If you have a Datcha, you have food security.
  3. Security: Russians do not trust their governments and their own economy… the Datcha is a point of security, provides shelter and food in case of emergencies (like the New Zealand concept of refuge)
  4. Lifestyle: it may look strange, but lots of Russians (like some of my relatives) were expelled by the Soviets to Siberia or to other remote areas, where they had to sustain their own life in small remote villages. Once the soviet had less power, families could return from the small villages to the city, but some people (especially old) couldn’t tolerate the busy city life. Those people are living, sometimes year round, in the Datchas!


When you travel through Russia, you see lots of types of Datchas – small and poor to big and rich, some of them are basically rich houses with lots of land and gardens around them (today you could buy more than 6 Sotkas as people buy and sell those lands). I took photos of all sorts of Datchas and the surrounding areas.


A beautiful butterfly surprised us in the live Datcha’s garden


A simple Datcha shack / house

6 Sotkas (600 sqm) are making some Datcha areas very crowded. You are basically surrounded with neighbors


What you see here is not a shack, but a chicken house, double glazed, built by a neighbor so his chickens would survive the harsh winter. The Datcha is a big commitment which forces Russians to go there every weekend, to feed animals and maintain the garden.


The Datcha villages are built in an infinite huge forest


From the gravel road


This bridge leads to a train platform, built in the forest like anything else around


Once you are off the highway, your get to small bad roads, most of them are bumpy gravel roads. The government does not maintain those roads – it is the responsibility of the village to do so, and since they don’t have too many funds and the funds are badly maintained, the shape of the roads is really bad


Some Russian Datchas are in better shape than a rich New Zealand house: they would be double or triple glazed, insulated and warm.



The soviet era trains get to almost anywhere, the lines would be straight, cutting the forest, the train would be very noisy and very dirty (watch out from drunk people if you decide to take this adventure). There are security guards on each train and most information is in English!


The roads heading to the Datcha would usually be really bad roads, unless you own a Datcha in one of the rich areas like the Finish Gulf area


Beautiful clouds over the southern forests


I don’t know what this sign says but you see them when you get off the highway. I won’t be surprised if it says “drive on your own responsibility” 🙂


Reddish, from the garden to the plate


Cucumber and other veggies


Spring onions, parsley, coriander and other veggies frown in the Datcha



It is not only about food, but also about having a nice garden


Late evening on the way back, during summer, in Saint Patersburg it means that the sun is still up


A look at the Datcha garden from the other side


The best food you can eat is the one you grow yourself!

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