Russian Country Life

A day on the dacha in the Tverskaia Oblast, about three hours north of Moscow by train.

Pretty dachas, all in a row.

Pretty dachas, all in a row.

From the perspective of Moscow, the Russian countryside feels like the stuff of legends, of myths, of a completely alternate existence. And yet, one thing that surprises me about Moscow every time I leave it overland by day is just how quickly the city ends. Last year, when I lived at the end of a metro line, there were a couple times when I went running and I actually very much saw the city ending, giving way to an endless highway but with few buildings in sight. And last weekend, with the aid of a train moving quickly past cities, I remembered again just how close Moscow actually is to that endless, sparsely landmass that is Russia. After calling it a day early last Friday, I headed home, packed my stuff, and hopped a train with Zhanna, my host this summer. Three hours later, we got off, right onto the tracks, of the station at Likhoslavl, a small town with not much more than a House of Culture, a few grocery stores, and a Lenin-head statue (just his head, on a stick). Things got off to a rather inauspicious start, however, as the short walk to her parents’ dacha was interrupted by heavy rainfall.

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Luckily, just as it was starting to pour, we stumbled upon some discarded glass window panes, which we held above ourselves for cover as her father turned up in a car, finishing off the last couple minutes under cover.We arrived just as the shower was ending, and immediately settled into a lovely dinner of stuffed squash, with a side of fresh cucumbers and radishes from the garden, and tomatoes from Armenia.After the trip out and an exhausting week, we settled in early for a long night of sleep. It was the next morning that we really settled in. Unlike many American vacation homes (and in contrast to the country residences of the rich and famous), the dacha is not a place you look for luxury. Life on the dacha is — and is specifically supposed to be — simple.

The dacha where we stayed. Pirate flag and all!

The dacha where we stayed. Pirate flag and all!

One of the biggest advantages to the dacha, most Russians will tell you, is to get out of the dirty city air to breathe in the comparatively fresh, clear air of the countryside. The little houses are very small and usually simply furnished, with a backyard where most people grow an assortment of fruits, vegetables, berries, and flowers.

Dacha sunflowers -- a triple flower mutant -- all on a single stalk!

Dacha sunflowers — a triple flower mutant — all on a single stalk!

You live simply, eating as much from the land as possible, and spend much time outside when the weather cooperates, and inside over tea when it doesn’t. Not to mention, highly important, lots of homemade jam. Yes, please. That Saturday morning, Zhanna took me out on a bike ride, and thanks to her, I can even offer proof, mostly for my parents, that I was in fact on a bike.

Me. On a bike. A very rare occurrence.

Me. On a bike. A very rare occurrence.

The ride that morning took us 11 miles or so into the countryside, past tiny villages and dacha settlements, but mostly past lots of countryside.

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Various views from the ride.

The Russian countryside I know — that is, what covers the vast majority of the country, minus its mountainous south and volcanic far east — is very reminiscent of much of the northern central parts of the United States, like Michigan and Minnesota. The end point of our ride — our destination — was a small abandoned church.

Starred Photos399Though rain felt perpetually possible, it held off nicely, and did for most of the day, even clearing up for our return, as can be seen in some of the pictures above. Here’s Zhanna.

She's far ahead, but that's her!

She’s far ahead, but that’s her!

Feeling invigorated after our 22 miles of biking, we spent the rest of the day between town and country. In town, we saw a regional circus, which is about as depressing as it sounds, and bought a few groceries for our evening meal at a local store. And then, back at home, the weather cleared up gloriously and we made preparations for our evening meal. For my part, that included tending the fire. My mother will be proud to know that her Girl Scout instructions for proper fire building (brilliantly taught with pretzel sticks and shoestring potatoes) have been well internalized. It also entailed cutting wood with a very nifty pocket chain saw — that is, just a chain that worked as a saw.

Preparing the fire.

Preparing the fire.

And mushrooms over the fire. Though, these took way longer than we expected, and we ended up eating them the next morning instead.

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But also, it was a time for relaxing. Earlier that day, Zhanna’s son introduced me to one of the new kittens from across the way.

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And also the mother, if I remember correctly. Gleb and Masha:

2013-07-19 dacha 64Here we have Zhanna and her father, taking in the glorious weather.

2013-07-19 dacha 55After eating our fill of fish and cutlets, with sides of more garden cucumbers and radishes and other assorted goodies, Zhanna and I took a pleasant evening walk, before returning just before sunset, for which I have already provided a short preview.

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Sunset on the dacha.

And, with a full day behind us, we settled in for a lovely night of rest. A welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of big-city life.

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