21. What is Russian “dacha” and Russian sauna
Little did I know that the Sunday would be the toughness test for me! After our brunch, we departed the city to spend our day at the dacha of Elena’s parents. Dacha can be described as a place or house outside the city that is not the place where you live. Most often it’s used to cultivate fruit and vegetables. Elena’s parents’ dacha was developed with a modest wooden house that included a Russian sauna, which was built on the small plot in a “collective garden” – a neighbourhood of dachas united by a common fence surrounding them. All areas around the city are occupied by such “collective gardens” where people grow vegetables and berries. I believe every second family in Russia has a dacha, which supplies their yearly quantity of potatoes; carrots and home made fruit jams.
On our way to the dacha we stopped at the civil victims monument, which I mentioned before, the one that was built close to the place where the last tsar and his family were buried. It was an impressive monument and worth while a visit – a huge cross made of black marble surrounded by many desks with thousands names of people from Ekaterinburg and the region who lost their lives during the Civil War and political oppression of 1930-1950’s. The names of tsar Nicolay II and his family were just a few names on this huge list. I was really impressed; Russians do remember their dead. I saw fresh flowers at the bottom of the monument and asked about them. Elena told me that when people get married, they visit memorable places like this one after the marriage ceremony, and lay flowers. I think it is a beautiful custom.
On our arrival at the dacha I was informed that Elena’s farther had prepared the sauna and that he and me would sauna first. Elena confirmed it with me, but my answer to her was that she should come with us. I could see that she was very uncomfortable and could not answer me. Before she could answer me, I accepted that I would sauna with her father on my own. We took all our clothes off and went into a very hot sauna. Her father gave me some thin branches with leaves on to use when it become too hot to hit myself with so that it relieved heat on the body. The first time we went into the sauna was to get use to the conditions. After a while we came out for a cold drink, which made me sweat like a horse. The second time we stayed in longer and it almost became unbearable after her father had put some water on the wooden coals. I hit myself intensively to prevent me from getting too hot. We went in for a third time and that was when I was tested to the ultimate. Her father put water on the coals several times; Russians call it “To add some steam”. I could not bear it any longer and showed him that I had to exit because the heat became unbearable. Only then I realized that her father had also found the heat unbearable. It felt if my skin would melt any given minute. Outside Elena was waiting for me with a nice refreshing drink and a broad welcoming smile as if she knew something that I only found out now. I told her about my experience, but the only reaction I could get from her was another smile. She was telling me that saunas were very popular in the winter in Russia. People sauna until the heat becomes unbearable, then go outside in the snow for a few minutes to cool down and then go back in the sauna. I think if I knew what I would go through I would have drank a few vodkas to build up the courage to do that.
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