As you may have already figured out, Belarusians love to spend their time in good company. And many Belarusians would agree: the best place to relax, grow plants, go to a sauna and spend a nice time with their friends and family is the dacha. “Dacha” is a term for both their wooden countryhouse and the few hectares of land around it where they do leisurely stuff.
Look at the city limits of Minsk on a nice Friday evening in spring. You may notice a lot of traffic driving out of the city. This is the start of the “Big Dacha Move”. Many city dwellers, especially seniors citizens, move away from their city flats for the entire summer. And actually live on their dachas all the way through till mid-autumn. Family members who stay in the city visit their parents or grandparents and help them out on the land. In return they get a nice escape from the city, including a barbeque and sauna!
You will be amazed at the quantity of vegetables and fruits Belarusians grow on their land. Not only BULBA (beloved potatoes), but also apples, pears, raspberries, strawberries, lettuce, onions, garlic, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini. And if for some reason, you don’t have any apples growing on your land – no problem! You just exchange some of your raspberries with the neighbor for some delicious apples!
An important feature of the dacha is the Belarusian bathhouse, called ‘banya’ in Russian and ‘laznia’ in Belarusian. Usually the banya is located on the premises of dacha, but not all dachas have this nice feature, of course. There are also many public banyas in the cities that you may visit to get the experience.
It’s really a unique experience, and once you’ve discovered a banya, you’ll never wash yourself in any other way! A very special ritual that Belarusians perform in the banya is ‘bench slapping’. This involves lying on a bench in turn, while you are slapped with a bundle of thin oak. Or birch branches and leaves tied together. It may sound like a HELLISH practice, but it’s actually very relaxing. After washing yourself and drinking a little bit more beer, you wish one another “S legkim parom”. Which literally translates to ‘with light steam’ and is a figurative congratulation on a great cleansing.
Sometimes there are Spartan conditions in the dacha (like cold nights and no real plumbing). But the warm, relaxing and welcoming social experience of it will leave you with the best memories. And make you want to come back for more again and again!