Dachas

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The Russian (and also other eastern European countries but really mostly Russia) tradition of the ‘dacha’ goes back a long way. It started out as a large house in the countryside, and is now, after some turmoil, basically the same. A house with a plot of land, somewhere near but definitely outside a city’s borders.

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The royalty back in pre-communist days had dachas as summer estates, large houses and ornamental gardens for entertainment and repose. The industrial revolution brought about a larger upper and middle class who also wanted to join in the quiet country life, so they too bought land and built dachas.
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Then came the Soviets. They took the dachas and redistributed them and placed rules on the size and scope of newly constructed ones. Dachas became a reward mechanism for those in the party’s good graces. Did a good deed for a party higher-up? You get to use a dacha for a while. Become a rising and prominent member of the elite? You get assigned a dacha all to yourself. Until you fall out of grace and the dacha is revoked along with probably a few other things.

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Around this point in time, dachas were summer homes. They didn’t have indoor plumbing and they had relatively small plots and house sizes. They usually didn’t have great insulation, so they weren’t ideal for living out the cold Russian winter in.
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When the USSR fell dachas once again became private property. Construction rules were relaxed and those who had income built their dachas to be large, year-round houses. Their garden plots became functional gardens growing potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. Many of the dachas we saw had little greenhouses in the plot so they could grow long into the shoulder seasons.

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Modern dachas come in two neighborhoods – specific dacha-only areas, and small villages. The dacha-only areas are traditional. Large chunks of land are divided and then used as summer retreats. The small-village dacha is an outgrowth of everyone ever moving to the cities, leaving the outlying villages empty. Cheap property leads to more people being able to afford a house, and so, former actual villages, now filled at least partially with part-time dacha residents.

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For most, the dacha is a source of enjoyment and pride. The garden provides a little extra, and the ability to get away from the city on a regular basis – for long periods during the summer – refreshes the soul. In poorer areas of Russia, the food that a dacha garden brings is often enough to help a family feed itself during the year without cutting back drastically on other expenses.

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The family we stayed with for a night on the shore of Lake Baikal were at their dacha, preparing for a summer celebration. When we got to Moscow we met with my mom’s aunt who was residing for the summer at her family’s dacha. It was lovely to meet her and speak Bulgarian again for a bit.

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We helped out in the garden, but mostly relaxed, took pictures, went swimming in the local pond, and walked around. The dacha lifestyle is meant to be relaxing, revolves around walking and meals, and is meant to be shared with family.

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Stolby Nature Resere: Plants

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Siberia in summer contradicts every imagined image conjured up by the word. Devoid of ice and snow, the summer Siberian landscape clothes herself in emerald hues dotted with flecks of whites, reds, purples, and pinks from flowers and berries. Here are some of the beautiful summer plants we encountered on our hikes in Stolby:

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A cluster of Campanula flower.
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An unknown flower; though the flower cluster reminds me of a clover, the leaves are totally different. The flowers are long and thin, so they’re not slipperwort. They’re also not the correct shape to be foxglove or monkshood.
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A cluster of monkshood/Wolf’s Bane (Aconitum) flowers.
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Another unknown flower, although from the shape it could be a wild orchid.
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Two small Campanula or Adenophora flowers, after a rain.
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A lone dew-dipped cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) hangs from its stem.
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The autumn colors of this plant pop against the background of green summer foliage.
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Small, ever dainty forget-me-nots (Myosotis imitata).
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A bee pollinates elderberry flowers (Sambucus sp.)
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A small, bell-shaped flower, perhaps another Campanula.
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A rather stunning flower, though unknown. Maybe a type of carnation or Dianthus sp.?
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A blueberry (Vaccinium)peeks out from the bush.
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Flowers of Bupleurum longiradiatum, small perennial shrub whose cousin Bupleurum longifolium is popularly known as an ornamental.
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A yellow jewelweed/touch-me-not/balsam (Impatiens noli-tangere) flower.
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These dewspun leaves illustrate how jewelweed got its name.
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A small flower, possibly Geum aleppicum (Yellow Avens).
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A wild thistle (Synurus deltoides) with flowers in bloom.
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The unopened puffballs of wild thistle flowers (Synurus deltoides).

Flowers of Lake Baikal

Mid summer is not a great season for flowering plants in general but we still plenty along the trail. We bought a book on flowers in southern Siberia, including the Baikal Region. Unfortunately, that book is not with me right now, but I will update this post with names once I get it. IMG_20170708_180501IMG_20170708_150605 IMG_20170708_140419IMG_20170708_122943 IMG_20170708_113250IMG_20170708_113147 IMG_20170708_111155

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These shots didn’t come out quite as good, but I’m leaving them here for future identification.

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Da Lat Flower Park

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The “city of a thousand flowers” has botanical displays and delights all over, but its biggest garden is the Da Lat Flower Park. Situated on the eastern corner of the city’s lake, it’s a display of hundreds of flower varieties in a theme-park atmosphere. Almost no one was around on the rainy day we visited, but we had fun exploring the mostly-kept grounds and marveling at the copyright-infringing Disney statues and other baffling lawn displays. I’d say it’s worth going for these alone.

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Delightful Da Lat

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If you want to visit Vietnam without the rote tourism, overcrowded cities, and tropical humidity, Da Lat is your city. Situated in the 1,500 m above sea level on the Langbian Plateau, Da Lat (or Dalat) is a year-round temperate getaway for people looking to relax, take in the mountain air, and drink coffee. The primary tourism market here is domestic and the foreign tourists that do make it here are primarily Russian, so don’t expect many English speakers. But several places offer English menus, and paper, a pen, and a smile are all you need to barter in the city’s markets. So pull up a chair and order a coffee, visit the city’s flower garden, or explore Da Lat’s bizarre architectural wonderland.

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A view of the city; red-roofed French villas from the colonial era sprawl across the countryside, a reminder that this was once a getaway for the French-colonial elite.

 

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A rain-kissed flower grows in a planter in Da Lat. The city is also known as “the city of a thousand flowers” and its temperate climate produces flowers for export.

 

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A man fishes in Xuan Huong Lake. I personally would not eat anything from this lake (see below).

 

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A woman uses a net and pole to fish waste out of Xuan Huong Lake after a storm. Heavy rainfall washes everything from plant debris to plastic bottles to dead fish down into the lake, so people like the above keep Da Lat beautiful.

 

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A military officer looks around at stalls in an indoor market.

 

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Plastic tables double as chairs, set out in preparation for an evening concert.

 

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Not someone’s home, but the interior of a local coffee shop. The city is filled with dozens of cozy cafes like this one.

 

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The branch of a bonsai tree on the shore of Xuan Huong Lake.

 

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A view over the night market in the city center.

 

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Vendors display wares to potential customers in the night market.

 

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Looking lost in the night market.

 

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Toys posed (by someone else) in a mall in Da Lat.

 

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A woman poses for a photo while riding as an advertisement for Yamaha motorbikes.

 

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A woman takes a selfie (left) while tourists wander by below (lower center) in the confusing architecture of the Hang Nga Crazy House.

 

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A bubbling cauldron of stew in the local market. IT WAS DELICIOUS.

 

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An offerings table for deceased ancestors in front of a local business.

 

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A truck-sized lotus lantern awaits deployment onto Xuan Huong Lake, part of a celebration of Buddha’s birthday.

 

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The night skyline of Da Lat, reflected into the lake.

Te Puna Quarry Park

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Old quarry equipment and a bench hidden among the greenery in Te Puna Quarry Park

People extol the virtues of New Zealand’s natural beauty, but landscaped local parks also flourish in the country’s perfect mild climate. And while there are enough local parks in New Zealand to fill a lifetime and we visited more than a dozen in our two weeks, Te Puna Quarry Park was by far the most beautiful and quirky. Situated just outside of Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty, it’s the perfect stop between visiting the region’s wineries/cideries, buying fresh fruit from roadside stands, and noshing on some of the best meat pies in the country (more on that one in a later post).

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“The Dreaming Stone”, a sculpture on display in the park. A full list of the park’s sculptures (many by local sculptors) is available here.

Te Puna was our favorite local park because it had something for everyone: a dizzying array of botanical life from cacti to orchids, beautiful granite sculptures hidden in the greenery, a butterfly hatchery for the scientifically inclined, and old rusted quarry equipment kids (or kids at heart) can play on. It’s the perfect combination of see, smell, touch, and do. And everywhere you can see signs of how much the park is loved and cared for, from the painstakingly-weeded walkways to the densely-packed park regions full of bromeliads, irises, and palms.

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Wooden totems hidden among the ferns

A visit to the park can take as little as 45 minutes and stretch into the hours (we were there for two). It’s also free to visit and cared for entirely by volunteers, so if you’ve got some coins to spare, consider dropping by one of the donation boxes. There are some by the restrooms in the parking lot, where you can also pick up a free map. If you’re staying or living nearby long term and end up loving the place, also consider volunteering to help keep the park beautiful. As usual, here are our most gorgeous photos of Te Puna below:

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Chamomile flowers bloom in the park’s herb garden.
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A touch of surreal: A worm sculpture in an old tree.
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A blooming dahlia flower. This variant of dahlia is apparently fairly rare.
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An Aztec-style jaguar sculture blends in with quarry stone and bromeliads.
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Little friend: a leafhopper hides behind a leaf. This is probably one of the introduced leafhoppers, Scolypopa australis.
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A sculpture rests among bushes
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Bees gather at flower to collect nectar.
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A blooming white lily
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A cluster of tiny white orchids, probably a variant or relative of Epidendrum secundum, which we saw growing in the wild on our Salkantay hike in Peru.
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A young milkweed pod. The park propagates large swathes of milkweed to feed monarch caterpillars, and will even collect unwanted caterpillars from nearby gardens.
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Young royalty: a small monarch caterpillar on a milkweed pod.
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Husks and cocoons of monarch butterflies in the park’s butterfly hatchery.
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Adults at play: the park features old quarry equipment that you can play on, although there are warning signs to take care and be safe.
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The rusted insides of the beast, complete with gears
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Springs and plugs in the old quarry equipment, long since rusted beyond use
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Rust up close, where the uniform reddish-brown becomes individual speckles of yellow, orange, red, and black.