Life on a Russian Farm

I’m sitting in the attic of our farmhouse watching immense amounts of water fall from the sky. The past three days of solid rain dampen our moods, as well as the forest and the boulders within.  On the bright side, we have no shortage of water for living – this farmhouse has no plumbing, so collected rain water is the only source for drinking, showers, dish washing, and of course the Russian sauna. I want to share a bit about life on the farm here. It’s peaceful, simple, and different from anything I’ve ever known.




10 days ago, dirt roads led us through a dense forest of pines and ferns to our new home for three weeks. On the way, we passed two check points where armed soldiers checked our documents – in addition to our passports, we must show our permit that allows us to be this close to the Russia/Finland border. One soldier clarified that he “didn’t want another Snowden incident”, and chuckled.

Upon hearing that Jon and I are in Russia, we’ve received a few comments from people saying that as Americans, we should be boycotting Russia. These comments make me really sad. Behind the political tension lies a beautiful country with kind hearted people. Jon and I joked about renting a tank instead of a rental car, standing in line for bread rations, and facing stern people who we wouldn’t understand. Apart from the border checkpoints, that’s not what Russia is like at all. And lets face it, the US customs workers aren’t much friendlier.



Our hosts, Zan and Olya (pronounced John and Olga), are in the process of reconstructing their farmhouse, which is more like a three story log cabin. Built on the remains of a Finnish village, the Zan and Olya have found artifacts throughout their property. They hope to someday turn their land into a historical park and this house into a bed and breakfast. Jon and I are their first visitors! About an hour from the nearest town, the house is truly secluded. But what could be a scary, isolated, lonely experience is actually quite the opposite in the company of our new friends. Each morning, we’re warmly greeted with “dear friends!” and a bow from Zan with his hand over his heart. Zan’s mother (Babushka, meaning grandmother in Russian) also lives in the house and cooks us all sorts of fattening meals – potatoes, meats, crepes, all cooked in vats of oil. Delicious, but an added challenge for climbing.



Here in the countryside, we’re learning to live off the land. Of course, I use that term loosely as a type on my computer with a 3G internet connection dangling from the wall. But with no plumbing or consistent electricity, daily life is a bit different.  For a few hours each evening, a generator allows us to charge camera batteries, phones, etc. The bathroom is an outhouse down the hill – no problem there, except that walking down three flights of creaky stairs in a cabin full of twenty people in the middle of the night always seems a bit rude. To clarify, the “middle of the night” here is about 6am. It’s not truly dark until around 12:30am. We eat dinner at 11pm, go to bed at 1 or 2am, and wake up at 10 or 11am. We missed the “white nights” in June when it pretty much never gets dark.





[Jon Glassberg (LT11) photo]

We’ve picked wild berries, swam in giant lakes with no bottom in sight, collected wild mushrooms from the forest, made pickles from the garden, washed all our clothes by hand, fished for dinner, and of course, we’ve been beaten in the Russian sauna. For those who aren’t familiar, the Russian sauna is quite the cultural experience. On our second night here, a gaggle of mostly drunk middle agers began yelling “bikini, bikini!” (probably the only English word they know, communication is very “stone age” with the given language barrier) at Jon and I. It was midnight and we weren’t yet used to the schedule, so this seemed a bit odd. The women began laughing and making motions to take photos while yelling “Jon bikini!!”.  With nothing to loose, we put on our suits and were shuffled down the hill and into the sauna. As Zan poured boiling water over hot rocks to make a stifling hot steam room, he soaked birch branches in boiling water and instructed us to lie down. Without warning, he “gently” hit our backs and legs over and over with the hot branches. I can’t say this was comfortable, but after a bit of adjustment it did feel somewhat like a massage – relaxing in the Russian sense of the word. The sauna treatment concluded with a shocking bucket of ice cold water poured on the head. Voilá, we survived the welcome ceremony!









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In summary, life is good here. The weather is certainly tricky, but I haven’t been bored for even a moment with so many loving people eager to share their country, culture, and way of life. I had the intention of writing about climbing as well, but this post is long enough as is. More about climbing at Triangular Lake in a few days!





0 responses to “Life on a Russian Farm”

  1. Enjoy your visit in Karelia, beautiful, interesting and different in many ways. It has been interesting and empowering to read your stories from the road, waiting for the next one!

    Greetings from other side of the boarder!

    P.S. Ask babushka to make some karelia-pies with egg and butter!

  2. What an awesome adventure. Hope that is something I can do before its too late. Rock on!

  3. Enjoyed this report. Those photos are fantastic… Love the forest shots in particular!

  4. archecotech says:

    Hello Paige, I’m not sure if I sent you a message in the beginning when I did a pingback to your blog here, if I didn’t please forgive me. When I first found your blog I got very excited because few Americans get to experience Russia like you have. I suspect that you are no longer in Russia but am wondering if you would be willing to talk about your experiences here with my readers? If you are please contact me. Thanks. By the way the pingback was to what I call Mirror reflections. I created them to show others around the world just how much we are all alike. If you are interested please come visit at Thanks Steve

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