Saint Petersburg is a city in Russia, the second largest after Moscow. The last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, was held under house arrest with his family at the Alexander Palace in nearby Tsarskoye Selo, before being taken to Siberia and executed. The 1905 Revolution began in Saint Petersburg; in 1914, the name of the city was changed to Petrograd. When Vladimir Lenin died in 1924, the city was renamed again to Leningrad. From 1941-1944, the Nazis attempt to capture the city led to the Siege of Leningrad; the resilience of the Russians was staggering, but it led to the deaths of up to 4.5 million people. Reverting back to Saint Petersburg in 1991, it is now an important cultural centre. Its museum of art, The Hermitage, is the biggest in the world.
A Russian country house is known as a Dacha. The word means 'gift' in English, as they were originally rewarded by Peter the Great to courtiers who showed loyalty. The aristocracy continued to use them throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries, by which time the more affluent middle classes were also able to purchase these country retreats. The fact that the narrator's father lost his Dacha is really neither here nor there, as they were all seized and nationalised after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.