How excited are we to be in the capital city with the most vowels in it, and the capital of the most sparsely populated country in the world (4.3 people per sq m)? Answer – Very.
After very little sleep we we woken up at 4.40am by the carriage attendant as the train crawled into the station. We have never done 650km on a train so slowly, it has taken us 24 hours.
As promised a chap was there to pick us up from the hostel…. we felt like royalty! We arrived at the hotel at about 6.15am there was a hushed atmosphere when we got there as quite a few people we packing rucksacks in the main area for their trips into Mongolia or the train to Bejing. One chap had a bottle of Genghis Khan vodka, climbing equipment and 2 bottles of motor oil (we later saw him with a motorbike outside which went someway to explaining the motor oil). We are slightly dazed and quiet. Still we had WiFi so we were happy having a quick catch up with the vital events of the past 24 hours (none) .
Hostel owner arrived and our room was ready so we unpacked, showered (cold for me, hot for Guy who worked out the shower fitting was fitted the wrong way so hot was cold and visa versa) and we decided to stay awake and battle on through. Checking our tour information we then had to somehow get a couple million of Mongolian togrog out of the bank so we started our withdrawals.
Some money obtained we decided coffee would be a great idea and so clutching our battered old money, held together with sellotape (no new fivers here!!!) we went to get some. I hadn’t quite got the hang of the cash so tried to pay with 4 20,000 togrot notes, the equivalent of £40. Guy quickly intervened and I eventually handed over a tenner for the three quid coffees.
The sky was blue and the air seemingly) clear so we wandered around the city and avoided being killed by mongolian drivers who aren’t that bothered about stopping at traffic lights, and certainly not the (voluntary) zebra crossings. Human shields were used. A lot.
The place has a real feeling of Asia about it, one vendor had his stall set out with scales (for weighing yourself), telephone (for phone calls), cigarettes and matches (for smoking, of course). I didn’t jump on the scales as they looked like they wouldn’t take the shock and so I could end his livelihood.
The place is really relaxed, there are knock off H&M, Mango shops, streets are shabby chic in their paving with the odd hole through the concrete, and everyone has really good pair of boots. Toilet paper has taken a nose dive in quality with toilet roll holders not having been introduced here yet (how they make anything from 1970’s Blue Peter is beyond me).
We did see a brown murky haze at the end of one street which had snow sprinkled hills in the distance and found out later that Ulaan Bataar has bad air quality, it was worse than Bejing yesterday!!! But the hills looked very picturesque.
There were plenty of restaurants with mongolian food on offer however we had our hearts set on an Indian restaurant behind the wrestling stadium (every town should have one) so got there easily and had a feast.
We took our leftovers with us and had another wander around, it was glorious sunshine and we were taking off the layers of clothing whilst seeing statues and the very impressive square. We decided to take a rest in the square and watch life pass by, kids on roller blades whizzed past us, older people walked past in their clothes which looked like costumes to us but seemed to be normal kit for them and also the now familiar toy cars for cute kids to ride around the square until the battery ran out. It was a lovely relaxing way to spend the afternoon.
We managed to negotiate the ATM’s and got lots more battered old notes out of the machine and handed them to our hostel owner.
Chatted to more travellers in the hostel, we have met loads doing the same route as us and just winging it. It seems strange to be back in a route again, but fun. We even met someone from Coventry!