Ulan Batar, Ulan Bator, take your pick with the spelling. Be warned though, this is not a spell bindingly beautiful city. It is utilitarian, functional, and whilst we saw it at its best on the first day (blue skie and very little traffic), we then saw it on our penultimate day when we were stuck in traffic and on our last day, it rained and there was certainly nothing pretty about it. Its roads are concreted, not tarmaced and full of pot holes and they are bumpy (though not as bumpy as what we would experience in the forthcoming days).
Coming from Suzhou, with Starbucks on many street corners, Ulaaan Baatar has none of this. From our first hotel to our second, we saw Pizza Hut, Burger King and KFC, so certainly the franchises have arrived, but not Starbucks. So my mug collection can only be augmented if the cities are big enough!
Eleanor and I met the Dutc family. They flew in on the Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul and were of course noticeable – they all had blonde hair. The youngest was to have his 8th birthday on holiday with us, then the daughter who was 11 ish and the eldest son of 12/13. They were all vegetarian. Having eaten dinner and lunch in Ulaan Bataar already – we were not overwhelmed by the vegetarian options!
On the first afternoon (remember Eleanor and I had only travelled an hour ahead of China, despite us going west) we visited a monastry and a museum detailing the history of the country. By the time we got to the museum, the Dutch family were very tired.
We visited Gandantegchinlin Monastry, a Tibetan style monastry where over 100 monks still live. We saw, but could not take pictures of, a 26.5 metre copper statue of Chenrezig (Lord who looks down). We had to look up to take in its magnificence. It was in the grounds here, that an artist tried to sell me a picture. I was told by our guide that I could buy similar paintings at the souvenir shop at the end of the trip. My one regret of the trip is that I did not buy from the artist. The fact that I didn’t have the right currency at the time is neither here nor there!
After the Monastry, we visited the National Museum of Mongolian History. Like Xi’an and Stonehenge we saw prehistoric tools and jewellery, but what was more fascinating was that the exhibitions of the yurts, clothing and saddles of previous centuries were almost the same as what we experienced in the 21st Century. The clothing (deel) whilst not as colourful, is still worn today as either ceremonial dress or as work clothes to milk the herds. The saddles (wooden) were what we could have ridden on (more on that later).
By the time we got to the Museum the children were flagging. It was interesting to note (and perhaps I had not truly taken it in) that the Great Wall of China was actually in 3 parts to keep the Mogols out. Mongolia is made up of 23 tribes. The Mongol empire was truly huge, compared to what it is now. Google/wikepedia/bing don’t give me what I really want for a comparison, but hopefully you can see the difference!
We then visited Parliament Sq. and on our way back to the bus Eleanor and I got told off for taking a picture of the railings – and we were made to delete them.
Chengis Khan sits prominently in the middle of the parliament building alerting all who pass by that this is a country no longer associated with Russia.I was surprised by what I saw around this parliament square, there are no high rise buildings, save a few in the distance. The railings that we took a picture off, have the Mongolian symbol on them. Little did I know I would be able to take other pictures of it, unhindered!
We went back to the hotel to freshen up. We walked to the restaurant, which had been pre booked, only to find it locked. We knocked and like Ali Baba’s cave, the door was opened. At dinner the Dutch mother and I skirted around the issue that neither of us had brought the fathers of our children. Mine was a much easier story to tell. – Still married but left him behind. I gathered from my travelling companion that she was not with the father of her three children, and that her current partner preferred a mountain bike saddle.
Dinner could only be likened to a Cornish Pasty. We had soup (we were told that soup was offered at most meals) and then a cornish pasty. The Dutch family had potatoes and carrots/onions in theirs. Our guide, Eleanor and I were definitely meat eaters and we had beef,carrots, onions and potatoes in ours.
A lovely dinner was had were we got to know each other. My Dutch is ok having lived in the Netherlands for a year, but understanding it and speaking it are two different things entirely and the children didn’t know English that well, so it was to be a holiday of translating. The youngest Dutch son was impressed that I knew some things in Dutch and could say the basics!
And so to bed…for on Sunday 31st July our real Mongolian adventure would start. We made the most of toilets that flushed and showers that worked.
Stay tuned for the real adventure, when our beds are in Yurts (Gers) and we are not in surrounded by bricks…