Tomorrow morning we’re off to the Tuul River in the Terelj National Park for two days of whatever you do when staying in a ger in the Mongolian hinterlands. No Internet out there, so this will be it from me for a couple of days. Here are some observations about Ulan Batar, though, after three days here.
Had I done a little research before we got here, the temperature plunging to freezing on June 1 wouldn’t have surprised me. It turns out that Ulan Batar, with an average annual temperature of about 34 degrees, is the coldest national capital on earth.
While we’re discussing superlatives, UB also has the worst air pollution of any capital city, and is among the worst of any city in the world, with airborne particles 25 times the WHO recommended upper limit.
Oddly, we never saw a street sign in the city, though we walked for miles. Not a one.
The National Museum of Mongolia was pretty interesting. We’re not really museum people, but it was just right – enough information to learn something without being overwhelming. And most of the exhibits had good English translations.
And the Gandan Monastery was cool, too. If we’re not museum people, we’re really not religious people. But the Buddhist monastery was beautiful and approachable, with some great chanting and bell ringing. We even ran into old friends. OK, friends from three days ago on the train, but Shawn & Lorri felt like old friends!
And just as odd, some cars have the steering wheel on the left, some on the right. Cars all drive on the right side of the street, but steering wheels were pretty much split evenly left and right. At least we didn’t see any in the middle…
There is apparently a big Korean population here, meaning there are a lot of Korean restaurants. What’s not to like about that?
We’ve observed many times that no one outside the US know how to make cocktails. (OK, sometimes I think no one besides Paul and Maureen at Gargoyles or Karen & Sunday at Franks knows how to make cocktails, but that’s probably too picky.) But drinks on the 17th floor of a hotel here were remarkable. Who knew that a martini was primarily lemon juice? That a manhattan had large amounts of simple syrup? Or that after you shake said martini and manhattan you pour them with the ice into the martini glass? And then you serve the drinks in the martini glass with a straw? Oh, the trials your intrepid travelers face!
Speaking of drinks, we learned from painful experience that the first day of every month is an alcohol-free day. Can’t buy it in a store, in a restaurant, or even a bar. Amusingly, though, today was the one day we saw a young guy just falling down drunk on the sidewalk. Apparently that holiday thing isn’t working so well.
I read all that and it seems kind of negative. Maybe this is a place, though, where the sum is much greater than the parts. We’re actually charmed by Ulan Batar. The people are friendly and smiling, the kids are cute, prices are affordable, there are great hiking and biking opportunities in the area, and they are emerging successfully from decades of Soviet domination. Not dying to come back, but definitely worth a few days to explore.
Already jealous of your adventures and looking forward to hearing more. Have fun in the hinterlands!
Loved this post. Especially loved the look on Marks face with said Martini’s in the foreground. I think you just have to laugh and have 4 of them for a Gargoyles equivalent.
You sure that isn’t Luke Peterson?
There is simply no excuse for abusing alcohol that way.
I trust that you drank them anyway?
We drank them, but they were barely worth it. Lesson: when in Mongolia, stick to beer!
What’s up with the swastika in the last picture?
Oops wrong post – it’s in this one:
Drew – Funny you should ask about the swastika; I wondered if anyone would notice. You may know that the swastika has a long, long history pre-dating Naziism. In this case I don’t think it’s anything more or less than a standard Buddhist symbol, though it could be part of the artwork of Soviets and Mongols together defeating the Nazis. It is certainly jarring, though.
And by the way, the minute we met Shawn I thought he looked like Luke. Oddly, Mark didn’t see it…
Actually, it’s a monument to Soviet/Mongolian cooperation in World War II. And the swastika is part of a Nazi banner being trampled on by the glorious Soviet and Mongolian soldier-heroes. No love lost for the Germans in these parts.
The next development team we start here is going to be named “The Glorious Soviet and Mongolian Soldier-Heroes”.