Sunday, September 13, 2015

Coming to grips with Mongolia

Mongolia, so far, hasn’t been such an easy trip as China. Things started out easily enough, as we left Beijing on the Mongolian airline, MIAT. Regular readers will remember that due to a change in train schedule, our train journey had to start with this plane ride. Anyway, everybody was very easy-going, and they didn’t hassle anybody about bringing lots of luggage onto the plane, they let me use my computer onboard though their announcement forbade it, and we got the impression that everything is grand at least until something goes wrong.

We landed early, and probably got outside the airport sooner than our driver expected. We told our innkeeper we'd land at 1:00 and, in fact, we walked outside the airport at about 1:00. A number of drivers and friends waited for their passengers but nobody waited for us. Taxi drivers hovered around hoping we’d turn to them for rescue. Knowing we were a little early, we waited until everybody had left. The only remaining driver wasn’t waiting for us, but she offered to help us reach the owner of our guesthouse. We tried too, throwing all possible resources into reaching this elusive woman, but to no avail. Finally we accepted the offer of one of the persistent taxi guys, who took us to the city.

For some reason Carrie had really wanted to stay at this place, and I acceded. Her reasons included price (super-duper) and accessibility to the guide and driver who will be with us for the coming days. My reticence related to the Spartan nature of the place, where we’d share a bedroom with a few strangers. As Carrie predicted, the strangers were nice. Nevertheless, altogether too many strangers shared one bathroom, one small common area, and very different schedules. Fortunately, I had earplugs and eyeshades, but I was relieved when Carrie said she’d enjoy staying somewhere else.

On our way to that somewhere else, we passed a super-fancy hotel. I asked Carrie to indulge me while I went to talk to the people at the desk. I told them we were on our way to check in elsewhere, but if they had a room or rooms to offer us on a last-minute basis, we’d be pleased to consider their offer. We ended up getting two humongous and gorgeous rooms at a bargain price. I’m very pleased.

Elsewhere in Ulaanbaatar, we’ve walked to and fro, checking out the City’s public spaces, monuments and streets. In addition, we’ve sampled Mongolian food, eaten delicious European-style food, and spent lots of time at the Choijin Lama Museum, which houses a lot of truly incredible Tibetan-Buddhist art. Finally, we visited an amusement park that wasn't as green as it looked on the map but it had a pretty exciting roller-coaster. I thought I'd ride this monster more than once, but it whipped my head around enough the first time that I decided to give my neck a rest. I think most of the other patrons feel the same way, because it's the first large roller-coaster I've ever seen without a waiting line.

Our tour of remote areas begins tomorrow. Our guide asked me to remind her what she promised us, and then she said she’d make sure we got it. I still worry a little bit about this laid-back Mongolian style. I’ll let you know when we get back how it worked out.

Choijin Lama Museum -- From 2015-09 Beijing-to-Minsk

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