Day 7-12. Ulaanbaatar – Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar – Mongolia + last part of the Trans Mongolia Express. 10-04-2016 // 15-04-2016

After our arrival in Ulaanbaatar on Sunday morning we wanted to do 2 things: take a shower and a good coffee. The shower was lovely and we felt so clean! Next step was finding a coffee place. Our hotel – the dream hotel – was in the middle of the center. Suprisingly the center was not as crowded as we expected, so it was easy to explore. On Monday we realized it wasn’t common to see an empty street – weekend was over.

The coffee place we found is named Caffè Bene and you have a few of them in Ulaanbaatar. It reminded me a bit of Starbucks but with a different brand name ;-). For dinner we went to a restaurant (named Sparta) around the corner of our hotel. The food was good and cheap, only 4 euro’s for a meal!

For Monday we booked a tour with Ulaanbaatar tours. We started the day with a one hour drive to a fascinating statue of Chinggis Khan. This statue is 40 meters high and is a memorial of the man who was the founder and Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, which became the largest contiuous empire in history after his demise. Besides watching this amazing statue from the outside, there is also a possibily to take a look inside. You can go inside to enjoy the view upstairs but there’s also a shop and a small ‘museum’ part. Our guide arranged something special for us – something Kas and I really enjoyed;). They gave us real Mongolian clothes and we had to take place in a ger so they could take pictures of us. The people working here but also the other visitors had more fun about this then we did. Can you imagine; two long blond dutchies with a white skin dressing like Mongolian people?

Anyways, the statue was beautiful and so was the view as soon as we reached the top. All this nature, so many unused square meters. You can not even imagine how streched out the nature is. Mongolia has 3 million inhabitants, the half of this population lives in Ulaanbaatar. So it’s not strange Mongolia has so much nature and space.

From the statue we drove to the National Park. The first stop here was at the turtle rock; nothing more then a big rock, that looks like a turtle. Funny to see how they make something out of a rock and sell this as a ‘special thing you need to see’. As long as you use your fantasies there’s an animal in every rock.

In the afternoon there was a real adventure waiting for us; horseriding. Yes – this will surprise the people who know me. It was great! Allthough I had the naughty one – of course – who refused to walk or to listen a few times. The nature around us was spectacular, it felt like we were in the middle of a painting.

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The horseriding came to an end. I said goodbye to the naughty horse – I was thankful he brought me here safe – and I started the hike to the monastery. The view on the top was – again – wonderful. The monastery can be used by everybody who wants to meditate but is not used by monks anymore. In the past the monks went here to meditate for 3 months up to 6 years. Can you even imagine you sit on the ground for years and years, everyday in a row?

Tuesday morning a driver picked us up and it was time to prepare ourselves for two days at a Nomad Family. After 2 hours we saw three gers and many animals. We met the family; Choka the dad, Oanna the mom, Patoka the 4 year old kid and 3 big dogs. They gave us a happy welcome. We were the third guests they ever had: the first one was the Dutch king Willem-Alexander and his wife Máxima, the second was Ban Ki-moon and now we are the lucky ones!

Oanna welcomed us with a cup of hot milk with salt – something they all drink in Mongolia to stay strong. Their ger looked like a small museum. They had 2 beds, a heater which is warmed on coals and a small sink. The toilet was outside and contained a hole in the ground and 4 wooden planks covering it.

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Oanna made us a real Mongolian lunch: soup with flower and meat – not my favorite – and noodles with vegetables. This first day we did a few hikes (the three dogs came with us as guards), played with the kid and enjoyed being around the animals. Being here during spring is amazing; they had lots of small goats and Tuesday morning a calf was born. How cute!

In the evening all the animals – except the horses – came back home. This family has over a thousand (!) animals. After this fascinating proces I helped Oanna making dumplings for dinner.

The next morning we woke up early and saw the sunrise. Everything was covered in white because it snowed during the night- the weather is unpredictable. After lunch we said goodbye to this great family and returned to the crowded city.

We didn’t finish the Trans Mongolia Express, the end of our trip was Beijing. Thursday morning we took the train again and this time we did share the cabin with two others; a Dutch couple from Groningen. Small world ;). The train was different then the previous; the beds were softer, the coupes were cleaner, they had two toilets ánd toiletpaper- so luxury!

After a couple of hours In the train I felt something on my head, I asked Kas to take a look but he wasn’t sure; was it a birthmark or something else? We asked Robin and Els – the Dutch couple – to take a look. Unfortunately it wasn’t a birthmark, but it was a tick. Robin – the tic expert – pulled it out of my head. Nasty, nasty animals! We organized afternoon drinks – with our train friends – to forget about the tick.

Anyways, I’m warned and will check every spot on my body from now on. Luckily it’s now time to go to the big city (hopefully without ticks);Beijing! We can almost touch it, only 5 more hours to go..

Day 3-7: Trans Mongolia Express

Trans Mongolia Express 05-04-2016 – 10-04-2016

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We booked 2 beds in a 4 persons cabin (a private cabin was too expensive) for the train from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar. As soon as the conductor showed us our ‘room’ I was a bit shocked. I expected it to be small, but this? When we booked it we expected the rooms to be bigger but there’s no way you can stand here with 4 people at the same time – just to mention the room was 2 meters by 1.5 meter. The train left at 11.45 pm and Kas and I were lucky – we were still with the two of us in the 4 persons cabin.

The first night was horrible – the bed is hard, it’s the same feeling as lying on the ground. Besides this, the train is moving, makes quite some noise and stopped that night every three hours.

Because of the low season the train is almost empty – except from our coupe. We share the toilet and the sink – yes we couldn’t shower for 5 days – with 10 other people. With some of those people we had drinks together a couple of times – fascinating to see how easily you meet people. For example the conversation with Clautilde – a French girl – she loved the people in Moscow. She told us she learned a bit Russian – just the basic part – before visiting this city. Everytime she spoke Russian, they smiled and helped her out. So maybe a good tip if you are planning to go to Moscow; learn the language.

Speaking about Clautilde, she also has a blog, but not like we expect. She doesn’t write stories, she draws them. And they are amazing. It’s defenitely worth a look. You can find it here!

There’s not much to do in the train besides reading, sleeping, watching the beautiful nature and small talks. Sometimes the train stops at a station – it depends how long, from 5 to 25 minutes -then you are able to go out. It’s good to have some fresh air, stretch your legs and you can buy some food at the small shops of the station or you can buy some food from local woman. Almost every stop they are waiting for the trains to come, with a car of homemade food. You should try this out – its cheap and tasty – defenitely better then the food that they sell in the train.

Among all the young people we had a special and cute neighbour; a baby girl of 2 years old. When she came in we were a bit surprised; 2 years old and 5 whole days in the train? Isn’t it asking for a crying kid? But it turned out to be the opposite, a sweet all day laughing girl. She was traveling with her mom from Mongolia (their home town) to Moscow and now they are traveling back home. Everyday she brought a visit to everybody in the coupe. Playing, singing and talking all day long. Those 5 days we only heard her cry as soon as she had to go to bed – she loved being around all the people.

Another special person we’ve met in the train is Martin; a 75 year old man from Switzerland. Martin doesnt’t want to take the plane because of the pollution. He did this traintrip 3 times already and loves it, in the train he finds the time and rest to learn Chinese and Spanish and play some violin. One night he gave us a small concert, amazing! He is also a great story teller based on all the amazing things he experienced. He negotiated for exemple during the cold war in Russia with Gorbatsjov.

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You can say this train trip was special. Sometimes I was a bit restless; wanted to go outside, have a long walk and after 4 days I looked forward to a nice shower. The sleeping part was only rough the first night, you get used to it and I loved the flow of the train – I will miss it when I will sleep in a normal bed again. The thing I loved the most about this train were the people; it felt like we were one group of friends, traveling all together.

Now it’s time to explore Mongolia till Thursday, then we will take the train to Bejing!

Do you’ve any plans making this train trip? Please make sure you take this stuff with you:
– Food! This one is important. Somebody told me we should take some snacks and food. We are so happy we did. The food in the train is not very tasty and expensive. We took some brown bread, fruits, crackers, nuts, chocolate and ginger (perfect to make some tea)
– Washcloth. Seriously, otherwise you will smell yourself after a few days.
– Toilet paper. Something that’s not available in the train so make it yourself comfortable and bring enough.
– Cards / games. After 2 days of doing nothing you will be happy you brought some games. It’s also a good way to meet people.
– An external charger. There are just a few charging points which are not always working. You will be bored when your Ereader is out of battery, believe me.
– Water. There are days when they don’t have cold water anymore. Boiled water is always available, so you can cool this down if you like.
– Flipflops. The toilet is not clean, so do yourself a favour and put something on your feet.