So we finally arrived in Mongolia today, after four days on the Trans-Siberian. To our surprise, it wasn't really the scenery that was the highlight of our trip. This can partly be blamed on the dirty windows of the train, which we tried multiple times to clean, with little success. The highlight was really the interesting characters we met on the train.
Our first night, we shared a place with Andrej and Oxana (I think that's spelled wrong) from Kirov. After we were settled in, they started bringing out all sorts of food and really treated us. We had biscuits, bread and caviar (which I really didn't like, a bit too salty.) Afterwards they tried for hours to teach us some Russian, which was somewhat successful but I don't think I retained much. At about 1:00AM we were getting really tired but Andrej kept going. He was really adament that we learn some Russian. Eventually they gathered from our yawning that we wanted to sleep a little. Andrej got up at once and started making our beds for us! He went on about how he was in the army and that he knew how to really make a bed well. We slept well that night, despite the intense heat of the cabin. I thought the carriages were going to be cold but they were really hot.
If my memory serves me right, it was the second night that we met our most-awesome Scandanavian friends. Johanna is from Finland and Kristin is from Sweden. We hung out with them pretty much the whole day, if I remember correctly. I read a bit of my Brothers Karamazov, but not much. We had a warm beer in the restaurant car, and were forced to pay for pistacios we didn't want.
It was the third day that we met Sergei. However, we first met grumpy Dmitry. He barged into our room at 10:00AM at one of the stops and demanded the bottom bunk that Austin was sleeping on. Because he did have that on his ticket he was able to get it. We learned later that he was only on for a couple hours, so he was just being a big baby. He was really unfriendly, but later warmed up just a little. He even gave us some old Soviet money. We said goodbye to him and hello to Irina. I don't recall what stop we picked her up at but she was on her way to a small town in northern Russia to visit her daughter. She was really sweet and even left us some chocolates the next morning! Anyway, Sergei was a really cool guy. At 16 years old, he seems to me to be a genius of some sort. He is studying physics at Novosibirsk University and was on his way to visit his parents in Ulan-Ude. He tried at one point to explain some time travel concepts, the topic generally not for beginner English speakers and did an alright job. You could tell his brain was moving very fast but he was unable to get everything out at once. We kept the piece of paper he wrote some formulas on because we are fairly sure it will be worth millions one day.
The fourth day was as well interesting. We had some New Zealanders on board and talked to them about all sorts of things. They had started their travels in Finland and were going to Asia and then to South America and on and on.
This morning we arrived in Ulaanbaatar and were greeted by Idre from Idre's Guesthouse, where rooms go for about $5.00. The service is probably much more than what you could normally get for $50. The coolest thing is that we're basically staying in their home. So as we are walking around, Idra's little son is running around and his daughters are singing and laughing. It's a really neat environment. The city itself is quite impressive too. We met up with Lawrence and Susan Savage, who are working as missionaries in Mongolia. After being treated to tea and cookies, we drove around town (driving is insane) and saw some Ger towns and a large Soviet Monument which looks over the city.
Tomorrow we are going out of town to do some horse-back riding and such in the national park nearby. It should be quite fun. I would fully recommend staying at Idre's when you go there for the obvious reason of a nice place to stay, but also because he can organize tours very, very inexpensively. Tomorrow's tour, which includes horse-back riding, hiking, gas (it's 70km from UB) and a driver, only costs about $20 each.
Thanks again for reading,