Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Trans-Mongolian Railway

Back on the train for a couple of days, we rode through more of the Siberian countryside, with villages and towns passing the carriage windows. More vodka, more hanging out in the cabins, more meeting fellow travelers, and catching up with the Spaniards we had meet on the last train. The toughest part of this couple of days was the 8 hour wait at the border between Russia and Mongolia...where nothing happened for 7.5 hours. Then there was train shunting with some of us on the train, and a couple of us watching from the platform.....and then the searches and passport checks by the very serious officials, and we were on our way. We then traveled the 30kms to the next town, inside the border of Mongolia....and waited, and then went through the same checks.

When we reached Ulaanbaatar, we were met by our awesome Vodka Train Honcho, MG. She took us to check in and shower, and then led us through the city to have breakfast and visit the Megjid Janraisig temples. Here we wandered through the complex, with included a walk through one temple in action, with monks chanting and drums sounding. Was surreal!

Catching public buses through the bustling city, we then visited the Zaisan Memorial, which gave us the most amazing view of the sprawling city below us, and the vast expanse to the horizon.

MG then took us to the Mongolian BBQ restaurant for an all-you-can eat, which ended up being a physical challenge for some of the group. Speaking of being uncomfortable, we were later taken to a theatre show of some traditional Mongolian dance, and one very disturbing display by a young female contortionist. Ouch!

The evening consisted of taking in the World Cup, in a massive 'Cup Land' set up in the forecourt of an Irish pub. We managed to have a great night for the 2 matches that didn't matter to us, and met the Vodka Train group who were travelling in the other direction. Then the Aussie game was on, against Germany, and we discovered that half of Mongolia had actually completed their studies in German universities, and thus, had a very loud affinity with the nation. Belinda and I seemed to be the only pair of Aussies in the pub at the start, and as the early hours ticked over, and the score line grew more and more grim, we called it a night.

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