We departed from the Baikaler Hostel in the dead of night to the train station for a 5AM-er, and so began our sad goodbye to the Russia we grew to know and love.
The three of us squeezed into a tight compartment designed for four people (how four people with luggage could fit in that room is perhaps an Asian mystery), but we were lucky to be able to leave the fourth bed open to Elijah and no one else (Passover joke, anyone?). The decor of our train compartment was described perfectly by Karen as a "Sultan's sex room"... I'll leave that up to your imagination. As we attempted to board the train, loud Mongolians rushed through the halls carrying the oddest assortment of things. We watched as a seemingly endless supply of bursting trash bags and boxes were loaded into their rooms and the hallways. We laughed as the torsos and bottom-halves of mannequins made their way past our door - and we wondered if they had to buy the plastic people tickets (and if they didn't, does Joan Rivers need a ticket?)
If it wasn't for a cold and a stomach bug, I would have enjoyed the first part of the train ride more, but after a great night's sleep, I felt loads better. The train ride was great and sights were awe-inspiring.
During the six and a half hours spent at customs between both the Russian and Mongolian sides, we compared the two neighboring countries. It was apparent that the two sides could easily be contrasted in the wonderful juxtaposition of the K-9 units used by each. Russia used German Shepards, beautiful dogs, aggressive on the outside and when necessary, cute and cuddly on the inside. German Shepards are like Russia(ns) in so many ways. Once over to the Mongolian side, the use of Cocker Spaniels was laughable, yet exceedingly representative of Mongolia. Cute, non-aggressive, and certainly not intimidating. We wanted to play with both dogs - with the German Shepards, we were afraid of being violently mauled; with the Spaniels, we were afraid of being violently licked.
Upon our arrival in Ulan Bator, we were welcomed by staff at our hostel, Golden Gobi. We hadn't informed them at what time we would be arriving, but they somehow figured it out and were incredibly kind enough to get us and bring us to the centrally located hostel. The place is great - super cozy, warm staff, and uber inviting. We were greeted by delicious bread with butter and some fresh jam, and some extremely delightful tea with milk. Things are off to a good start and I'm excited for what Mongolia has to offer!
PS - And everything between