Saturday 26/08 (2/2)
Upon arrival in UB, we go directly to SOS Medica International Hospital. They call the doctor who arrives quickly. It seems that I’m the only one in the hospital (we are Saturday afternoon). Isabelle and the kids go to Pizza Hut nearby.
I do some X-rays and the (South African) doctor reassures me immediately: nothing is broken. Similarly, after examining my knee, he says that there’s nothing serious and he doesn’t even recommend an MRI. I’m so much relieved. He gives me plenty of medicines though (10 tablets per day).
We go to Tanan Serviced Apartments, which I booked via Booking.com.
The 2-bedroom apartment is great! We are so happy. It’s roomy (95m2), modern and quite centrally located (in a students’ district).
We take warm showers!!! It feels so good.
We go to a nearby supermarket to buy some food. The kids want to prepare chocolate chips cookies dough (they dreamt about it while at the Tsaatans…).
I prepare pasta.
We wake up quite late. We had promised the kids to have a real “week-end”. It turns out well: it’s a Sunday! They spend the whole time on their iPhones (catching up with their friends on Snapshat and on Instagram and with their favourite Youtubers, after 10 days without internet). Isabelle prepares the ‘Philippines’ part of the trip and I start sorting out the pictures of our trip to the Tsaatans. It feels so good to be clean, warm and in a comfortable environment! Lovely cocooning time.
Around 3pm we go and eat at a nearby Burger King, located in a big Emart supermarket (it’s a Korean chain) where we spend one hour shopping, mostly for food. We enjoy spending time in this supermarket and discovering new products (that we don’t always understand…). There are quite a lot of German products. It’s apparently due to the fact that Mongolia and East Germany were both members of the ex-Comecon (the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, which was an economic organization from 1949 to 1991 under the leadership of the Soviet Union that comprised the countries of the Eastern Bloc along with a number of communist states elsewhere in the world).
We come back around 5:30pm in our apartment. One hour later, Natsca comes to pick us up to go to a restaurant, to mark the end of our trip together. We go to a Mongolian bbq restaurant (BD’s Mongolian Barbeque), where you choose the different ingredients (including all kinds of frozen meats), which are then grilled in front of you. Kids like it.
Nice breakfast at the apartment. It’s really nice to feel at home and to be able to prepare the kind of meals that you like.
Good (and long) session of homeschooling.
We leave around 4:30pm to go to the Dinosaurs museum, displaying an impressive Tyrannosaurus (but nothing else really).
We go to Code Patisserie&Plus, where we eat nice pastries.
We then walk a bit along Peace Street and Seoul Street before going to the Rosewood restaurant, which was as good as the last time.
Isabelle and I wake up early this morning to go to the Gandan Khiid, one of largest and most important monasteries in the country. More than 600 monks live inside the monastery. We arrive at 9am, on time to observe the morning prayers inside the different temples.
We come back of foot. We stop at Code Patisserie&Plus before going to the Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum, which we find a bit disappointing.
We come back around noon at the apartment.
We go to Hundred Organic Market for lunch. The menu is not appealing to us. We decide to leave and to go back to Luna Blanca (it’s quite frequent with us: when we like a place, we tend to go back there; it’s a sure bet). Good lunch.
We then go to the National Museum. Interesting.
All the main highlights of UB are located near the centre and are therefore easily accessible on foot (which is a good thing since traffic jams are quite important, all day long). UB has 1.3 m inhabitants, i.e. it is home to about 40-45% of the country’s population.
We come back to the apartment, to do some homeschooling.
Pasta at home tonight, after a nice aperitif.
Healthy breakfast with a lot of fruit, at the apartment.
Long and good session of homeschooling.
Healthy lunch (salad) at the apartment.
We leave around 3:30pm, on foot (30’), to the Narantuul Market, where you can find basically anything from counterfeit clothing (mostly from China) to food to horse tackle and saddles to ger (yurt) furniture. Kids were mainly interested in glasses (both Ludivine and Florence bought one pair). Ludivine tried to find a cap and a small backpack, unsuccessfully.
We then grab a taxi to go to The Bull restaurant, on Seoul Street, a local favourite. It is a hot-pot place where you order an array of raw vegetables, sauces and thinly sliced meats, which are brought to your table on platters. We then cook the ingredients in our personal cauldron of boiling broth. Kids enjoy a lot.
We took a taxi to go back to our apartment. It’s easy to find a taxi in UB: you just have to stand by the side of a main street and hold your arm out with your fingers down. In less than one minute, there will be a car stopping. Most car drivers in UB play taxi drivers. And you have at least 33% chance to be taken by a (hybrid) Toyota Prius (more than half the cars in UB are Toyota and more than half of them are the Prius model).
This morning we have to change to a smaller apartment (one floor up); the one we’ve stayed in during the last 5 days, where we were upgraded, is indeed unfortunately booked for the last 2 nights.
Lunch at Willie’s Bar. Burgers, sandwiches and salad.
While I go with the girls to collect the train ticket UB – Beijing, Isabelle takes care of purchasing tickets for the show of the Tumen Ekh Song & Dance Ensemble.
We attend the show, which is performed without any microphone or technical support. We listen to traditional songs and performance on the traditional musical instruments, throat singing and see folk dances, shaman dance, contortion and religious mask dance. Interesting show, mainly for the (female) contortionist at the end.
We meet a Belgian family, with 2 girls (10 & 7), who are doing a one-year world tour, with many common destinations (Russia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Galapagos). What a coincidence (and such an improbable place for a meeting…). Appointment is taken to go and visit a museum together tomorrow.
We go for a drink in the Blue Sky Tower, on the 27th floor (Blue Sky Lounge), where we have a superb view on the city. We eat there. Nice evening.
We go back on foot to the apartment.
French toasts and crepes for breakfast this morning.
Homeschooling. Isabelle tries to book a few hotels / flights for the Philippines but she’s interrupted every single minute by the questions from the kids about their work.
Pasta salad at the apartment.
We then go to the International Intellectual Museum with the Belgian family that we met yesterday. This museum displays the work of a genius who from the age of 11 has been designing and building incredibly complex, three-dimensional Mongolian wood puzzles. Boggling to the mind and dazzling to the eye with their ornate workmanship, these come in endless shapes and sizes, from cubes to animals. The (guided) visit is a bit quick. But it’s intriguing for both adults and children.
Then we go all together to the ‘mobile phones’ building (with all the accessories), where the girls wanted to come back to do some shopping. They only buy a case.
We decide to go and eat all together to an… Indian restaurant (Namaste). It was good but surprisingly not spicy at all (probably because I asked ‘mild’ for the kids).
We tried to find a karaoke (there are so many karaoke bars everywhere in this city) but the one we went to was unfortunately closing when we arrived (10pm). We didn’t pursue; we decided to postpone our karaoke session until Beijing.
This week in UB was not extraordinary (not much to see) but it fits well into our programme. We’ve enjoyed our time here. We needed to rest and we could do so, in a very nice apartment and with a nice weather. We can see that this serviced apartment formula suits us perfectly. We can organize our days as we like. We always take (healthy) breakfasts at the apartment and then we spend half a day doing homeschooling. Kids needed to catch up after nearly 10 days whithout efficient work. We usually have one meal (lunch or dinner) at the apartment. We could also enjoy some nice restaurants in UB (kids loved the hot spot and the bbq ones).
Wake up at 5:45am for our 7:30am train to Beijing.
The first class is not much fancier than the second class. The main (nice) difference is that the 2 compartments share a bathroom. But we no longer have a “family” compartment where we are together.
Instant noodles for lunch.
Isabelle and I prepare our 12-day in Beijing. We discover the 5 different guides that we bought… Not easy to make a selection of the things to see: ancient/modern architecture, shopping (markets), entertainment (acrobatics shows), restaurants (Peking duck, dim sums…), walks… without forgetting the homeschooling and the relaxing time for the kids (and for the parents…).
The Gobi desert is, as expected, a bit monotonous. It is not desert of the sandy Saharan type but rolling grassy steppes. It is impressive for its emptiness: very few towns and just the occasional collection of yurts, herds of Mongolian horses and small groups of camels. We managed to spot some of them (the ones with 2 humps).
The diner was not the best part of the trip. We had thought / hoped that we might have a meal included in our first-class ticket but we were wrong… The restaurant-car was closed (we were changing the boogies) and we didn’t have much left. We ended up eating chips and the last slices of bread that we had (with jam). Ludivine said that it was the weirdest diner she had ever had…
An unusual experience occurs at the Mongolian-Chinese border at Erlian: the train’s bogies (the wheels) have to be changed due to the different track gauges used by the Chinese and Mongolian / Russia railway networks. We could stay in the train while this (noisy and bumping) operation was taking place.
Kids and Isabelle went to sleep (girls slept together and I slept with Jules while Isabelle slept with a Vietnamese girl studying in Beijing). I waited to get the passports back.