. To celebrate we lay down and had a bit more sleep as we had gotten up at 5am to catch the train.
The day passed really quickly reading and chatting to each other and by the evening as we were starting to get tired we reached the China border. Here we sat for two hours while they performed customs checks and changed the bogies on the train. It was really interesting to watch. They hoisted the entire train up and changed all the wheels because as the tracks in the Soviet Union are not the standard ones used by the rest of the world, they are slightly wider. Afterwards we returned to the station to pick up the passengers who had got off to look at the duty free goods for sale. As they got back on it was a mad scramble to get all the new boxes of stuff they had bought into their carriages. Our old friend came back with 6 boxes of fruit! Those went onto the foot of her bed as there literally was no where else to put it. We continued on to the Mongolian border point by this time it was after midnight and we were getting tired. Thankfully they checked our passports, thoroughly comparing the photo with our faces, and ignored the cabin full of stuff. We were finally through customs; simple as that. Off to sleep we went as the train continued on to the Mongolian capital, Ulaan Bataar.
The train seemed to snake its way through the valley, past horses and cows in the fields and traditional Ger homes
. When we arrived in Ulaan Baatar it was looking very cold outside. As we pulled into the station we gathered up our packs, pushed past the few porters fighting to get on board and climbed down the slippery steps onto the platform. The first thing to hit us was the cold. It was about negative 19 degrees Celsius; something we've never experienced before. We were greeted on the platform by our local affiliated travel agent, Tatiana. She had our onward train tickets and transport and accommodation out to the Ger. As we walked to the car a pickpocket tried to empty Rick's back pocket, but there was nothing of importance inside. It seemed to be a planned attempt with a guy in front dropping a bag and another guy to the right bumping into Rick as they all tried to squeeze out the single gate. Rick felt the hand fumbling around grabbing his butt cheek, so dropped his shoulder and slammed his backpack into the guys face. The mesh of the packsafe kind of hurts sometimes. Oh well.
The Ger resided inside a National Park so on the way we had to buy tickets to enter. When the guy saw we were foreigners the price went up ten fold. Locals pay only 300 togrog each to enter. We were charged 3000 togrog each. We knew we were being ripped off when the guy had to give us 20 separate tickets! Being ripped off is par for the course we are finding. At the UB2 Hotel they showed us our room for the night, a traditional Mongolian Ger
. The Ger was really cool, having three beds, a sink that didn't work because the pipes were all frozen and a wood fire stove in the middle. We decided to walk around for a bit, to see the snow covered forest. Afterward we went to dinner and had the most vegetables we've had in ages, with beef (hopefully it was beef but we did see lots of horses and no cows). There was not another tourist to be seen and the big hotel had a very spooky feel. At dinner we sat alone in the dining room with the staff apologising every time they walked through, it was like we were in their family dining room.
During the night one of the staff kept coming into our Ger stoking the fire. This made the Ger feel like we were in a heated tropical paradise. We could easily have jumped into our board shorts and bikini, kicked back with some cocktails and soaked up the rays from the fire. It was very hot! We just felt sorry for the guy that came in every three hours. During the night it did cool down a bit outside as the snow started falling.
We arrived at the train early but when we boarded we were surprised to find every available storage space in our cabin full of bags and boxes. Where were we supposed to put our stuff? We quickly worked out that one lady was in the wrong cabin so we booted her out along with her two massive suitcases. This allowed us to fit one backpack in the top storage area, but the other remained on the floor as we argued with the other lady sitting on Meg's bed, refusing to move. She was arguing that she was old and couldn't climb onto the top bunk. Normally we would have swapped but you actually pay more for the bottom bunk so she should have paid the extra to get it. The fact that she had filled every available space with merchandise to sell also annoyed us so we argued back. Meg just sat down and started moving the lady's stuff before she reluctantly moved. This was the first time on a train we decided to push for what we'd paid for. All other trips we'd been most accommodating, but we'd had enough at this stage (we were both a bit tired too). The train began to move and we were off on the first leg of our Trans-Mongolian journey