Honestly, we didn’t really know what to expect from UB (Ulaanbaatar; everyone calls it UB for short which can lead to some catchy one-liners like “UB or not to be?” or “U B in UB” [thanks to a dear writer friend for the latter idea!]).
For starters, the city is very busy and happening – some might even call it overcrowded, not a small feat considering that more than half of the entire country’s population lives here. There’s tons of traffic and we’re told that it will increase in a week or so when school officially starts and people return from the countryside. Speaking of traffic, it is quite something here. And by that I don’t mean the fact that each car is filled to the fullest with little kids sticking their heads out the window or sitting on the driver’s lap.
After driving in Sao Paulo for 2 years, we are no strangers to sitting and waiting in the car to move an inch but drivers here have a mind of their own where shared rules and cultural norms and courtesies seem quickly forgotten. Merge lanes are not a thing here and traffic lights may or may not be coordinated with one another. Drivers here will literally speed up when you are crossing the road making walking around a bit more interesting.
We spent the past weekend walking around UB after adjusting to the dry climate (we are in the steppe after all so make sure to carry and drink plenty of water, use that chapstick, and stock up on body lotions to hydrate your skin) and I’ve done a bit of venturing out and exploring while the kids have started school.
I like that UB is very walkable – the city is compact and I can reach my destinations more or less without problem on foot (unless I need to cross a major road which causes a bit of anxiety). That said, I am happy to not have to push a stroller or worry about toddlers running away; when walking with the kids, we now focus on things like “do not let go of my hand” “don’t touch that” and “watch where you’re stepping, there’s a big manhole ahead of you.” So it’s walkable for sure but the sidewalks are not up to Vienna glamour (of course; we’re in the developing world after all) but honestly, John and I were quite positively surprised with the city’s infrastructure.
The buildings here are pretty interesting if you’re into urban development/planning. For starters, there are tons of Soviet apartment buildings spread throughout the city – the same square, greyish, functional kind of look a bit run down with the broken windows etc. In their midst, there are modern high rises and many, many, many new buildings that are just being built. In addition to the new construction, there are about the same number of buildings that have not been finished being built and have subsequently been abandoned – this can lead to a fun sightseeing guessing game of “new construction or old abandoned building?”
One of our first destinations was the city center – Sukhbaatar Square – featuring a huge Genghis Khan statue (apparently he’s a bit shot in Mongolian history, who knew?) as well as the Government Palace.
See the blue sky?
Yes, it’s been that blue since we’ve arrived and the sun has been strong. It’s no surprise that Mongolia is known as the “land of the blue sky.” It’s really, really blue here!
And while you might think that the kids would appreciate all the history and cultural phenomena we’re throwing their way; no, the real highlight of our first walking tour of UB was this:
Cruising in old Soviet-looking kid carts around the square.
And if you miss the feel of country-side in UB, don’t be alarmed; you only have to walk to the outskirts of the city center to see the mountains surrounding the city:
So there you have it; the first report from walking around UB in the land of blue skies and lots of (some?) green.
If you want some more details on UB and Mongolia, I highly recommend watching the City of Nomads documentary.
Until next time, I need to research best methods for crossing the road here.