We got in to Ulaanbaatar yesterday! It’s been a while since the last update, but we went from Moscow to Nizhniy to Yekaterinburg to Omsk to Novosibirsk to Krasnoyarsk to Irkutsk to Ulan Ude to Ulaanbaatar.
Moscow was a good time. We met up with my roommate from Middlebury (hi Kate!) and walked around near Gorky Park for a while. Hard to get a feel for the place in just a couple of hours but we both are fans of the ‘cow.
Most of the way from Moscow to Irkutsk has been a very long and scenic blur. Again, we can’t stay put in one place for too long just because we’ve got miles to go every day.
Overall, Russia is fantastic! I love Russia. Russia is great. A few things about Russia:
Suzdal is sooo beautiful! We didn’t see much of the Golden Ring but I wish we could have spent more time there. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place that felt so much like I’d imagined it would. Tobolsk is beautiful too but very, very much out of the way. Though what is a few hundred miles here and there in the context of Mother Russia?
The Road to Omsk is horrible. It is full of potholes and devoid of road markings and it’s impossible to see anything when you are driving down it at 3 in the morning. We dramatically underestimated how long it would take to get to Omsk. (In reality, 10 hours.)
Russian trucks are horrible! They belch this thick black stuff and if you drive through it you cannot see anything and probably inhale bad things. There were a couple of times we were both sure a truck was on fire when in fact it was just operating as usual. The truck drivers are very polite and professional however.
Russia is very big. Once east of the Urals it is like a much larger, more interesting, and swampier Iowa (i.e. it is flat). The cities also get farther and farther apart, so pretty soon you are looking at a 600-mile drive from one place to another with nothing human in between. The good news is that it’s very beautiful. The Siberian sky has got to be the largest sky I have seen, and the sunsets/lightning/smoke/hills were all very dramatic.
We got a flat tire on the road to Krasnoyarsk, and our clutch has been making funny noises and is slippery, and something always smells like gas in the mornings, but our Micra hasn’t failed us in any major way.
The border crossing from Kyakhta, Buryatia into Mongolia was pretty silly. The Russian side was pretty efficient. The Mongolian side was tedious and long and they were sledgehammering something in their customs hall so there was a loud noise every six seconds and a crowd of very friendly shirtless Mongolian men gathered around our car. I think they were very amused by our yak logo? The language gap was wide indeed.
Much has been made of Crazy Russian Drivers but from what we have seen so far Crazy Mongolian Drivers are much, much crazier. It’s like bumper cars here. It’s ridiculous. The good news is that it is easy to get into the spirit of cowboy driving and it is a lot of fun. The bad news is that all those aggressive drivers with missing/dented car parts who almost hit you every day when you’re in your car or in a crosswalk have probably really already killed someone and wouldn’t feel too bad if you were next. There is also the risk of bringing reckless, illegal driving habits home with you, I suppose.
Mongolia looks just like the pictures! We’ve really only seen the northern part so far. Ulaanbaatar is cute and but there are very odd things about it. It is definitely a city built by people who historically have never done cities before. Cars hate hate hate pedestrians and honk at people if they don’t cross fast enough, even older ladies or people holding babies and things. It’s strange. People still walk down the middle of four-/five-lane highways holding hands or carrying children. And the construction zones have gers in them for the workers to sleep!
It is late already so we are going to sleep. Tomorrow we’ll be off westward.