We arrived in Mongolia this morning at the relatively newly re-named Chinggis Xhaan airport to the usual mob of aspiring taxi drivers and the heavy smell of coal dust. Happily for me, at least, I always associate the smell of coal with my mother's parents -- both of their final two houses had coal fire places -- and so it was nice to have that memory even if the smog from Power Station #3 occluded the genuinely lovely sensation of driving into Ulaan Baatar as the sun rose.
We came through Moscow this time, through the lovely Sheremetyevo Airport. I doubt it has changed since my parents visited the Soviet Union in the early 1980s. While being closeted in the Transit Zone for seven hours like some poor Victor Navorksi, in an endless line of duty-free luxury goods shops, was hardly fun, there are restaurants and kiosks -- and random smoking stations whose perimeters got increasingly flexible as the sun went down. I will post a few pics I took on my phone once we get back to the US, but the kitsch highlight du jour was this lovely bottle-shaped-like-an-assault-rifle and filled with vodka available at several of the duty-frees.
This morning's highlight was definitely seeing Annie again. Somehow having her meet us in the UB airport lobby feels perfectly natural. As you can see from this lovely family pic, today was a beautiful day, bright and sunny, about -15degsF when we got here rising to a lovely 16degsF around 4pm. Meg and Annie are making like sneguroshkii in front of the newly remodeled Parliament building with the Great Xhan himself now looking over Sukhbaatar Square.
Looking south, especially, you can see how quickly the capital is expanding. And while it is nice to see more than just post-Soviet boxes claiming the horizon, somehow some of the echoes of the Gherkins and Burj al-Arabs seem slightly out of place.
Tomorrow afternoon, we fly to Mörön, spend the night at a ger camp, and then go for a (probably 12hr) jeep ride up to Tsaagan Nuur. Apparently the ride should be quicker than in the summer because we don't need to ford rivers, we can just drive over them. Oh good. Just twelve hours.
It should be a week before I can post again. So, in the meantime, think warm thoughts everyone!
Our friends, Emily + Tom, had their first child, an 8lb 13oz son, Samuel Theodore, on Valentine's Day. I know Em was holding out for a different day, but hey! it'll be easy to remember. Initial sightings indicate that he is as handsome as his parents. Congratulations!