Published: July 7th 2010July 7th 2010
Ulan-Ude is hot! I think it must be about 30 degrees! I was so happy to get off that train and went straight to the place where I had to pick up my pre-booked bus tickets for UB. After a bit of stuffing around I found the correct office and OMG the tickets were there! That was a big stress off my mind as I had visions of people saying they knew nothing of my booking (wouldn't be the first time).
Then the task of finding my homestay. This is not an easy feat when its stinking hot and you are lugging a backpack AND the directions are a bit off. Nevertheless I finally found it and the lady there was very kind though she didn't speak any English. After a couple of minutes of showing me around her apartment and showing me how to lock up, she said she was going out. Made me wonder what would have happened if I'd arrived on her doorstep a couple of minutes later? I don't think she would have been there :( In any case she was very trusting just leaving a complete stranger in her place while she went out, but I guess she does it all the time.
Ulan-Ude is nice because no-one cares that you're a tourist. I think its because its such a melting put of different cultures that everyone looks different anyway. There are definately a lot more Asian/Buriat looking faces than I have seen so far.
Trying to change US $$ to Mongolian money was an experience! First went to a hotel that Lonely Planet advised had an money exchange, which they did except they didn't have any Mongolian. They said to try the Buriat Bank, so I went back to where I had seen the Buriat Bank sign (cyrillic coming in handy again). Inside was a maze of counters and who knows which one was a right one. So after asking several different people I finally realised that I was never going to change money here - it was a post office! Stupid Buriat Bank puts up signs advertising itself all over the place, so not my fault I thought the building was the bank.
Some nice ladies helped me find the bank, then once inside a man who looked like he could be the bank manager told me he didn't have any Mongolian money either. Then he escourted me out of the bank and all the way down the road in the burning heat (and him in his work suit) to another joint (I don't know what it was). He tried to get me my money there but they didn't have it either. Who said Russians aren't helpful? I doubt if our bank staff would go to such lengths for anyone - they don't even want to serve us. So no-one cares about Mongolian money (except the Mongolians I guess) and I failed to get some for my journey tomorrow and I reckon the whole saga took over an hour. I will have to stock up on food beforehand.
Ulan-Ude has a very nice pedestrian mall with fountains and shops etc. It was interesting to venture into some of the shops and see bikinis and sun hats being displayed along with Dr Zhivagoesque long, exuberant fur coats and hats. Its hard to impagine this place being cold when its so hot at the moment, but there's your proof. Sorry for the animals that are going into these coats though, I don't think any were fake.
The other attraction is the enormous, spacious Place Sovetov which has a humungous Lenin head. If I miss Lenin in any of my stops, this one will make up for it.
Not much else to do here except try to locate where my bus leaves from tomorrow. Please bus be there tomorrow...