We organised a car and driver, through the hostel, for a two day trip out to Terelj National Park - around 90km from Ulaan Bataar. We were considering doing some hiking and horse riding, so Lee chose to stay behind in the hostel.
Around half an hour after we left, our driver pulled up right beside four huge birds of prey - two beautiful Black Vultures (I thought I could never say that about a vulture) and two Golden Eagles.
Shane was the only one of us asked to handle (or be handled?) by the 15kg vultures.
Each one of us had one of the 6kg eagles perch on their shoulders. The birds being amazing to experience at such close quarters.
Then a visit to the Chinggis Khaan Memorial (Ghengis Khan). We had no expectations of this other than 'just another tourist attraction'. The Russians tried to belittle the historical significance of this guy. The Mongolians think otherwise! Yes, the Big Merino pales into insignificance. And it's quite beautifully made. In stainless steel!
The kids enjoyed making their way onto the horses mane via the Khaan's nether regions and afterwards dressing up as soldiers of the Golden Horde.
The national park itself is quite beautiful, and significantly different to the countryside around the city. Like the city, the rivers were frozen solid. We spied lots of Ovoo - the untidy Mongolian version of a Tibetan Chorten - holy shrines located at mountain passes and the like. We came into stunning austere granite countryside.
Our overnight stay was to be in a traditional Mongolian ger. They are quite ingeniously put together, can supposedly be demounted in a couple of hours, and are surprisingly draft free and snug. (Though Helen and Shane had broken sleep needing to re-stoke the fireplace every two or three hours.)
Then an afternoon walk to a local monastery. (Yes, another one!)
The next morning we woke to a white landscape, and deliberated all morning whether we would be brave enough to venture out and face the cold - the temperature had dropped to around -23. At 10.30 we did it! We mounted our ponies for a two hour ride. By the end, Tom was in tears from the pain in his toes. Poor little blighter.
Our hosts were a family of four with two girls aged four and one.
And, yes, Lee did go shopping! Mind you, the stunning full length cashmere coat and leather hat do look good on her!
Shane, Helen, Rosie, Tom and Lee