First impressions came from all directions, including my feet. Sidewalks are rough at best. (The first experience with them came trying to roll our baggage carts to our driver's car.) Broken, heaved, missing pieces of concrete are the best it is in many places. Others are just rubble. There seems to be several reasons for this, not the least the cars that drive on the sidewalks. In some places there is damage from construction. There is also just extreme wear and frost heaving.
Another first impression comes from what I can only describe as a different sense of landscaping. Public green space is mostly unmanicured. Where attention is paid it is not given regularly, and I suspect that watering is not part of the treatment. Several patches of watered green grass can be found in Suhbaatar Square, but they have not been mowed recently.
Construction is everywhere. Huge offices, apartments, industrial buildings outside of town. A rough grouping or categorizing of what we saw consists of three "waves" of architecture. There are classic treasures, which I am guessing were built before the Soviets; many crumbling apartments; and a new wave of private business construction, which includes everything from office buildings to luxury apartments. This is too simple of course, but it describes a lot of what we've seen. Between these categories are some real odd-balls--fake steel and glass wrapped around brick and block.
Finally, and I don't know what to make of it, are the gers that pop up on vacant patches of land. It's as though it is just first come, first squatted. Vacant land next to high-rises, between hotels, on low land near the river are all likely places.