Or. “Effortless Travel: When the world comes to you”.
Even after 30 years of traveling, this event, which happened in Moscow in 2013, is one of the most amazing travel experiences of my life:
Towards the end of my 2013 “round the world by train” trip I found myself in Moscow. I was already aware then that something “wasn’t quite right”, and that I should return to Scotland for medical tests. But I was booked on the Trans-Siberian Express that night, and it was a lifelong dream of mine to travel on it.
And I was so close.
So, common sense went out of the window for a day, and I continued as planned.
I had arrived in Moscow at 5am though, on the overnight train from Kiev (Ukraine). And the Trans-Siberian Express didn’t leave until 11pm that night.
So I had 18 hours to kill.
Had I been feeling a bit more active, then I would have done the obvious thing. Spent a day sightseeing in Moscow (even though it would be the briefest of “whistle-stop” tours). But my legs left me in no doubt that traipsing around Moscow all day was a stupid idea. So I looked for a cafe with a “free wifi” sign instead, and planned to spend the day on the internet instead (I had loads of photographs to upload, and stories to write, anyway).
It didn’t take me long to spot the sign (they are everywhere – and the sign is universal). So in I went. Grabbed a coffee. And sat down – ready to scan the place for a power socket (for as well as needing free wifi, my laptop also needed a recharge – and if I planned to spend all day on the internet, then I would need electricity).
After a pretty thorough scan of the cafe, I worked out that there was just one power outlet. But that this outlet actually had two plug sockets. Unfortunately, both were currently being used (by a couple of young Muscovite girls who were recharging their mobile phones while they gossiped).
So I sat down at the table next to them, and waited for them to finish their chat, unplug their phones, and leave.
While I was waiting though, I noticed another girl, who had her own laptop in front of her, and who was also eyeing up the power sockets. She obviously had the same idea as myself. So, being rather clever (or so I thought), I positioned myself, and my table and chairs, in such a way that this girl would have to pass by me on the way to the power outlet, and by the time she got there, she would find my laptop plug already in one of the two sockets.
So, eventually, the two young girls unplugged their phones and left. I immediately slid over to their now-vacant table, and rapidly stuck my laptop plug into one of the sockets.
I had only just done so, when the third girl stretched over my head, grunted disapprovingly, and put her own plug in the remaining socket.
And then proceded to sit down.
At my table!
“How rude!” I thought. But we got talking.
The girl’s name is Irina. Originally from Siberia.
And she is completely deaf and mute!
So what I took for a disapproving grunt, was actually Irina politely asking if she could use the other socket.
But it was immediately apparent to me that there would be a communication problem. Not just an English-Russian translation problem (there is always a way to get round a language-barrier), but a pretty insurmountable problem (if only I knew sign-language).
However, as there usually is to all problems, there was a solution. And the answer was:
Well, Google Translate to be accurate.
Google Translate is by no means perfect. But it gives you a pretty good translation; a good place to start any translation.
So here we were, two people unable to communicate. But both with laptops with internet access. Which meant that we both had access to Google Translate.
So we started “talking”. I would type something in English, hit the “Translate” button, and Google Translate would show it in Russian. I would then show my laptop screen to Irina.
Irina would laugh, reply in Russian, hit the “Translate” button on her laptop, Google Translate would then show it in English, and Irina would show me her screen. And, invariably, I would laugh too. And so the conversation continued.
For four hours!
One of the most memorable conversations that I have ever had. And this with a “stranger” too.
Now that long-distance walking is no longer possible for me, I have started to look for other ways to continue my ataxia fundraising/awareness-raising.
And the obvious answer, is to finally complete my original 2013 “round-the-world by train” journey. Only this time I will be doing it as a charity fundraiser, adding to the £1,100 I have already collected for Ataxia UK.
An “around-the world by train – for charity” journey then?
And as Irina hails from Ulan Ude, which is a destination on the part of the Trans-Siberian Railway that I have yet to travel along, then it would be a dream come true if she was able to travel there with me.