Moscow. October 2013.


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 premature 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 later that night, and it was a lifelong dream of mine to travel on it.

And I was now so close. So, common sense went out of the window for a few more days, and I continued the journey 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 almost 18 hours to kill.

Had I been feeling a bit more active, then I would have done the obvious thing. Spent the 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, 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 more accurate.

Google Translate is by no means perfect. But it gives you a pretty good translation; a good place to start any translation from.

So here we were, two people unable to communicate. But both with laptops and free 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 so the conversation continued.

For four hours!

One of the most memorable conversations that I have ever had. And this with a “stranger” too.

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