At Gatwick I squinted at the Aerosvit sign. It was a cheapo airline, an offshoot of International Ukrainian Airways. Groan. My cankles can’t handle it, I live in fear of DVT. Channelling my dad (in his day a very cheeky reporter who I’m sure the Leveson enquiry would disapprove of) I shouldered my way to the front of our bloggers troupe.
Clearing my throat, I announced to the Black-haired Slavic cheek-boned check-in hostess “We are the British delegation of press and wine experts come to your country to report on the wine trade. This has been arranged by the agricultural minister who we will be meeting tomorrow morning.” A beat. “Can we have an upgrade?”
The woman looked at me very seriously.“I vill ask. Please vait.” She disappears into a back room.
Fuck me, I thought, it’s worked! I wink at the others. She returns.“I am sorry but business class is full. But I can give you free pens and note pads with logo.”
The flight was terrible: it should be outlawed to have less than a certain amount of leg room. The air conditioning wasn’t working and they had no vegetarian meal for me. I also think they were tight with the oxygen, I could barely breathe. (They cut back on it in Economy as it uses up fuel). They brought around drinks.
“Vot vould you like?” asked the impassive male steward.
“Got anything Ukrainian?” I rally chirpily.
“We have vine.”
“Is it Ukrainian?”
“We have beer.”
“Is it Ukrainian?”
I spy a carton of apple juice with Cyrillic writing.
“I’ll have apple juice.”He serves me.
“Delicious!”I announce “Is it Ukrainian?”
He stares at me, not knowing what to think. Eventually he cracks an almost imperceptible smile. “No. It is international. Apple juice like everyvere”. And moves on.
Well I had to find something to entertain myself during four hours of plane hell. I suppose I could have tried doodling in the Aerosvit pad with the Aerosvit pen, but my breath was too short.
The hostess comes with a cobbled together non-meaty tray.
“No dessert” she states “the dessert is….”she hesitates, looking for a polite way to say inedible…“not food” she shrugs.
We have a three hour stopover in Kiev, Ukraine. Does Chicken Kiev come from Kiev? I ponder for the first time. Possibly.
The flight to Tbilisi is more pleasant, I’m sat in the front row. Again no food, they only have a ham sandwich.
At Tbilisi airport, waiting for my rackety pink suitcase, I sneeze. A man behind me thumps me on the back several times. I look at him.
“In Georgia it is traditional when someone…I don’t know what is called”he mimes sneezing.
“This.”He nods.“We bang on the back three times”
We drive through the city. There is extraordinary modern architecture: a train station like an armadillo, a strange sparkling bridge. And traditional: churches, mosques, elegant large houses with intricate balconies lit up in different colours. Our hotel, the Radisson, is ultra modern and luxurious.
You can buy tickets to the Raw Wine Fair in May here: http://www.rawfair.com/buy-tickets