Today is my birthday. Attending a conference is not a great way to spend a birthday, but I had a nice surprise when I popped up to my room after lunch to grab some papers for the afternoon session.

When I walked into the room, there was a trolley with a birthday cake and a bottle of champagne – compliments of the hotel manager!


Whilst it was nice of the hotel to remember my birthday (they must have recorded the date from my passport details), I wondered whether they really expected me to eat a whole cake on my own. Maybe a meal voucher would have been a more practical birthday gift. Anyhow, I ate the fresh strawberries on top of the cake, and kept the champagne to enjoy over the weekend.

I was surprised to see that the champagne was made in Kazakhstan. How could a country that has such cold winters (40 degrees below) and hot summers (40 degrees above) grow grapes? I thought maybe they imported the grapes and made the champagne from those. However, when I googled ‘Kazakhstan champagne’ on my laptop later, I discovered that vines were in fact being grown in Kazakhstan – and there are currently about 15,000 hectares of vineyards, mainly on the Tien Shan spurs in the Dzhambul, Almaty and Chimkent regions. Amazing.

(Postscript added 27 April: The champagne wasn’t bad either).

Comment