Latvia – Siberian Sunset

Did You Know?

For a country of under two million people, Latvia has still managed to make some significant contributions to the world. Here is a collection of lesser known facts for the nation that has also gone by the names Livonia, Courland, and Lettland:

Birth of a Nation

A Latvian myth states that their national flag was created when a 13th century chief was wounded in battle and wrapped in a white sheet. Blood from his injuries made the two dark red stripes on either side of the sheet, while the middle remained clean. Another interpretation states that the flag depicts Latvians willingness to fight and lose blood for freedom and liberty. The Latvian flag is sometimes mistaken for Austria’s pennant, despite the difference in red hues.

Latvia Location

Freedom Fighters

In its entire history, Latvia has only enjoyed independence for a total of 44 years, over two stints (1920-40 and 1990-present). The country has been ruled and occupied by the Germans, Swedes, Russians, Nazis, and Soviets, to name a few. Their most recent run of autonomy began with the fall of communism. In 2004, Latvia achieved two of its greatest accomplishments as a sovereign nation, being accepted into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU).

Party Time

Latvians technically celebrate two independence days. The first, Proclamation of the Republic of Latvia, occurs every November 18th, while the second, on May 4th, is known as Restoration of Independence Day. That means double holidays! I’d be all for the Canadian government letting other nations take over for the day, if it meant a few extra days off each year!

Forever in Blue Jeans

One of Latvia’s greatest contributions to the world is something most of you might be wearing as you read this article: jeans. Latvian immigrant Jacob Youphes (known as Jacob Davis after moving to North America) created the first pair of denim workpants with his soon-t-be patented rivet, holding together Levi Strauss’ denim. The two went into business together and revolutionized the fashion industry. The orange stitching that appears on jeans is also the work of Davis.

Jeans Washed

Ice Capades

Hockey is the most popular sport in Latvia. Helmuts Balderis was the first Latvian to play in the NHL, when he was drafted by the Minnesota North Stars in 1989. Because this was the first year Soviet players were allowed to be drafted, Balderis earned the distinction of being the oldest player to ever be selected at age 36 and when he scored his first NHL goal, became the oldest player to score his first goal, at the age of 37.

Crocodile Hunter

It blew the Sip Advisor’s mind to learn that the character of Crocodile Dundee was actually inspired by a Latvian. Arvīds Blūmentāls made his way from Latvia to Australia in 1945. Once there, he hunted reptiles, studied Aboriginals and mined opals. Crocodile Dundee went on to become a smash hit film in 1986 and Blūmentāls’ home in Coober Perdy is a tourist attraction. Back in Latvia, a crocodile monument was constructed in Blūmentāls’ hometown of Dundaga.

Crocodile Dundee

Ring Bearer

Many Latvian men wear a Namejs Ring, which helps them identify each other around the world. The four braids of the ring’s design signifies the solidarity of Latvia and its citizens. The legend behind the ring is that it was worn by Namejs, leader of the Semigallian tribe, which was fighting off the German crusaders invasion of Latvia in the 13th century. He gave this ring to his son, hoping he would be recognized upon his return from battle. It is also a sign of friendship and trust.

Strapped In

Another popular piece of Latvian attire is the Lielvārdes Josta, a red and white woven belt, featuring 22 ancient symbols. The belt serves many purposes throughout the wearer’s life, including being used to hang a baby’s cradle, all the way to eventually carrying and lowering a casket at the end of life. The belt is said to have special protection powers and is worn during special festivities and family events. It can also be used to identify which region of Latvia a person may hail from.

Latvia: Siberian Sunset

Dec 25

  • 1.5 oz Stoli Vodka
  • 0.5 oz Triple Sec
  • Top with Grapefruit Soda
  • Garnish with a Maraschino Cherry

Supervillain Dr. Doom is the ruler of the fictional country, Latveria, which one would have to assume is partly based on Latvia, at least by name. Thankfully, the real Latvians don’t have to deal with an evil dictator like Dr. Doom anymore and can thrive in their freedom.

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (3.5 Sips out of 5):
The Stoli Vodka drinks go two-for-two with this nice entry. I used Grapefruit Soda instead of juice, as I`m prone to do. The Maraschino Cherry serves as the sun streaking across the sky and makes for a nice little bonus at the end of the cocktail!

Advertisements

Estonia – Hammer & Sickle

Free as a Bird

Freedom… it’s something most of us take for granted. We wouldn’t do that, however, if we had been occupied by one empire after another for hundreds of years. Estonia (our next stop as we tour the liquor universe) has been listed as one of the freest countries in the world, following centuries of control by other countries. It’s a long and winding road, so buckle up and enjoy the ride to liberty.

meanwhile-in-estonia

If this doesn’t say freedom, I don’t know what does!

While Estonia was a long holdout in converting to Christianity during the Middle Ages, Pope Celestine III made sure that came to an end, calling for a crusade against the pagans of Northern Europe. In 1208, present-day Estonia was raided and despite resistance and fighting for many years, the country was finally conquered by Denmark in the north and Germany in the south. Around the same time, some Swedish people – including descendants of the legendary Swedish Chef – also settled into Estonian coastal land. The Germans became the ruling elite of Estonia by the end of the Middle Ages.

Fighting over Estonian land persisted for hundreds of years with Northern Estonia falling under Swedish control, while Southern Estonia briefly found itself under rule by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (ah, the PLC… not a group to meddle with). In 1625 the Swedes captured much of mainland Estonia and absorbed it into their growing empire. Estonia accepted this occupation, in exchange for protection against Russia and Poland. Kind of like a smart, but small kid recruiting a tougher, cool kid (although Sweden’s cool factor can be debated for hours on end) for protection against bullies.

When Russia defeated Sweden in the Great Northern War of the early 1700’s, they gained control of Estonia, although the legal system, governments, and education was mostly German up until the late 1800’s and in some cases, the first World War. The Russian Revolution of 1905 changed the landscape of Estonian life, but also opened the door for the country to gain autonomy.

Bread Freedom

Following World War I and the fall of the Russian Empire, Estonia declared its independence on February 23, 1918. It wasn’t long before they were back fighting, however, as the Red Army invaded just days after a provisional Estonian government was in place and the Estonian War of Independence lasted the next couple years. On June 15, 1920, Estonia adopted their first constitution and even joined the League of Nations in 1921, but we all know how that ended!

There was more trouble brewing for Estonia, however, as en route to a presidential election in 1934, Konstantin Päts, the head of state, became the country’s authoritarian ruler. The next period of life in Estonia was known as the Era of Silence. I’m praying this term also one day describes the death of reality TV. Political parties were banned and the parliament did not hold session from 1934 to 1938. Instead, Päts ruled by decree, much like the Sip Advisor does around the company headquarters!

As if things couldn’t get any worse, the Soviet Union and Germany signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on August 23, 1939. The deal saw the two countries split up the nations the lay between them (Estonia, Finland, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia). Estonia went to the Soviet Union in the fantasy draft and it wasn’t long before the regime moved into its new territory.

Estonia Girls

The USSR occupied Estonia from 1940 to 1941 and during that time arrested over 8,000 citizens, executing more than a quarter of them. Next up, the German Nazi regime invaded. While originally welcomed, with hopes that Estonia could return to being an independent state, those wishes were quickly dashed by goose-stepping and swastikas.

World War II was not kind to Estonia and its people. The population decreased by about 200,000 people, with 80,000 fleeing West and 30,000 soldiers killed in action. Much of the land was destroyed, including ports, railways, and industrial and residential areas. As the Germans withdrew from the country, the USSR swooped in and put Soviet rule in place, arresting and executing those who opposed the takeover. Poor Estonia couldn’t buy a break.

Hidden behind the ‘red curtain,’ a movement known as the ‘Forest Brothers’ grew – similar to Robin Hood and his Merry Men, but minus the awesome songs of the Disney and Men in Tights offerings. They opposed the Soviet occupation and grew to approximately 30,000 members. Their resistance was ultimately unsuccessful and it wasn’t until the late 1980’s that the tide began to change and Estonia reached for sovereignty again. The 1990’s brought free elections, a new congress, and a referendum on independence.

Free Turtle

Estonia’s confirmation of independence occurred on August 20, 1991. The day has become a national holiday as a result and features Will Smith battling aliens to save the world. On June 28, 1992, Estonians approved a draft constitution and on September 20, 1992, Lennart Meri was elected president, choosing Mart Laar as prime minister.

Things continued to roll along for Estonia as the new millennium approached. The country joined the European Union in 2004 and adopted the Euro currency in 2011. In recent years, Estonia has found itself ranked first in Internet Freedom (so much porn!) and World Liberty. Congrats to everyone who made it all happen!

Estonia: Hammer & Sickle

Hammer & Sickle Drink Recipe

  • Muddle Mint and Lime Wedges
  • 1.5 oz Vana Tallinn
  • Dash of Brown Sugar
  • Top with Club Soda
  • Garnish with Mint Sprig

What’s next for the Baltic nation is unknown, but I sincerely hope things continue on an upswing. It’s a beautiful country and one I consider to be a hidden gem when touring Northern Europe.

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (4.5 Sips out of 5):
Being the King of Mojitos comes with great responsibility… it means that you always have to be on the lookout for new variations to master. I wanted to try this recipe because the Vana Tallinn and Brown Sugar change things up from your usual Mojito Recipe and this cocktail is a keeper. The Vana Tallinn, which carries a vanilla flavour, makes for a delicious Mojito ingredient, getting along very well with the Brown Sugar and even the Mint and Lime Wedges. I took the drink name from Vana Tallinn’s Wikipedia page and although it was meant for another concoction, because citation was needed, I decided to steal the moniker for myself!