Czech Republic – Magic Eye

Castlevania

There are more castles per capita in the Czech Republic than any other place in the world. More than 2,000 structures exist in the country, which is fair given the Czechs are surrounded by a number of countries and have been invaded, conquered, divided, and annexed numerous times over their existence. Let’s take a look at some of these fortresses:

Prague Castle

The largest castle in the world is located in the Czech Republic capital of Prague, where the best view of the city can be found atop the main tower of the stronghold. A highlight of Prague Castle grounds is the St. Vitus Cathedral, which features beautiful stained-glass windows, as well as the burial plots of Czech saints and emperors. The whole site combines many different aspects of Czech architecture and design from across the centuries and is a feast for the eyes. A hidden room within the castle walls hides the Bohemian Crown Jewels and even Adolf Hitler spent a night in the structure, after the Nazis invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia.

Cat Castle

Karlštejn Castle

Thought of by many as the second most popular tourist attraction in the Czech Republic, Karlštejn Castle is a Gothic-style castle located 30km southwest of Prague. Built by King Charles IV, the fortress was needed to guard the crown jewels, holy relics, and other treasures belonging to the royal family. Unfortunately, many rooms at the landmark are hidden from tourists due to earlier robberies. Apparently, you can even drink water from a hand-powered well, although the Sip Advisor will take his bottled options (water, beer, etc.) over the natural stuff. If castles aren’t your thing, a golf course is located nearby and shares the same name.

Cesky Krumlov Castle

Not only does this landmark house an impressive main castle, but there are also a number of mini castles, making the town seem almost maze-like. In the castle moat, visitors can see a family of brown bears, the protectors of the site. Special to the Cesky Krumlov grounds is the Baroque Theatre, which is one of the world’s most preserved theatres, including stage, orchestra pit, machinery, costumes, stage curtains, and much more. The area was made a national monument in 1989 and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992.

Cesky Sternberk Castle

This stronghold is still owned by the same family that built it in the mid-13th century, after it was returned to the Sternberg’s in 1992, following the fall of communism and Velvet Revolution. The name of the castle, Sternberk, translates to Star Mountain, which kind of sounds like a world in a video game, such as Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda. The complex is one of the best preserved medieval castles and tours are highlighted by a visit to the Knight’s Hall, which holds a number of historic items. There are also 545 copper engravings on display, which detail the entirety of the Thirty Years’ War.

Darth Vader Castle

Cervena Lhota

This picturesque bright red castle was built in the middle of a lake, atop an island and connected to the mainland by a stone bridge. The castle’s gardens are a major attraction and the site is visited by over 120,000 tourists each year. Nearby, is a park that offers attractions such as the Renaissance Chapel of the Holy Trinity and a fish pond where boats can be rented for a trek across its waters. The castle’s name, meaning “Red Lhota” comes from the red tiles that make up its roof.

Zleby Castle

Originally built around 1289, the Zleby Caslte has changed its look many times over the centuries. Beginning as a Gothic style structure, it was rebuilt in Renaissance style, following the Hussite Wars in the 15th century. Later, it was changed again to a Baroque style and it has remained this way since. Tours at the castle take visitors in one of two directions: either to the kitchens or to the high tower and its dungeons. Travelers could ask for a nice meal before being ushered to the dungeon to meet their maker! Also in the area is a population of white deer, as well as various birds and other animals.

Hluboka Castle

One of the first Gothic style castle in the world, Hluboka was built in the mid-13th century and contains many expensive furniture pieces, particularly in the “Morning Guest Room,” which includes woven tapestries from Brussels, hand-painted Chinese vases, and other objects of art. The fortress was even featured in a scene from the Owen Wilson-Jackie Chan film, Shanghai Knights. The castle is close to the city of Budějovice (where the real Budweiser was created and is still made today – the next Czech article du jour), so tourists can always get smashed before or after their castle visit.

Czech Republic: Magic Eye

Magic Eye Beer Cocktail

Some people have it on their bucket list to stay overnight at a castle, but not the Sip Advisor. On my bucket list is “Own a Castle!” Can you imagine the parties I could throw if I had my own palace? The booze would be flowing like blood did during the Middle Ages and we would pour one out for all the homies that perished with the walls!

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (3 Sips out of 5):
Originally, I was going to pick up a bottle of Absinthe for our jaunt through the Czech Republic, but then I learned of the country’s long history with beer and decided to go that route, instead. While I can’t call this my favourite beer cocktail, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it could be. To get the whole drink effect to look its best, I put the shot glass already into the empty goblet and used a pourer to get the beer around the shooter, so as to mix it up as little as possible. It all led to a rare success in the Sip Advisor’s Creation Kitchen!

Chile – Pisco Sour

Island Hopping

As we make our way to the country of Chile (not the food, although that sounds pretty good too and would go well with today’s drink) the Sip Advisor makes a point of learning something new every day… and today’s fresh factoid is a doozy: Did you know that Easter Island, located among the Polynesian islands and home to the Moai statues, is actually Chilean land? The more you know *rainbow star swipe*! Let’s take a closer look at this mysterious island:

The entire island, also known as Rapa Nui, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as it offers a spectacular chance for researchers to learn about some of the world’s earliest civilizations. The Moai statues, for which the Easter Island is best known, were constructed between 1100-1680 CE. 887 of the figures have been catalogued and it’s estimated that each statue took one year to complete and was carved by a team, using volcanic ash from the extinct Rano Raraku volcano. Each sculpture represented the deceased head of a family.

stonehenge-easter-island

The Moai civilization believed that the dead provided everything their people needed, including health, successful crops, good fortune, etc. Most Moai settlements were located along the coast and that is why the statues are found there, facing inwards to look over the people and with their back to the spirit world of the sea.

The Birdmen Cult, whose leader could be anyone from wrestler Koko B. Ware to basketball star Chris Andersen (both enjoyed careers with the nickname Birdman), also once inhabited the island, following the Moai era. Also known as Tangatu Manu, they form a large part of the Rapa Nui mythology and their decorations can still be found at churches on Easter Island.

Easter Island covers only 63 square miles and is one of the world’s most isolated locations, inhabited by a population of only 4,781, as of 2009. Back in the day, constant clashes between tribes occurred on the small space and with limited resources and disease, it wasn’t long before the island fell to pieces. Chile gained control of Easter Island in 1888 and used it as an expansive sheep farm, protected by the Chilean Navy, until opening it to the public in 1966. At that time, the leftover Rapa Nui citizens were made people of Chile.

Easter-Island

As a massive fan of water, the Sip Advisor finds it incredibly disappointing that Easter Island lacks any freshwater source. That said, it is a freakin’ island, which receives a fair amount of rain. For this Vancouverite, it would certainly feel like home. Tourists can stay on Easter Island, but like other remote locations, goods and services can be much more expensive than in other parts of the world. The area is accessible by the Mataveri International Airport.

You might be asking: What else is there to do on Easter Island, other than view the statues. Well, part of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series is held there, giving the Sip Advisor and fellow thrill-seekers a chance to join the Moai with smushed-in faces. Fishing is also a popular activity, as is watching the beautiful Polynesian women dance in revealing outfits!

In recent years, Easter Island has been cited as an example of what can happen when natural resources are mass consumed, which caused its basic extinction at one point in history. The island has been used as a metaphor by some scientists to show what could happen if the earth’s population doesn’t change its ways, although there are also opponents to this example.

Chile: Pisco Sour

Pisco Sour Cocktail

  • 2 oz Pisco
  • Top with Lemon Juice
  • Dash of Simple Syrup
  • Splash of Egg Whites
  • Dash of Angostura Bitters
  • Garnish with a Lemon Wedge

If I know Mrs. Sip as well as I think I do, then you can bet we will one day travel to this unique destination. Hopefully they serve drinks in Moai statue-themed glasses and they’re not one of those anti-alcohol locales!

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (4 Sips out of 5):
This is one of Mrs. Sip’s favourite cocktails, although she enjoyed them in Peru, instead of Chile. It was a first try for me, as I kept saving the cocktail for when this project rolled around. I enjoyed it, but I wonder what the drink would taste like with Lemonade subbed in for the Lemon Juice? I’ll have to give that a try at some point. For those who haven’t yet tried Pisco, it reminds me of Tequila, but it perhaps a little sweeter.

Poland – Zubrowkatini

Lest We Forget

While we prefer to take a light-hearted look at virtually everything we cover here at The Sip Advisor, it would be criminal to not touch on the Auschwitz Concentration and Extermination Camp in Poland, as we make our way through the country. So, let’s trudge through this major blemish on human existence and I promise we’ll have a drink together when it’s all over:

There were actually three Auschwitz camps built during the Nazi occupation of Poland. The first camp held Polish political prisoners with the first exterminations taking place in September 1941. Auschwitz II–Birkenau is where most of the execution of Jewish prisoners took place, as the Nazi’s enacted their ‘Final Solution’ plans. Finally, Auschwitz III–Monowitz was a labour industrial camp which served the Nazi war effort.

Auschwitz_Birkenau

A minimum of 1.1 million prisoners were killed at Auschwitz with approximately 90% of them being Jewish. Other victims included the Polish, Romans, and Soviets, although the Nazi’s weren’t exactly picky. The gas chambers were host to mass executions, using the pesticide Zyklon B. Others died as a result of the deplorable conditions, which led to starvation, diseases, and medical experiments.

When entering Auschwitz, prisoners were told that if they worked hard, they would be freed. There was even a banner overhead, en route to the camp that said: “Work Makes One Free” or “Work Brings Freedom,” depending on which translation you find. The sign was stolen in 2009, but found two days later in northern Poland, cut into three pieces, with the believed intention that the sign was to be sold to a Nazi memorabilia collector.

Ironically, 300 Jewish workers were brought in by the Germans to lay the foundation for what became the Auschwitz camp. Sounding like a professional wrestling gimmick match, the camp was surrounded by two rings of electrified barbed wire fences, as well as watchtowers. Auschwitz was the only Nazi camp to tattoo numbers on the left forearm of their prisoners.

Auschwitz Sign

Only 15% of the up to 7,000 Nazi SS members who worked at the camp were later convicted of committing war crimes. Camp Commandant Rudolf Höss and others were executed for their roles in the atrocities. Höss was even executed at Auschwitz, which is like being forced to return to the scene of the crime. In all, the Auschwitz Trials led to 23 death sentences, seven life sentences, and nine other sentences of varying lengths. Only one acquittal occurred, with SS doctor Hans Münch being released when a number of survivors testified on his behalf. Others involved in the operation of Auschwitz were tried in later hearings.

Infamous German doctor Josef Mengele (aka the ‘Angel of Death’… shouldn’t he be known as the ‘Devil of Death’!?) was based out of Auschwitz, where he performed a number of appalling tests on men, women, and children and had a fascination with twins, using them in many of his experiments. He would go so far as to infect one twin with a disease and then kill the other when the sick twin died to perform autopsies on both. He also preferred using dwarfs in his research.

Of an estimated 802 attempted escapes, 144 prisoners successfully fled Auschwitz during its reign of terror. There was also an unsuccessful uprising on October 7, 1944, led by prisoners (known as Sonderkommandos) working at the gas chambers, using explosives smuggled into the camp by women working outside its walls to destroy one of the crematoriums and the gas chamber connected to it. Unfortunately, the revolt was dealt with quickly by the Nazi SS, who only lost three men in the fighting.

Auschwitz Workshops

One famed successful escape involved four prisoners stealing SS uniforms, weapons, and a vehicle, and driving straight through the camp’s main gate without issue. Another couple tried a similar plot two years later, but were captured, tortured, and executed.

The Allies failure to bomb the Auschwitz camp or the train lines leading so many to their deaths has always been a controversial topic. While some argue the Americans and British should have and could have done more, others experts point out that an accurate and precise attack on the site wasn’t possible without great losses.

The Auschwitz camps were finally liberated on January 27, 1945, a day which has since become International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In 1979, on his first tour of his home country, Pope John Paul II performed mass on the train tracks leading to Auschwitz.

Pope at Auschwitz

Anne Frank is perhaps Auschwitz’s most famous prisoner, thanks to the release of her diary years later. Sadly, she actually survived the camp, but died in March 1945 from typhus at the Bergen-Belsen camp. Her father lived until 1980, as he too was left behind when the German’s abandoned Auschwitz. Other well-known survivors include writers Primo Levi, Viktor Frankl, Elie Wiesel (who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for his work condemning ethnic violence), and Simone Veil, who became President of the European Parliament from 1979-82. The oldest known Auschwitz survivor, Antoni Dobrowolski, died in October 2012, at the age of 108.

Today, Auschwitz is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to a museum, with exhibits that include prisoner pictures, their belongings, canisters of the Zyklon B pesticide pellets, and more. The location is visited by more than a million people each year.

Poland: Zubrowkatini

Zubrowkatini Cocktail

Mrs. Sip has been to Auschwitz with her sister, while the two of us visited the Mauthausen Camp in Germany in 2007. It was an eye-opening and humbling experience. To finish our travels through Poland on an upswing, here’s a link to a collection of Polish jokes.

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (3.5 Sips out of 5):
It seems nearly every recipe involving Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka incorporates Apple Juice into the ingredients… until I found this drink. Every time I see Crème de Menthe or Peppermint Schnapps in cocktail recipes, I’m skeptical about how well it will work out. This rendition wasn’t that bad at all. It gives me hope for future experimentation!

China – China Blue

Great Walls of Fire

The Great Wall of China was erected (that word always makes me giggle) over a number of eras and decades and is one of the most impressive engineering feats in history. Since its construction, it has become a world famous monument and used for countless other achievements. Here are some of its notable uses and appearances:

Big Air

There have been a number of attempts by bikers, skateboarders, and the like to jump the Great Wall. Extreme athlete Travis Pistrana even tackled the challenge on a toy bike. Sadly, not every attempt has been successful. Two Chinese BMX riders were looking to fly over the wall to celebrate a national holiday. One landed safely in the area set up to catch the falling stuntmen, but the other flew right over it to his death. So much for home field advantage!

Great-wall-I-can-hold-it

Go Your Own Way

While jumping the Great Wall is a dream for some, that vision wasn’t held by cyclist Kevin Foster. Instead, Foster wanted to travel a fair chunk of the world heritage site. In 50 days, Foster trekked 1,174.8 miles of the wall, through sandstorms, hail, monsoons, high temperatures, and even a crash that sent him through a portion of the structure and caused three broken ribs. The journey was called “the last, greatest, cycling adventure on the face of the earth.”

Running with the Wall

Most little sippers, like the Sip Advisor, probably don’t follow the sport of free running. It’s basically akin to parkour, but involves more theatrics… wait, there can be even more acrobatics thrown in? World renowned free runner (you can be renowned in this field?), Ryan Doyle put the Great Wall in its place as part of his Red Bull World Wonders Tour. Remember, Red Bull: It gives you wings… and hopefully not because you’re dead and on your way to the afterlife.

Super Repairs

In perhaps one of the cheesiest special effects of all-time, Superman used laser vision to repair the Great Wall after it had been damaged by the equally cheesy villain, Nuclear Man (before The Simpsons Radioactive Man). This all came about in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, which effectively killed the movie franchise. I’ve never been a Superman fan, but I have to give him credit for fixing a landmark I have yet to see.

Building the Wall

In 2005, a number of acts gathered for a concert using the Great Wall setting as a backdrop. Headlined by Boyz II Men, other performers included Cyndi Lauper and Alicia Keys. The show was recorded for a DVD release, The Great Wall Concert (I’m blown away they couldn’t come up with a more glitzy name than that), and also included interviews with historians, visits to other Chinese landmarks, and comedy performances on the streets of Beijing.

Abracadabra

There has been some amazing feats performed in the world of magic and David Copperfield’s act of walking through the Great Wall has to be among them. What else would you expect from the same man who has levitated above the Grand Canyon, made the Statue of Liberty disappear, and wed Claudia Schiffer!? For this illusion, Copperfield used a sheet and his faithful assistant to appear to go through the legendary wall… his secret is safe with me!

Maid in China

Rope Tricks

Chinese acrobat Adili Wuxor (dubbed the ‘Prince of Tightrope Walking’) and his apprentice Yakup Jang performed a tightrope walk of 1,100 feet from one point of the Great Wall to another in 2013. It’s estimated that the duo was 328-feet above the ground at the highest point. If that wasn’t enough, the stuntmen performed some theatrics during the 40-minute crossing, including sitting on the rope, balancing on one foot, dancing, and even going blindfolded.

The Wall is Not Enough

While it has yet to happen in a Bond film, it has long been rumoured and researched to film a motorcycle chase scene at the Great Wall for the long running franchise. First dreamt up for the 1989 License to Kill, negotiations with the Chinese government hit a snag when the politicians asked for power over the script. The most recent 007 saga, Skyfall, was to include the fabled act, but plans changed and although Bond travels to China, the Great Wall was not used.

China: China Blue

Mar 31

  • 2 oz Chu Yeh Ching Chiew
  • 0.5 oz Blue Curacao
  • Top with Lychee Juice and Grapefruit Juice
  • Garnish with Lemon and Lime Wheels

I’m proud of all you little sippers for traversing the Great Wall with me and not needing to be carried by bodyguards like that twerp (nee douche bag) Justin Bieber. Now that was an amazing feat… of stupidity!

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (3 Sips out of 5):
Some say Chu Yeh Ching Chiew is similar to wine, others to gin, and some classify it as closer to vodka. One site calls it Chinese Bamboo Leaf Vodka and that’s good enough for me! What really matters is that it’s believed to cure hangovers… well, at least for you hangover prone little sippers out there. As for this cocktail, it’s not bad. The flavour is indescribable thanks to the mix of Chu Yeh Ching Chiew and Lychee Juice; two flavours I don’t know very well. It could use some fizz, however.

Dominican Republic – Brash Monk

Amazing Americas

Did you know that breaking out into a round of applause when a plane lands in the Dominican Republic is an enforceable law? If your answer is no, then you’re probably also unaware that Santo Domingo, the capital of the D.R., is the first city of the Americas and where Christopher Columbus landed in 1492 to create the first European settlement and Spain’s first capital across the pond. Here is that story:

Christopher Columbus

As some of us will remember, Columbus left Spain in search of new lands with three ships: the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Santa Clara (aka the Niña). After weeks of sailing, Columbus and company finally landed on the island of Hispaniola (what is now split between the Dominican and Haiti) on Dec. 5, 1492.

Things started off friendly between both sides. In classic European style, though, the voyagers first took over using force (once their conquest was resisted by the natives) and later through disease, as smallpox and measles wiped out a great chunk of the Taino population.

As part of the settlement, the Dominican is home to the first cathedral, monastery, castle, and fortress in the Americas. These are all located in Santa Domingo’s Colonial Zone, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Heck, there’s even a Hard Rock Café there!

Once Spain conquered the Aztecs and Incas, they forgot about their holdings in the Caribbean and French pirates (think buccaneers searching for wine and cheese, rather than gold and rum) swooped in to take the neglected land. A series of peace treaties between Spain and France first gave what is now Haiti to the French and later what is now the Dominican Republic.

pirate-cat

As for Columbus, he continued to make voyages between the “New World” and “Old World,” which sounds like some sort of science fiction plot. In 1504, Columbus returned to Spain for good. He died on May 20, 1506, as a result of reactive arthritis, which could have been brought on by anything from food poisoning to sexually transmitted diseases (which one would you rather contract!?). Estimates state he was 54 years old.

And here’s where the explorer’s story takes an interesting twist that has helped his legend endure throughout the Dominican Republic, as well as around the world: both the D.R. and Spain claim to be in possession of Christopher Columbus’ remains. And both have legitimate claims to the relic.

Columbus was first buried in Valladolid, Spain, where he passed away, before being moved to the La Cartuja monastery in Seville, Spain, by request of his son Diego. Columbus had stated that he would like his final resting place to be in the New World, but no monument was grand enough yet for this request. Finally, in 1537, Christopher and Diego’s bones were shipped to Santa Domingo and placed in the cathedral there.

Later, came the aforementioned period of French rule. The Spaniards, fearing what the French would do with Columbus’ remains, moved them to Havana, Cuba. The Spanish-American War of 1898 forced the bones to be moved back to Spain, once again. This time, they were housed at the Cathedral of Seville, amongst an elaborate setting, featuring a tomb and statues.

Celebrating Columbus

In 1877, however, a box inscribed “Don Christopher Columbus” was discovered in the Santa Domingo cathedral, which contained human remains showing signs of advanced arthritis. This led the Dominicans to conclude that either Spain took the wrong remains away all those years ago, or that a bait and switch was pulled and the Spanish were in possession of bones not belonging to Columbus.

For their part, Spain had their Columbus artifacts DNA tested with experts finding that the remains in Seville are likely that of the legendary explorer. The movements of Columbus’ bones are also well-documented through their remarkable journey.

The Dominican Republic has never exhumed their version of Columbus’ remains for DNA testing, perhaps for fear that tourism, which the Caribbean nation heavily relies upon, could take a hit without the Columbus connection.

DNA Test

In the Dominican, Columbus is entombed in the Columbus Lighthouse. While recently visiting the country, Mrs. Sip and I went to this landmark with a tour group, but our guide didn’t allow us enough time to actually go into the site… he was more concerned with yapping on his phone all day and pigging out on the lunch buffet.

The truth on the subject probably lies somewhere in the middle and both countries may be in possession of Columbus remains. I suppose it’s kind of fitting that he may be resting in both worlds.

Dominican Republic: Brash Monk

Brash Monk Cocktail

  • 1 oz Mamajuana
  • 1 oz Frangelico
  • 1 oz Espresso Vodka
  • Top with Milk
  • Garnish with Chocolate Slice

Columbus’ journey to the New World was made into the feature film 1492, which was released 500 years after his voyage across the Atlantic. I’ve never seen the flick and given its 39% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I just can’t see it rocketing to the top of my ‘to view’ list!

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (4 Sips out of 5):
Although a strong cocktail, I enjoyed this martini. Frangelico always burns a little harsher than other liquors, but the flavours were all really nice. The drink is supposed to be garnish with a coffee bean, but given I’m anti-coffee, there was none lying around to use. Mrs. Sip didn’t leave me much milk for the recipe, but I made due with what I had… at least she left me any at all!