Lili on the Loose: On Life and Getting Lost 

Souvenir Saturday: Ulbricht Night Watchman Nutcracker

As I’ve written before, I really enjoyed the “Night Watchman” tour in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. On my last day in Rothenburg I stopped by the large Christmas store Käthe Wohlfahrt to get some souvenirs. This location is their head office, and actually spans multiple buildings and has its own Christmas Museum on site.

One item that caught my eye was a wooden and leather mini Night Watchman Nutcracker made by Ulbricht. It stands a little less than 5 inches tall, but is beautifully crafted. He carries with him a traditional symbols of his job: the halberd and a lantern. I’m glad I got the mini version of this nutcracker, as it made it easier to transport and display.


Read more about the history of the Christmas Nutcracker and a buying guide to purchase the best one.

Souvenir Saturday

Souvenir Saturday is an every-other week series on the items that represent travel memories.

Travel Missteps: Bag full of Mugs


People Making Merry at the Frankfurt Christmas Market

Staying Warm at the Market with the Best Christmas Drinks

Christmas Markets are the perfect place to meet and socialize. Many stalls will have places to sit, or standing tables to gather around. But the trick to stay warm for this winter pastime? Drinking hot beverages! Here are the traditional drinks you may find:

Glühwein is the most popular of the holiday drinks. It is made with mulled wine, usually red wine, but you might see versions that are made with white, rosè, or fruit wines.  It is mixed and heated with cinnamon sticks, cloves, sugar, vanilla, cardamom, and citrus.

You can also fine non-alcoholic versions of Glühwein, called “Kinderpunsch”.

Feuerzangebowle is similar to Glühwein except its served in a special cup, that has a little indentation in it.  Within that indentation will be placed a sugar cube, with rum pored over it. This is then set on fire. It is especially beautiful to watch at night, with its bluish flame glowing in the dark. You can easily blow out the flame to have the sugar more alcoholic, or let it burn off the alcohol on its own and wait until the sugar has caramelized before mixing it in with the wine.

Another drink you may find is warm Mead (Warmer Met) which is fermented honey and water. The Christmas version is often mulled mead, with various spices or fruits added to the warmed mead.

Other hot cocktails may also be offered, check around for your favorites. I like warmed cider!

Hot Chocolate (Heise Schokolade) is also a common drink, topped with whip cream instead of marshmallows.

With most of the above drinks you can kick them up a notch with a shot of rum or other liquor. Ask for it for the drink “mit Schuss”.

Me, getting a hot chocolate and my first mug.

Me, getting a hot chocolate and my first mug.

ein Pfand 

When purchasing a drink at a Christmas Market it will be sold to you in a ceramic, glass, or clay mug. These mugs will be decorated and may feature the name of the town the Christmas Market. There may also be a different design each year. And there are some unique shapes, like boots, or ones that have raised designs.  Beyond being cute they also help cut down on the trash, and they also make a great collectible!

You will actually pay a deposit for the mug, usually in the amount of 2-3 Euros. In some cases they may also give you a little plastic marker, this helps indicate which stall you can return the mug to. When you return the mug you’ll be given back your deposit. Or you can simply keep the mug!

Many people collect mugs from the Christmas Markets they visit. I personally don’t like Glühwein, as I’m allergic to wine that contains sulfite. So at my first few markets, I’d buy my Glühwein…take a few sips…and dump it out. I did this twice before someone saw me, and said “You know, you can ask to buy just the mug.” Wish I had thought of that sooner!

A quaint wooden market stall.

A quaint wooden market stall.

A Word of Warning While Collecting Mugs

Beware! It may seem like a good idea to collect a mug from each Christmas Market you go to, but this is a trap! Some cities have multiple Christmas Markets, and you may attend multiple Christmas Markets in the same day! Or, if you’re like me, you’ll see different unique mugs at the same market and want to collect them both!

This is how I ended up with over 20 mugs! I had so many mugs I couldn’t fit them all in my bags, so I had to keep hiding them in my family’s suitcases when they weren’t looking. It is even more shocking when your realize that I landed in Germany on December 19th. Since the Christmas Markets only stay open before Christmas Day, that means in 6 days I was averaging collecting 3 mugs a day! But it was a whirlwind of enjoyment and I did not realize how silly this was…until I got home and realized…I don’t drink coffee…I don’t drink tea…and I live alone. A single woman definitely does not need 20 German Christmas Market mugs!

So my buying guide on collecting mugs:

  • Take your time in selecting your mug. Look at the various options offered by the market. Then decide which one represents the market the best. Or alternatively only collect a mug if you have a memory of it. Most of my mugs were where I bought only the mug.  But the few that were “deposit” mugs where I drank drinks with my family to stay warm have more memories attached to them.
  • If you don’t plan on using the mugs for your daily use, look for only unique designs, artwork and decorations.
  • Does it have the year on it and/or the city name? Trust me, I have no clue where I got some of the mugs as they don’t have the city name on it!
My little sister, getting her first (and only) mug in Munich.

My little sister, getting her first (and only) mug in Munich.

Travel Missteps

Travel Missteps is an every-other week series on how sometimes part of the journey is making mistakes and getting lost.

Egypt Trip Cost & Budget Analysis

This is my budget breakdown of my trip to Egypt (with a layover in Frankfurt, Germany). I knew going into this trip that it was going to be on the expensive side. I had budgeted $6262.41 in expenses for this trip. Here is how I actually spent that budget:

Airfare: $972.26

I had watched airfare obsessively for about 2 months before I saw the airfare drop significantly through Lufthansa.

I was able to get a 1 stop through Frankfurt on the way to Egypt, including a 12 hour layover in Frankfurt. And then on the way home I’d have 2 quick stops in Munich and then Frankfurt on the way home.

Note that the actual tickets were $230 plus $642.26 in taxes and fees. Then I opted to choose my own seats at an additional cost of $100 but I figured it was worth it to make sure I wasn’t trapped in a middle seat for those long flights. (I only opted not to select my seat on the short 1 hour flight from Munich to Frankfurt.)

Main Tour: $1954.15

I went through G Adventures for a 12 day tour of Egypt called Egypt Explorer. It originally costs $2299 but I had a 15% off coupon from their catalog to drop it to $1954.15. I chose G Adventures because I had gone through them before on their Costa Rica on a Shoestring and Mayan Encounter tours and loved it!

Extra Accommodations: $442.74

I had grand plans for my 12 hour layover in Frankfurt, I’d sleep on the plane and arrive fresh in the morning, head to a museum before finding a place for lunch, then head to the Apple Wine district and bar hop before heading back to the airport to catch my flight. Only problem? I have never, ever, slept on a plane. I took my sleeping pills…and it backfired. I felt sick, and instead decided to get a hotel to rest for a bit before exploring a small town near Frankfurt. My hotel ended up being in Langen, and cost $84.67 after conversion.

I decided to arrive 2 days early and stay 1 day later for a cost of $285 ($95 a night). This was so I could have enough time in the beginning to get over jet lag, as well as give me the freedom to see Cairo and the surrounding areas at my own pace. The last few tours I’ve done I left on the last day of the tour and it just seemed too soon to be leaving my newfound friends.

Note that I had these nights booked directly with my G Adventures tour and so are about 50% more expensive than if I had booked on my own. I acknowledged this extra expense and agreed to it for 2 reasons. Firstly, I didn’t want to waste time transferring between hotels and so this was the easiest option. And secondly, my G Adventures tour included airport transportation only if I booked my extra nights with them directly. Again I choose for simplicity’s sake to go through their airport transfer so I wouldn’t have to worry about it since I would be arriving/leaving late at night.

A week before my trip, I realized that my last day in Egypt was on such a tight schedule I might miss my flight home. I’d have to go from the Cairo Airport to the 1-2 hour drive to Giza, shower, pack and then drive the 1-2 hours back to Cairo to catch my international flight. If the drive took the full 2 hours, I wouldn’t have time to shower, so what was the point to spend up to 4 hours traveling to/from the airport and back? I couldn’t cancel my far Giza hotel so I had to book a hotel near the airport for an additional $100.07. A bit frustrating that I hadn’t thought that through (either not booking my last night hotel until sooner so I had a better plan, or having booked 2 extra days at the end to spend a nice time in Sharm without being rushed) but I wanted to be safe than sorry and so spent the extra money. And then the day before my day trip to Sharm….it was revealed that the MetroJet crash in Sharm was due to terrorism. And so I cancelled my day trip, and never even bothered going to the hotel near the airport.

Ground Transportation: $107.54

I took a Super Shuttle to/from Denver International Airport for 61.40. I have taken Super Shuttle in the past and have found that they are the most economical way to get from one’s home to the airport and back. Taxis are about 70% more expensive and while the RTD SkyRide bus is by far the cheapest option you then have to figure out how to get home from a park and ride. But in the end, my parents picked me up and so I didn’t use my 2nd half of my Shuttle.

I didn’t have any ground transportation in Frankfurt during my 12 hour layover because I ended up using the free hotel’s shuttle to and from Langen.

I had an additional 96 EGP in ground transportation. This included taxis and horse drawn carriages called Caleches.

Since my transfer to the Cairo airport is covered by my tour I have left that out of the calculation. I thought that my transfer back to the airport was covered, but it wasn’t. Instead it cost 150 EGP and $15.

Meals & Drinks: $315.96

11 breakfasts, 3 lunches, and 6 dinners were included with my tour. The tour company recommended I budget $350 for meals not covered by the tour but I bumped up my budget to $500 since I was staying a few extra days. I actually spent $165.86. Why so little? Well outside of tourist areas, you could eat for 2-3 dollars per meal. This was a lot of shawarma, koshari, as well as some meals scraped from hotel breakfast leftovers.

$27.78 was spent in Denver since I got to the airport way too early and needed to kill some time. I ate a salad the Chophouse and got some water for my flights.

I spent 49.25 on meals during my layover in Frankfurt. This consisted of Kinder Eggs, OJ, A burger and Apple Wine that made me horrifically sick. And Water.

On my travel day from Cairo>Munich>Frankfurt I spent $73.07.  Mostly on water, OJ, a sandwich, and a ton of Kinder Eggs.

Tour Optional Activities: $200

These are the Optional Activities offered by G Adventures that I did:

Camel Ride at the Great Pyramids: 120 EGP
Alexandria Library Archeological Museum: 20 EGP
Alexandria Library Manuscript Museum: 20 EGP
Egyptian Museum Royal Mummy Rooms: 100 EGP
Unfinished Obelisk: 40 EGP
Nubian Museum: 60 EGP
Philae Temple & Transportation: 250 EGP
King Tut’s Tomb: 100 EGP
Ramses VI Tomb: 50 EGP
Abydos & Dendera Day Trip: 450 EGP
The Citadel, Islamic & Coptic Cairo: 370 EGP

I decided to not go on the Luxor Hot Air Balloon ride which was offered at $130. I choose not to go because A: I’m afraid of heights (and the last time I tested that fear it didn’t work out well) and B: There have been fatal hot air balloon crashes in Luxor, (one of the most recent being in 2013) and my thought process is that if there have been so few tourists than operators likely haven’t had the cashflow to properly maintain their equipment and so I wouldn’t want to risk it. C: If I had wanted to do this, I would have had to get up super early, and with already such little time in Luxor I didn’t want to be to tired (or if I was going to get up early, I’d see sights I was interested in up close.)

Note that many of these Optional Activities are likely more expensive than if I had attempted to do them on my own, as you likely can bargain or find cheaper alternatives. (Also note that if you are a student you can get discounts at might sights with an ISIC card.) But on a tour you are paying for connivence and companionship, and so pay a higher cost for them to organize your activities.

Additional Sight Seeing: $603.42

These were sights I saw on my own.

Prior to the start of my G Adventures tour, I also booked a full day Saqqara/Memphis/Dahshur tour with Egyptian Sidekick for a cost of $110 plus admission costs. I had looked at the Saqqara tours that G Adventures provided, but they started expensive and decreased in costs if more people booked. But I really wanted to do Saqqara at my own pace and without a gaggle of people. Since it is hard to find reputable tour guides online (Trip Advisor is riddled with many self promotion posts that it was overwhelming) and the fact I had already done so much research, I decided not to get an Egyptologist guide and instead use a local. I actually stumbled upon Egyptian Sidekick on accident. I was looking for “Egypt Bloggers” and their blog had a lot of information. The prices for the additional sites were:

Dahshur: 47 EGP
Memphis: 43 EGP
Saqqara: 95 EGP

On my last day I decided I wanted to do a Memphis Tour to Sharm El Sheikh. The tour was similar to this one, but I customized it to do a full day of snorkeling and then the city tour. I made this change since I don’t feel the desert is that safe near Sharm, and because I truly was only going to Sharm to snorkel, so wanted more time to do that! Memphis was happy to customize the tour, and even let me pick my flight times as I wanted to make sure I had enough time to get back to my hotel to shower and pack. (Why I didn’t think to say 1 more extra day so I wouldn’t feel rush I’ll never know.) The total for the Memphis Tour was $470. If you went with more people the price drops by a lot. If you try to do this on your own, the flights are around $125 each way, the boat tour would likely be around $30-40. Then you’d also need to pay for rental of equipment, lunch, all of the taxi transportation to/from the airports, and the city tour. So even though I paid a little bit of a premium, I was happy that Memphis would be handling the stressful parts of this day trip. And then…I ended up having to cancel my day tour because the day I was going to go, was the day UK and other countries cancelled all inbound and outbound flights to Sharm due to the reveal of information that the 10/31 MetroJet crash was caused by terrorism, likely due to an insider at the airport.

Tips/Baksheesh: $136.18

Going to Egypt one of the key things people tell you is about baksheesh. You are expected to tip for even the smallest service rendered. I’ll cover this practice in more detail in another post. But I spent $2 and 81 EGP (10 of which was tips to use the bathroom.)

In addition to baksheesh, our tour guide collected $60 amount on the first day of travel to handle tipping expenses throughout the trip. I then tipped $50 plus 70 EGP to our wonderful G Adventure guide at the end of the trip. I also tipped the guide of our Abydos/Dendera day trip 40 EGP.

Souvenirs: $1415.19

I spent 870 EGP and $1305.06 on souvenirs. This included perfume, silvery jewelry, an alabaster vase, papyrus, ornaments, books, and things like that. Since you had to barter for everything so in some cases I paid more for things, and in other times I paid pretty low for items. This number is a lot higher than I hoped, but I really enjoyed everything I brought back.

Travel Insurance: $246

I went through Travel Insured International for my travel insurance because as a USAA member I received a discount. I opted for their higher price plan that also includes canceling the tour for any reason in case the situation in Egypt drastically changed by the time I was going on my trip.

Visa: $25

As a US Citizen you can get your visa early from an Egyptian Embassy for $15 but you have to fill out the form, include 2 passport sized photos, and mail your passport to them. This hassle makes the “lower” cost not worth it. So I opted to get my visa upon arrival for $25.

Total: $6418.44

This amounts to $400 dollars per day. Egypt has been a dream of mine and I knew this one in a lifetime trip would be expensive but decided it was worth doing Egypt right. I had about $612 in costs that didn’t work out. So overall my budget and planning was spot on.

Museum Monday: Paleontology Lab at DMNS

When I was little I wanted to be an archeologist or paleontologist. While that didn’t happen I can live vicariously through the volunteers and employees at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. At the end of Prehistoric Journey is the Paleontology lab, where you can see the progress that is being made on specimens recently brought in from the field.

He kind of looks like John Hammond from Jurassic Park.

He kind of looks like John Hammond from Jurassic Park.

If you are a member of the museum, they also do many special nights where you can actually go into the lab and see a lot more that they are working on. Its definitely my favorite perk of being a member!

Museum Monday is an every other week series about museum news, objects, and reviews.

The History of the Christmas Nutcracker

Nutcrackers at a German Christmas Market.

Nutcrackers at a German Christmas Market.

Nutcrackers in some form have been around since ancient times. However, they were much different in design and from from what we consider the Christmas Nutcracker. Those didn’t appear until the mid 1700’s when many Germany mines had shut down and the workers had to figure out other sources of income. They turned to the abundant forests and their woodworking skills to craft dolls, toys, Christmas Pyramids, angels, and nutcrackers. The first nutcrackers were made to look like authority figures such as kings or soldiers. These “nut cracking” officials symbolized the unpleasantness the townspeople felt towards the authorities and their glee at making the figures work for them. In time, nutcrackers evolved from being functional to mainly decorative.

In 1816, E.T.A Hoffman wrote a story called “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”. By 1844, Alexandre Dumas revised the story and this version was turned into a ballet in 1892 called The Nutcracker. The ballet wasn’t widely performed in America until the mid 20th century. Around that same time American G.I.s were sending home nutcrackers as Christmas gifts. These two events cemented the Christmas season relationship with nutcrackers.

Buying Guide:

  • The first thing you should know when purchasing a Christmas Nutcracker (regardless of if it’s Christmas themed or not) is that it will likely NOT crack nuts. Many are for decorative purposes only.
  • Most German Nutcrackers base forms are made of wood, although some may be made of metal.
  • They style is mainly folk-art inspired, and should be highly detailed and intricate.
  • What the figure actually depicts can be anything. While you still can get traditional king or soldier Nutcrackers you’ll also find almost any type now from pop-culture like Darth Vader, Santa Claus, historical figures, or modern job professions like a postman.
  • Nutcrackers can range in size from small ornaments up to large statement decorations that are almost life sized.
  • The most common German nutcracker collectibles are made by Steinbach, Fuchtner, and Ulbricht.

Souvenir Saturday

Souvenir Saturday is an every-other week series on the items that represent travel memories.

Travel Missteps: Grand Theft Uber

I did what I’ve never done before. Not plan. And apparently not planning for me is doomed to failure. I had 2 days off in Miami after a work trip. I really wanted to go out on a boat, visit sandbars, and snorkel. Unfortunately the only boating companies that did that either were booked…or didn’t allow single tourists. (The 2nd time Viator has let me down in that regard.) So with my dreams dashed, I ended up not planning anything.

This ended up being slightly in my favor, as the weekend before this trip, I decided to go shopping for clothes for Egypt. And I found that ever local Denver store had already switched to Fall clothing. So on my first free day to Miami, I took a shuttle to the Dolphin Mall in an effort to find appropriate “warm weather” clothing for my trip. Dolphin Mall is an outlet mall, and it let me down. Most of the stores didn’t stock clothing larger that medium, so I found nothing I could wear. And most of the stores also were following the back to school/fall looks. I knew there was a normal mall across the street, Miami International Mall, and so hailed an Uber to their Kohl’s.

After a lot of searching I found a handful of items that might work for my trip to Egypt, so at least that part was a slight success. But my $10 shuttle back to downtown Miami only picks up at Dolphin Mall, so I had to hail an Uber to get back there so I’d be in time to catch the last shuttle back. I went outside and hailed the Uber. Soon the app said the driver was right nearby. I looked around, no cars were nearby. I waited and waited…and then looked down to see the app said I was “on my way” and “on trip”. Frustratingly Uber offers no way to call your driver. I watched in horror as my “trip destination” was inputted and the fare of $40 was displayed. I quickly cancelled it, having no idea what was going on.

I waited a minute and then hailed another Uber…as I had less than 10 minutes to catch my shuttle. The same Uber driver picked up my fare…and again showed the in-correct trip destination. Again I cancelled. Again I called another Uber, and the same driver yet again picked up my fare. I looked around and saw a white car half a block away. I walked towards it, hoping it was my driver. But I got confused….there was someone else in the car! Then it dawned on me. Someone stole my Uber! And was pretending to be me to get a free ride. I walked up to the window, and the woman was like “Oh….I had no idea this wasn’t mine!” (The tip off should have been you didn’t have your phone out lady…) and so she hopped out and I hopped in.

I soon figured out the 2nd issue with this driver…he didn’t speak English. I kept asking to go to the Dolphin Mall, he kept pointing to the Miami International Mall right next to it. “No….not this one…the other one.” He then had trouble picking up my fare for the 4th time…because at this point other drivers were converging on the area since it was a “hot spot” for pickups (only due to me requesting 4 different Ubers within 10 minutes of each other.) Eventually the driver just took my phone and started calling ubers and cancelling them, until he could get my fare. I punched in the location I wanted to go to, and urged him to hurry up. I had now less than 5 minutes to get there. As we drove I explained I needed to go to “Entrance 8, the food court”. The driver kept saying “5? 5?” And then admitted he didn’t speak English, only Spanish. I counted on my fingers, “Ocho! Ocho!” I shouted, and he understanding that sped off to the right entrance, where I was just able to hop on my shuttle.

I was frustrated to find many Uber charges and cancellation fees due to the “stolen Uber” incident. It took many emails to get the charged reduced to the $4.66 ride it should have been.

Travel Missteps

Travel Missteps is an every-other week series on how sometimes part of the journey is making mistakes and getting lost.

Egypt Books, Movies, & Documentaries

Yesterday I discussed the many online resources to help plan a trip to Egypt. Another important part of my planning process is reading books and watching shows on the place I’m traveling to. Here are some of the other resources I used in planning a trip to Egypt.


Travel Guides:

I actually had started planning a trip to Egypt back in 2009. So many of by guidebooks I have are older. I actually found the older guidebooks (pre 2011) to be more detailed and many more options. After 2011, when tourism dropped it seemed the guidebook publishers pulled funding and effort towards newer versions of guidebooks. In fact, I also checked numerous local book-stores and many don’t even bother stocking guides to Egypt.

  • National Geographic Traveler Egypt 2009 – This is one of my favorite guides, with full color photos and lots of great detail.
  • I have the 2008 and 2015 version of the Lonely Planet guidebooks. I recommend the older ones as they seem to be more detailed and explain a lot more. The 2015 seemed smaller and less researched than the 2008 version.
  • Eyewitness Travel Egypt 2013 is a good simplistic book, if you want nice cutaway drawings of the sites.


For Fun:

My favorite mysteries have also been set in Egypt, Agatha Christie’s Death Come As the End & Death on the Nile. Also many mystery books by Elizabeth Peters is also set in Egypt. Or wanting something a little different? Anne Rice has some Egyptian characters in some of her novels. I also remember enjoying Time Cat as a child. Another childhood favorite was Tales of Ancient Egypt by Roger Lancelyn Green, I loved myths and fables and this was a great read.

Movies & Documentaries

I’ve watched so many its hard to list them all, so here are a few I’ve watched recently:

For Fun:

Have any other Egypt Resources that helped you? Sound off in the comments!

Egypt Blogs & Online Trip Resources

When traveling I love to research about the place I’ll be going to. I usually will get a few travel guides, but I’ll also read many blogs from other fellow travelers. I was sad to learn that Google’s “Blog Search” functionality was discontinued, which made searching for the rare blog on Egypt so much harder to find. So to help future travelers here are some of the many blogs and other online resources I used in preparation for my trip to Egypt.

Egypt Blogs

Blogs with multiple posts about Egypt

Egyptian Travel Companies who’s blogs are helpful

Individual Articles about Egypt

Travel Blog Aggregators featuring Egypt

Egypt Online Travel Guides

Egypt News:

Helpful SubReddits on Egypt

/r/Egypt/r/Travel, and /r/SoloTravel some of the related Egypt posts:

Travel Communities about Egypt

Social Communities about Egypt

Have any other Egypt Resources that helped you? Sound off in the comments!

And tomorrow I’ll list my favorite books, movies, and documentaries!

Remember, Remember the 5th of November…

Remember, Remember the 5th of November…as the day Doc Brown invited the Flux Capacitor….which is what…makes time travel possible!

Remember V for Vendetta

Remember BTTF

I always post this comment on social media every November 5th. But this time I’m traveling in Egypt! So I’m utilizing my blog’s schedule feature to make sure I still do it this year…but this time with GIFS! Behold my power!

This Day in History: First Steps towards Tutankhamun’s Tomb

Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon at the entrance of the tomb. 1922.

Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon at the entrance of the tomb. 1922.

“At last [I] have made wonderful discovery in Valley; a magnificent tomb with seals intact; re-covered same for your arrival; congratulations.” Howard Carter’s cable to Lord Carnarvon on November 5th, 1922. The day before, on November 4th, Carter’s team found the first step of a sunken stairway and then on the 5th they reached the sealed doorway to the tomb. A few weeks later Carter and Carnarvon would open Tutankhamun’s tomb and entrance the world with their findings.

Today I’m sadly leaving Luxor to head back to Cairo. I wish I had more days in Luxor as there is just so much to see here! I also heard that today is the start of festivities in Luxor commemorating the finding of Tut’s tomb.