A Thinkwellian’s 3 City Trip Itinerary: Cynthia Sharpe

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While we’re in week 8 of working from home, we’re continuing with our fictional travel series, where we’ve invited a few Thinkwellians to research places they would want to visit on a fictional, whirlwind business trip to three cities around the world. Last week, we heard from Senior Creative Director, Kate McConnell, as she explored Brussels, Miami and Shanghai, and she covered an impressive amount of ground. This week, we’ve asked Cynthia Sharpe, Principal, Cultural Attractions and Research, to head off on her fictional business trip to Edinburgh, Dubai and Bangkok. Here’s what she would explore in each of those cities..

I’ll admit it. Even though I’m a homebody through and through, I’m feeling a little at loose ends not being able to travel. That said, I’ve had my fair share of bonkers itineraries. If I’m being sent round the world  (Edinburgh, Dubai, Bangkok) my first order of business is to set my expectations at reasonable levels. After all. Business first. Fun second. 

I’ll research the cities to figure out what really is reasonable to try to see in an evening and a day. Travel & Leisure, Eater, Culture Trip, Lonely Planet – they’re all great resources. I make a mental list ordered by ‘how much energy does this require’ and ‘when are they open?’ Some trips, it’s all about a good dinner and a quiet stroll after meetings, in order to keep my head in the game. Others, it’s about getting out and seeing the sights – it really all depends on the nature of the trip, how long those meetings are, how bad the jetlag is, and how well I’m hanging in there. On a business trip, I’m never going to be able to see everything I want to, so it’s all about knowing my options and picking based on what’s going to help me fuel my tank – physically, emotionally, intellectually – while I’m far from home.

Some cities, like Edinburgh and Bangkok, have amazing farmers or open-air markets. I’ll try to hit those as soon as possible after checking into the hotel. I’ll get local fruit and baked goods for quick snacks in the hotel room, and some trips I’ll even treat myself to a small bouquet of flowers (if a trip includes a stop in Seattle, I’m definitely doing this). If we’re doing benchmarking with a client, that actually makes my leisure time decisions easier: I will purposefully avoid going places that feel like ‘work’ applicable to that trip. On a theme park project? I’m hitting a local museum or two on my day off. 

I’m a coffee drinker, and prefer to hit local coffee shops whenever possible. Of course, it’s all going to depend on what’s close to the hotel or job site, but sometimes I can kill 2 birds with 1 stone. In Edinburgh, Cafe Portrait (pictured) in the National Portrait Gallery has lovely coffee and (bonus!) afternoon tea. There’s also Thomas J. Walls Coffee right by the National Museum of Scotland. In Dubai, a whole bunch of new little coffee shops sprung up over the past few years – I strongly recommend you ask the concierge at your hotel or someone on your local client team what they recommend. But I’m also really, exceedingly fond of the strong Arabic coffee, ghahwa, you are often greeted with (along with delicious dates) when you arrive at your hotel. And Bangkok? While it too has seen an upswing in small, artisanal coffee shops, I’m going to grab a Thai iced coffee from a street vendor and enjoy every moment of that strong, Wilfred Brimley saying ‘diabeetus’ caffeinated and sugared rush to the head.

Caffeine dealt with, a girl’s gotta eat. Some of my fellow Thinkwellians (Craig, Dave) are great resources, but I also check to see if “Ulterior Epicure”, food photographer/blogger/writer Bonjwing Lee from here in KC has been to any of the cities and what he recommends. I prefer to go local whenever possible, but I have to be mindful. As much as I’d love to street-food-it-up in Bangkok, that’s hard with my absolutely ripping allergies to peppers and eggplant. So I have to prep in advance, and sometimes, well, I just have to grab a meal at the hotel restaurant and have an involved chat with the chef. But usually, I’ll I.D. a few places via Eater and reach out to them over email, or chat with the concierge at the hotel. One way or another, though, I’m getting iconic mango and sticky rice while I’m there. 

Edinburgh, I might want a really lovely sit-down meal, in which case Gardener’s Cottage is the kind of magical space plunked down right out of a beloved children’s novel I want to go to. Or maybe I want cheap-yet-local; in that instance, I’d head for Pickles, with all kinds of local meats, cheeses, beers, and… amazing scotch. Dubai is like the craziest wheel of ‘what amazing thing would you like to eat today’, so I am totally playing that by ear based on how I’m feeling and where I’m at, but if my day off includes a Friday I am absolutely doing brunch. I’ll often ask members of a client team where they recommend for brunch or dinner.

But where am I going, in between getting caffeinated and grabbing dinner? It’s really about fueling my creative engine, which for me means exploring places rooted in things I love. And if you know me, that means I am inevitably going to find myself at some mix of museums, major cultural religious sites like a historic mosque or temple, local booksellers, and a craft supply store or market dedicated to the local textile industry. Bonus points if there’s a stationer or fountain pen store in that mix.

Edinburgh (pictured) is probably the most ‘traditional’ of the three as far as my to-do lists. I might go for a walk to get some air and start resetting my body clock, along Princes Street- tons of historic buildings, great views of Edinburgh Castle.  If I’ve already been to, whether for fun or as benchmarking, the castle and big museums, then I might saunter over to the Museum of Childhood and, if time permits, Greyfriar’s Kirk (after checking to see if there’s a church service or concert on there). But the reality is: Scotland means knitting and whisky, for me. And there are three great yarn stores in Edinburgh that are in very different parts of the central city. A yarn crawl to Be Inspired Fibers (near old town in Marchmont), Ginger Twist, and Kathy’s Yarns makes for quite the nice tour. Back in Old Town, The Dovecot Tapestry Studio isn’t just a gallery – it’s a working studio. Since I can’t fit an entire loom in my luggage, it’s less of a threat to my pocketbook than the three aforementioned yarn shops. And if I’m being honest, if I go past a Paperchase or Ryman Stationery, I’m not coming out without yet another notebook.

Onto a wildly different climate! Which means, of course, I’ve checked a bag this trip (I usually don’t) and thus I have space for all that yarn. I tend to eschew the obvious choices in Dubai like the Burj Khalifa or the Fountains, and I’ll walk to a mall to get some sun and try to reset my body clock but the mall’s not a ‘must do’ on my list. Dubai has some great museums. The Etihad Museum (pictured) in Dubai is gorgeous, but I’m also eagerly awaiting the opening of the Museum of the Future, slated to open this year (but we’ll see). It’s not all formal cultural edification though – I’m going to the textile souk and revelling in the riot of colors and fabrics (and likely buying an armload of pashminas for gifts). You can take an abra across Dubai Creek for a mere one dirham. And if Dubai is towards the end of my travels and I have sufficient ziplock bags stashed in my luggage, I’ll hit the spice souk (and restock on cardamom and saffron, for sure).

Bangkok there’s so much to do it’s really going to depend on what I’m in the mood for and how I’m doing by the time I get to city #3. The National Museum (especially on a Thursday, when they run English tours) would be great to learn more about the country, its history, and its cultural forms. The Jim Thompson House provides a glimpse into the art of making Thai silk, which thrills my little crafty heart. Thai puppetry is gorgeous and amazing – so I will jigger my schedule to get to an afternoon performance at The Artist House or an evening show at the Joe Louis Puppet Theater. And, if at all possible, I’m going to Wat Arun (pictured), the magnificent Buddhist temple. It’s right across the river from Wat Pho, the temple with the famous reclining Golden Buddha, so if time permits that’s on the list too. Always always always check prayer times and dress codes for any religious site before you leave home – I’ll make sure I have modest clothing and a scarf to cover my hair, for instance, if I know I’m likely to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi when I’m in the UAE.

So there you have it: caffeine, cooking, culture, crafts. And as much as I love being at home with my family, I cannot wait to be out in the world again. Where I’ve been, what I’ve experienced as part of this job – my life is immeasurably richer for it.