Of all the places I visited in Europe, my favorite place by far was Edinburgh, Scotland. A buzz of excitement radiated through the city, palpable from the moment our 2-hour train from York pulled into the old station. We had timed our visit to coincide with The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the world’s largest art festival where thousands of artists converge every year to perform, sing, dance, make you laugh, make you cry. During our five days in the city, my sides split with laughing at the sketch troupe Daphne’s Second Show, a Cambridge trio that wove together hard-hitting humor with physical comedy, seamlessly transitioned sketches, and surprisingly impressive three-part harmonies. My heartstrings wavered and melted at I Love You Because, a loosely Pride-and-Prejudice-based modern musical about two couples who learn to love another not in spite of their flaws, but because of them. On our last night there, my heart both broke and mended at Liam Williams’ Travesty, a stunningly executed, intimate play about two people who learn to navigate the murky path through love, relationships, expectations, and commitment.
Art, like food, has always resonated with me differently at different times in my life. While I’ve shared some of the best moments from my vacation in the UK so far, not all of the trip went smoothly. I arrived in England to a welcoming household, and a partner who felt strangely distant; as the days went on, the sense of disconnect and aloofness only intensified, especially when I saw how warm and animated he could be with his family and friends from school. By the time we reached Cambridge on our fifth night together, I was crying on the bench outside a banquet afterparty while trying to book a last-minute room at the London Travelodge (we didn’t have anywhere convenient to stay the next night) and wondering what on Earth I was doing in England at all. Part of it was undoubtedly the stress of traveling for both of us; the other part was that while I had counted on finding companionship and support in an unfamiliar place, I only found myself walking–often literally–several steps behind someone who showed no desire to wait or much care at all. The daily excited messages from my friends back home asking about my trip contrasted sharply with the stretches of silence that frequently accompanied us from one place to the next.
The days wore on–I grew frustrated at the coldness between us and, against my better judgment, often let that frustration show. Sometimes I tried to bring it up in conversation; finding myself rebuffed, at other times I would either snap or clam up completely. All of these things happened at once on our final evening in Edinburgh: one moment we were laughing and discussing the relationship in the play we had just seen, and the next we were disagreeing about things like the value of compromising and using gestures of affection (both, I tried to point out, are personally important because–or perhaps only insofar as–they can help facilitate a sense of consistency and connectedness between two people). Somewhere along the road, that conversation turned into something else. I left for Ireland the next day–he went home by train. Three weeks later, with relatively little correspondence in between–his preferred mode of communication–we met up in the States and decided, amiably, to stop seeing each other.
I’ve mentioned before that this trip to Europe is the best single experience I have ever had, and even after everything that happened, I still believe that’s true. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone, and you can learn a lot about your needs, your own shortcomings, and your values when you take a leap of faith into the unknown. When I finally got back to the States, I was surprised to find that the things I had worried about when I left were irrelevant, while everything I had missed about home was now incredibly exciting: my friendships (more than ever!), the spontaneous outings and sleepovers, the long phone conversations, the chance to meet amazing new people, the simple prospect of living life to the fullest without fear of being judged– these had all become the best and most tangible parts of my life again. Maybe even more so than before–who knows?
The only certain thing is that in the two weeks that followed, my zest for pursuing activities I enjoyed produced way more homemade European treats and dishes than I could possibly finish by myself, including these whipping cream pound cakes, which are inspired by those cute miniature petit-fours they sometimes serve at tea time. Not only did they turn out lovely (the heavy cream and lack of leavening in this recipe lend the cakes their traditionally dense texture, while the thorough beating of eggs and creaming of butter & sugar give the cakes an unexpectedly light finish); they also gave me an excuse to laugh and catch up with some of my closest friends before I left to visit folks up north this week–which, honestly, is the best kind of excuse a homesick girl could ask for. So that while it’s easy to say that I’m happy in spite of everything that’s happened on this crazy whirlwind of a journey, I’ve taken a leaf out of Edinburgh’s book and decided that sometimes, it’s not about saying that I’m “happy anyway”: