My Journey in an Aeroplane Over the Sea

Two seemingly unrelated, yet very important things happened to me this summer:

  1. I rediscovered Neutral Milk Hotel’s song In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and subsequently fell in love with their album of the same name.
  2.  I was struck with an indescribable sense of wanderlust. I’ve always dreamed of traveling, but this was something different — an ache to see the world.

It was June, and my friend Alaina had recently found out she had been accepted into a study-abroad program in England for fall semester. I was excited for her but couldn’t help but feel just a tiny bit  jealous (ok, more like REALLY jealous)…

She must have noticed, because she invited me to meet up with her and our friends Iza and Silja in Copenhagen after fall semester ended. They were planning on staying with Silja’s family in Denmark while site-seeing in the area. This was an opportunity I would have been insane to pass up.

So I worked three jobs all summer long to save up for the trip. And let me tell you, I worked my butt off. But I was working toward a goal. All throughout my sometimes 14-hour shifts, the thought of Europe kept me going. That, and the lyrics to In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.

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The album is about Anne Frank. Her life, her diary, her death. Its lyrics are deep and its music haunting. The more I attempt to pick it apart, the more I love its complexity. I won’t bore you by going into great detail  (believe me, I could write pages about it), but I’ll just leave a few of my favorite lines from the album here for you:

“I know they buried her body with others/her sister and mother and 500 families/ and will she remember me 50 years later/ I wished I could save her in some sort of time machine.” — Oh Comely

“The only girl I’ve ever loved/ Was born with roses in her eyes/ But then they buried her alive/ One evening, 1945/ With just her sister at her side/ And only weeks before the guns/ All came and rained on everyone” — Holland 1945

So it was this album and the promise of Europe that kept my spirits up as I worked through the summer and the most difficult semester I’ve had. Looking back, the work I put in made the trip itself that much sweeter. I felt like I had truly earned that plane ticket and the experiences I was having.

And what amazing experiences! Everything about the trip was wonderful. I got to reconnect with friends and visit places I had only seen on the “Travel” boards of Pinterest. We took a canal tour of Copenhagen, visited a 2,000-year-old castle in Malmo, had drinks at an Ice Bar in Amsterdam, and stuffed our faces at a Christmas market in Hamburg. I spent most of the trip marveling at the architecture and trying to snap as many pictures as possible before the group left me behind.

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Nyhavn (New Harbor), Copenhagen where our boat tour began

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Malmohaus, an old war castle we visited in Sweden

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Photo op with a polar bear before heading into a bar made completely out of ice.

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The Christmas market in Hamburg’s town square

We jam-packed all 10 days with traveling and site-seeing. It was a crazy rush. But there were a few moments where I needed to stop, take a deep breath, and let the history of each city wash over me. This happened most often in Amsterdam.

One of the first things Alaina and I did in Amsterdam was visit the Anne Frank house. I walked the rooms where Anne and her family hid for two years. I read the powerful thoughts she recorded in her diary. I saw the pain in her father’s eyes as he shared their story to a camera. It was deep and haunting. And as I stood looking up at the house from the street, a line from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea played over and over in my head.

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“There are lights in the clouds/ Anne’s ghost all around/ Hear her voice as its rolling and ringing through me/ Soft and sweet” 

It was then that my focus shifted away from my own experiences. There have been so many who walked those cobblestone streets before me. I was struck with the reality of World War II. Living in America,we are so far removed from the war’s aftermath that it’s almost just a story to us. All summer the lyrics of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea had been simply words. But seeing the rooms where the Franks hid and feeling the silence they lived in made the war supremely real to me. The sorrow of those lyrics became a real weight. Nazi hatred was made tangible.

So while my trip was one of pleasure and accomplishment, it was also one of enlightenment. I not only have a greater understanding of other cultures, but also of what shapes them. This world is vast and ancient. And the best way to understand it is through travel. Traveling expands our experiences beyond our egocentric tendencies. It removes us from comfort and allows us to share in others’ lives. There is so much to see and learn, and I can’t wait for the next journey that presents itself.

… Sorry, I get a little philosophical when I travel. Hopefully this will lighten the mood.

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Me and uncle Hans Christian Andersen in Copenhagen

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One thought on “My Journey in an Aeroplane Over the Sea

  1. Emily-
    I so enjoyed reading about your journey. It reminded me so much of what I experienced in 1985. I could not afford to do a study abroad. My last semester in college I only had a couple classes so I moved home, commuted to River Falls twice a week and worked like a dog – 3 jobs – to save money to take a trip to Europe. I had heard stories and seen so many pictures from others who had gone to Europe. I wanted so desperately to go. Like you having earned all that money myself made the trip all that much sweeter. I was able to travel with high school and college friends. That trip changed me – for the better. It opened my eyes and my heart. Reading about your adventures and reflections took me right back there. I am so glad you had the chance to go.

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