Traveling immerses us in the world, but sometimes in the less eventful moments in between destinations, we just need to escape. “The Layover” is a weekly roundup of books, music, podcasts, and other forms of entertainment brought to you by your favorite world travelers.

This week, we reached out to Florian Trojer, a professional airline pilot based in Zurich, Switzerland. As the pilot of a Boeing 777, Florian spends his days at 43,000 feet, admiring the beauty of the world from above. Today, he discusses the entertainment he turns to during travel’s quieter moments.

BOOK

Wind, Sand and Stars” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Flying has never ceased to amaze me, though I have already spent thousands of hours in the air. It’s not the technicality or complexity of modern aviation that is hard for me to grasp, but the romantic, adventurous side of flying to a foreign country, sitting in a jet traveling at 600 miles per hour. Crossing war-torn countries, snow-capped mountain ranges, and deserts all within hours while completely at ease in the comfort of a cabin at room temperature with adequate air pressure.

“Wind, Sand and Stars,” a memoir written by French aviator-turned-writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery, takes you back to a time when aviation was still only for the brave — and often the foolish. You get drawn back to an age when the earthly world was well discovered, but the skies surrounding it were still mystical and unknown.

Reading about the challenges and worries of early aviation and the  adventure and friendship Saint-Exupery shared with his companions while flying across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Ocean made me appreciate my office high above the earth in a humbling way. It is one of the greatest adventure books, and some say probably the best book ever written about flight.

 

BOOK

One of Us” by Åsne Seierstad

This book is a hard one to swallow one for a dark, rainy day, or a harsh day on the road, for when you’d rather be by yourself instead of among crowds.

It takes place in Norway, a country many travelers adore both for its warm and welcoming people and its gorgeous landscapes seemingly out of a photographer’s dream. The country suffered its most horrific terrorist attack in 2011, when 77 people — mostly teenagers — were killed by a single mad man.

The book discusses the youth and upbringing of the killer-to-be and his preparations, but most importantly the backstory of five of the victims. It’s a real punch in the gut to read on, knowing what’s to come — and at times you will consider just putting the book away and stopping. The written account is well researched by Seierstad, and treats the victims and their families with dignity. She tells a story that needs to be told, that has become inseparable with the history of a country, and you’ll have difficulty not reading cover to cover in one go.

SONG

Rocket Man” by Elton John

Some scenes in your life just have a song firmly attached to them. You can’t possibly think back on them without hearing that music playing in the background. For me, “Rocket Man” is the ultimate “climbing out of Los Angeles at sunset” tune. Though prominently featured at the end of the recent TV series “Californication,” it was actually produced decades earlier by Elton John.

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As we speed down the runway at almost 200 mph and lift off the ground, we pass over the beautiful SoCal beaches and head for the Pacific Ocean.

Our departures are always scheduled for early evening, so sometimes we are lucky enough to get airborne just after sunset. The most surreal feeling is actually seeing the sun come back up again from below the horizon line as you gain altitude for a minute or two. You get two sunsets and one sunrise, all within minutes.

We soon turn around 180 degrees, heading toward the coast again, bound for Europe. The millions of lights filling the Los Angeles basin below and the San Bernardino mountains in the dark distance is a sight that regularly takes my breath away and makes me feel like a “rocket man,” bound for the darkness of space, looking down on Earth from the office with the best view in the world.

 

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Florian Trojer
Florian Trojer is a photographer and airline pilot based in Zurich, Switzerland. He focuses on travel, adventure, and aerial photography and also used to work as a director and film producer with a Swiss film production agency.