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 Michael Sheridan, a travel photographer who has produced photography case studies for charities in India and Nepal. Today, he discusses the entertainment he turns to during travel’s quieter moments.
“I Need a Forest Fire (ft Bon Iver)” by James Blake
My partner and I began our sabbatical at our local train station in London and found ourselves winding over the Ural mountains across the world’s largest country on the the Trans-Siberian Railway a few days later. That night, the mountains were covered in mist, and fir trees seeming to appear out of the clouds up ahead. I spent hours skipping sleep to stare out from my bunk at the magical scenery, with James Blake and Bon Iver providing the soundtrack to accompany the rhythmic sounds of the chugging train.
Window-gazing is always a great way to lose yourself in thought, and the week-long journey from Moscow to Beijing is made for staring out over the slowly changing landscape with a cup of tea. People always ask what we did for a week on that train, and now you know…
“The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith
In the middle of the eight-month sabbatical, I also traveled to Odisha, one of India’s lesser-known regions. After months of humid, sweaty conditions, I was longing for an ice-cold pint in a London pub. Dreaming of home is not something I do often when traveling, but this excellent detective novel evoked the smells and sounds of the dank, dark London winter.
The main character, Cormoran Strike, shared my love of pubs with maroon carpets and no TVs, and I spent many nights on the other side of the world, dreaming of the familiar comforts of a cozy British pub in the rain. The Strike trilogy is comprised of brilliant page-turners with fantastic characters, written under a pseudonym by J.K. Rowling, once again displaying her excellent writing skills.
“A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry
This is perhaps the strongest impression a book has ever made on me. It is a beast, so I recommend the Kindle version to save space, but the evolving plot, stretched out over decades of trouble in India, takes you through generations of the country’s different castes.
It is heartbreaking, yet funny — a slow burn, yet gripping. It highlights the joy found among hardship. And, most importantly, it allows you to connect with the characters, who bring you into their homes and their daily routines, and live with them through all of their trials and tribulations.
It has been recommended to me more than any other book, and it is worthy of the praise.
While planning a journey to Nepal, I took a trip to the cinema to watch this documentary about the extraordinary Sherpa people, for whom the tourist climbing industry has become a big earner.
The film covers a classic case of tourism’s double-edged sword, but the cinematography is stunning, and the beautiful sounds of Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight” provide a soothing backdrop to the majesty and devastation that the mountains serve up.
“Empire Ants” by Gorillaz
This list wouldn’t be complete without a nod to the stupidest thing I’ve ever done — driving from London to Mongolia in the Mongol Rally after graduating from university. To introduce you to the ludicrousness, the event’s catch phrase is: “If nothing goes wrong, then everything has gone wrong.”
Going into the journey, my partners and I had a terrible car, no mechanical knowledge, no actual roads to follow, and certainly no GPS. With the help of some incredibly generous people we met along the way, and the cunningness of the two other fools who joined me on the adventure, we somehow made it the 10,000 miles to Mongolia.
The standout moment for me came in Russia as we approached the Mongolian border, when we found an actual tarmac road heading toward the snow-capped Altai mountains. It was dead straight, aimed at the mountains ahead, and we were in a convoy with an ambulance. We were all leaning out the windows with the wind in our faces, putting pedal to the metal as we hit the dizzying heights of 30 mph (48 kph) with Gorillaz’ “Empire Ants” blaring.