Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson

Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe

Bill Bryson's first travel book, The Lost Continent, was unanimously acclaimed as one of the funniest books in years. In Neither Here nor There he brings his unique brand of humour to bear on Europe as he shoulders his backpack, keeps a tight hold on his wallet, and journeys from Hammerfest, the northernmost town on the continent, to Istanbul on the cusp of Asia. Fluent in...

Title:Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe
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Edition Language:English

Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe Reviews

  • Lindsay

    This book was highly entertaining at times, I can't say it wasn't. In fact, it was highly entertaining most of the time. However, I can't say I learned hardly anything about any of the places Bill Bryson visited. He reserves most of his commentary for how far he walked to get to a train station, how fast or slow the train rides were, and how cornflake-sized bugars feel in his nose while on those train rides...

    I hate to bash authors...that's not what I'm trying to do here. I am simply trying to s

    This book was highly entertaining at times, I can't say it wasn't. In fact, it was highly entertaining most of the time. However, I can't say I learned hardly anything about any of the places Bill Bryson visited. He reserves most of his commentary for how far he walked to get to a train station, how fast or slow the train rides were, and how cornflake-sized bugars feel in his nose while on those train rides...

    I hate to bash authors...that's not what I'm trying to do here. I am simply trying to say Bryson's book was not what I was expecting and did not give me what I look for in reading travel novels (I like to get a grasp of what different places are like, the ambience, the people, maybe a little history). Also, it was about a year ago that I read this book, and I am sure some of these tidbits were woven into his writing. However, I do remember feeling let down at the time and coming to the conclusion that inserting this sort of substance into his writing was not his main focus, although it may have slipped in somewhere along the way.

  • Jessica

    The reason I read this book is because there have been some excellent extracts from it in the course books I teach from. Unfortunately I think those extracts were actually the best bits... I certainly learnt nothing new from reading the entire book.

    Bryson is funny, but after a while he comes across as whiny and just a touch xenophobic. I've never quite understood the point of travelling and then asking for 'something that would pass for food in America' to eat.

    Furthermore, the chapter structure

    The reason I read this book is because there have been some excellent extracts from it in the course books I teach from. Unfortunately I think those extracts were actually the best bits... I certainly learnt nothing new from reading the entire book.

    Bryson is funny, but after a while he comes across as whiny and just a touch xenophobic. I've never quite understood the point of travelling and then asking for 'something that would pass for food in America' to eat.

    Furthermore, the chapter structure became a little tiresome after a while: the routine of arrive, find hotel, have steaming hot shower/bath, wander round town, have something to eat was rarely deviated from.

    Perhaps this book was considered quite differently at the time of publishing, before the era of cheap flights meant Europe was easily accessible to all.

  • Markus

    Bryson at his worst. He is the whining American tourist he claims to detest. Meandering through a dozen or so european countries, he manages to complain about virtually every hotel accomodation. And for christ sake Bill, put a freakin map in your book. I'm not totally ignorant when it comes to european geography but if youre gonna write about travelling hundreds of miles every other day, i'd like to glance at the route with out having to bust out my world atlas.

    After Shorthistoryof nearly everyt

    Bryson at his worst. He is the whining American tourist he claims to detest. Meandering through a dozen or so european countries, he manages to complain about virtually every hotel accomodation. And for christ sake Bill, put a freakin map in your book. I'm not totally ignorant when it comes to european geography but if youre gonna write about travelling hundreds of miles every other day, i'd like to glance at the route with out having to bust out my world atlas.

    After Shorthistoryof nearly everything i was so high on him, now this...

  • Eric_W

    Bryson writes hysterical travel books. In this one he sets out to re-create a backpacking trip of Europe he made during the seventies when he was twenty. His descriptions of people and places will have you falling out of your chair. The beer he is offered in Belgium, for example, defies his palate. He just can’t associate the taste with any previous experience, but finally decides it puts him in mind of a very large urine sample, possibly from a circus animal. (He should have stuck with Coca-Col

    Bryson writes hysterical travel books. In this one he sets out to re-create a backpacking trip of Europe he made during the seventies when he was twenty. His descriptions of people and places will have you falling out of your chair. The beer he is offered in Belgium, for example, defies his palate. He just can’t associate the taste with any previous experience, but finally decides it puts him in mind of a very large urine sample, possibly from a circus animal. (He should have stuck with Coca-Cola, nicht wahr, Wendell?)

    Bryson has truly captured some of the giddy enjoyment that I experience when traveling in a foreign country where one does not speak the language. “I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything. You have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work. . . . Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting

    guesses.”

    At the Arc de Triomphe, some thirteen streets come together. “Can you imagine? I mean to say, here you have a city with the world’s most pathologically aggressive drivers -- who in other circumstances would be given injections of valium from syringes the size of basketball jumps and confined to their beds with leather straps -- and you give them an open space where they can all go in any of thirteen directions at once. Is that asking for trouble or what?”

    Interspersed are salient comments about traveling on European trains. “There is no scope for privacy and of course there is nothing like being trapped in a train compartment on a long journey to bring all those unassuageable little frailties of the human body crowding to the front of your mind – the withheld fart, the three and a half square yards of boxer shorts that have somehow become concertinaed between your buttocks, the Kellogg’s corn flake that is unaccountably lodged deep in your left nostril,”. . .and rude comments about the Swiss: “What do you call a gathering of boring people in Switzerland? Zurich.”

    He reveals some funny stories about himself. “I had no gift for woodworking. Everyone else in the class was building things like cedar chests and oceangoing boats and getting to play with dangerous and noisy power tools, but I had to sit at the Basics Table with Tubby Tucker and a kid who was so stupid that I don't think we ever learned his name. We just called him 'Drooler.' The three of us weren't allowed anything more dangerous than sandpaper and Elmer's Glue, so we would sit week after week making little nothings out of offcuts, except for Drooler, who would just eat the glue. Mr. Dreck never missed a chance to humiliate me. 'And what is this?' he would say, seizing some mangled block of wood on which I had been laboring for the last twenty-seven weeks and holding it aloft for the class to titter at. 'I've been

    teaching shop for sixteen years, Mr. Bryson, and I have to say this is the worst beveled edge I've ever seen.' He held up a birdhouse of mine once and it just collapsed in his hands. The class roared. Tubby Tucker laughed so hard that he almost choked. He laughed for twenty minutes, even when I whispered to him across the table that if he didn't stop it I would bevel his testicles."

    It used to be -- not as common now as formerly -- that each public washroom had an attendant whose job it was to keep everything clean, and you were expected to drop in some change for his or her income. The sex of the attendant was irrelevant to the sex of the washroom and Bryson had difficulty getting used to the idea of some cleaning lady watching him urinate to make sure he didn't "dribble on the tiles or pocket any of the urinal cakes. It is hard enough to pee when you are aware that someone's eyes are on you, but when you fear that at any moment you will be felled by a rabbit chop to the kidneys for taking too much time, you seize up altogether. You couldn't have cleared my system with Drano. So eventually I would zip up and return unrelieved to the table [in the restaurant:], and spend the night back at the hotel doing a series of Niagara Falls impressions."

    Bryson does not mince words, and his perspective on former Austrian president Waldheim echoes mine but is perhaps more trenchant. “I fully accept Dr. Waldheim’s explanation that when he saw forty thousand Jews being loaded onto cattle trucks at Salonika, he genuinely believed they were being sent to the seaside for a holiday. For the sake of fairness, I should point out that Waldheim insists he never even knew that the Jews of Salonika were being shipped off to Auschwitz. And let’s be fair again – they accounted for no more than one third of the city’s entire population (italics theirs), and it is of course entirely plausible that a high-ranking Nazi officer in the district could have been unaware of what was happening within his area of command. Let’s give the man a break. I mean to say, when the Sturmabteilung, or stormtroopers, burned down forty-two of Vienna’s forty three synagogues during Kristallnacht, Waldheim did wait a whole week before joining the

    unit. . . . Christ, the man was practically a resistance hero. . . .Austrians should be proud of him and proud of themselves for having the courage to stand up to world opinion and elect a man of his caliber, overlooking the fact that he is a pathological liar. . .that he has a past so mired in mis-truths that no one but he knows what he has done. It takes a special kind of people to stand behind a man like that.”

  • Leftbanker

    Why bother to actually travel when you can just regurgitate stereotypes that have been passed around since man invented borders? Honest to God, he really complains about haughty Parisian waiters. I didn’t find anything in this book of essays to be even remotely insightful and I don’t ever find Bryson to be funny. Most of what I have read by him is just a collection of his gripes against the rest of humanity.

    I have never read any of his travel stuff where he actually meets an interesting person

    Why bother to actually travel when you can just regurgitate stereotypes that have been passed around since man invented borders? Honest to God, he really complains about haughty Parisian waiters. I didn’t find anything in this book of essays to be even remotely insightful and I don’t ever find Bryson to be funny. Most of what I have read by him is just a collection of his gripes against the rest of humanity.

    I have never read any of his travel stuff where he actually meets an interesting person who has something worth saying. When I first read this several years ago I just figured that it was the first thing Bryson wrote, perhaps when he was a college student packbacking around Europe. It was published when he was 48 years old. It is completely lacking in the sort of wisdom you would expect from a writer in full middle age.

    I like most of his non-travel books just so you won't think that I have it in for this guy. He just seems to hate to travel and he despises everyone he meets along the way. Stay the fuck home.

  • Diane

    This book hits the sweet spot: Bill Bryson travels around Europe, entertaining us with his humor and thoughtful observations, and also sharing memories of a similar trip he took in the 1970s with his bumbling friend, Stephen Katz.

    Ah, poor Stephen. If you have read Bryson's book

    which is about hiking the Appalachian Trail, you will remember Mr. Katz as the comic foil, the ridiculously overweight guy who complained a lot and who threw away critical supplies because they were t

    This book hits the sweet spot: Bill Bryson travels around Europe, entertaining us with his humor and thoughtful observations, and also sharing memories of a similar trip he took in the 1970s with his bumbling friend, Stephen Katz.

    Ah, poor Stephen. If you have read Bryson's book

    which is about hiking the Appalachian Trail, you will remember Mr. Katz as the comic foil, the ridiculously overweight guy who complained a lot and who threw away critical supplies because they were too heavy in his pack. Here is how Bryson introduces Stephen in

    "Katz was the sort of person who would lie in a darkened hotel room while you were trying to sleep and talk for hours in graphic, sometimes luridly perverted, detail about what he would like to do to various high school nymphets, given his druthers and some of theirs, or announce his farts by saying, 'Here comes a good one. You ready?' and then grade them for volume, duration, and odorosity, as he called it. The best thing that could be said about traveling abroad with Katz was that it spared the rest of America from having to spend the summer with him."

    Hahaha! This book frequently made me laugh out loud and want to read passages to friends, but of course I had trouble getting the words out because I couldn't stop laughing.

    It wasn't just stories about Katz that I enjoyed. Bryson toured all over Europe -- he started in Hammerfest, Norway, to see the Northern Lights, then jetted over to Paris, then Brussels, Cologne, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Rome, Naples, Florence, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Yugoslavia and Istanbul. (That isn't even a complete list, but you get the idea -- he literally traveled from one end of Europe to the other.)

    While in Istanbul, Bryson decides he is finally ready to return to England:

    "I had come to the end of my own road. That was Asia over there; this was as far as I could go in Europe. It was time to end this long indulgence and go home ... And I was, I admit, ready to go. I missed my family and the comfortable familiarities of life. I was tired of the daily drudgery of keeping myself fed and bedded, tired of trains and buses, tired of existing in a world of strangers, tired of being forever perplexed and lost, tired above all of my own dull company. How many times in recent days had I sat trapped on buses or trains listening to my idly prattling mind and wished that I could just get up and walk out on myself? At the same time, I had a quite irrational urge to keep going. There is something about the momentum of travel that makes you want to just keep moving, to never stop."

    This book was first published in 1992, but Bryson's comments and anecdotes were so thoughtful and entertaining that it still felt relevant. I listened to this on audio, read by the author, and as I have said many times before, Bryson is a delightful narrator. The next time you get the blues, get yourself a Bill Bryson book and it will cheer you right up.

  • Jeff

    Three and a half stars rounded up.

    It’s never a good idea to read Bill Bryson on public transportation. Stifling belly laughs can be painful and the resulting noise sounds like something between strangling an aardvark and air rapidly escaping from a balloon.

    The benefits: Fellow commuters won’t look you in the eye and go out of their way to avoid you, so I practically have the whole train car to myself.

    This is one of Bryson’s earlier books, so it’s long on humor, random observations and anecdotes,

    Three and a half stars rounded up.

    It’s never a good idea to read Bill Bryson on public transportation. Stifling belly laughs can be painful and the resulting noise sounds like something between strangling an aardvark and air rapidly escaping from a balloon.

    The benefits: Fellow commuters won’t look you in the eye and go out of their way to avoid you, so I practically have the whole train car to myself.

    This is one of Bryson’s earlier books, so it’s long on humor, random observations and anecdotes, and short on insight. He comes off as a lightweight Paul Theroux; however, I was in the mood for laughs and there are plenty contained here.

    My previous Bryson book was

    , so it was nice to hear more about everyone’s nightmare travelling companion, Stephen Katz, even it was via flashback. Not only does Katz have awful luck with bird’s crapping on his head, but he has the singular worst pick up line ever.

  • Brendon Schrodinger

    I'm a fan of Bill Bryson.

    I'm not a fan of the complaining, whingeing, swilling pleb who wrote this travel book. No, this is too harsh. But I do feel a little ripped off only because I know how interesting a Bill Bryson book can be. There's no history in this book, there's no culture, there is very little interesting stories.

    Here is what it felt like:

    I'm a fan of Bill Bryson.

    I'm not a fan of the complaining, whingeing, swilling pleb who wrote this travel book. No, this is too harsh. But I do feel a little ripped off only because I know how interesting a Bill Bryson book can be. There's no history in this book, there's no culture, there is very little interesting stories.

    Here is what it felt like:

  • Roy Lotz

    I had a rather curious experience while reading this book. Because I'll be in Europe shortly, and I've been on a Bryson binge anyway, I downloaded the audiobook onto my phone and began listening. I took a walk and was merrily following along, until, at about one third of the way through, a thought flashed through my mind—

    I was taken by surprise, because up until then I thought I'd been enjoying it. But the further I read, the more my judgment was justified. I'm sorry to say this

    I had a rather curious experience while reading this book. Because I'll be in Europe shortly, and I've been on a Bryson binge anyway, I downloaded the audiobook onto my phone and began listening. I took a walk and was merrily following along, until, at about one third of the way through, a thought flashed through my mind—

    I was taken by surprise, because up until then I thought I'd been enjoying it. But the further I read, the more my judgment was justified. I'm sorry to say this, Bill, but this book is not very good.

    To put it briefly, Bryson comes across as extremely immature in this book, both as a writer and as a person. He tries hard to be funny, but too often ends up making jokes about cultural stereotypes—Italians are bad drivers, the French are rude, and so on—or simply engaging in hyperbolic descriptions of extremely ordinary events, which unfortunately only serve to magnify their ordinariness rather than to alleviate it. This book contains very few of Bryson's trademark little-known anecdotes, and almost nothing that could be deemed insightful about the places he visits. He spends a distressing about of time talking about hotels and restaurants—mostly to complain about them—and more than once ends up eating in a McDonald's. Bryson even complains that a menu in a German restaurant was written in German. He might as well have stayed at home.

    I am, however, happy to report that Bryson has shown a definite progress in his writing ability and worldview over the years. In chronological order, of Bryson's books I've read

    (1993),

    (1995),

    (1998),

    (2000), and

    (2003). And in terms of quality, I would rank them in the same order. So however immature he may have been, at least he's shaped up; and it's a great sign when people are able to change for the better.

  • Jason Koivu

    Huh. Turns out Bryson is a dirty ol' bugger!

    This travel-across-Europe journal is fun, educational and entertaining. I love travel and I like learning about far-off places. Europe has been done and overdone, yet I still find it fascinating.

    Bryson's recollections are from when he wrote the book in the '90s as well as from a previous trip he and his friend Katz took. Regardless of when the reminisces come from, details ring true from the experiences I've had of the same places, such Paris and part

    Huh. Turns out Bryson is a dirty ol' bugger!

    This travel-across-Europe journal is fun, educational and entertaining. I love travel and I like learning about far-off places. Europe has been done and overdone, yet I still find it fascinating.

    Bryson's recollections are from when he wrote the book in the '90s as well as from a previous trip he and his friend Katz took. Regardless of when the reminisces come from, details ring true from the experiences I've had of the same places, such Paris and parts of Italy. Apparently some things never change. However, it was cool to get his take on the place.

    At times he gets a little grumpy, but overall this is lighthearted and goodnatured. He has a adequate store of patience and his take-it-as-it-comes attitude keeps most of this from sinking into endless gripes.

    Fun as this was, it's not my favorite of the six or so of Bryon's works I've read to this point. I haven't found this in his later books, but earlier on his writing seems to show a distracting obsession with sex. That's fine. I mean, I'm a dirty bird too, but I really don't want to know about the fetishes of a mid-aged man. I am one and it's not pretty. Hey, I'm sure that's someone's bag. Somewhere out there some sad sod is thinking, "I wonder what gets boring, bald and wrinkled old Phil from accounting off?" But that's not me...not yet anyhow. Who knows maybe someday my sexuality will warp in an unexpected way.

    Oh, who am I kidding...*zip*


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