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Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe (original 1992; edition 1998)

by Bill Bryson

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4,421681,108 (3.76)78
Member:sefhill
Title:Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe
Authors:Bill Bryson
Info:Black Swan (1998), Paperback, 304 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:comedy, travel

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Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson (1992)

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I generally don't rate books unless I finish them, but after reading other reviews I do believe I got far enough in to be able to judge this. Here's Bryson wittily whining again - sharing little bits of interesting insights into bits of Europe amongst lots of boring stuff about him and his inability to admit he'd have a lot less to whine about if he planned ahead just a little bit. A line of Americans for the Louvre!? Really?! Who'd've thunk!! ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Apr 14, 2015 |
Based on Brysons' travels around europe, slightly better than The Lost Continent' but still left me wanting more. ( )
  Tony2704 | Mar 23, 2015 |
I thoroughly enjoyed Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, so I decided to read this book, about a trip through Europe. This book is similar to the other in that it features Stephen Katz (though only in flashback), and the same Bryson humor. I felt there was a difference in that the humor in A Walk in the Woods is more self-deprecating, which makes it easier to take. This isn't so with the current book, and I found it much less amusing as a result. ( )
  baobab | Mar 8, 2015 |
As a collector of travel literature, I have been aware of Bryson for years. I have avoided buying his books, however, based on a presumption that they were rather shallow, albeit humorous. I broke down and finally bought this as my first. My presumptions wee correct.

Bryson had toured Europe as a young man in the early 70s with a friend. Years later he attempts to reprise that trip by himself. The book alternates in time between the two journeys. Bryson is funny, almost relentlessly so. He does manage some true wit, but you have to suffer a lot of potty humor in the meantime. He does not dwell much on the history, culture or cuisine of the places he visits. He revels in his linguistic ignorance. Much of the book is spent on humorous encounters with locals and observations based on obvious cultural stereotypes.

As a traveler, Bryson is basically a curmudgeon. In this respect he is like Paul Theroux. Theroux, however, writes with intelligence and insight. Bryson reaches for the obvious joke. Bryson writes well and is entertaining; however, reading him is like eating fast food. ( )
1 vote nemoman | Dec 31, 2014 |
Whether you’re thinking of traveling to Europe on $5 or $5,000 a day, this is the book you first have to read to prepare for your trip – and possibly re-think it. Whether you’re a casual tourist or – as I once was – a SERIOUS student, this is the book you first have to read. I wish I’d possessed Bill Bryson’s sense of humor during the decade I spent in pre-post-graduate studies at several universities and language institutes in Western Europe and the (then-) Soviet Union, but I didn’t. Instead, I had to wait almost 30 years to learn what I obviously never missed by not going to Lichtenstein – and I can honestly say that I’ve never had a more enjoyably vicarious non-experience or un-urge to take (in) a Valduz.


This is the third work of Bill Bryson’s I’ve read (the other two being the monumental A Short History of Nearly Everything and the quite amusing A Walk in the Woods), and I suspect that Bryson is going to turn out to be my favorite (English-language) non-fiction writer. Yes, he’s that good. Why more textbooks for American high schoolers aren’t written by folks like Bill Bryson is a mystery to me, although I suspect that public school boards wouldn’t know what to do with the certain revolution in learning that might result – namely, that most kids would look at most parents and teachers and think Why can’t you think, talk and write a little more like Bill Bryson and little less like yourselves?


As if to underscore my point, Bryson has this to say on p. 64 about why he learned (or at least retained) virtually nothing from his junior high school French courses: “How often on a visit to France do you need to tell someone you want to clean a blackboard? How frequently do you wish to say: ‘It is winter. Soon it will be spring.’ In my experience, people know this already.”


Litotes – or understatement – is a literary device Bryson excels at, quite possibly thanks to his nearly two decades in the U. K. And although this book is primarily about traveling in Europe and rendering observations of – and judgments on – things Continental, Bryson is not too bewildered or bewitched by the mystique of the Olde World to deprive us of some of his more New Worldly nuggets, almost all of which are couched in what I’ll call, respectfully and affectionately, “Bryson-speak.”


As an example, we find on p. 66: “(t)o my mind, the only possible pet is a cow. Cows love you. They are harmless, they look nice, they don’t need a box to crap in, they keep the grass down, and they are so trusting and stupid that you can’t help but lose your heart to them. Where I live in Yorkshire, there’s a herd of cows down the lane. You can stand by the wall at any hour of the day or night, and after a minute the cows will all waddle over and stand with you, much too stupid to know what to do next, but happy just to be with you. They will stand there all day, as far as I can tell, possibly till the end of time. They will listen to your problems and never ask a thing in return. They will be your friends forever. And when you get tired of them, you can kill them and eat them. Perfect.”


‘Sounds a bit like my idea of an ideal girlfriend – except, perhaps, for that last bit.


But back to Europe and things quaintly European, Bryson observes on p. 68 that “I have been told more than once that one of the more trying things about learning to live with the Germans after the war was having to watch them return with their wives and girlfriends to show off the places they had helped to ruin.”


Ah, yes. The Olde World. Makes one downright grateful to have been born in the New – unless, of course, one was summarily called to task in Vietnam.


And I suppose Bryson’s two-decade residency in the U. K. also permits him to make this rather bold (not to say impertinent) observation on p. 145: “(t)he town [Sorrento, Italy] was full of middle-aged English tourists having an off-season holiday (i.e., one they could afford). Wisps of conversation floated to me across the tables and from couples passing on the sidewalk. It was always the same. The wife would be in noisemaking mode, that incessant, pointless, mildly fretful chatter that overtakes Englishwomen in midlife. ‘I was going to get tights today and I forgot. I asked you to remind me, Gerald. These ones have a ladder in them from here to Amalfi. I suppose I can get tights here. I haven’t a clue what size to ask for. I knew I should have packed an extra pair….’ Gerald was never listening to any of this, of course, because he was secretly ogling a braless beauty leaning languorously on a lamppost and trading quips with some hoods on Vespas, and appeared to be aware of his wife only as a mild, chronic irritant on the fringe of his existence. Everywhere I went in Sorrento I kept seeing these English couples, the wife looking critically at everything, as if she were working undercover for the Ministry of Sanitation, the husband dragging along behind her, worn and defeated.”


Bryson has no particular bone to pick with Brits, however, as we see from an equally trenchant observation about some of our own, delivered with equal parts pith and punch, just a few pages earlier. While touring (solo) the Vatican City in Rome, he spotted and hitched up with an American tour group, but was quickly spotted and discarded “because I wasn’t wearing a baseball cap and warm-up jacket and trousers in one of the livelier primary colors.”


The French have a lively (and accurate) little aphorism: “personne n’est prophète chez soi.” Perhaps it’s time someone in some language came up with a suitable way to describe your run-of-the-mill mass tourist – as in, “a tourist is never more lame and out of step than when he or she is on tour.” If this sounds both vaguely tautological and roundly condemnatory of the species ex situ, it’s meant to.


But before we leave Sorrento for parts unknown, Bryson treats us to a smidgen of what much of his Short History is all about – in short: here today, gone tomorrow. Some part of Calabria could blow (once again) at any time. And when it does, it’s hasta la vista, baby.


Let it never be said, by the way, that Bryson is above a product placement. On p. 185, after an exasperating experience inside a Union Bank of Switzerland office in Geneva to get some replacement travelers’ checks (for those that had been stolen by a gypsy posing as a child posing as a gypsy in Florence), we find: “(b)ut from now on it’s American Express travelers’ checks for me, boy, and if the company wishes to acknowledge this unsolicited endorsement with a set of luggage or a skiing holiday in the Rockies, then let the record show that I am ready to take it.”


Of course, Bill Bryson is a writer of unimpeachable ethics. And so, on p. 196, we have the following: “Perhaps the people at the hotel just didn’t like the look of me, or maybe they correctly suspected that I was a travel writer and would reveal to the world the secret that the food at the Vaduzerhof Hotel at number 3 Stadtlestrasse in Vaduz is Not Very Good. Who can say?”


The potential reader of Neither Here Nor There will, I trust, allow me the inclusion of a lengthy paragraph from p. 201 to this already lengthy review, but only because I find it so compelling. “One of my first vivid impressions of Europe was a Walt Disney movie I saw as a boy. I believe it was called The Trouble with Angels. It was a hopelessly sentimental fictionalized account of how a group of cherry-cheeked boys with impish instincts and voices like angels made their way into the Vienna Boys’ Choir. I enjoyed the film hugely, being hopelessly sentimental myself, but what made a lasting indent on me was the European-ness of the movie background – the cobbled streets, the toytown cars, the corner shops with a tinkling bell above the door, the modest, lived-in homeyness of each boy’s familial flat. It all seemed so engaging and agreeably old-fashioned compared with the sleek and modern world I knew, and it left me with the unshakable impression that Austria was somehow more European than the rest of Europe. And so it seemed here in Innsbruck. For the fist time in a long while, certainly for the first time on this trip, I felt a palpable sense of wonder to find myself here, on these streets, in this body, at this time. I was in Europe now. It was an oddly profound notion.”


“Austria was somehow more European than the rest of Europe” indeed! – as we discover on just the next page when Bryson and Katz (his erstwhile traveling companion here, but also in A Walk in the Woods), discover what’s being said about them by a couple of local yokels. In fact, it’s not until the squalor of Sophia (on p. 238) that Bryson “…realized with a sense of profound unease the Europe I had dreamed of as a child.”


One parting note by way of exit from this review… If Bill Bryson’s no-longer-so-youthful traveling experience is any reliable indicator, you now have a better idea of how the Western world was won, lost, and won again on the strength of many dreams, fantasies, erections, demolitions – and three essential lubricants: beer, wine and coffee. While the first two might well have given, uh, rise to the dreams, fantasies & Co., it’s clearly the last of these that keeps us in Wheaties. Lord help us if the bean farmers and pickers of the developing world ever decide to cut off our supply!


RRB
11/12/14
Brooklyn, NY

( )
  RussellBittner | Dec 12, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bryson, Billprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cosimini, SilviaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Holzförster, ClaudiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McShane, MikeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mehren, HegeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pendola, SoniaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rinaldi, GiorgioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, WilliamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rogde, IsakTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schalekamp, JeanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"William James describes a man who got the experience from laughing-gas; whenever he was under its influence, he knew the secret of the universe, but when he came to, he had forgotten it. At last, with immense effort, he wrote down the secret before the vision had faded. When completely recovered, he rushed to see what he had written. It was 'A smell of petroleum prevails throughout.'" [Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy]
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In winter Hammerfest is a thirty-hour ride by bus from Oslo, though why anyone would want to go there in winter is a question worth considering.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0380713802, Paperback)

Like many of his generation, Bill Bryson backpacked across Europe in the early seventies -- in search of enlightenment, beer, and women. Twenty years later he decided to retrace the journey he undertook in the halcyon days of his youth. The result is Neither Here Nor There, an affectionate and riotously funny pilgrimage from the frozen wastes of Scandinavia to the chaotic tumult of Istanbul, with stops along the way in Europe's most diverting and historic locales. Like many of his generation, Bill Bryson backpacked across Europe in the early seventies--in search of enlightenment, beer, and women. Twenty years later he decided to retrace the journey he undertook in the halcyon days of his youth. The result is Neither Here Nor There, an affectionate and riotously funny pilgrimage from the frozen wastes of Scandinavia to the chaotic tumult of Istanbul, with stops along the way in Europe's most diverting and historic locales.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:21 -0400)

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Bill Bryon backpacks across Europe, retracing the same steps he took 30 years earlier.

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