70 of 72 people found the following review helpful
I'd heard all the hype about Bill Bryson being the best travel writer of the current generation so I figured I should read some of his stuff to make my own opinion. The first Bryson book I bought was this one and in all probability (at time of writing) I think it's my favourite. Bryson is an American who settled in Britain in the late 70s (and has since returned to the US).
The basic style of a Bryson book is simple - get a train to a place, wander around aimlessly, check into an average hotel, wander round a bit more, sit in a pub on your own and go to bed. And yes, many people will say that's all there is to a Bryson book. I'd have to disagree with that though - what makes this book is the humour.. a strange combination of British sarcasm and American expectation make Bryson's commentary on the places he visits and the people he sees really rather good.
In this book Bryson decides it's high time he ventured beyond Britain and visited as much of Europe as he can. To this end, he starts in Norway although he manages to visit when it's permanently dark, returns to England before venturing away on a longer trip, taking in Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Rome, Florence (probably the funniest part of the book for me), before travelling further south-east towards Sofia and Istanbul.
If you're only going to read one Bill Bryson travel book, I'd probably recommend this one. Yes, there may be better travel writers, there may be funnier writers, but in terms of humorous travel writers I think Bryson is probably the best (although Peter Moore may come close).
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 14 December 2005
Bryson isn't your typical travel author. He makes an effort to describe the places he visits, but does so in broad strokes. It's like an impressionist painting more than any attempt at detailed realism. He spends 1/3 of his time on the history of the places he visits and it's contemporary reality, 1/3 of his time on what sees and experiences, and 1/3 of his time on how he interprets what he sees as a confused foreigner.
For example, Bryson often goes on at length about the architecture of a building he loves or hates. He'll then describe when such building was erected and how it has been treated over the years since. Then ruminate briefly on how he can't understand the host nation's predeliction for building carparks so as to most efficently despoil an area's natural beauty. He'll finish up by wondering how such perverse actions are the nature of humanity.
Bryson writes with incredible ease, an incredible self-deprecating humor, a lust for travel and new adventures, and an overall wonder of the world around him. You get the impression he's just happy to be alive and could write with joy regarding his most recent attempt to buy chewing gum.
Some people Bill Bryson obnoxious and offensive. But if you like sarcastic and droll humor you'll love Neither Here Nor There.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 19 January 2011
I was introduced to Bill Bryson many years ago when a friend of mine gave me this book to read. From the first page, I found myself chuckling away. It is honestly the funniest and most entertaining book I have ever read (and I read a lot).
Bill Bryson is an unconventional travel writer, who intertwines his wit and humour into all of his travel tomes.
I would recommend this book to everyone who wants a laugh. It is one of these books I re-read at least twice a year.
My only wish is that Bill Bryson would write more humourous travel books/stories - of late, his writings have become more conservative.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 12 August 2008
Needing to clear some space on my bookshelves I have decided to reacquaint myself with Bill Bryson's travel books before Bookcrossing them.
This one was written in 1990, first published in 1992 and the edition on my bookshelf in 1998. I enjoyed reading this travelogue of his tour of some of the major cities of Europe, many of those mentioned which I have visited myself during the last forty years. Of those that I have not I think that Sofia in particular may well have changed beyond recognition, Eastern Europe having undergone the most changes in the last eighteen years.
Whilst one might not always agree with Bryson's viewpoint it is none the less an amusing read, though one must also accept that in some aspects it can seem very dated.
Certainly worth reading if you are at all interested in any of the places in Europe he writes about but remember it was written nearly twenty years ago now.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 14 July 1997
This book was a good read. I felt as if I shared in Bryson's romp around Europe retracing his teenage interrail trip of the early 70's. I also
felt that he had many incisive comments and insights. I laughed out loud on the subway at the many scenes that were so hilariously described.
Bryson has succeeded in taking the bar-room story into book form where he is the teller. Unfortunately, the book does suffer from its on superficiality. By the turn of the last few pages, were Bryson says: "I sat trapped.. listening to my idly prattling mind and wished that I could just get up and walk out on myself"? One realizes that throughout the book, Bryson has never genuinely interacted with the people on his trip. He sees the characters he meets as pawns for his cultural comments and one-liners. He travels with the air of superiority that is a legacy of the Baedecker days where "foreigners" (i.e. the locals) are reduced to servents and characters in a play. The country and culture becomes a stage, all performed for the sojourner's benefit where the entrance fee is reserved seat on a train purchased by AmEx. I enjoyed the book, but Bryson's open embrace for this form of whirlwind-travel leaves it a bit empty in the end.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 29 November 2008
Despite having enjoyed several of Bryson's other books, I couldn't really get into this one which was about his travels in Europe, roughly following in his own footsteps from 20 years earlier. It was well-written and quite witty but it took me most of the book to realise why I didn't hugely enjoy it. I think I didn't enjoy the book because he didn't enjoy the trip. He spent a lot of time moaning and this affected the tone of the book. I just wished he'd either find something to enjoy, or just pack up and go home.
He started off well, with a good amount of detail and good cheer and described the locations and people skillfully, but as it went on, you could feel him getting listless and this came through in his writing. I'd look up some of his other work (eg Notes from a Small Island) rather than this one.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 3 February 2007
Every so often, flicking through the BBC radio stations, I've hit Kerry Shale or Bill Bryson reading from one of Bill's books. At that point I stop flicking and sit and listen. The furrow disappears from my brow and a smile appears on my face. The smile ratchets up into a grin and from time to time a laugh erupts. It happens every time Bill Bryson's thoughts and adventures come out of my radio. But I'm no longer prepared to toggle back and forth between BBC radio 4 and BBC radio 7 just hoping for a bit of Bill Bryson. I commenced a search for an audiobook and found this. Instead of the usual 10 to 20 minute snatch of radio broadcast, I've listened to a full 6 hours, on 5 discs and achieved a serene sense of having been entertained for long, blissful, uninterrupted acres of time. I've travelled from Hammerfest in Norway via France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Yugoslavia and lots of places in between, to end up in Turkey - and seen, heard, smelled and tasted the places and met the people through his descriptions. He's a terrible mickey-taker but still conveys a reasonably positive impression of most of the people he encounters. Even where the people seem a bit sullen and unhelpful there are reasons supplied (usually). For example, the folks in Yugoslavia had been struggling to make even a modest living and had little enough to smile about at the time of his visit. In any case, the main victim of his barbed humour through the whole journey is himself. He soaks up the splendour and atmosphere of the fabulous places he stays, points out their faults, extols the virtues of the peoples and enthusiastically recounts their absurdities. He was only truly scathing about the people of one country and, although I haven't travelled very much, it was one of the few countries I'd actually visited (school skiing holiday many years ago) and I found those people very nice. That just goes to show that you have to take people as you find them, enjoy this audiobook for its entertainment value and not base your beliefs about whole nations on the behaviour of a few (probably) unrepresentative individuals.
I thoroughly enjoyed this audiobook and highly recommend it. And now I'm off to choose my next Bill Bryson - The Lost Continent or Notes from a Small Island ... can't quite decide yet ...
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 13 June 2014
I love travel books and I can't believe it has taken me so many years to get around to reading this one! What a great trip, the odd flight here and there, but mainly place to place by train all over Europe. Bill Bryson was recreating a trip in this book that he had first experienced as a student, with his friend Katz. His observations include the hotels he stays in, what to see in different towns and cities as you wander around and what the restaurants and museums are like. It was a four star read, not five star for me purely because it was dated. This is no fault of the author - the book was first published twenty three years ago! But I did wonder whether some of the observations are still accurate - there were two oppostite views which stood out for me. One was the description of Rome - 'the Romans will decorate it with litter - an empty cigatette packet, a wedge of half eaten pizza, twenty-seven cigarette butts, half an ice-cream cone with an ooze of ice-cream emerging from the bottom, danced on by a delirium of flies, an oily tin of sardines, a tattered newspaper and something truly unexpected, like a tailor's dummy or a dead goat'. I was in Rome a couple of years ago and cannot relate to this image of rubbish in the streets - hopefully this means the city is a cleaner, tidier place now! However, the observation I agreed with wholeheartedly was this one about Liechtenstein - 'restaurants were thin on the ground and either very expensive or discouragingly empty. Vaduz is so small that if you walk for fifteen minutes in any direction, you are deep in the country. It occurred to me that there is no reason to go to Liechtenstein except to say you have been there'. Spot on! We went last year and came to exactly the same conclusion.
It would be fascinating, I think, if Bill Bryson were to recreate this trip for a third time and republish this book with an update. The sections on Yugoslavia and Sofia would be very obviously different but I wonder what else would change - the ease of ticket bookings given the availability of mobile access/wifi would undoubtedly be something that would have to be significant.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 September 1998
I just returned from a Eurail trip, through Europe of all places, last week. I had never heard of Bill Bryson before I left, but I met this girl laughing out loud in a London Youth Hostel. She was reading Brysons book about travelling through the States and highly recommended it to me. Unfortunately I was on my way out of London that day and never got to a bookstore, but the name stuck in my mind. Four countries later (having looked in Spanish and Portugese bookstores) I was desperately in need of something more to read than my Let's Go and Thomas Cook (which I was near having completely memorized). Lucky for me I was in Gibraltar where I found a nice little english bookstore. Fortunately they didn't have "Travels...", but had this other book "Neither Here, Nor There." Since it was about Europe it only made sense to buy this book and have a go at it. Having just previously been or been close to all of the places he highlights, I absolutely busted a gut every time I read a chapter or two. I was throughly enjoying this book and looking forward to fininshing it in tandem with finishing my own trip, when something ironic occured in Italy. I had just been reading the chapter (laughing of course!) where Bryson gets pickpocketed in the Italian quarter of Switzerland; that night I was on a train to Rome when my backpack was nicked from underneath me. Despite losing really really important stuff, I also lost "Neither Here, Nor There." I couldn't help but think of Brysons similar situation which I had just read, thinking of this made my situation all the more funny, despite not being able to finish my trip. The main point here, although this is not your regular review format, is that Bryson is an extremely witty writer and right on in his assesment/observations of Europe and its people. Newsweek would say "Brillianly Funny!" I just say if you've been to Europe, or know anything about it, read this book. It doesn't matter if you've been to all the places or not, you'll still be crying by the end each chapter! One word of caution; if you take this book along and read it on your trip, he may rub off on you as you write in your own journal. You'll begin to see places through a slighlty distorted, although humorous, lens. I even started to write a bit like him. In any case enjoy, and happy travels! Oh yes, I would probably give this book a five star rating, but I still haven't read the last few chapters; so all I can say were that 4/5 of this book were excellent!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 24 February 2012
Certainly the funniest I've ever read, and I've read many.
There are some scenes in this book (for example the author's encounter with a deceptively steep hill at Durbuy, in Belgium) which will have you laughing so helplessly that I recommend you not read it in socially volatile public places, such as airport waiting lounges, lest you be led away by twitchy authorities.
I haven't laughed so uproariously at a book since Kingsley Amis' "Lucky Jim" and Evelyn Waugh's "Scoop".
Although Bryson wrote this in 1991, re-reading it in 2012 brought back the same original delight and helpless hilarity. It's a timeless comic gem.