Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe

ISBN: 0380713802
ISBN 13: 9780380713806
By: Bill Bryson

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About this book

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, oh, at least one language, he retraces his travels as a student twenty years before.Whether braving the homicidal motorist of Paris, being robbed by gypsies in Florence, attempting not to order tripe and eyeballs in a German restaurant, window-shopping in the sex shops of the Reeperbahn or disputing his hotel bill in Copenhagen, Bryson takes in the sights, dissects the culture and illuminates each place and person with his hilariously caustic observations. He even goes to Liechtenstein.

Reader's Thoughts


Overall I enjoyed reading this travel memoir. Mr Bryson is witty and at times I was laughing so hard I had a hard time breathing. BUT, I found his repeated racial slurs annoying, then tiresome, then as they continued I was offended and somewhat disgusted. He goes a bit too far about Germans joking that he could recognize them by their jackboots. He loves to paint an entire country's population with the same brush. He says a couple of times that he thinks the Italians shouldn't have been told about the invention of the car because of the way they drive, but forgets the fact that they have designed and built some of the most amazing cars the world has ever seen. There are many more examples of his overly simplistic worldview that I will not include. If I was actually from any of the countries he traveled to I think I would have dropped his book in the nearest garbage can as soon as I read the first paragraph of his visit to my country. Lucky for me I am Canadian and could read on with mild annoyance. If you have enjoyed his writing in the past or if you yourself are slightly or even very racist you will enjoy this book.


I love Bill Bryson. I'm not sure I'd want to travel with him, but I love hearing him describe his own travels. This book takes him around to places in Europe where he and the famous 'Katz' (of A Walk in the Woods) had traveled in their callow youth. Hysterical hearing about the old memories and the new experiences. Some of the places he visits have changed since the publication of the book in 1992 - Sarajevo springs to mind. His descriptions of his peevish rages are amusing and I would love to know how true they are. Accurate or not, he often summarizes the feelings that many of us have had in a foreign country, frustrated, over our heads yet enchanted and delighted.I laughed a lot.

Anna Savage

This book is terrible. I listened to it on CD, and the writing was so predictable that I found myself completing each sentence before it was spoken. That was, in fact, the only way I managed to keep my attention on the book rather than contemplating the fascinating landscape of Indiana visible out my window. But the book wasn't just boring, it was also embarrassingly bad. I was a huge Bill Bryson fan in high school. I decided to hike the Appalachian Trial after reading A Walk in the Woods. But I think if I went back and read that book, I would find it just as obnoxious, boring, and lame. Anyone with more than 15 years of life experience would have to. His jokes are in bad taste, which would be ok if they were funny, but they are not. He is so self-deprecating as to make it obvious that he actually has a huge ego that he's trying to conceal so the audience will like him. I wish I had never listened to his book, because my opinion of him is forever tainted. Also, who writes a travel book that describes the meals, repeatedly, with "I dined lightly," or "I dined heavily," and the buildings with "It was lovely," or "It was disappointing"? Wow. That really makes me want to go to...nowhere.


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.


So far (I'm about halfway through), this book is funny, but Mr. Bryson's approach to traveling is pretty limited and his approach to European culture is very jingoistic, which is unfortunate. I understand that he's spending a lot of his energy being funny, and so you have to take his setups with a grain of salt, but still, his mentality is almost off-puttingly 'Amurrrican'.####Upon finishing this book, my analysis remains the same. There were some funny parts, but it was quite disappointing after having listened to A Short History of Nearly Everything, which is superb.


This book started off strong but really lagged by the end.Personally, I enjoyed most the locations that both he and I had travelled to. Those chapters felt personal, real and engaging and they were what propelled me through the book. I can't deny that his descriptions of Italy where spot on, from the beauty of Sorrento to the terrifying reality of Naples. Even though I travelled to those locations years after his own journey, the narrations were still relevant, true and often hilarious.However, those other locations which had not been experienced were dull for me to read. Most problematic is that Bill seems to have a very solitary and isolated way of travelling so as the unvisited locations piled up, I grew restless and bored with my readings. There was a familiar pattern of: train, beer, walking and eating but none of the exciting narration that made me want to visit the locations. So for the strong points of this book, I have to give a three star rating. However, I have no real connection to anything that occurred within it and overall I feel as if the entire book was rather forgettable. Nether less, it was a good read.


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 interestingguesses.”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 beenteaching 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 theunit. . . . 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.”

Rob Warner

You know the canonical essay question, "If you could meet anyone in history, who would it be?" My answer is Bill Bryson. He's a treasure. I'd love to watch him write. I imagine him tugging scraps of paper from him pockets, pawing through notes, scribbling a few sentences through the haze of pipe smoke, and chuckling a bit before pulling out more notes. He's hilarious. He commands the English language like Pele commands a soccer ball, etching metaphors that resonate and wonder why you didn't think of it first.


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.

Thom Swennes

This jewel has been patiently waiting in my library for me to give it the attention it so richly deserves. I would often catch it giving me the eye from the corner of my eye but never let on. Finally the day of confrontation arrived and I took it down and blew off the accumulated dust, opened it and began to read.One of the first things that came to mind was, “Hey, I was bumming around Europe at the same time and never ran into Bill.” The fact that probably close to a million other Americans had put on their walking shoes, hoisted their overstuffed backpacks and headed to the multi-lingual and multi-cultural paradise called Europe didn’t register immediately. Bill was a far braver traveler than I to even consider starting this exciting and exhausting journey from Hammerfest in the dead of winter. This is my seventh Bill Bryson experience and I must say that some persons, places, memories or events are repeated in different books. This is an observation rather than a criticism as, like a remarkable architectural structure, deserves and should be examined from many different angles to do it justice. Unlike what one can expect from a book of the “travel” genre, Bryson books don’t necessarily state what the reader should see but what or how some occasionally featherheaded expatriate with a knack for words and humor did see or experience. This one is no different. I’ve seen Europe but now I’ve laughed my way with Bill and feel much richer for the experience. From the frozen, desolate and barren north to the warm, loud and colorful south, Europe, through Bill Bryson’s eyes is a trip you don’t want to miss. I am thankful that there are still many places and situations yet untapped by the Bryson genius.


I am really struggling with rating this one. This books was incredibly hard to get into, but it could have been my own restlessness. I just found myself wishing he would interact with others more, because his own observations were pretty dull through a large chunk of the book. That said, I appreciate Bill Bryson's sense of humor, and he did have some interesting insights along the way. In fact, I had a similar trip through Europe and found our observations were often in sync. However, he spends way too much time in Northern Europe, gripes a bit too much, and spent way too much time talking about his travelers checks. His endless critiques of Italy became annoying as well. Yes, Florence is Disneyland for adults with way too many tourists and touristy shops, but all you need to do is go to the smaller towns around it to escape this influence. The same thing goes with Switzerland. He went to the two worst cities in Switzerland. That country has so much natural beauty if you leave the cities and go into the country. He should have thrown away those guide books, and gotten in touch with Rick Steves. Of course, I don't think Rick Steves had published guide books at that point. He was also lacking the wonders of the Internet and things like in 1992. I have traveled with Fodors Guidebooks before, and they truly suck. I got the impression that they were written by super old rich white men with bad taste. Anyway, I gave this book two stars, but I think others might like it a lot more than I did.

Al Bità

In Chapter 8 on Amsterdam, Bryson informs his readers that, to him and his friend Katz, the spoken Dutch language sounded “like nothing so much as a peculiar version of English”. To illustrate Bryson refers to a supposed dialogue between a Dutch hotel proprietor and his wife which is rude, crude, scatological, and, no doubt, “hilarious”… at the end of which the author concludes with “ ‘A smell of petroleum prevails throughout,’ I said by way of thanks and departed.” The oddity of this remark struck a chord: where had I read that before? The answer is in the quotation attached before the Contents page of this book, attributed to Bertrand Russell in which Russell quotes William James’ anecdote of a man who, under the influence of laughing gas, believed he had discovered the secret of the universe; he wrote this secret down while still under the influence of the gas, and after he had recovered, found and read the note he had written: “A smell of petroleum prevails throughout.”What this reference at the beginning of this book of travels throughout Europe was supposed to mean is lost on me: is Bryson telling me that the whole of the book I am about to read is simply total nonsense? After painfully persisting to read through the whole thing, I think perhaps Bryson is right…The narratives included in this work did not strike me as being particularly funny — I was more often reminded of just how horrible travelling can be, and reaffirmed my general antipathy to the process. I use ‘travelling’ advisedly: Bryson considers himself to be a ‘traveller’ and not a tourist — he doesn’t like tourists. The so-called ‘humour’ derives from this catalogue of mishaps; it depends on exaggeration — a little hyperbole will go a long way, especially when denigrating some aspect of the place he is visiting — which in turn makes it impossible to know whether anything read is actually new, or useful to know, or, indeed, whether it has any basis in fact. Of course, there are also the occasional bits of information, which unfortunately read as if extracted from some brochure or other, or perhaps from some outside research needed to fill out the story… (or am I exaggerating?) This is not to say that Bryson does not have some nice things to say about most, if not all of the places he visits — but here again, the technique soon becomes obvious: he simply juxtaposes some bad qualities as well (or, if it starts out bad, then inevitably there will be some nicer passages later on).In general, then, everything about this book was predictable. Despite covering (in some kind of erratic, obsessive peripatetic, apparently mostly unplanned, manner of travelling) some of the most interesting places in Europe, Bryson’s take is surprisingly boring. Jejune, college-type humour and the obvious techniques outlined above, very quickly lost their ‘charm’ for me — and despite the fact that the writing has a kind of boyish simplicity about it, it is ultimately condescending in tone towards its subject matter (and sooner or later towards his reader as well).


Current read-aloud with daughter Kristen.Parts of this book were "laugh out loud so hard I snorted and almost dropped the book on the floor" moments. Bryson's take on Parisians, for instance, and an episode where he felt down and hurt certain sensitive body parts. Or the smelly family crammed into his train compartment. Please note that this was a *read aloud* book, so these moments made it quite difficult to get back to task. :) Other parts left me feeling a little "meh" about the book, particularly those parts which were regurgitations of his earlier travels on the same general route with his buddy in the '70s. WAY too much focus on sex and booze for me in those - I just wanted to tell him, "Oh c'mon, grow up, will ya?"Overall, though, it was wonderful to get a glimpse (albeit a very, very one-person-specific glimpse) at cities and countries I've not visited, and to see how my own impressions compared to his in places I have visited. And those hilarious moments were often truly spectacular. 3.5 stars.


Bill Bryson is amazing. He captures the essence of the peculiarities of travel.. of people in general. I read this before going to London (also read Noted from a Small Island- about England which was also excellent).. If you've traveled or want to travel, it's a great little book full of entertaining short stories. I read part of the 'Belgium' chapter to my grandmother (she's from Antwerp) and she nearly went off her rocker. No really, she almost fell off her chair laughing. :o) I recommend.

Mary Simses

If you've never read any of Bill Bryson's travel books, you should. This is the third one I've read, and, like the other two ("Notes from a Small Island" and "I'm a Stranger Here Myself") I found it hysterically funny, entertaining, and enlightening. Although the book was written in 2001, my guess is that what Bryson captured in terms of the feel of each place he visited in Europe is probably still accurate. His descriptions are so vivid - the sights, the sounds, the people, the trains, the hotels (some flea-bags and some very nice) - that I really felt I was on the journey with him. But the best thing is the humor which infuses all of his stories (I laughed out loud countless times). His humor and conversational writing style pull you in from the start. I couldn't put the book down.

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