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.Margaret
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 Hostels.com 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.Redshirt Knitting
I listened to the audiobook, which was my undoing in the end. I was blown away by Bryson - a very workaday sort of author - going all Proustian with the flashbacks and flashforwards. He would visit Prague as an adult, which would kick off a passage about visiting Italy as a callous young man, back and forth like this through time. It was a commentary on the nature of travel and getting older, and on the ability of "where you are" to remind you of "who you used to be." A staggering work of subtlety, and from such an unlikely source. If some of the transitions were a little rough, well, I just chalked that up to the limitations of the audiobook format. You can't hear chapter breaks, or passages separated by a few extra line breaks, that sort of thing.Then when I was syncing my iPod I discovered the truth. ITunes had neatly shuffled all the files. Instead of listening to it like:Chapter 1 Part 1Chapter 1 Part 2 Chapter 1 Part 3 (etc)My iPod played it to me like:Chapter 1 Part 1Chapter 2 Part 1Chapter 3 Part 1I fell in love with a book that never existed. Also, it seems that William Burroughs was right.Can I recommend this book? Only if you read it completely out of order.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.Yomna hosny
reviewed at The Book PileBill Bryson has remarkable composure, I can tell you that. He manages to get himself in sometimes horrifying situations and deals with them in the most entertaining way possible. I guess when you travel alone you have to be able to handle just about anything and Bryson seems to have a lot of experience with travel. Have I mentioned that Bill Bryson, at the time of this trip, only spoke one language? English?What I loved most about this book was how excited the author gets about different countries and different people and different scenery. That kind of enthusiasm is infectious; it makes you want to plan a trip around the world.This is why I love travel books; it’s so easy to imagine and dream. and this one was super-funny. Bill Bryson complains a lot, sure. but you never the feeling that he’s just being ungrateful. The sarcasm somehow makes it all the more enjoyable. definitely a change from the normal travel books that show you one way and one way only of doing things. The only negative thing about this book is the complete lack of maps in it. There should have been a dozen maps in it but there are none, not even a map of the continent as a whole at the start. and pictures would have been great too.Dom
Well, I suppose it's ok to admit the bill bryson has always been one of my favorite authors. Started with "a small island" and not so long ago finished off "home", having had some adventures in Australia, time the universe and everything, and learning quite a bit about Shakespeare that I never knew, in between. So when I got the got the chance to start collecting the back catalogue, I jumped at it! Much of his earlier work is quite interesting, small town America becomes much more absorbing once you have the inevitable little factoids about food, And the lack of pathways... However despite all that, neither here nor there took me forever to read! I started some time towards the end of last November, and took until last night the finish it, despite carrying it in my bag to work each day. Sadly it is the sort of book that if I had made a determined effort I likely could have read it in a day max. So what it wrong with it you Ask? The answer is I'm not entirely sure, it has the wonderful little anecdotes about where ever the hell he was, which were often fascinating. It had the, oh yes that's it, the very awkward funny parts, he tried too hard and wasn't at all natural... In general the book was stilted and dull, the only reason I finished it was out of respect of someone who became a fair bit better a few years later, something you often find in fantasy works...Marsha
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.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-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.”Laura D.
I did like this book, although I couldn't help feeling that following Mr. Bryson through Europe was a little like watching the movie Dumb and Dumber. I have traveled in Europe and my philosophy was completely different from his. I knew that typical American tourists spend a day or two in a place and then go on to the next place. I disagree with this idea so much because I don't see the point of spending a lot of money on a plane ticket to go to another continent if I am not going to experience something amazing, and you can't expect amazing unless you take the time to do so. I took three months with my sister to travel by rail to 7 different destinations and we spent a significant chunk of time in each place. It is not that hard to do especially if you put yourself out there and try to meet some people. Once you show an interest in the culture and history of the place that you are in, you will be amazed at how people welcome you into their worlds. We stayed in the home of a guy that we had just met, who was a friend of a friend, in Rome and his mother served us an amazing breakfast in the mornings, and she didn't speak a word of English. This friend of a friend also took us to his three favorite pizzerias and his three favorite gelatorias, each day a different combination. We were there for a week and learned a few words of Italian, learned a lot about the history of Rome, and most importantly learned about what it is like to be a Roman today.I felt that Mr. Bryson totally missed this concept. It seemed that at every turn he was disappointed with where he was and the experience he had. It's no wonder! He spent absolutely no time trying to learn about the people or even to speak a few of their words. I spoke one word of Russian to a Russian bartender once and from that moment on I was the only person in my group that he would even try to communicate with. I read this book because I was feeling a little nostalgic about my travels and wanted to remember these places a little. The only thing that kept me from hating it was Mr. Brysons sense of self-deprecating humor. Just when I was about to give up on him because his sense of adventure was so skewed, he would make a knife-sharp remark indicating that he was an idiot, and then I would feel better and keep reading.Mr. Bryson is from Iowa and in this case it is clear that you can take the boy out of Iowa, but you cannot take the Iowa out of the boy.Pvw
Didn't read all of this, just picked out the places I'd been to myself. But if I hadn't reached the libraray deadline, I would surely have read the rest as well.I enjoy traveling alone and making small notes of the funny things I see. Bryson does this at least as good (and possibly a lot better) than I do. I had lots of good laughs with his adventures in Belgium, I agree with him about the shock it must be to have a clean kept city like Bruges only at a one hour train ride from the unimaginably ugly city of Brussels. There's also a nice remark about the waitresses in American diners, who are so unfriendly that, when you order, they give you a look as if you just asked them if it was okay for you to sodomise their youngest daughter and take her on a road trip to Mexico in search of narcotics and booze.Apart from the funny style, most chapters really made me feel like visiting the places where Bryson went to. I think he is right in saying that Amsterdam, beautiful as it still may be, is also suffering from its own reputation for absolute tolerance and freedom. Next to that, Bryson made a good case for going to Haarlem, the less known city nearby with a lovely centre dominated by a huge cathedral. It is definitely on my destination list next time I visit the Netherlands!Cynthia .
"Hugely funny (not snigger-snigger funny, but great-big-belly-laugh-till-you-cry-funny" - Daily Telegraph.Hmmm... I think that review is a trifle misleading falsehood. Sure, some parts were funny, but it wasn't the sort to make your belly hurt and make you cry. I can sum up the book with this: Mr. Bryson goes from one country to another and:1. Finds himself a hotel. Always expensive. So he ends up complaining. 2. Finds a restaurant/bar. Finds it expensive and/or food is terrible. So he ends up complaining. 3. Walks around the city. Always finds flaws here and there. So he again ends up complaining. 4. Finds himself in a crowded train station, and again complains about the long queues. In the book's 22 chapters, that was almost always the scene. Not one part of the book gave me the sense of excitement; which I believe it should have! It is a book about traveling anyway... in Europe!! What Bill Bryson did was not traveling at all. He lacked the whole sense of it. Traveling is not just about roaming around, stopping by bars, getting drunk, noticing how awfully constructed a building is, or how noisy and dirty the streets are. It is about getting into the heart of a country... id est, its culture.. its people. He missed 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.Katie
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.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.Jessica
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.