Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe, by Bill Bryson

>> Friday, February 13, 2004

I love travel books, and Bill Bryson's are among my favourites. You not only get all the local colour, but a hilariously funny narrator. The book I finished earlier today was Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe.

Bryson, a baby boomer, retraces his journeys through Europe in 1972 and 1973, when he and an Iowa high school buddy backpacked through the continent's major capitals and cities. In this account, Bryson revisits many of those places, and his tales about the changes in the sites--and within himself--are fascinating and often hilarious. The interests of Bryson and his unforgettable buddy, Stephen Katz, were quite different almost 20 years ago; they were in a constant search for beer and women and their favorite and least favorite places were judged accordingly. His interests on this latest trip are a bit more sophisticated. Bryson blends the accounts of the two journeys, offering insight into the various countries as well as his own life. This book is fun for travelers or armchair travelers, especially for anyone who journeyed through Europe in the hippie days of the early 1970s.
It was good, but not really my favourite book by this author: a B.

I think the main difference with the author's other books must have been that it felt as if he emphasized the "travel" aspect more here. In other books (I'm thinking of books like The Lost Continent, for instance), this was more incidental, and the main thing was the author's reactions to hwat was around him, which made for a rioutously funny read. I don't mean that this one wasn't funny, not at all, I found myself laughing out loud several times, but the thing is that Bryson has set too high a standard on other books on the "funny" front.

My favourite sections of the book were probably the parts in Belgium and the Netherlands, and also Capri. The parts on Bulgaria and Yugoslavia were worth a read, too, simply because it was a particularly interesting time in history to be there: a couple of years before the Balkans war and just as Bulgaria was emerging from all those years behind the Iron Curtain.


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