Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson (1992)

Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe

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Not long before the holidays, a good friend and I were reminiscing about our long-ago adventures traveling (me) and living in (her) Europe. She immediately asked me if I had read Bill Bryson’s hilarious travelogue, Neither Here Nor There, about his experiences traveling all around Europe. I had not, although I am a huge fan of some of his other travel writing, most notably A Walk in the Woods (reviewed http://wp.me/p6N6mT-1du ), and so I picked a copy up at my library the next day.

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The journey begins in Hammerfest, Norway.

Bryson starts his travels in January in the northern most point in Europe: Hammerfast, Norway, when his plans to spend a summer traveling across Europe are accelerated so that he can see the famed Aurora Borealis. From there, Bryson criss-crosses the continent of Europe, detailing along the way how Europe’s countries and cities each have their own idiosyncratic lifestyles…some Bryson finds charming, others he finds off-putting, but always described in hilarious detail.

Mostly traveling by train and bus, with an occasional plane ride added in when a quick change is required, Bryson stops in various cities throughout the continent and, while there, reflects on the city’s culture, people, food, and customs. His comments reflect both his American childhood and his unique perspective as a long-time resident of England; he uses these two points of view to better articulate each place’s similarities and differences for his readers. For those fans of A Walk in the Woods, you will be thrilled that Bryson includes anecdotes about his first trip through Europe in the 1970’s when he was accompanied by none other than Stephen Katz.

Blending history, geography, cultural criticism, and — of course — humor, Neither Here Nor There preserves a picture of Europe in the early 1990’s when the Iron Curtain had just been lifted and both Eastern and Western Europe — Europe and America — were all on the brink of forming new post-Cold War relationships. Bryson blends stories large (stories of cities rebuilding from the ashes of WW2) and small (stories of tiny hotel rooms with terrible service) in order to create a full picture of his travels.

In the final pages, readers find Bryson weary and homesick, visiting the chaotic and exhausting city of Istanbul, Turkey. While the author wraps up his journey, he reflects on the stark differences between the continents wealthiest country (Switzerland) and those countries with next to nothing (Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia); as well the the differences between northern Europe and the much more middle-eastern influenced southern city of Istanbul.

A wonderful book filled with humorous, insightful reflections on the European continent and its many diverse residents.

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The journey ends in Istanbul, Turkey. (Blue Mosque shown here.)

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