Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe

Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe

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by Bill Bryson

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In the early seventies, Bill Bryson backpacked across Europe—in search of enlightenment, beer, and women. He was accompanied by an unforgettable sidekick named Stephen Katz (who will be gloriously familiar to readers of Bryson's A Walk in the Woods). Twenty years later, he decided to retrace his journey. The result is the affectionate and

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In the early seventies, Bill Bryson backpacked across Europe—in search of enlightenment, beer, and women. He was accompanied by an unforgettable sidekick named Stephen Katz (who will be gloriously familiar to readers of Bryson's A Walk in the Woods). Twenty years later, he decided to retrace his journey. The result is the affectionate and riotously funny Neither Here Nor There.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
After 20 years as a London-based reporter, American journalist Bryson ( The Mother Tongue ) set out to retrace a youthful European backpacking trip, from arctic Norway's northern lights to romantic Capri and the ``collective delirium'' of Istanbul. Descriptions of historic and artistic sights in the Continent's capitals are cursory; Bryson prefers lesser-known locales, whose peculiar flavor he skillfully conveys in anecdotes that don't scant the seamy side and often portray eccentric characters encountered during untoward adventures of the road. He enlivens the narrative with keen, sometimes acerbic observations of national quirks like the timed light switches in French hallways, but tends to strive too hard for comic effects, some in dubious taste. He also joins other travelers in deploring the growing hordes of peddlers who overrun major tourist meccas. (Feb.)
Library Journal
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.-- Melinda Stivers Leach, Precision Editorial Svces., Wondervu, Col.
From the Publisher
“Bryson is first and foremost a storyteller – and a supremely comic and original one at that.” – Winnipeg Free Press

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HarperCollins Publishers
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.57(d)

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Chapter One

To the North

In winter, Hammerfest is a thirty-hour ride by bus from Oslo, though why anyone would want to go there in winter is a question worth considering. It is on the edge of the world, the northernmost town in Europe, as far from London as London is from Tunis, a place of dark and brutal winters, where the sun sinks into the Arctic Ocean in November and does not rise again for ten weeks.

I wanted to see the Northern Lights. Also, I had long harbored a half-formed urge to experience what life was like in such a remote and forbidding place. Sitting at home in England with a glass of whiskey and a book of maps, this had seemed a capital idea. But now as I picked my way through the gray late December slush of Oslo, I was beginning to have my doubts.

Things had not started well. I had overslept at the hotel, missing breakfast, and had to leap into my clothes. I couldn't find a cab and had to drag my ludicrously overweight bag eight blocks through slush to the central bus station. I had had huge difficulty persuading the staff at the Kreditkassen Bank on Karl Johansgate to cash sufficient travelers' checks to pay the extortionate 1,200-kroner bus fare -- they simply could not be made to grasp that the William McGuire Bryson on my passport and the Bill Bryson on my travelers' checks were both me -- and now here I was arriving at the station two minutes before departure, breathless and steaming from the endless uphill exertion that is my life, and the girl at the ticket counter was telling me that she had no record of my reservation.

"This isn't happening," I said. "I'm still at home in England enjoying Christmas. Pass me a drop more port, will you, darling?" Actually, I said: "There must be some mistake. Please look again."

The girl studied the passenger manifest. "No, Mr. Bryson, your name is not here."

But I could see it, even upside down. "There it is, second from the bottom."

"No," the girl decided, "that says Bernt Bjørnson. That's a Norwegian name."

"It doesn't say Bernt Bjørnson. It says Bill Bryson. Look at the loop of the y, the two l's. Miss, please."

But she wouldn't have it.

"If I miss this bus when does the next one go?"

"Next week at the same time."

Oh, splendid.

"Miss, believe me, it says Bill Bryson."

"No, it doesn't."

"Miss, look, I've come from England. I'm carrying some medicine that could save a child's life." She didn't buy this. "I want to see the manager."

"He's in Stavanger."

"Listen, I made a reservation by telephone. If I don't get on this bus I am going to write a letter to your manager that will cast a shadow over your career prospects for the rest of this century." This clearly did not alarm her. Then it occurred to me. "If this Bernt Bjørnson doesn't show up, can I have his seat?"


Why don't I think of these things in the first place and save myself the anguish? "Thank you," I said and lugged my bag outside.

The bus was a large double-decker, like an American Greyhound, but only the front half of the upstairs had seats and windows. The rest was solid aluminum covered with a worryingly psychedelic painting of an intergalactic landscape, like the cover of a pulp science fiction novel, with the words "Express 2000" emblazoned across the tail of a comet. For one giddy moment I thought the windowless back end might contain a kind of dormitory and that at bedtime we would be escorted back there by a stewardess who would invite us to choose a couchette. I was prepared to pay any amount of money for this option. But I was mistaken. The back end, and all the space below us, was for freight. "Express 2000" was really just a long-distance truck with passengers.

We left at exactly noon. I quickly realized that everything about the bus was designed for discomfort. I was sitting beside the heater, so that while chill drafts teased by upper extremities, my left leg grew so hot that I could hear the hairs on it crackle. The seats were designed by a dwarf seeking revenge on full-sized people; there was no other explanation. The young man in front of me had put his seat so far back that his head was all but in my lap. He had the sort of face that makes you realize God does have a sense of humor and he was reading a comic book called Tommy og Tigern. My own seat was raked at a peculiar angle that induced immediate and lasting neckache. It had a lever on its side, which I supposed might bring it back to a more comfortable position, but I knew from long experience that if I touched it even tentatively the seat would fly back and crush both the kneecaps of the sweet little old lady sitting behind me, so I left it alone. The woman beside me, who was obviously a veteran of these polar campaigns, unloaded quantities of magazines, tissues, throat lozenges, ointments, unguents, and fruit pastilles into the seat pocket in front of her, then settled beneath a blanket and slept more or less continuously through the whole trip.

We bounced through a snowy half-light, out through the sprawling suburbs of Oslo and into the countryside. The scattered villages and farmhouses looked trim and prosperous in the endless dusk. Every house had Christmas lights burning cheerily in the windows. I quickly settled into that not unpleasant state of mindlessness that tends to overcome me on long journeys, my head lolling on my shoulders in the manner of someone who has lost all control of his neck muscles...

Neither Here Nor There. Copyright © by Bill Bryson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Neither Here nor There 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
Anonymous 17 days ago
I like his humor and accidental insights; a bit upsetting and depressing by the end, but probably it is just a reflection on the huge gap between his high expectation vs. reality. Read if if you like the author and his style, but not for the actual travel experiences.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
katgirlKB More than 1 year ago
I read this on the plane returning from Europe, and it was a humorous, quick read that brought a smile to my face and had me almost laughing out loud as Bryson so remarkably described the experiences I had just undergone attempting to cross streets in Paris and Rome, or weeding through tourists in Florence in an attempt to see the beautiful sights the city offered. A nice collection of short essays reflecting back on his travels 20 years earlier, as well as describing his return visit more recently. After reading it, I had no desire to add Naples or Capri to the bucket list of travel, but would love to spend time in Bruges some day. He brings each location to life through his vignettes.
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Maddog1970 More than 1 year ago
The novel expertly describes the great sites in Europe to visit. Bill Bryson does a very good job in bringing the sites he visits to life. He describes both the Pros and Cons of the sites visited in each country. The humor and writ make these sites come to life, as well as expresses the attitiudes of the populace in each country. The people interaction was one of the most interesting parts of the commentary, which I enjoyed and helped me realte to the adventure Bill Bryson was describing about his travels. Bryson's writ and humor made it almost impossible to put the novel down, because I could not wait to read about the next spot to be visited. This is a 5-Star reading for anyone, who travels.
crazy4hawaii More than 1 year ago
I enjoy Bill Bryson's books. This one has some laugh out loud moments. It was a little less enjoyable than "Notes From a Small Island" for instance. It was more caustic, and he just didn't seem to like many of the places he was visiting. I will eventually read all of his books, though, as I love travel and reading about travel.
Megabite More than 1 year ago
I have read nearly all of Bill Bryson's books, and I must say - Neither Here Nor There has to be the funniest of all of them. A Walk in the Woods was the first Bryson book I ever read, and the return of Katz in another novel was great - both men are hilarious, and it is even better knowing that they're actual people. Neither Here Nor There is poignant and has the ability to spark the travel bug in anyone, let alone someone like myself. His accounts are humorous while also being informative - I would have decided to be a history major long ago if every textbook was written by Mr. Bryson. I love the biting and sarcastic tone.
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JYakus More than 1 year ago
I havn't read in years. I was given "A Walk In The Woods" and read it on the way home from Maine this summer. I became hooked on Bill Bryson's books. Neither Here Nor There is an entertaining look at a man who's traveled many lands, and in his witty sense of humor, makes Europe look both pleasing and monotanous. If you're not pleased and inspired to see the world or at least somewhere besides your local town by reading this book, you should stop reading, period!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of my favorite books of all time! I'm an avid reader and seldom ever read a book twice. Like the cliche, there are just too many good books and so little time. This book, however, I've read too many times to count. Never has a story induced tears of laughter nor joy in reading aloud to friends. Neither Here Nor There is a permanent fixture in my living room and whenever I need a chuckle, I only have to open to a random page and I'm lost in one of Bryson's hilarious travel ordeals. If someone doesn't find this book laugh out loud funny, they're either a prude or have no pulse.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I have friends who have read Bryson, and they suggested I check out one of his books. I'm an avid reader and pretty tolerant of most books. HOWEVER, this book is going down in history as one of the WORST books I have EVER encountered. I wish I could erase it from my memory -- that's how bad I hated it. I would love to ask his wife, who was sitting at home as he traveled, what she thought about Copenhagen and how Bill was disappointed that 'their [the secretaries]lovely breasts [were] bagged away for at least another day...' Shucks, Bill didn't get to see naked women. I feel real bad for him. And, really, I'm not a prude or anything, but I really, really could have done without the 'inviting anus' discussion. Bill comes across, in this book anyhow -- and believe me, I won't pick up another, as a typical ugly American, overweight and proud of it, beer guzzling idiot. Seriously! Even when he realized he was the mad man in the mirror, he still wanted a cape to throw over his shoulder and an 'ebony stick' to use on the doorman. Bill, give me a break. You think you are funny -- you failed in this one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was the first and only Bill Bryson book I ever read. Someone gave it to me and I started reading -- big mistake. Almost immediately, I noticed that I had been almost every place Bryson discussed. The next thing I noticed was how negative, insulting, and crude he was. He has a knack for identifying the worst aspect of a location and harping on it. He may think this is amusing; I sure don't. If I want to read something seemingly written by a fratboy with an inferiority complex, I can read Paul Theroux; I don't need Bryson.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read a couple of other books by Bryson, and they were okay...however...this one is SO incredibly interesting. I laughed out loud a couple times at his observations and quick quips. I especially enjoyed picturing him with his massive hangover while paying his bill upon checking out of a hotel and being charged for calls that did not go through (I believe this happened in Copenhagen). I have been to Belgium, France, and Holland, but, I wish I had been there with Bill, because I missed a lot of the interesting places he talks about.Too bad this book hadn't been written before my uneventful trip. I want to pack my bags and travel with this man!!!! Now, I am all geared up to order another of his books, because I enjoyed this so so much!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be so close to my own perceptions of my journeys through europe. We went through many of the same troubles. The similarities only made me want to read more. It was delightfully funny but i would not suggest it to a first time european traveler. As it may give you the wrong impression of some of the famed cities in the book. Others will absolutely love it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author really has a knack for spotting the worst aspects of everything. I've been in most of the places he discusses and am surprised at how awful he makes them sound. Avoid this book.