Neither Here Nor There is a travel memoir by Bill Bryson about his travels throughout Europe. Bryson, for those who may not be familiar, is the author of multiple non-fiction books, and is well-known for his travel memoirs about Europe, Australia, Great Britain and the US.
Having previously read In a Sunburned Country and thoroughly enjoyed it, I had high hopes for Neither Here Nor There.
While I did enjoy the first chapter about his journey up to Hammerfest, Norway to see the Northern Lights, I ended up finding the book too predictable after the first few chapters.
The plot for each city goes like this: gets off train, checks into hotel, walks around city centre, [insert cultural jokes here], gets hungry, eats dinner, goes to sleep, and then repeats the same experience in a different city the next day
Having gone to over 20 cities, it gets a bit depressing after awhile. I found it surprising how he never made an effort to meet any locals or other travelers throughout the whole trip, but rather, seem satisfied being in ignorant bliss of his surroundings and passed his time by making jokes, particularly aimed toward the Swiss.
Q: What do you call a gathering of boring people in Switzerland?
Q: What is the best way to make a Swiss roll?
A: Take him to a mountaintop and give him a push.
One thing I do appreciate is the truthfulness in his descriptions. Unlike other travel memoirs, he doesn’t perceive everything under a “magical” light. Particularly with Europe, where it’s fairly easy to write about how cultured and attractive everything and everyone is, he opts instead toward describing public washrooms in Paris, the depressing abundance of porn in Cologne and how the strippers in Amsterdam are a lot less attractive than they used to be.
In between criticizing Japanese tourists, he certainly seems to have a distain toward the Germans. Take this passage for example, describing the present Belgium battlefields after the Battle of the Bulge:
“Germans who had once slaughtered women and children in these villages could now return as tourists, with cameras around their necks and wives on their arms, as if it had all just been a Hollywood movie….one of the more trying things about learning to live with the Germans after the war was having to watch them return with their wives and girlfriends to show off the places they helped to ruin” (74).
While this book was published in 1991, and therefore highly likely that it was written before the fall of the Berlin Wall, I find that his harsh opinions makes this book an uneasy read. I mean, one moment he’s talking about sausages, and the next, he’s making a joke about Hitler.
After finishing this book, I doubt I’d recommend it to any of my friends. Although, if you’ve recently had your heart broken by a European, the jokes in this book will probably cheer you up temporarily.