Friday, 8 April 2011
Neither here nor there
I just finished reading Bill Bryson's travel memoir, "Neither Here Nor There." The book is a hilarious, rightfully exaggerated account about his travels through Europe in the early 1990s; as well as including tidbits from a European trip he took in 1973 with his best friend, Stephen Katz. He basically re-followed his trip from 1973 for this book, but with some added stops and different accounts.
It's interesting to see how different traveling Europe was in 1973 compared to 1990. And how different traveling can be when you have money. I personally hate the idea of back-packing Europe. I know, I know - it's the thing for American kids to do. But really, who thought it was a good idea to spend a vacation in Europe being smelly and gross? Who says to themselves "Yay I can't wait to pitch a tent on the side of the freeway in France"? I know I never thought such a foul thing. Once a friend suggested that very idea to me. I nearly hit them.
Europe is a place meant to be explored and experienced. Not a place that is meant to stress you out while you smell up the place. Traveling is stressful enough. But isn't it nice to come back to a hotel with your own bathroom at the end of the day? It seems Mr Bryson relished in the fact he could take a shower in every city he stopped in. He detailed every hotel he stayed at, whether it was worthy of his time and money or not. He even divulged into the properties of the hotel more than he did the city he was visiting. I find that interesting. I guess that's what older people with money do when they travel Europe. And if I travel Europe and stay at hotels instead of hostels or tents by the side of the road, I'd do that too.
Another thing I noticed about Mr Bryson's book is the way it can convince the reader to fall in love with a town or hate it. He is so descriptive and clever with his words about any town. And after reading this book, I can tell you there are now some cities I will never visit. Istanbul, for one thing. I've never warmed up to the idea of a Turkish holiday (though the Europeans love it), but now I know I never want to go there. I have personal bubble issues and fear of purse-snatchers enough as it is. Send me to the Istanbul described in Mr Bryson's book and I'll have a heart attack. It's irrational to base an assumption of a city on an account someone wrote down in 1990, but to me, it makes sense. If one American can hate the city, then I can too. So, no Istanbul for me.
He did make me want to visit Rome more than before. I would love to see how Italians park their compact cars in non-existent spaces and gesture rudely at each other first hand. At first, his account made me second guess ever visiting the majestically ancient city, but by the end of the chapter, I was all set to take a Roman holiday.
Despite it's sore spots, as described by Mr Bryson, Europe seems like the best place on Earth. Only there can you travel a few hours and find yourself in a different country, surrounded by different food, customs, and language. Only there can you expect to be treated either like a local or brushed-off like a foreigner. (And no matter how hard you try not to be a typical foreigner in Europe, people will disregard you anyway! They know) Only there can you experience history first hand. The cities Mr Bryson visited were made to awe people. Churches built so significantly large it made its worshipers tremble in fear. Cities built so beautifully and richly it made poor people cry. Yes, the degregation of modern society has sent cities spiraling downward when it comes to beauty and awe, but the meaning is still there.
I've only been to three cities in Germany, but I can tell you, based on this book, that there is no place I'd rather be than Europe. And one day, I intend to return.