The Pequod Review:
Published in 1991, Neither Here Nor There is Bill Bryson's third travel book, one that covers primarily his 1980 tour of Europe. Bryson's trip spanned virtually all of continental Europe — starting in Norway for the Northern Lights and continuing through France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Yugoslavia, Turkey, and many other countries. Bryson is an engaging guide; his talent is to mix mostly surface-level observations with very funny stories. Here he describes Capri, Italy:
Capri town was gorgeous, an infinitely charming little place of villas and tiny lemon groves and long views across the bay to Naples and Vesuvius. The heart of the town was a small square, the Piazza Umberto I, lined with cream-colored buildings and filled with tables and wicker chairs from the cafes ranged around it. At one end, up some wide steps, stood an old church, dignified and white, and the other was a railinged terrace with an open view to the sea far below.
I cannot recall a more beguiling place for walking. The town consisted almost entirely of a complex network of white-walled lanes and passageways, many of them barely wider than your shoulders, and all of them interconnected in a wonderfully bewildering fashion, so that I would constantly find myself returning unexpectedly to a spot I had departed from in an opposing direction ten minutes before...
I got a room in the Hotel Capri. "Great name! How long did it take you to come up with it?" I asked the manager, but he just gave me that studied disdain that European hotel managers reserve for American tourists and other insects. I don't know why he was so snooty because it wasn't a great hotel. It didn't even have a bellboy, so the manager had to show me to my room himself, though he left me to deal with my baggage. We went up a grand staircase, where two workmen were busy dribbling a nice shade of ochre on the marble steps and occasionally putting some of it on the wall, to a tiny room on the third floor. As he was the manager, I wasn't sure whether to give him a tip, as I would a bellboy, or whether this would be an insult to his lofty position. In the event, I settled on what I thought was an intelligent compromise. I tipped him, but I made it a very small tip. He looked at it as if I had dropped a ball of lint into his palm, leading me to conclude that perhaps I had misjudged the situation. "Maybe you'll laugh at my jokes next time," I remarked cheerfully, under my breath, as I shut the door on him.
You may not learn a lot from Neither Here Nor There, but you will laugh a lot.