Being someone who enjoys travel and reading about travel, any Bill Bryson book I find in a second hand bookshop or bargain bin is bought without a moment’s hesitation. Why? The simple reason is that he represents the everyman and has the ability to talk to you in the same manner. There are undoubtedly more in depth travel writers, ones whose works act as guide book, travelogue and history chronicle of the place in question, but Bryson’s books exist for a different reason, to excite you about travel, to embrace our cultural differences and to amuse you along the way.
Like other modern, populist travel writes, Michael Palin and Stephen Fry it is the sheer joy of finding themselves slightly lost, slightly out of their depth and wonderfully perceptive of our common traits as much as our differences that comes through in his writing.
And so once again Britain’s favourite adopted son picks up his backpack and travels from Europe’s northern most town, Hammerfest in Norway to Istanbul, a city that straddles the borders of this continent and Asia. And as if to embrace that famous saying, “It is better to travel well than to arrive,” he does just that. Maybe not always well as in confortable, pampered, quickly or efficiently, but well as in such a way to have anecdotes and tales to tell to you, the discerning reader.
Documenting interesting historical information and quirky local idiosyncrasies before recounting his own adventures his travels it is often the minutiae as much as the grand vistas that make for the readability of his accounts, his philosophical takes on the logistical breakdowns, the administrative failings and the cultural differences that serve to highlight what a strange and wonderful place Europe is. Whilst many would be marveling over grand descriptions of Rome ruins or the grand vistas of the Austrian mountains, Bryson’s struggle with Parisian motorists, Scandinavian jobs-worths and Italian gypsy muggers say a lot more about the nature of a place.
You may get more facts from a Lonely Planet travel guide, more cultural depth from the likes of AA Gill, but Bryson’s caustic comments and insights act as a wonderful balance to the dryer and more formal approach to the subject.