Around the World on a Bicycle

In 1884, the 29 year old Thomas Stevens set out from San Fransisco on the 'modern mechanical invention' of the Penny Farthing to circumnavigate the globe on his 'big wheel'. His book - "Around the World on a Bicycle" - was published in 1888 and his writings are presented here in blog form. Read more in the archive.

Danubian roustabouts

Notwithstanding music until 11.30 P.M., yesterday, we are on the road before six o'clock this morning - for genuine, unadulterated Hungarian music does not prevent one getting up bright and fresh next day - and about noon we roll into Dunaszekcső, Igali's native town, where we have decided to halt for the remainder of the day to get our clothing washed, one of my shoes repaired, and otherwise prepare for our journey to the Servian capital. Duna Szekeso is a calling-place for the Danube steamers, and this afternoon I have the opportunity of taking observations of a gang of Danubian roustabouts at their noontide meal. They are a swarthy, wild-looking crowd, wearing long hair parted in the middle, or not parted at all; to their national costume are added the jaunty trappings affected by river men in all countries. Their food is coarse black bread and meat, and they take turns in drinking wine from a wooden tube protruding from a two-gallon watch-shaped cask, the body of which is composed of a section of hollow log instead of staves, lifting the cask up and drinking from the tube, as they would from the bung-hole of a beer-keg. Their black bread would hardly suit the palate of the Western world; but there are doubtless a few individuals on both sides of the Atlantic who would willingly be transformed into a Danubian roustabout long enough to make the acquaintance of yonder rude cask.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Wednesday 10th Jun 1885 (19:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Igali

From Budapest to Paks, about one hundred and twenty kilometres, the roads are superior to anything I expected to find east of Germany; but the thermometer clings around the upper regions, and everything is covered with dust. Our route leads down the Danube in an almost directly southern course.

Instead of the poplars of France, and the apples and pears of Germany, the roads are now fringed with mulberry-trees, both raw and manufactured silk being a product of this part of Hungary. My companion is what in England or America would be considered a "character;" he dresses in the thinnest of racing costumes, through which the broiling sun readily penetrates, wears racing-shoes, and a small jockey-cap with an enormous poke, beneath which glints a pair of "specs;" he has rat-trap pedals to his wheel, and winds a long blue girdle several times around his waist, consumes raw eggs, wine, milk, a certain Hungarian mineral water, and otherwise excites the awe and admiration of his sport-admiring countrymen. Igali's only fault as a road companion is his utter lack of speed, six or eight kilometres an hour being his natural pace on average roads, besides footing it up the gentlest of gradients and over all rough stretches. Except for this little drawback, he is an excellent man to take the lead, for he is a genuine Magyar, and orders the peasantry about with the authoritative manner of one born to rule and tyrannize; sometimes, when, the surface is uneven for wheeling, making them drive their clumsy ox-wagons almost into the road-side ditch in order to avoid any possible chance of difficulty in getting past.

Igali knows four languages: French, German, Hungarian, and Slavonian, but Anglaise nicht, though with what little French and German I have picked up while crossing those countries we manage to converse and understand each other quite readily, especially as I am, from constant practice, getting to be an accomplished pantomimist, and Igali is also a pantomimist by nature, and gifted with a versatility that would make a Frenchman envious. Ere we have been five minutes at a gasthaus Igali is usually found surrounded by an admiring circle of leading citizens - not peasants; Igali would not suffer them to gather about him - pouring into their willing ears the account of my journey; the words, "San Francisco, Boston, London, Paris, Wien, Pesth, Belgrade, Constantinople, Afghanistan, India, Khiva," etc., which are repeated in rotation at wonderfully short intervals, being about all that my linguistic abilities are capable of grasping. The road continues hard, but south of Paks it becomes rather rough; consequently halts under the shade of the mulberry-trees for Igali to catch up are of frequent occurrence.

The peasantry, hereabout, seem very kindly disposed and hospitable. Sometimes, while lingering for Igali, they will wonder what I am stopping for, and motion the questions of whether I wish anything to eat or drink; and this afternoon one of them, whose curiosity to see how I mounted overcomes his patience, offers me a twenty-kreuzer piece to show him. At one village a number of peasants take an old cherry-woman to task for charging me two kreuzers more for some cherries than it appears she ought, and although two kreuzers are but a farthing they make quite a squabble with the poor old woman about it, and will be soothed by neither her voice nor mine until I accept another handful of cherries in lieu of the overcharged two kreuzers.

Szekszárd has the reputation, hereabout, of producing the best quality of red wine in all Hungary - no small boast, by the way - and the hotel and wine-gardens here, among them, support an excellent gypsy band of fourteen pieces. Mr. Garay, the leader of the band, once spent nearly a year in America, and after supper the band plays, with all the thrilling sweetness of the Hungarian muse, "Home, sweet Home," "Yankee Doodle," and "Sweet Violets," for my especial delectation.

A wheelman the fame of whose exploits has preceded him might as well try to wheel through hospitable Hungary without breathing its atmosphere as without drinking its wine; it isn't possible to taboo it as I tabooed the vin ordinaire of France, Hungarians and Frenchmen being two entirely different people.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Wednesday 10th Jun 1885 (00:30 +0100) | Add a comment | Permalink

Sport and Adventure

Nine wheelmen accompany me some distance out of Budapest on Monday morning, and Mr. Philipovitz and two other members continue with Igali and me to Duna Pentele, some seventy-five miles distant; this is our first sleeping-place, the captain making his guest until our separation and departure in different directions next morning.

During the fierce heat of mid-day we halt for about three hours at Adony, and spend a pleasant after-dinner tour examining the trappings and trophies of a noted sporting gentleman, and witnessing a lively and interesting set-to with fencing foils. There is everything in fire-arms in his cabinet, from an English double-barrelled shot-gun to a tiny air-pistol for shooting flies on the walls of his sitting-room; he has swords, oars, gymnastic paraphernalia - in fact, everything but boxing gloves.

Arriving at Duna Pentele early in the evening, before supper we swim for an hour in the waters of the Danube. At 9.30 P.M. two of our little company board the up-stream-bound steamer for the return home, and at ten o'clock we are proposing to retire for the night, when lo, in come a half-dozen gentlemen, among them Mr. Ujvarii, whose private wine-cellar is celebrated all the country round, and who now proposes that we postpone going to bed long enough to pay a short visit to his cellar and sample the "finest wine in Hungary." This is an invitation not to be resisted by ordinary mortals, and accordingly we accept, following the gentleman and his friends through the dark streets of the village.

Along the dark, cool vault penetrating the hill-side Mr. Ujvarii leads the way between long rows of wine-casks, heber* held in arm like a sword at dress parade. The heber is first inserted into a cask of red wine, with a perfume and flavor as agreeable as the rose it resembles in color, and carried, full, to the reception end of the vault by the corpulent host with the stately air of a monarch bearing his sceptre. After two rounds of the red wine, two hebers of champagne are brought - champagne that plays a fountain of diamond spray three inches above the glass. The following toast is proposed by the host: "The prosperity and welfare of England, America, and Hungary, three countries that are one in their love and appreciation of sport and adventure." The Hungarians have all the Anglo-American love of sport and adventure.

* A glass combination of tube and flask, holding about three pints, with an orifice at each end and the bulb or flask near the upper orifice; the wine is sucked up into the flask with the breath, and when withdrawn from the cask the index finger is held over the lower orifice, from which the glasses are filled by manipulations of the finger.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Monday 08th Jun 1885 (23:24 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Supper under the trees

Svetozar Igali, a noted cycle tourist of the village of Duna Szekeso, now visiting the international exhibition at Budapest, volunteers to accompany me to Belgrade, and perhaps to Constantinople. I am rather surprised at finding so much cycling enthusiasm in the Hungarian capital. Mr. Kosztovitz, who lived some time in England, and was president of a bicycle club there, had the honor of bringing the first wheel into the Austro-Hungarian empire, in the autumn of 1879, and now Budapest alone has three clubs, aggregating nearly a hundred riders, and a still greater number of non-riding members.

Nádler National Exhibition in Budapest in 1885
National Exhibition in Budapest in 1885 by Róbert Nádler (1858-1938)

Cyclers have far more liberty accorded them in Budapest than in Vienna, being permitted to roam the city almost as untrammelled as in London, this happy condition of affairs being partly the result of Mr. Kosztovitz's diplomacy in presenting a ready drawn-up set of rules and regulations for the government of wheelmen to the police authorities when the first bicycle was introduced, and partly to the police magistrate, being himself an enthusiastic all-'round sportsman, inclined to patronize anything in the way of athletics. They are even experimenting in the Hungarian army with the view of organizing a bicycle despatch service; and I am told that they already have a bicycle despatch in successful operation in the Bavarian army.

In the evening I am the club's guest at a supper under the shade-trees in the exhibition grounds. Mr. Kosztovitz and another gentleman who can speak English act as interpreters, and here, amid the merry clinking of champagne-glasses, the glare of electric lights, with the ravishing music of an Hungarian gypsy band on our right, and a band of swarthy Servians playing their sweet native melodies on our left, we, among other toasts, drink to the success of my tour.

There is a cosmopolitan and exceedingly interesting crowd of visitors at the international exhibition: natives from Bulgaria, Servia, Roumania, and Turkey, in their national costumes; and mingled among them are Hungarian peasants from various provinces, some of them in a remarkably picturesque dress, that I afterward learn is Croatian. A noticeable feature of Budapest, besides a predilection for sport among the citizens, is a larger proportion of handsome ladies than one sees in most European cities, and there is, moreover, a certain atmosphere about them that makes them rather agreeable company. If one is travelling around the world with a bicycle, it is not at all inconsistent with Budapest propriety for the wife of the wheelman sitting opposite you to remark that she wishes she were a rose, that you might wear her for a button-hole bouquet on your journey, and to ask whether or not, in that case, you would throw the rose away when it faded. Compliments, pleasant, yet withal as meaningless as the coquettish glances and fan-play that accompany them, are given with a freedom and liberality that put the sterner native of more western countries at his wits' end to return them. But the most delightful thing in all Hungary is its gypsy music. As it is played here beneath its own sunny skies, methinks there is nothing in the wide world to compare with it. The music does not suit the taste of some people, however; it is too wild and thrilling. Budapest is a place of many languages, one of the waiters in the exhibition cafe claiming the ability to speak and understand no less than fourteen different languages and dialects.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Sunday 07th Jun 1885 (23:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

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