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.

Gypsy bands

The provost-judge of Neusatz shares the honors with Frau Schrieber of knowing more or less English; but this evening the judge is out of town. The enterprising professor lies in wait for him, however, and at 5.30 on Monday morning, while we are dressing, an invasion of our bed-chamber is made by the professor, the jolly-looking and portly provost-judge, a Slavonian lieutenant of artillery, and a druggist friend of the others. The provost- judge and the lieutenant actually own bicycles and ride them, the only representatives of the wheel in Neusatz and Peterwardein, and the judge is " very angry " - as he expresses it - that Monday is court day, and to-day an unusually busy one, for he would be most happy to wheel with us to Belgrade.

The lieutenant fetches his wheel and accompanies us to the next village. Peterwardein is a strongly fortified place, and, as a poition commanding the Danube so completely, is furnished with thirty guns of large calibre, a battery certainly not to be despised when posted on a position so commanding as the hill on which Peterwardein fortress is built. As the editor and others at Eszek, so here the professor, the judge, and the druggist unite in a friendly protest against my attempt to wheel through Asia, and more especially through China, "for everybody knows it is quite dangerous," they say. These people cannot possibly understand why it is that an Englishman or American, knowing of danger beforehand, will still venture ahead; and when, in reply to their questions, I modestly announce my intention of going ahead, notwithstanding possible danger and probable difficulties, they each, in turn, shake my hand as though reluctantly resigning me to a reckless determination, and the judge, acting as spokesman, and echoing and interpreting the sentiments of his companions, exclaims, "England and America forever! it is ze grandest peeples on ze world!" The lieutenant, when questioned on the subject by the judge and the professor, simply shrugs his shoulders and says nothing, as becomes a man whose first duty is to cultivate a supreme contempt for danger in all its forms.

They all accompany us outside the city gates, when, after mutual farewells and assurances of good-will, we mount and wheel away down the Danube, the lieutenant's big mastiff trotting soberly alongside his master, while Igali, sometimes in and sometimes out of sight behind, brings up the rear. After the lieutenant leaves us we have to trundle our weary way up the steep gradients of the Fruskagora Mountains for a number of kilometres. For Igali it is quite an adventurous morning. Ere we had left the shadows of Peterwardein fortress he upset while wheeling beneath some overhanging mulberry-boughs that threatened destruction to his jockey-cap; soon after parting company with the lieutenant he gets into an altercation with a gang of gypsies about being the cause of their horses breaking loose from their picket-ropes and stampeding, and then making uncivil comments upon the circumstance; an hour after this he overturns again and breaks a pedal, and when we dismount at Indjia, for our noontide halt, he discovers that his saddle-spring has snapped in the middle. As he ruefully surveys the breakage caused by the roughness of the Fruskagora roads, and sends out to scour the village for a mechanic capable of undertaking the repairs, he eyes my Columbia wistfully, and asks me for the address where one like it can be obtained. The blacksmith is not prepared to mend the spring, although he makes a good job of the pedal, and it takes a carpenter and his assistant from 1.30 to 4.30 P.M. to manufacture a grooved piece of wood to fit between the spring and backbone so that he can ride with me to Belgrade. It would have been a fifteen-minute task for a Yankee carpenter. We have been traversing a spur of the Fruskagora Mountains all the morning, and our progress has been slow. The roads through here are mainly of the natural soil, and correspondingly bad; but the glorious views of the Danube, with its alternating wealth of green woods and greener cultivated areas, fully recompense for the extra toil. Prune-orchards, the trees weighed down with fruit yet green, clothe the hill-sides with their luxuriance; indeed, the whole broad, rich valley of the Danube seems nodding and smiling in the consciousness of overflowing plenty; for days we have traversed roads leading through vineyards and orchards, and broad areas with promising-looking grain-crops.

It is but thirty kilometres from Indija to Semlin, on the riverbank opposite Belgrade, and since leaving the Fruskagora Mountains the country has been a level plain, and the roads fairly smooth. But Igali has naturally become doubly cautious since his succession of misadventures this morning, and as, while waiting for him to overtake me, I recline beneath the mulberry-trees near the village of Batainitz and survey the blue mountains of Servia looming up to the southward through the evening haze, he rides up and proposes Batainitz as our halting-place for the night, adding persuasively, "There will be no ferry-boat across to Belgrade to-night, and we can easily catch the first boat in the morning." I reluctantly agree, though advocating going on to Semlin this evening. While our supper is being prepared we are taken in hand by the leading merchant of the village and "turned loose" in an orchard of small fruits and early pears, and from thence conducted to a large gypsy encampment in the outskirts of the village, where, in acknowledgment of the honor of our visit-and a few kreuzers by way of supplement - the "flower of the camp," a blooming damsel, about the shade of a total eclipse, kisses the backs of our hands, and the men play a strumming monotone with sticks and an inverted wooden trough, while the women dance in a most lively and not ungraceful manner. These gypsy bands are a happy crowd of vagabonds, looking as though they had never a single care in all the world; the men wear long, flowing hair, and to the ordinary costume of the peasant is added many a gewgaw, worn with a careless jaunty grace that fails not to carry with it a certain charm in spite of unkempt locks and dirty faces. The women wear a minimum of clothes and a profusion of beads and trinkets, and the children go stark naked or partly dressed.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Monday 15th Jun 1885 (22:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

The girl I left behind me

Such is the reverie into which I fall while reclining beneath a spreading mulberry-tree waiting for Igali to catch up; for he has promised that I shall see the Slavonian national dance sometime to-day, and a village is now visible in the distance. At the Danube-side village of Hamenitz an hour's halt is decided upon to give me the promised opportunity of witnessing the dance in its native land. It is a novel and interesting sight. A round hundred young gallants and maidens are rigged out in finery such as no other people save the Croatian and Slavonian peasants ever wear - the young men braided and embroidered, and the damsels having their hair entwined with a profusion of natural flowers in addition to their costumes of all possible hues. Forming themselves into a large ring, distributed so that the sexes alternate, the young men extend and join their hands in front of the maidens, and the latter join hands behind their partners; the steel-strung tamboricas strike up a lively twanging air, to which the circle of dancers endeavor to shuffle time with their feet, while at the same time moving around in a circle Livelier and faster twang the tamboricas, and more and more animated becomes the scene as the dancing, shuffling ring endeavors to keep pace with it. As the fun progresses into the fast and furious stages the youths' hats have a knack of getting into a jaunty position on the side of their heads, and the wearers' faces assume a reckless, flushed appearance, like men half intoxicated while the maidens' bright eyes and beaming faces betoken unutterable happiness; finally the music and the shuffling of feet terminate with a rapid flourish, everybody kisses everybody - save, of course, mere luckless onlookers like Igali and myself - and the Slavonian national dance is ended.

To-night we reach the strongly fortified town of Peterwardein, opposite which, just across a pontoon bridge spanning the Danube, is the larger city of Neusatz. At Hamenitz we met Professor Zaubaur, the editor of the Uj Videk, who came down the Danube ahead of us by steamboat; and now, after housing our machines at our gasthaus in Peterwardein, he pilots us across the pontoon bridge in the twilight, and into one of those wine- gardens so universal in this part of the world. Here at Neusatz I listen to the genuine Hungarian gypsy music for the last time on the European tour ere bidding the territory of Hungary adieu, for Neusatz is on the Hungarian side of the Danube. The professor has evidently let no grass grow beneath his feet since leaving us scarcely an hour ago at Hamenitz, for he has, in the mean time, ferreted out the only English-speaking person at present in town, the good Frau Schrieber, an Austrian lady, formerly of Vienna, but now at Neusatz with her husband, a well-known advocate. This lady talks English quite fluently. Though not yet twenty-five she is very, very wise, and among other things she informs her admiring friends gathered round about us, listening to the - to them - unintelligible flow of a foreign language, that Englishmen are "very grave beings," a piece of information that wrings from Igali a really sympathetic response- nothing less than the startling announcement that he hasn't seen me smile since we left Budapest together, a week ago. "Having seen the Slavonian, I ought by all means to see the Hungarian national dance," Frau Schrieber says; adding, "It is a nice dance for Englishmen to look at, though it is so very gay that English ladies would neither dance it nor look at it being danced." Ere parting company with this entertaining lady she agrees that, if I will but remain in Hungary permanently, she knows of a very handsome fraulein of sixteen summers, who, having heard of my "wonderful journey," is already predisposed in my favor, and with a little friendly tact and management on her - Frau Schrieber's - part would no doubt be willing to waive the formalities of a long courtship, and yield up hand and heart at my request. I can scarcely think of breaking in twain my trip around the world even for so tempting a prospect, and I recommend the fair Hungarian to Igali; but "the fraulein has never heard of Herr Igali, and he will not do."

"Will the fraulein be willing to wait until my journey around the world is completed."



"Yes; she vill vait mit much pleezure; I vill zee dat she vait; und I know you vill return, for an Englishman alvays forgets his promeezes." Henceforth, when Igali and myself enter upon a programme of whistling, "Yankee Doodle" is supplanted by "The girl I left behind me," much to his annoyance, since, not understanding the sentiment responsible for the change, bethinks "Yankee Doodle" a far better tune. So much attached, in fact, has Igali become to the American national air, that he informs the professor and editor of Uj Videk of the circumstance of the band playing it at Szekszard. As, after supper, several of us promenade the streets of Neusatz, the professor links his arm in mine, and, taking the cue from Igali, begs me to favor him by whistling it. I try my best to palm this patriotic duty off on Igali, by paying flattering compliments to his style of whistling; but, after all, the duty falls on me, and I whistle the tune softly, yet merrily, as we walk along, the professor, spectacled and wise-looking, meanwhile exchanging numerous nods of recognition with his fellow-Neusatzers we meet.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Monday 15th Jun 1885 (00:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Runaway

This afternoon my bicycle causes the first runaway since the trifling affair at Lembach, Austria. A brown-faced peasant woman and a little girl, driving a small, shaggy pony harnessed to a basket-work, four-wheeled vehicle, are approaching; their humble-looking steed betrays no evidence of restiveness until just as I am turning out to pass him, when, without warning, he gives a swift, sudden bound to the right, nearly upsetting the vehicle, and without more ado bolts down a considerable embankment and goes helter-skelter across a field of standing grain. The old lady pluckily hangs on to the reins, and finally succeeds in bringing the runaway around into the road again without damaging anything save the corn. It might have ended much less satisfactorily, however, and the incident illustrates one possible source of trouble to a 'cycler travelling alone through countries where the people neither understand, nor can be expected to understand, a wheelman's position; the situation would, of course, be aggravated in a country village where, not speaking the language, one could not make himself understood in his own defence. These people here, if not wise as serpents, are at least harmless as doves; but, in case of the bicycle frightening a team and causing a runaway with the unpleasant sequel of broken limbs, or injured horse, they would scarce know what to do in the premises, since they would have no precedent to govern them, and, in the absence of any intelligent guidance, might conclude to wreak summary vengeance on the bicycle. In such a case, would a wheelman be justified in using his revolver to defend his bicycle?

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Sunday 14th Jun 1885 (16:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Female charms

While we are making our toilets in the morning eager faces are peering inquisitively through the bedroom windows; a murmur of voices, criticizing us and our strange vehicles, greets our waking moments, and our privacy is often invaded, in spite of Igali's inconsiderate treatment of them whenever they happen to cross his path.

Many of the inhabitants of this part of Slavonia are Croatians - people who are noted for their fondness of finery; and, as on this sunny Sunday morning we wheel through their villages, the crowds of peasantry who gather about us in all the bravery of their best clothes present, indeed, an appearance gay and picturesque beyond anything hitherto encountered. The garments of the men are covered with braid-work and silk embroidery wherever such ornamentation is thought to be an embellishment, and, to the Croatian mind, that means pretty much everywhere; and the girls and women are arrayed in the gayest of colors; those displaying the brightest hues and the greatest contrasts seem to go tripping along conscious of being irresistible. Many of the Croatian peasants are fine, strapping fellows, and very handsome women are observed in the villages - women with great, dreamy eyes, and faces with an expression of languor that bespeaks their owners to be gentleness personified. Igali shows evidence of more susceptibility to female charms than I should naturally have given him credit for, and shows a decided inclination to linger in these beauty-blessed villages longer than is necessary, and as one dark-eyed damsel after another gathers around us, I usually take the initiative in mounting and clearing out.

Were a man to go suddenly flapping his way through the streets of London on the long-anticipated flying-machine, the average Cockney would scarce betray the unfeigned astonishment that is depicted on the countenances of these Croatian villagers as we ride into their midst and dismount.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Sunday 14th Jun 1885 (14:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

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