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.

Paris to Sezanne

Before breakfast I leave the city by the Porte Daumesnil, and wheel through the environments toward Vincennes and Jonville, pedalling, to the sound of martial music, for miles beyond the Porte. The roads for thirty miles east of Paris are not Normandy roads, but the country for most of the distance is fairly level, and for mile after mile, and league beyond league, the road is beneath avenues of plane and poplar, which, crossing the plain in every direction like emerald walls of nature's own building, here embellish and beautify an otherwise rather monotonous stretch of country. The villages are little different from the villages of Normandy, but the churches have not the architectural beauty of the Normandy churches, being for the most part massive structures without any pretence to artistic embellishment in their construction. Monkish-looking priests are a characteristic feature of these villages, and when, on passing down the narrow, crooked streets of Fontenay, I wheel beneath a massive stone archway, and looking around, observe cowled priests and everything about the place seemingly in keeping with it, one can readily imagine himself transported back to medieval times.

One of these little interior French villages is the most unpromising looking place imaginable for a hungry person to ride into; often one may ride the whole length of the village expectantly looking around for some visible evidence of wherewith to cheer the inner man, and all that greets the hungry vision is a couple of four-foot sticks of bread in one dust-begrimed window, and a few mournful-looking crucifixes and Roman Catholic paraphernalia in another. Neither are the peasants hereabouts to be compared with the Normandy peasantry in personal appearance. True, they have as many patches on their pantaloons, but they don't seem to have acquired the art of attaching them in a manner to produce the same picturesque effect as does the peasant of Normandy; the original garment is almost invariably a shapeless corduroy, of a bagginess and an o'er-ampleness most unbeautiful to behold.

The well-known axiom about fair paths leading astray holds good with the high-ways and by-ways of France, as elsewhere, and soon after leaving the ancient town of Provins, I am tempted by a splendid road, following the windings of a murmuring brook, that appears to be going in my direction, in consequence of which I soon find myself among cross-country by-ways, and among peasant proprietors who apparently know little of the world beyond their native Tillages. Four o'clock finds me wheeling through a hilly vineyard district toward Villenauxe, a town several kilometres off my proper route, from whence a dozen kilometres over a very good road brings me to Sezanne, where the Hotel de France affords excellent accommodation. After the table d'hôte the clanging bells of the old church hard by announce services of some kind, and having a natural penchant when in strange places from wandering whithersoever inclination leads, in anticipation of the ever possible item of interest, I meander into the church and take a seat. There appears to be nothing extraordinary about the service, the only unfamiliar feature to me being a man wearing a uniform similar to the gendarmerie of Paris: cockade, sash, sword, and everything complete; in addition to which he carries a large cane and a long brazen-headed staff resembling the boarding-pike of the last century.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Saturday 16th May 1885 (18:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

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