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.

Suspicion in Bar-le-Duc

Bar-le-Duc appears to be quite an important business centre, pleasantly situated in the valley of the Ornain River, a tributary of the Marne; and the stream, in its narrow, fertile valley, winds around among hills from whose sloping sides, every autumn, fairly ooze the celebrated red wines of the Meuse and Moselle regions. The valley has been favored with a tremendous downpour of rain and hail during the night, and the partial formation of the road leading along the level valley eastward being a light-colored, slippery clay, I find it anything but agreeable wheeling this morning; moreover, the Ornain Valley road is not so perfectly kept as it might be. As in every considerable town in France, so also in Bar-le-Duc, the military element comes conspicuously to the fore. Eleven kilometres of slipping and sliding through the greasy clay brings me to the little village of Tronville, where I halt to investigate the prospect of obtaining something to eat. As usual, the prospect, from the street, is most unpromising, the only outward evidence being a few glass jars of odds and ends of candy in one small window.

Entering this establishment, the only thing the woman can produce besides candy and raisins is a box of brown, wafer-like biscuits, the unsubstantial appearance of which is, to say the least, most unsatisfactory to a person who has pedalled his breakfastless way through eleven kilometres of slippery clay. Uncertain of their composition, and remembering my unhappy mistake at Mantes in desiring to breakfast off yeast-cakes, I take the precaution of sampling one, and in the absence of anything more substantial conclude to purchase a few, and so motion to the woman to hand me the box in order that I can show her how many I want. But the o'er-careful Frenchwoman, mistaking my meaning, and fearful that I only want to sample yet another one, probably feeling uncertain of whether I might not wish to taste a whole handful this time, instead of handing it over moves it out of my reach altogether, meanwhile looking quite angry, and not a little mystified at her mysterious, pantomimic customer. A half-franc is produced, and, after taking the precaution of putting it away in advance, the cautious female weighs me out the current quantity of her ware; and I notice that, after giving lumping weight, she throws in a few extra, presumably to counterbalance what, upon sober second thought, she perceives to have been an unjust suspicion. While I am extracting what satisfaction my feathery purchase contains, it begins to rain and hail furiously, and so continues with little interruption all the forenoon, compelling me, much against my inclination, to search out in Tronville, if possible, some accommodation till to-morrow morning. The village is a shapeless cluster of stone houses and stables, the most prominent feature of the streets being huge heaps of manure and grape-vine prunings; but I manage to obtain the necessary shelter, and such other accommodations as might be expected in an out-of-the-way village, unfrequented by visitors from one year's end to another.

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

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