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.

Leaving France

Nancy is reputed to be one of the loveliest towns in France. But I merely remained in it over night, and long enough next morning to exchange for some German money, as I cross over the frontier to-day.

Lunéville is a town I pass through, some distance nearer the border, and the military display here made is perfectly overshadowing. Even the scarecrows in the fields are military figures, with wooden swords threateningly waving about in their hands with every motion of the wind, and the most frequent sound heard along the route is the sharp bang! bang! of muskets, where companies of soldiers are target-practising in the woods. There seems to be a bellicose element in the very atmosphere; for every dog in every village I ride through verily takes after me, and I run clean over one bumptious cur, which, miscalculating the speed at which I am coming, fails to get himself out of the way in time. It is the narrowest escape from a header I have had since starting from Liverpool; although both man and dog were more scared than hurt. Sixty-five kilometres from Nancy, and I take lunch at the frontier town of Blamont. The road becomes more hilly, and a short distance out of Blamont, behold, it is as though a chalk-line were made across the roadway, on the west side of which it had been swept with scrupulous care, and on the east side not swept at all; and when, upon passing the next roadman, I notice that he bears not upon his cap the brass stencil-plate bearing the inscription, "Cantonnier," I know that I have passed over the frontier into the territory of Kaiser Wilhelm.

My journey through fair France has been most interesting, and perhaps instructive, though I am afraid that the lessons I have taken in French politeness are altogether too superficial to be lasting. The "Bonjour, monsieur," and "Bon voyage," of France, may not mean any more than the "If I don't see you again, why, hello." of America, but it certainly sounds more musical and pleasant. It is at the table d'hote, however, that I have felt myself to have invariably shone superior to the natives; for, lo! the Frenchman eats soup from the end of his spoon. True, it is more convenient to eat soup from the prow of a spoon than from the larboard; nevertheless, it is when eating soup that I instinctively feel my superiority. The French peasants, almost without exception, conclude that the bright-nickelled surface of the bicycle is silver, and presumably consider its rider nothing less than a millionnaire in consequence; but it is when I show them the length of time the rear wheel or a pedal will spin round that they manifest their greatest surprise. The crowning glory of French landscape is the magnificent avenues of poplars that traverse the country in every direction, winding with the roads, the railways, and canals along the valleys, and marshalled like sentinels along the brows of the distant hills; without them French scenery would lose half its charm.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Wednesday 20th May 1885 (20:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

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