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.

Crossing over into Hungary

At five o'clock on Thursday morning I am dressing, when I am notified that two cyclers are awaiting me below. Church-bells are clanging joyously all over Vienna as we meander toward suburbs, and people are already streaming in the direction of the St. Stephen's Church, near the centre of the city, for to-day is Frohnleichnam (Corpus Christi), and the Emperor and many of the great ecclesiastical, civil, and military personages of the empire will pass in procession with all pomp and circumstance; and the average Viennese is not the person to miss so important an occasion. Three other wheelmen are awaiting us in the suburbs, and together we ride through the waving barley-fields of the Danube bottom to Schwechat, for the light breakfast customary in Austria, and thence onward to Petronelle, thirty kilometres distant, where we halt a few minutes for a Corpus Christi procession, and drink a glass of white Hungarian wine. Near Petronelle are the remains of an old Roman wall, extending from the Danube to a lake called the Neusiedler See. My companions say it was built 2,000 years ago, when the sway of the Romans extended over such parts of Europe as were worth the trouble and expense of swaying.

The roads are found rather rough and inferior, on account of loose stones and uneven surface, as we push forward toward Presburg, passing through a dozen villages whose streets are carpeted with fresh-cut grass, and converted into temporary avenues, with branches stuck in the ground, in honor of the day they are celebrating.

At Hainburg we pass beneath an archway nine hundred years old, and wheel on through the grass-carpeted streets between rows of Hungarian soldiers drawn up in line, with green oak-sprigs in their hats; the villagers are swarming from the church, whose bells are filling the air with their clangor, and on the summit of an over-shadowing cliff are the massive ruins of an ancient castle. Near about noon we roll into Presburg, warm and dusty, and after dinner take a stroll through the Jewish quarter of the town up to the height upon which Presburg castle is situated, and from which a most extensive and beautiful view of the Danube, its wooded bluffs and broad, rich bottom-lands, is obtainable. At dinner the waiter hands me a card, which reads: "Pardon me, but I believe you are an Englishman, in which case I beg the privilege of drinking a glass of wine with you." The sender is an English gentleman residing at Budapest, Hungary, who, after the requested glass of wine, tells me that he guessed who I was when he first saw me enter the garden with the five Austrian wheelmen.

My Austrian escort rides out with me to a certain cross-road, to make sure of heading me direct toward Budapest, and as we part they bid me good speed, with a hearty "Eljen." - the Hungarian "Hip, hip, hurrah." After leaving Presburg and crossing over into Hungary the road-bed is of a loose gravel that, during the dry weather this country is now experiencing, is churned up and loosened by every passing vehicle, until one might as well think of riding over a ploughed field. But there is a fair proportion of ridable side-paths, so that I make reasonably good time. Altenburg, my objective point for the night, is the centre of a sixty-thousand-acre estate belonging to the Archduke Albrecht, uncle of the present Emperor of Austro-Hungary, and one of the wealthiest land-owners in the empire. Ere I have been at the gasthaus an hour I am honored by a visit from Professor Thallmeyer, of the Altenburg Royal Agricultural School, who invites me over to his house to spend an hour in conversation, and in the discussion of a bottle of Hungary's best vintage, for the learned professor can talk very good English, and his wife is of English birth and parentage. Although Frau Thallmeyer left England at the tender age of two years, she calls herself an Englishwoman, speaks of England as "home," and welcomes to her house as a countryman any wandering Briton happening along.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Thursday 04th Jun 1885 (22:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

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