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.

Hungarian Peasants

I am no longer in a land of small peasant proprietors, and there is a noticeably large proportion of the land devoted to grazing purposes, that in France or Germany would be found divided into small farms, and every foot cultivated. Villages are farther apart, and are invariably adjacent to large commons, on which roam flocks of noisy geese, herds of ponies, and cattle with horns that would make a Texan blush - the long horned roadsters of Hungary. The costumes of the Hungarian peasants are both picturesque and novel, the women and girls wearing top-boots and short dresses on holiday occasions and Sundays, and at other times short dresses without any boots at all; the men wear loose-flowing pantaloons of white, coarse linen that reach just below the knees, and which a casual observer would unhesitatingly pronounce a short skirt, the material being so ample. Hungary is still practically a land of serfs and nobles, and nearly every peasant encountered along the road touches his cap respectfully, in instinctive acknowledgment, as it were, of his inferiority. Long rows of women are seen hoeing in the fields with watchful overseers standing over them - a scene not unsuggestive of plantation life in the Southern States in the days of slavery. If these gangs of women are not more than about two hundred yards from the road their inquisitiveness overcomes every other consideration, and dropping everything, the whole crowd comes helter-skelter across the field to obtain a closer view of the strange vehicle; for it is only in the neighborhood of one or two of the principal cities of Hungary that one ever sees a bicycle.

Gangs of gypsies are now frequently met with; they are dark-skinned, interesting people, and altogether different-looking from those occasionally encountered in England and America, where, although swarthy and dark-skinned, they bear no comparison in that respect to these, whose skin is wellnigh black, and whose gleaming white teeth and brilliant, coal-black eyes stamp them plainly as alien to the race around them. Ragged, unwashed, happy gangs of vagabonds these stragglers appear, and regular droves of partially or wholly naked youngsters come racing after me, calling out "kreuzer! kreuzer! kreuzer!" and holding out hand or tattered hat in a supplicating manner as they run along-side. Unlike the peasantry, none of these gypsies touch their hats; indeed, yon swarthy-faced vagabond, arrayed mainly in gewgaws, and eying me curiously with his piercing black eyes, may be priding himself on having royal blood in his veins; and, unregenerate chicken-lifter though he doubtless be, would scarce condescend to touch his tattered tile even to the Emperor of Austria. The black eyes scintillate as they take notice of what they consider the great wealth of sterling silver about the machine I bestride. Eastward from Altenburg the main portion of the road continues for the most part unridably loose and heavy.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Friday 05th Jun 1885 (14:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

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