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.

Supper under the trees

Svetozar Igali, a noted cycle tourist of the village of Duna Szekeso, now visiting the international exhibition at Budapest, volunteers to accompany me to Belgrade, and perhaps to Constantinople. I am rather surprised at finding so much cycling enthusiasm in the Hungarian capital. Mr. Kosztovitz, who lived some time in England, and was president of a bicycle club there, had the honor of bringing the first wheel into the Austro-Hungarian empire, in the autumn of 1879, and now Budapest alone has three clubs, aggregating nearly a hundred riders, and a still greater number of non-riding members.

Nádler National Exhibition in Budapest in 1885
National Exhibition in Budapest in 1885 by Róbert Nádler (1858-1938)

Cyclers have far more liberty accorded them in Budapest than in Vienna, being permitted to roam the city almost as untrammelled as in London, this happy condition of affairs being partly the result of Mr. Kosztovitz's diplomacy in presenting a ready drawn-up set of rules and regulations for the government of wheelmen to the police authorities when the first bicycle was introduced, and partly to the police magistrate, being himself an enthusiastic all-'round sportsman, inclined to patronize anything in the way of athletics. They are even experimenting in the Hungarian army with the view of organizing a bicycle despatch service; and I am told that they already have a bicycle despatch in successful operation in the Bavarian army.

In the evening I am the club's guest at a supper under the shade-trees in the exhibition grounds. Mr. Kosztovitz and another gentleman who can speak English act as interpreters, and here, amid the merry clinking of champagne-glasses, the glare of electric lights, with the ravishing music of an Hungarian gypsy band on our right, and a band of swarthy Servians playing their sweet native melodies on our left, we, among other toasts, drink to the success of my tour.

There is a cosmopolitan and exceedingly interesting crowd of visitors at the international exhibition: natives from Bulgaria, Servia, Roumania, and Turkey, in their national costumes; and mingled among them are Hungarian peasants from various provinces, some of them in a remarkably picturesque dress, that I afterward learn is Croatian. A noticeable feature of Budapest, besides a predilection for sport among the citizens, is a larger proportion of handsome ladies than one sees in most European cities, and there is, moreover, a certain atmosphere about them that makes them rather agreeable company. If one is travelling around the world with a bicycle, it is not at all inconsistent with Budapest propriety for the wife of the wheelman sitting opposite you to remark that she wishes she were a rose, that you might wear her for a button-hole bouquet on your journey, and to ask whether or not, in that case, you would throw the rose away when it faded. Compliments, pleasant, yet withal as meaningless as the coquettish glances and fan-play that accompany them, are given with a freedom and liberality that put the sterner native of more western countries at his wits' end to return them. But the most delightful thing in all Hungary is its gypsy music. As it is played here beneath its own sunny skies, methinks there is nothing in the wide world to compare with it. The music does not suit the taste of some people, however; it is too wild and thrilling. Budapest is a place of many languages, one of the waiters in the exhibition cafe claiming the ability to speak and understand no less than fourteen different languages and dialects.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Sunday 07th Jun 1885 (23:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

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