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.

Igali

From Budapest to Paks, about one hundred and twenty kilometres, the roads are superior to anything I expected to find east of Germany; but the thermometer clings around the upper regions, and everything is covered with dust. Our route leads down the Danube in an almost directly southern course.

Instead of the poplars of France, and the apples and pears of Germany, the roads are now fringed with mulberry-trees, both raw and manufactured silk being a product of this part of Hungary. My companion is what in England or America would be considered a "character;" he dresses in the thinnest of racing costumes, through which the broiling sun readily penetrates, wears racing-shoes, and a small jockey-cap with an enormous poke, beneath which glints a pair of "specs;" he has rat-trap pedals to his wheel, and winds a long blue girdle several times around his waist, consumes raw eggs, wine, milk, a certain Hungarian mineral water, and otherwise excites the awe and admiration of his sport-admiring countrymen. Igali's only fault as a road companion is his utter lack of speed, six or eight kilometres an hour being his natural pace on average roads, besides footing it up the gentlest of gradients and over all rough stretches. Except for this little drawback, he is an excellent man to take the lead, for he is a genuine Magyar, and orders the peasantry about with the authoritative manner of one born to rule and tyrannize; sometimes, when, the surface is uneven for wheeling, making them drive their clumsy ox-wagons almost into the road-side ditch in order to avoid any possible chance of difficulty in getting past.

Igali knows four languages: French, German, Hungarian, and Slavonian, but Anglaise nicht, though with what little French and German I have picked up while crossing those countries we manage to converse and understand each other quite readily, especially as I am, from constant practice, getting to be an accomplished pantomimist, and Igali is also a pantomimist by nature, and gifted with a versatility that would make a Frenchman envious. Ere we have been five minutes at a gasthaus Igali is usually found surrounded by an admiring circle of leading citizens - not peasants; Igali would not suffer them to gather about him - pouring into their willing ears the account of my journey; the words, "San Francisco, Boston, London, Paris, Wien, Pesth, Belgrade, Constantinople, Afghanistan, India, Khiva," etc., which are repeated in rotation at wonderfully short intervals, being about all that my linguistic abilities are capable of grasping. The road continues hard, but south of Paks it becomes rather rough; consequently halts under the shade of the mulberry-trees for Igali to catch up are of frequent occurrence.

The peasantry, hereabout, seem very kindly disposed and hospitable. Sometimes, while lingering for Igali, they will wonder what I am stopping for, and motion the questions of whether I wish anything to eat or drink; and this afternoon one of them, whose curiosity to see how I mounted overcomes his patience, offers me a twenty-kreuzer piece to show him. At one village a number of peasants take an old cherry-woman to task for charging me two kreuzers more for some cherries than it appears she ought, and although two kreuzers are but a farthing they make quite a squabble with the poor old woman about it, and will be soothed by neither her voice nor mine until I accept another handful of cherries in lieu of the overcharged two kreuzers.

Szekszárd has the reputation, hereabout, of producing the best quality of red wine in all Hungary - no small boast, by the way - and the hotel and wine-gardens here, among them, support an excellent gypsy band of fourteen pieces. Mr. Garay, the leader of the band, once spent nearly a year in America, and after supper the band plays, with all the thrilling sweetness of the Hungarian muse, "Home, sweet Home," "Yankee Doodle," and "Sweet Violets," for my especial delectation.

A wheelman the fame of whose exploits has preceded him might as well try to wheel through hospitable Hungary without breathing its atmosphere as without drinking its wine; it isn't possible to taboo it as I tabooed the vin ordinaire of France, Hungarians and Frenchmen being two entirely different people.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Wednesday 10th Jun 1885 (00:30 +0100) | Add a comment | Permalink

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