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.

A day in Eszek

The editor of Der Drau, the semi-weekly official organ of the Slavonian capital, and Mr. Freund, being the two citizens of Eszek capable of speaking English, join voices at the supper-table in hoping it will rain enough to compel us to remain over to-morrow, that they may have the pleasure of showing us around Eszek and of inviting us to dinner and supper; and Igali, I am constrained to believe, retires to his couch in full sympathy with them, being possessed of a decided weakness for stopping over and accepting invitations to dine. Their united wish is gratified, for when we rise in the morning it is still raining. Eszek is a fortified city, and has been in time past an important fortress. It has lost much of its importance since the introduction of modern arms, for it occupies perfectly level ground, and the fortifications consist merely of large trenches that have been excavated and walled, with a view of preventing the city from being taken by storm - not a very overshadowing consideration in these days, when the usual mode of procedure is to stand off and bombard a city into the conviction that further resistance is useless. After dinner the assistant editor of Der Drau comes around and pilots us about the city and its pleasant environments. The worthy assistant editor is a sprightly, versatile Slav, and, as together we promenade the parks and avenues, the number and extent of which appear to be the chief glory of Eszek, the ceaseless flow of language and wellnigh continuous interchange of gesticulations between himself and Igali are quite wonderful, and both of them certainly ought to retire to-night far more enlightened individuals than they found themselves this morning.

The Hungarian seems in a particularly happy and gracious mood to-day, as I instinctively felt certain he would be if the fates decreed against a continuation of our journey. When our companion's conversation turns on any particularly interesting subject I am graciously given the benefit of it to the extent of some French or German word the meaning of which, Igali has discovered, I understand. During the afternoon we wander through the intricacies of a yew-shrub maze, where a good-sized area of impenetrably thick vegetation has been trained and trimmed into a bewildering net-work of arched walks that almost exclude the light, and Igali pauses to favor me with the information that this maze is the favorite trysting place of Slavonian nymphs and swains, and furthermore expresses his opinion that the spot must be indeed romantic and an appropriate place to "come a-wooin'" on nights when the moonbeams, penetrating through a thousand tiny interspaces, convert the gloomy interior into chambers of dancing light and shadow. All this information and these comments are embodied in the two short words, "Amour, lima" accompanied by a few gesticulations, and is a fair sample of the manner in which conversation is carried on between us. It is quite astonishing how readily two persons constantly together will come to understand each other through the medium of a few words which they know the meaning of in common. Scores of ladies and gentlemen, the latter chiefly military officers, are enjoying a promenade in the rain-cooled atmosphere, and there is no mistaking the glances of interest with which many of them favor-Igali. His pronounced sportsmanlike make-up attracts universal attention and causes everybody to mistake him for myself - a kindly office which I devoutly wish he would fill until the whole journey is accomplished. In the Casino garden a dozen bearded musicians are playing Slavonian airs, and, by request of the assistant editor, they play and sing the Slavonian national anthem and a popular air or two besides. The national musical instrument of Slavonia is the "tamborica"-a small steel-stringed instrument that is twanged with a chip-like piece of wood. Their singing is excellent in its way, but to the writer's taste there is no comparison between their tamboricas and the gypsy music of Hungary.
There are no bicycles in all Eszek save ours - though Mr. Freund, who has lately returned from Paris, has ordered one, with which he expects to win the admiration of all his countrymen - and Igali and myself are lionized to our hearts' content; but this evening we are quite startled and taken aback by the reappearance of the assistant editor, excitedly announcing the arrival of a tricycle in town. Upon going down, in breathless anticipation of summarily losing the universal admiration of Eszek, we find an itinerant cobbler, who has constructed a machine that would make the rudest bone-shaker of ancient memory seem like the most elegant product of Hartford or Coventry in comparison. The backbone and axle-tree are roughly hewn sticks of wood, ironed equally rough at the village blacksmith's; and as, for a twenty-kreuzer piece, the rider mounts and wobbles all over the sidewalk for a short distance, the spectacle would make a stoic roar with laughter, and the good people of the Lower Danubian provinces are anything but stoical.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Friday 12th Jun 1885 (22:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

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