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.

To Vienna

Spending the night at Neu Lengbach, I climb hills and wabble along, over rough, lumpy roads, toward Vienna, reaching the Austrian capital Sunday morning, and putting up at the Englischer Hof about noon.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Sunday 31st May 1885 (14:30 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

A trip to the barber

On top of the gasthaus is a rude observatory, and before starting I take a view of the country. The outlook is magnificent; the Austrian Alps are towering skyward to the southeast, rearing snow-crowned heads out from among a billowy sea of pine-covered hills, and to the northward is the lovely valley of the Danube, the river glistening softly through the morning haze.

On yonder height, overlooking the Danube on the one hand and the town of Mölk on the other, is the largest and most imposing edifice I have yet seen in Austria; it is a convent of the Benedictine monks; and though Mölk is a solid, substantially built town, of perhaps a thousand inhabitants, I should think there is more material in the immense convent building than in the whole town besides, and one naturally wonders whatever use the monks can possibly have for a building of such enormous dimensions.

Entering a barber's shop here for a shave, I find the barber of Mölk following the example of so many of his countrymen by snoozing the mid-day hours happily and unconsciously away. One could easily pocket and walk off with his stock-in-trade, for small is the danger of his awakening. Waking him up, he shuffles mechanically over to his razor and lathering apparatus, this latter being a soup-plate with a semicircular piece chipped out to fit, after a fashion, the contour of the customers' throats. Pressing this jagged edge of queen's-ware against your windpipe, the artist alternately rubs the water and a cake of soap therein contained about your face with his hands, the water meanwhile passing freely between the ill-fitting' soup-plate and your throat, and running down your breast; but don't complain; be reasonable: no reasonable-minded person could expect one soup-plate, however carefully chipped out, to fit the throats of the entire male population of Mölk, besides such travellers as happen along.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Saturday 30th May 1885 (19:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Lively Prattle

Up among the hills, at the village of Strenburg, night arrives at a very opportune moment to-day, for Strenburg proves a nice, sociable sort of village, where the doctor can speak good English and plays the role of interpreter for me at the gasthaus. The school-ma'am, a vivacious Italian lady, in addition to French and German, can also speak a few words of English, though she persistently refers to herself as the "school-master." She boards at the same gasthaus, and all the evening long I am favored by the liveliest prattle and most charming gesticulations imaginable, while the room is half filled with her class of young lady aspirants to linguistic accomplishments, listening to our amusing, if not instructive, efforts to carry on a conversation. It is altogether a most enjoyable evening, and on parting I am requested to write when I get around the world and tell the Strenburgers all that I have seen and experienced.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Saturday 30th May 1885 (00:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Dogs and ditches

My road, on leaving Haag, is hilly, and the snowy heights of the Nördliche Kalkalpen (North Chalk Mountains), a range of the Austrian Alps, loom up ahead at an uncertain distance. To-day is what Americans call a "scorcher," and climbing hills among pine-woods, that shut out every passing breeze, is anything but exhilarating exercise with the thermometer hovering in the vicinity of one hundred degrees. The peasants are abroad in their fields as usual, but a goodly proportion are reclining beneath the trees. Reclining is, I think, a favorite pastime with the Austrian. The teamster, who happens to be wide awake and sees me approaching, knows instinctively that his team is going to scare at the bicycle, yet he makes no precautionary movements whatever, neither does he arouse himself from his lolling position until the horses or oxen begin to swerve around. As a usual thing the teamster is filling his pipe, which has a large, ungainly-looking, porcelain bowl, a long, straight wooden stem, and a crooked mouth-piece. Almost every Austrian peasant from sixteen years old upward carries one of these uncomely pipes.

The men here seem to be dull, uninteresting mortals, dressed in tight- fitting, and yet, somehow, ill-fitting, pantaloons, usually about three sizes too short, a small apron of blue ducking-an unbecoming garment that can only be described as a cross between a short jacket and a waistcoat - and a narrow-rimmed, prosy-looking billycock hat. The peasant women are the poetry of Austria, as of any other European country, and in their short red dresses and broad-brimmed, gypsy hats, they look picturesque and interesting in spite of homely faces and ungraceful figures. Riding into Lambach this morning, I am about wheeling past a horse and drag that, careless and Austrian-like, has been left untied and unwatched in the middle of the street, when the horse suddenly scares, swerves around just in front of me, and dashes, helter-skelter, down the street. The horse circles around the market square and finally stops of his own accord without doing any damage. Runaways, other misfortunes, it seems, never come singly, and ere I have left Lambach an hour I am the innocent cause of yet another one; this time it is a large, powerful work-dog, who becomes excited upon meeting me along the road, and upsets things in the most lively manner. Small carts pulled by dogs are common vehicles here and this one is met coming up an incline, the man considerately giving the animal a lift. A life of drudgery breaks the spirit of these work-dogs and makes them cowardly and cringing. At my approach this one howls, and swerves suddenly around with a rush that upsets both man and cart, topsy-turvy, into the ditch, and the last glimpse of the rumpus obtained, as I sweep past and down the hill beyond, is the man pawing the air with his naked feet and the dog struggling to free himself from the entangling harness.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Friday 29th May 1885 (17:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Altheim to Haag

While eating my first luncheon in Austria, at the village of Altheim, the village pedagogue informs me in good English that I am the first Briton he has ever had the pleasure of conversing with. He learned the language entirely from books, without a tutor, he says, learning it for pleasure solely, never expecting to utilize the accomplishment in any practical way.

One hill after another characterizes my route to-day; the weather, which has hitherto remained reasonably mild, is turning hot and sultry, and, arriving at Haag about five o'clock, I feel that I have done sufficient hillclimbing for one day. I have been wheeling through Austrian territory since 10.30 this morning, and, with observant eyes the whole distance, I have yet to see the first native, male or female, possessing in the least degree either a graceful figure or a prepossessing face. There has been a great horse-fair at Haag to-day; the business of the day is concluded, and the principal occupation of the men, apart from drinking beer and smoking, appears to be frightening the women out of their wits by leading prancing horses as near them as possible.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Thursday 28th May 1885 (19:30 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Into Austria

All down the Inn River Valley, there is many a picturesque bit of intermingled pine-copse and grassy slopes; but admiring scenery is anything but a riskless undertaking along here, as I quickly discover. On the Inn River I find a primitive ferry-boat operated by a, fac-simile of the Ancient Mariner, who takes me and my wheel across for the consideration of five pfennigs - a trifle over one cent - and when I refuse the tiny change out of a ten-pfennig piece the old fellow touches his cap as deferentially, and favors me with a look of gratitude as profound, as though I were bestowing a pension upon him for life. My arrival at a broad, well-travelled high-way at once convinces me that I have again been unwittingly wandering among the comparatively untravelled by-ways as the result of following the kindly meant advice of people whose knowledge of bicycling requirements is of the slimmest nature. The Inn River a warm, rich vale; haymaking is already in full progress, and delightful perfume is wafted on the fresh morning air from aclows where scores of barefooted Maud Mullers are raking hay, and mowing it too, swinging scythes side by side with the men.

Some of the out-door crucifixes and shrines (small, substantial buildings containing pictures, images, and all sorts of religious -emblems) along this valley are really quite elaborate affairs. All through Roman Catholic Germany these emblems of religion are very elaborate, or the reverse, according to the locality, the chosen spot in rich and fertile valleys generally being favored with better and more artistic affairs, and more of them, than the comparatively unproductive uplands. This is evidently because the inhabitants of the latter regions are either less wealthy, and consequently cannot afford it, or otherwise realize that they have really much less to be thankful for than their comparatively fortunate neighbors in the more productive valleys.

At the town of Simbach I cross the Inn River again on a substantial wooden bridge, and on the opposite side pass under an old stone archway bearing the Austrian coat-of-arms. Here I am conducted into the custom-house by an officer wearing the sombre uniform of Franz Josef, and required, for the first time in Europe, to produce my passport. After a critical and unnecessarily long examination of this document I am graciously permitted to depart. In an adjacent money-changer's office I exchange what German money I have remaining for the paper currency of Austria, and once more pursue my way toward the Orient, finding the roads rather better than the average German ones, the Austrians, hereabouts at least, having had the goodness to omit the loose flints so characteristic of Bavaria. Once out of the valley of the Inn River, however, I find the uplands intervening between it and the valley of the Danube aggravatingly hilly.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Thursday 28th May 1885 (14:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Rosaries, crucifixes and other paraphernalia

Munich is visited heavily with rain during the night, and for several kilometres, next morning, the road is a horrible waste of loose flints and mud-filled ruts, along which it is all but impossible to ride; but after leaving the level bottom of the Isar River the road improves sufficiently to enable me to take an occasional, admiring glance at the Bavarian and Tyrolese Alps, towering cloudward on the southern horizon, their shadowy outlines scarcely distinguishable in the hazy distance from the fleecy clouds their peaks aspire to invade. While absentmindedly taking a more lingering look than is consistent with safety when picking one's way along the narrow edge of the roadway between the stone-strewn centre and the ditch, I run into the latter, and am rewarded with my first Cis-atlantic header, but fortunately both myself and the bicycle come up uninjured. Unlike the Swabish peasantry, the natives east of Munich appear as prosy and unpicturesque in dress as a Kansas homesteader.

Ere long there is noticeable a decided change in the character of the villages, they being no longer clusters of gabled cottages, but usually consist of some three or four huge, rambling bulldings, at one of which I call for a drink and observe that brewing and baking are going on as though they were expecting a whole regiment to be quartered on them. Among other things I mentally note this morning is that the men actually seem to be bearing the drudgery of the farm equally with the women; but the favorable impression becomes greatly imperilled upon meeting a woman harnessed to a small cart, heavily laboring along, while her husband - kind man - is walking along-side, holding on to a rope, upon which he considerately pulls to assist her along and lighten her task.

Nearing Haag, and thence eastward, the road becomes greatly improved, and along the Inn River Valley, from Muhldorf to Altötting, where I remain for the night, the late rain-storm has not reached, and the wheeling is superior to any I have yet had in Germany. Muhldorf is a curious and interesting old town. The sidewalks of Muhldorf are beneath long arcades from one end of the principal street to the other; not modern structures either, but massive archways that are doubtless centuries old, and that support the front rooms of the buildings that tower a couple of stories above them.

As toward dusk I ride into the market square of Altötting, it is noticeable that nearly all the stalls and shops remaining open display nothing but rosaries, crucifixes, and other paraphernalia of the prevailing religion. Through Eastern Bavaria the people seern pre-eminently devotional; church-spires dot the landscape at every point of the compass.

At my hotel in Altötting, crucifixes, holy water, and burning tapers are situated on the different stairway landings. I am sitting in my room, penning these lines to the music of several hundred voices chanting in the old stone church near by, and can look out of the window and see a number of peasant women taking turns in dragging themselves on their knees round and round a small religious edifice in the centre of the market square, carrying on their shoulders huge, heavy wooden crosses, the ends of which are trailing on the ground.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Wednesday 27th May 1885 (23:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Munich Sightseeing

Nine o'clock next morning finds me under the pilotage of Mr. Buscher, wandering through the splendid art galleries. We next visit the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, a magnificent building, being erected at a cost of 7,000,000 marks.

We repair at eleven o'clock to the royal residence, making a note by the way of a trifling mark of King Ludwig's well-known eccentricity. Opposite the palace is an old church, with two of its four clocks facing the King's apartments. The hands of these clocks are, according to my informant, made of gold. Some time since the King announced that the sight of these golden hands hurt his eyesight, and ordered them painted black. It was done, and they are black to-day. Among the most interesting objects in the palace are the room and bed in which Napoleon I. slept in 1809, which has since been occupied by no other person; the "rich bed," a gorgeous affair of pink and scarlet satin-work, on which forty women wove, with gold thread, daily, for ten years, until 1,600,000 marks were expended.

At one of the entrances to the royal residence, and secured with iron bars, is a large bowlder weighing three hundred and sixty-three pounds; in the wall above it are driven three spikes, the highest spike being twelve feet from the ground; and Bavarian historians have recorded that Earl Christoph, a famous giant, tossed this bowlder up to the mark indicated by the highest spike, with his foot.

After this I am kindly warned by both Messrs. Buscher and Walsch not to think of leaving the city without visiting the Konigliche Hofbrauhaus (Royal Court Brewery) the most famous place of its kind in all Europe. For centuries Munich has been famous for the excellent quality of its beer, and somewhere about four centuries ago the king founded this famous brewery for the charitable purpose of enabling his poorer subjects to quench their thirst with the best quality of beer, at prices within their means, and from generation to generation it has remained a favorite resort in Munich for lovers of good beer. In spite of its remaining, as of yore, a place of rude benches beneath equally rude, open sheds, with cobwebs festooning the rafters and a general air of dilapidation about it; in spite of the innovation of dozens of modern beer-gardens with waving palms, electric lights, military music, and all modern improvements, the Konigliche Hofbrauhaus is daily and nightly thronged with thirsty visitors, who for the trifling sum of twenty-two pfennigs (about five cents) obtain a quart tankard of the most celebrated brew in all Bavaria.

"Munich is the greatest art-centre of the world, the true hub of the artistic universe," Mr. Buscher enthusiastically assures me as we wander together through the sleepy old streets, and he points out a bright bit of old frescoing, which is already partly obliterated by the elements, and compares it with the work of recent years; calls my attention to a piece of statuary, and anon pilots me down into a restaurant and beer hall in some ancient, underground vaults and bids me examine the architecture and the frescoing. The very custom-house of Munich is a glorious old church, that would be carefully preserved as a relic of no small interest and importance in cities less abundantly blessed with antiquities, but which is here piled with the cases and boxes and bags of commerce. One other conspicuous feature of Munich life must not be over-looked ere I leave it, viz., the hackmen. Unlike their Transatlantic brethren, they appear supremely indifferent about whether they pick up any fares or not. Whenever one comes to a hack-stand it is a pretty sure thing to bet that nine drivers out of every ten are taking a quiet snooze, reclining on their elevated boxes, entirely oblivious of their surroundings, and a timid stranger would almost hesitate about disturbing their slumbers. But the Munich cabby has long since got hardened to the disagreeable process of being wakened up. Nor does this lethargy pervade the ranks of hackdom only: at least two-thirds of the teamsters one meets on the roads, hereabouts, are stretched out on their respective loads, contentedly sleeping while the horses or oxen crawl leisurely along toward their goal.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Tuesday 26th May 1885 (18:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink


An hour after noon I am industriously dodging loose flints on the level road leading across the Isar River Valley toward Munich; the Tyrolese Alps loom up, shadowy and indistinct, in the distance to the southward, their snowy peaks recalling memories of the Rockies through which I was wheeling exactly a year ago. While wending my way along the streets toward the central portion of the Bavarian capital the familiar sign, "American Cigar Store," looking like a ray of light penetrating through the gloom and mystery of the multitudinous unreadable signs that surround it, greets my vision, and I immediately wend my footsteps thitherward. I discover in the proprietor, Mr. Walsch, a native of Munich, who, after residing in America for several years, has returned to dream away declining years amid the smoke of good cigars and the quaffing of the delicious amber beer that the brewers of Munich alone know how to brew. Then who should happen in but Mr. Charles Buscher, a thorough-going American; from Chicago, who is studying art here at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, and who straightway volunteers to show me Munich.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Monday 25th May 1885 (20:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Swabish peasants

Mr. Josef Kling, the president of the club, accompanies me as far out as Friedburg on Monday morning; it is the last day of the holidays, and the Bavarians are apparently bent on making the most of it. The suburban beer-gardens are already filled with people, and for some distance out of the city the roads are thronged with holiday-making Augsburgers repairing to various pleasure resorts in the neighboring country, and the peasantry streaming cityward from the villages, their faces beaming in anticipation of unlimited quantities of beer.

About every tenth person among the outgoing Augsburgers is carrying an accordion; some playing merrily as they walk along, others preferring to carry theirs in blissful meditation on the good time in store immediately ahead, while a thoughtful majority have large umbrellas strapped to their backs. Music and song are heard on every hand, and as we wheel along together in silence, enforced by an ignorance of each other's language, whichever way one looks, people in holiday attire and holiday faces are moving hither and thither.

Some of the peasants are fearfully and wonderfully attired: the men wear high top-boots, polished from the sole to the uppermost hair's breadth of leather; black, broad-brimmed felt hats, frequently with a peacock's feather a yard long stuck through the band, the stem protruding forward, and the end of the feather behind; and their coats and waistcoats are adorned with long rows of large, ancestral buttons. I am now in the Swabian district, and these buttons that form so conspicuous a part of the holiday attire are made of silver coins, and not infrequently have been handed down from generation to generation for several centuries, they being, in fact, family heirlooms.

The costumes of the Swabish peasant women are picturesque in the extreme: their finest dresses and that wondrous head-gear of brass, silver, or gold - the Schwabische Bauernfrauenhaube (Swabish farmer-woman hat) - being, like the buttons of the men, family heirlooms. Some of these wonderful ancestral dresses, I am told, contain no less than one hundred and fifty yards of heavy material, gathered and closely pleated in innumerable perpendicular folds, frequently over a foot thick, making the form therein incased appear ridiculously broad and squatty. The waistbands of the dresses are up in the region of the shoulder-blades; the upper portion of the sleeves are likewise padded out to fearful proportions.

The day is most lovely, the fields are deserted, and the roads and villages are alive with holiday-making peasants. In every village a tall pole is erected, and decorated from top to bottom with small flags and evergreen wreaths. The little stone churches and the adjoining cemeteries are filled with worshippers chanting in solemn chorus; not so preoccupied with their devotional exercises and spiritual meditations, however, as to prevent their calling one another's attention to me as I wheel past, craning their necks to obtain a better view, and, in one instance, an o'er-inquisitive worshipper even beckons for me to stop - this person both chanting and beckoning vigorously at the same time.

Now my road leads through forests of dark firs; and here I overtake a procession of some fifty peasants, the men and women alternately chanting in weird harmony as they trudge along the road. The men are bareheaded, carrying their hats in hand. Many of the women are barefooted, and the pedal extremities of others are incased in stockings of marvellous pattern; not any are wearing shoes. All the colors of the rainbow are represented in their respective costumes, and each carries a large umbrella strapped at his back; they are trudging along at quite a brisk pace, and altogether there is something weird and fascinating about the whole scene: the chanting and the surroundings. The variegated costumes of the women are the only bright objects amid the gloominess of the dark green pines. As I finally pass ahead, the unmistakable expressions of interest on the faces of the men, and the even rows of ivories displayed by the women, betray a diverted attention.

Near noon I arrive at the antiquated town of Dachau, and upon repairing to the gasthaus, an individual in a last week's paper collar, and with general appearance in keeping, comes forward and addresses me in quite excellent English, and during the dinner hour answers several questions concerning the country and the natives so intelligently that, upon departing, I ungrudgingly offer him the small tip customary on such occasions in Germany. "No, Whitsuntide in Bavaria. I thank you, very muchly," he replies, smiling, and shaking his head. "I am not an employe of the hotel, as you doubtless think; I am a student of modern languages at the Munich University, visiting Dauhau for the day." Several soldiers playing billiards in the room grin broadly in recognition of the ludicrousness situation; and I must confess that for the moment I feel like asking one of them to draw his sword and charitably prod me out of the room. The unhappy memory of having, in my ignorance, tendered a small tip to a student of the Munich University will cling around me forever. Nevertheless, I feel that after all there are extenuating circumstances - he ought to change his paper collar occasionally.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Monday 25th May 1885 (15:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink


Down the beautiful valley of one of the Danube's tributaries I ride on Sunday morning, pedalling to the music of Blaubeuren's church-bells. After waiting until ten o'clock, partly to allow the roads to dry a little, I conclude to wait no longer, and so pull out toward the important and quite beautiful city of Ulm. The character of the country now changes, and with it likewise the characteristics of the people, who verily seem to have stamped upon their features the peculiarities of the region they inhabit. My road eastward of Blaubeuren follows down a narrow, winding valley, beside the rippling head-waters of the Danube, and eighteen kilometres of variable road brings me to the strongly fortified city of Ulm, the place I should have reached yesterday, except for the inclemency of the weather, and where I cross from Wurtemberg into Bavaria.

On the uninviting uplands of Central Wurtemberg one looks in vain among the peasant women for a prepossessing countenance or a graceful figure, but along the smiling valleys of Bavaria, the women, though usually with figures disproportionately broad, nevertheless carry themselves with a certain gracefulness; and, while far from the American or English idea of beautiful, are several degrees more so than their relatives of the part of Wurtemberg I have traversed. I stop but a few minutes at Ulm, to test a mug of its lager and inquire the details of the road to Augsburg, yet during that short time I find myself an object of no little curiosity to the citizens, for the fame of my undertaking has pervaded Ulm.

The roads of Bavaria possess the one solitary merit of hardness, otherwise they would be simply abominable, the Bavarian idea of road-making evidently being to spread unlimited quantities of loose stones over the surface. For miles a wheelman is compelled to follow along narrow, wheel-worn tracks, incessantly dodging loose stones, or otherwise to pedal his way cautiously along the edges of the roadway. I am now wheeling through the greatest beer-drinking, sausage-consuming country in the world; hop- gardens are a prominent feature of the landscape, and long links of sausages are dangling in nearly every window. The quantities of these viands I see consumed to-day are something astonishing, though the celebration of the Whitsuntide holidays is probably augmentative of the amount.

The strains of instrumental music come floating over the level bottom of the Lech valley as, toward eventide, I approach the beautiful environs of Augsburg, and ride past several beer-gardens, where merry crowds of Augsburgers are congregated, quaffing foaming lager, eating sausages, and drinking inspiration from the music of military bands.

"Where is the headquarters of the Augsburg Velocipede Club?" I inquire of a promising-looking youth as, after covering one hundred and twenty kilometres since ten o'clock, I wheel into the city. The club's headquarters are at a prominent cafe and beer-garden in the south-eastern suburbs, and repairing thither I find an accommodating individual who can speak English, and who willingly accepts the office of interpreter between me and the proprietor of the garden. Seated amid hundreds of soldiers, Augsburg civilians, and peasants from the surrounding country, and with them extracting genuine enjoyment from a tankard of foaming Augsburg lager, I am informed that most of the members of the club are celebrating the Whitsuntide holidays by touring about the surrounding country, but that I am very welcome to Augsburg, and I am conducted to the Hotel Mohrenkopf (Moor's Head Hotel), and invited to consider myself the guest of the club as long as I care to remain in Augsburg - the Bavarians are nothing if not practical.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Sunday 24th May 1885 (21:00 +0100) | Add a comment | Permalink


In the morning I am quite naturally afraid to order anything to eat here for fear of having to wait until mid-day, or thereabouts, before getting it; so, after being the unappreciative recipient of several more bows, more deferential and profound if anything than the bows of yesterday eve, I wheel twelve kilometres to Tubingen for breakfast. It showers occasionally during the forenoon, and after about thirty-five kilometres of hilly country it begins to descend in torrents, compelling me to follow the example of several peasants in seeking the shelter of a thick pine copse. We are soon driven out of it, however, and donning my gossamer rubber suit, I push on to Alberbergen, where I indulge in rye bread and milk, and otherwise while away the hours until three o'clock, when, the rain ceasing, I pull out through the mud for Blaubeuren.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Saturday 23rd May 1885 (18:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

The Black Forest

Oberkirch is a pretty village at the entrance to the narrow and charming valley of the River Bench, up which my route leads, into the fir-clad heights of the Black Forest. A few miles farther up the valley I wheel through a small village that nestles amid surroundings the loveliest I have yet seen. Dark, frowning firs intermingled with the lighter green of other vegetation crown the surrounding spurs of the Kniebis Mountains; vineyards, small fields of waving rye, and green meadow cover the lower slopes with variegated beauty, at the foot of which huddles the cluster of pretty cottages amid scattered orchards of blossoming fruit-trees. The cheery lute of the herders on the mountains, the carol of birds, and the merry music of dashing mountain-streams fill the fresh morning air with melody. All through this country there are apple-trees, pear-trees, cherry-trees In the fruit season one can scarce open his mouth out-doors without having the goddess Pomona pop in some delicious morsel. The poplar avenues of France have disappeared, but the road is frequently shaded for miles with fruit-trees. I never before saw a spot so lovely-certainly not in combination with a wellnigh perfect road for wheeling. On through Oppenau and Petersthal my way leads - this latter a place of growing importance as a summer resort, several commodious hotels with swimming-baths, mineral waters, etc., being already prepared to receive the anticipated influx of health and pleasure-seeking guests this coming summer - and then up, up, up among the dark pines leading over the Black Forest Mountains. Mile after mile of steep incline has now been trundled, following the Bench River to its source. Ere long the road I have lately traversed is visible far below, winding and twisting up the mountain-slopes. Groups of swarthy peasant women are carrying on their heads baskets of pine cones to the villages below. At a distance the sight of their bright red dresses among the sombre green of the pines is suggestive of the fairies with which legend has peopled the Black Forest.

The summit is reached at last, and two boundary posts apprise the traveller that on this wooded ridge he passes from Baden into Wurtemberg. The descent for miles is agreeably smooth and gradual; the mountain air blows cool and refreshing, with an odor of the pines; the scenery is Black Forest scenery, and what more could be possibly desired than this happy combination of circumstances. Reaching Freudenstadt about noon, the mountain-climbing, the bracing air, and the pine fragrance cause me to give the good people at the gasthaus an impressive lesson in the effect of cycling on the human appetite. At every town and village I pass through in Wurtemberg the whole juvenile population collects around me in an incredibly short time. The natural impulse of the German small boy appears to be to start running after me, shouting and laughing immoderately, and when passing through some of the larger villages, it is no exaggeration to say that I have had two hundred small Germans, noisy and demonstrative, clattering along behind in their heavy wooden shoes.

Wurtemburg, by this route at least, is a decidedly hilly country, and the roads are far inferior to those of both England and France. There will be, perhaps, three kilometres of trundling up through wooded heights leading out of a small valley, then, after several kilometres over undulating, stony upland roads, a long and not always smooth descent into another small valley, this programme, several times repeated, constituting the journey of the clay. The small villages of the peasantry are frequently on the uplands, but the larger towns are invariably in the valleys, sheltered by wooded heights, perched among the crags of the most inaccessible of which are frequently seen the ruins of an old castle. Scores of little boys of eight or ten are breaking stones by the road-side, at which I somewhat marvel, since there is a compulsory school law in Germany; but perhaps to-day is a holiday; or maybe, after school hours, it is customary for these unhappy youngsters to repair to the road-sides and blister their hands with cracking flints. "Hungry as a buzz-saw" I roll into the sleepy old town of Rothenburg at six o'clock, and, repairing to the principal hotel, order supper. Several flunkeys of different degrees of usefulness come in and bow obsequiously from time to time, as I sit around, expecting supper to appear every minute. At seven o'clock the waiter comes in, bows profoundly, and lays the table-cloth; at 7.15 he appears again, this time with a plate, knife, and fork, doing more bowing and scraping as he lays them on the table. Another half-hour rolls by, when, doubtless observing my growing impatience as he happens in at intervals to close a shutter or re-regulate the gas, he produces a small illustrated paper, and, bowing profoundly; lays it before me. I feel very much like making him swallow it, but resigning myself to what appears to be inevitable fate, I wait and wait, and at precisely 8.15 he produces a plate of soup; at 8.30 the kalbscotolet is brought on, and at 8.45 a small plate of mixed biscuits. During the meal I call for another piece of bread, and behold there is a hurrying to and fro, and a resounding of feet scurrying along the stone corridors of the rambling old building, and ten minutes later I receive a small roll. At the opposite end of the long table upon which I am writing some half-dozen ancient and honorable Rothenburgers are having what they doubtless consider a "howling time." Confronting each is a huge tankard of foaming lager, and the one doubtless enjoying himself the most and making the greatest success of exciting the envy and admiration of those around him is a certain ponderous individual who sits from hour to hour in a half comatose condition, barely keeping a large porcelain pipe from going out, and at fifteen-minute intervals taking a telling pull at the lager. Were it not for an occasional blink of the eyelids and the periodical visitation of the tankard to his lips, it would be difficult to tell whether he were awake or sleeping, the act of smoking being barely perceptible to the naked eye.

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Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Friday 22nd May 1885 (23:30 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Dry pantaloons

Rolling over fair roads into the village of Oberkirch, I conclude to remain for the night, and the first thing undertaken is to disburden the bicycle of its covering of clay. The awkward-looking hostler comes around several times and eyes the proceedings with glances of genuine disapproval, doubtless thinking I am cleaning it myself instead of letting him swab it with a besom with the single purpose in view of dodging the inevitable tip. The proprietor can speak a few words of English. He puts his bald head out of the window above, and asks: "Pe you Herr Shtevens ?" "Yah, yah," I reply.

"Do you go mit der veld around ?" "Yah; I goes around mit the world."

"I shoust read about you mit der noospaper." " Ah, indeed! what newspaper?"

"Die Frankfurter Zeitung. You go around mit der veld."

The landlord looks delighted to have for a guest the man who goes "mit der veld around," and spreads the news. During the evening several people of importance and position drop in to take a curious peep at me and my wheel.

A dampness about the knees, superinduced by wheeling in rubber leggings, causes me to seek the privilege of the kitchen fire upon arrival. After listening to the incessant chatter of the cook for a few moments, I suddenly dispense with all pantomime, and ask in purest English the privilege of drying my clothing in peace and tranquillity by the kitchen fire. The poor woman hurries out, and soon returns with her highly accomplished master, who, comprehending the situation, forthwith tenders me the loan of his Sunday pantaloons for the evening; which offer I gladly accept, notwithstanding the wide disproportion in their size and mine, the landlord being, horizontally, a very large person.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Thursday 21st May 1885 (23:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Over the Rhine

It is raining next morning as I wheel over the rolling hills toward Saverne, a city nestling pleasantly in a little valley beyond those dark wooded heights ahead that form the eastern boundary of the valley of the Rhine. The road is good but hilly, and for several kilometres, before reaching Saverne, winds its way among the pine forests tortuously and steeply down from the elevated divide. The valley, dotted here and there with pleasant villages, is spread out like a marvellously beautiful picture, the ruins of several old castles on neighboring hill-tops adding a charm, as well as a dash of romance.

The rain pours down in torrents as I wheel into Saverne. I pause long enough to patronize a barber shop; also to procure an additional small wrench. Taking my nickelled monkey-wrench into a likely-looking hardware store, I ask the proprietor if he has anything similar. He examines it with lively interest, for, in comparison with the clumsy tools comprising his stock-in-trade, the wrench is as a watch-spring to an old horse-shoe. I purchase a rude tool that might have been fashioned on the anvil of a village blacksmith. From Saverne my road leads over another divide and down into the glorious valley of the Rhine, for a short distance through a narrow defile that reminds me somewhat of a canon in the Sierra Nevada foot-hills; but a fine, broad road, spread with a coating of surface-mud only by this morning's rain, prevents the comparison from assuming definite shape for a cycler. Extensive and beautifully terraced vineyards mark the eastern exit. The road-beds of this country are hard enough for anything; but a certain proportion of clay in their composition makes a slippery coating in rainy weather. I enter the village of Marlenheim and observe the first stork's nest, built on top of a chimney, that I have yet seen in Europe, though I saw plenty of them afterward. The parent stork is perched solemnly over her youthful brood, which one would naturally think would get smoke-dried. A short distance from Marlenheim I descry in the hazy distance the famous spire of Strasburg cathedral looming conspicuously above everything else in all the broad valley; and at 1.30 P.M. I wheel through the massive arched gateway forming part of the city's fortifications, and down the broad but roughly paved streets, the most mud-be-spattered object in all Strasburg. The fortifications surrounding the city are evidently intended strictly for business, and not merely for outward display. The railway station is one of the finest in Europe, and among other conspicuous improvements one notices steam tram-cars. While trundling through the city I am imperatively ordered off the sidewalk by the policeman; and when stopping to inquire of a respectable-looking Strasburger for the Appeuweir road, up steps an individual with one eye and a cast off military cap three sizes too small. After querying, " Appenweir. Englander?" he wheels "about face" with military precision doubtless thus impelled by the magic influence of his headgear - and beckons me to follow. Not knowing what better course to pursue I obey, and after threading the mazes of a dozen streets, composed of buildings ranging in architecture from the much gabled and not unpicturesque structures of mediaeval times to the modern brown-stone front, he pilots me outside the fortifications again, points up the Appenweir road, and after the never neglected formality of touching his cap and extending his palm, returns city-ward.

Crossing the Rhine over a pontoon bridge, I ride along level and, happily, rather less muddy roads, through pleasant suburban villages, near one of which I meet a company of soldiers in undress uniform, strung out carelessly along the road, as though returning from a tramp into the country. As I approach them, pedalling laboriously against a stiff head wind, both myself and the bicycle fairly yellow with clay, both officers and soldiers begin to laugh in a good-natured, bantering sort of manner, and a round dozen of them sing out in chorus "Ah! ah! der Englander." and as I reply, "Yah! yah." in response, and smile as I wheel past them, the laughing and banter go all along the line. The sight of an "Englander" on one of his rambling expeditions of adventure furnishes much amusement to the average German, who, while he cannot help admiring the spirit of enterprise that impels him, fails to comprehend where the enjoyment can possibly come in. The average German would much rather loll around, sipping wine or beer, and smoking cigarettes, than impel a bicycle across a continent. A few miles eastward of the Rhine another grim fortress frowns upon peaceful village and broad, green meads, and off yonder to the right is yet another; sure enough, this Franco-German frontier is one vast military camp, with forts, and soldiers, and munitions of war everywhere. When I crossed the Rhine I left Lower Alsace, and am now penetrating the middle Rhine region, where villages are picturesque clusters of gabled cottages - a contrast to the shapeless and ancient-looking stone structures of the French villages. The difference also extends to the inhabitants; the peasant women of France, in either real or affected modesty, would usually pretend not to notice anything extraordinary as I wheeled past, but upon looking back they would almost invariably be seen standing and gazing after my receding figure with unmistakable interest; but the women of these Rhine villages burst out into merry peals of laughter.

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Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Thursday 21st May 1885 (17:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink


Notwithstanding Alsace was French territory only fourteen years ago (1871) there is a noticeable difference in the inhabitants, to me the most acceptable being their great linguistic superiority over the people on the French side of the border. I linger in Saarburg only about thirty minutes, yet am addressed twice by natives in my own tongue; and at Pfalzburg, a smaller town, where I remain over night, I find the same characteristic. Ere I penetrate thirty kilometres into German territory, however, I have to record what was never encountered in France; an insolent teamster, who, having his horses strung across a narrow road- way in the suburbs of Saarburg, refuses to turn his leaders' heads to enable me to ride past, thus compelling me to dismount. Soldiers drilling, soldiers at target practice, and soldiers in companies marching about in every direction, greet my eyes upon approaching Pfalzburg; and although there appears to be less beating of drums and blare of trumpets than in French garrison towns, one seldom turns a street corner without hearing the measured tramp of a military company receding or approaching. These German troops appear to march briskly and in a business-like manner in comparison with the French, who always seem to carry themselves with a tired and dejected deportment; but the over-ample and rather slouchy-looking pantaloons of the French are probably answerable, in part, for this impression. One cannot watch these sturdy-looking German soldiers without a conviction that for the stern purposes of war they are inferior only to the soldiers of our own country. At the little gasthaus at Pfalzburg the people appear to understand and anticipate an Englishman's gastronomic peculiarities, for the first time since leaving England I am confronted at the supper-table with excellent steak and tea.

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Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Thursday 21st May 1885 (20:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Leaving France

Nancy is reputed to be one of the loveliest towns in France. But I merely remained in it over night, and long enough next morning to exchange for some German money, as I cross over the frontier to-day.

Lunéville is a town I pass through, some distance nearer the border, and the military display here made is perfectly overshadowing. Even the scarecrows in the fields are military figures, with wooden swords threateningly waving about in their hands with every motion of the wind, and the most frequent sound heard along the route is the sharp bang! bang! of muskets, where companies of soldiers are target-practising in the woods. There seems to be a bellicose element in the very atmosphere; for every dog in every village I ride through verily takes after me, and I run clean over one bumptious cur, which, miscalculating the speed at which I am coming, fails to get himself out of the way in time. It is the narrowest escape from a header I have had since starting from Liverpool; although both man and dog were more scared than hurt. Sixty-five kilometres from Nancy, and I take lunch at the frontier town of Blamont. The road becomes more hilly, and a short distance out of Blamont, behold, it is as though a chalk-line were made across the roadway, on the west side of which it had been swept with scrupulous care, and on the east side not swept at all; and when, upon passing the next roadman, I notice that he bears not upon his cap the brass stencil-plate bearing the inscription, "Cantonnier," I know that I have passed over the frontier into the territory of Kaiser Wilhelm.

My journey through fair France has been most interesting, and perhaps instructive, though I am afraid that the lessons I have taken in French politeness are altogether too superficial to be lasting. The "Bonjour, monsieur," and "Bon voyage," of France, may not mean any more than the "If I don't see you again, why, hello." of America, but it certainly sounds more musical and pleasant. It is at the table d'hote, however, that I have felt myself to have invariably shone superior to the natives; for, lo! the Frenchman eats soup from the end of his spoon. True, it is more convenient to eat soup from the prow of a spoon than from the larboard; nevertheless, it is when eating soup that I instinctively feel my superiority. The French peasants, almost without exception, conclude that the bright-nickelled surface of the bicycle is silver, and presumably consider its rider nothing less than a millionnaire in consequence; but it is when I show them the length of time the rear wheel or a pedal will spin round that they manifest their greatest surprise. The crowning glory of French landscape is the magnificent avenues of poplars that traverse the country in every direction, winding with the roads, the railways, and canals along the valleys, and marshalled like sentinels along the brows of the distant hills; without them French scenery would lose half its charm.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Wednesday 20th May 1885 (20:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Escargots and Prussians

The following morning is still rainy, and the clayey roads of the Ornain Valley are anything but inviting wheeling; but a longer stay in Tronville is not to be thought of, for, among other pleasantries of the place here, the chief table delicacy appears to be boiled escargots, a large, ungainly snail procured from the neighboring hills. Whilst fond of table delicacies, I emphatically draw the line at escargots. Pulling out toward Toul I find the roads, as expected, barely ridable; but the vineyard-environed little valley, lovely in its tears, wrings from one praise in spite of muddy roads and lowering weather. En route down the valley I meet a battery of artillery travelling from Toul to Bar-le Duc or some other point to the westward; and if there is any honor in throwing a battery of French artillery into confusion, and wellnigh routing them, then the bicycle and I are fairly entitled to it.

As I ride carelessly toward them, the leading horses suddenly wheel around and begin plunging about the road. The officers' horses, and, infact, the horses of the whole company, catch the infection, and there is a plunging and a general confusion all along the line, seeing which I, of course, dismount and retire - but not discomfited - from the field until they have passed. These French horses are certainly not more than half-trained. I passed a battery of English artillery on the road leading out of Coventry, and had I wheeled along under the horses' noses there would have been no confusion whatever.

On the divide between the Ornain and Moselle Valleys the roads are hillier, but somewhat less muddy. The weather continues showery and unsettled, and a short distance beyond Void I find myself once again wandering off along the wrong road. The peasantry hereabout seem to have retained a lively recollection of the Prussians, my helmet appearing to have the effect of jogging their memory, and frequently, when stopping to inquire about the roads, the first word in response will be the pointed query, "Prussian?" By following the directions given by three different peasants, I wander along the muddy by-roads among the vineyards for two wet, unhappy hours ere I finally strike the main road to Toul again.

After floundering along the wellnigh unimproved by-ways for two hours one thoroughly appreciates how much he is indebted to the military necessities of the French Government for the splendid highways of France, especially among these hills and valleys, where natural roadways would be anything but good. Following down the Moselle Valley, I arrive at the important city of Nancy in the eventide, and am fortunate, I suppose, in discovering a hotel where a certain, or, more properly speaking, an uncertain, quantity and quality of English are spoken.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Tuesday 19th May 1885 (20:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Suspicion in Bar-le-Duc

Bar-le-Duc appears to be quite an important business centre, pleasantly situated in the valley of the Ornain River, a tributary of the Marne; and the stream, in its narrow, fertile valley, winds around among hills from whose sloping sides, every autumn, fairly ooze the celebrated red wines of the Meuse and Moselle regions. The valley has been favored with a tremendous downpour of rain and hail during the night, and the partial formation of the road leading along the level valley eastward being a light-colored, slippery clay, I find it anything but agreeable wheeling this morning; moreover, the Ornain Valley road is not so perfectly kept as it might be. As in every considerable town in France, so also in Bar-le-Duc, the military element comes conspicuously to the fore. Eleven kilometres of slipping and sliding through the greasy clay brings me to the little village of Tronville, where I halt to investigate the prospect of obtaining something to eat. As usual, the prospect, from the street, is most unpromising, the only outward evidence being a few glass jars of odds and ends of candy in one small window.

Entering this establishment, the only thing the woman can produce besides candy and raisins is a box of brown, wafer-like biscuits, the unsubstantial appearance of which is, to say the least, most unsatisfactory to a person who has pedalled his breakfastless way through eleven kilometres of slippery clay. Uncertain of their composition, and remembering my unhappy mistake at Mantes in desiring to breakfast off yeast-cakes, I take the precaution of sampling one, and in the absence of anything more substantial conclude to purchase a few, and so motion to the woman to hand me the box in order that I can show her how many I want. But the o'er-careful Frenchwoman, mistaking my meaning, and fearful that I only want to sample yet another one, probably feeling uncertain of whether I might not wish to taste a whole handful this time, instead of handing it over moves it out of my reach altogether, meanwhile looking quite angry, and not a little mystified at her mysterious, pantomimic customer. A half-franc is produced, and, after taking the precaution of putting it away in advance, the cautious female weighs me out the current quantity of her ware; and I notice that, after giving lumping weight, she throws in a few extra, presumably to counterbalance what, upon sober second thought, she perceives to have been an unjust suspicion. While I am extracting what satisfaction my feathery purchase contains, it begins to rain and hail furiously, and so continues with little interruption all the forenoon, compelling me, much against my inclination, to search out in Tronville, if possible, some accommodation till to-morrow morning. The village is a shapeless cluster of stone houses and stables, the most prominent feature of the streets being huge heaps of manure and grape-vine prunings; but I manage to obtain the necessary shelter, and such other accommodations as might be expected in an out-of-the-way village, unfrequented by visitors from one year's end to another.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Monday 18th May 1885 (16:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Marne and Rhine Canal

Vitry le François is a charming old town in the beautiful valley of the Marne; in the middle ages it was a strongly fortified city; the moats and earth-works are still perfect. The only entrance to the town, even now, is over the old draw-bridges, the massive gates, iron wheels, chains,etc., still being intact, so that the gates can yet be drawn up and entrance denied to foes, as of yore; but the moats are now utilized for the boats of the Marne and Rhine Canal, and it is presumable that the old draw-bridges are nowadays always left open. To-day is Sunday - and Sunday in France is equivalent to a holiday - consequently Vitry le François, being quite an important town, and one of the business centres of the prosperous and populous Marne Valley, presents all the appearance of circus-day in an American agricultural community. Several booths are erected in the market square, the proprietors and attaches of two peregrinating theatres, several peep-shows, and a dozen various games of chance, are vying with each other in the noisiness of their demonstrations to attract the attention and small change of the crowd to their respective enterprises. Like every other highway in this part of France the Marne and Rhine Canal is fringed with an avenue of poplars, that from neighboring elevations can be seen winding along the beautiful valley for miles, presenting a most pleasing effect.

East of Vitry le François the roads deteriorate, and from thence to Bar-le-Duc they are inferior to any hitherto encountered in France; nevertheless, from the American standpoint they are very good roads, and when, at five o'clock, I wheel into Bar-le-Duc and come to sum up the aggregate of the day's journey I find that, without any undue exertion, I have covered very nearly one hundred and sixty kilometres, or about one hundred English miles, since 8.30 A.M., notwithstanding a good hour's halt at Vitry le François for dinner.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Sunday 17th May 1885 (20:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Gliding in the morning air

It has rained heavily during the night, but the roads around here are composed mainly of gravel, and are rather improved than otherwise by the rain; and from Sezanne, through Champenoise and on to Vitry le François, a distance of about sixty-five kilometres, is one of the most enjoyable stretches of road imaginable. The contour of the country somewhat resembles the swelling prairies of Western Iowa, and the roads are as perfect for most of the distance as an asphalt boulevard. The hills are gradual acclivities, and, owing to the good roads, are mostly ridable, while - the declivities make the finest coasting imaginable; the exhilaration of gliding down them in the morning air, fresh after the rain, can be compared only to Canadian tobogganing. Ahead of you stretches a gradual downward slope, perhaps two kilometres long. Knowing full well that from top to bottom there exists not a loose stone or a dangerous spot, you give the ever-ready steel-horse the rein; faster and faster whirl the glistening wheels until objects "by the road-side become indistinct phantoms as they glide instantaneously by, and to strike a hole or obstruction is to be transformed into a human sky-rocket, and, later on, into a new arrival in another world. A wild yell of warning at a blue-bloused peasant in the road ahead, shrill screams of dismay from several females at a cluster of cottages, greet the ear as you sweep past like a whirlwind, and the next moment reach the bottom at a rate of speed that would make the engineer of the Flying Dutchman green with envy. Sometimes, for the sake of variety, when gliding noiselessly along on the ordinary level, I wheel unobserved close up behind an unsuspecting peasant walking on ahead, without calling out, and when he becomes conscious of my presence and looks around and sees the strange vehicle in such close proximity it is well worth the price of a new hat to see the lively manner in which he hops out of the way, and the next moment becomes fairly rooted to the ground with astonishment; for bicycles and bicycle riders are less familiar objects to the French peasant, outside of the neighborhood of a few large cities, than one would naturally suppose.

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Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Sunday 17th May 1885 (14:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Paris to Sezanne

Before breakfast I leave the city by the Porte Daumesnil, and wheel through the environments toward Vincennes and Jonville, pedalling, to the sound of martial music, for miles beyond the Porte. The roads for thirty miles east of Paris are not Normandy roads, but the country for most of the distance is fairly level, and for mile after mile, and league beyond league, the road is beneath avenues of plane and poplar, which, crossing the plain in every direction like emerald walls of nature's own building, here embellish and beautify an otherwise rather monotonous stretch of country. The villages are little different from the villages of Normandy, but the churches have not the architectural beauty of the Normandy churches, being for the most part massive structures without any pretence to artistic embellishment in their construction. Monkish-looking priests are a characteristic feature of these villages, and when, on passing down the narrow, crooked streets of Fontenay, I wheel beneath a massive stone archway, and looking around, observe cowled priests and everything about the place seemingly in keeping with it, one can readily imagine himself transported back to medieval times.

One of these little interior French villages is the most unpromising looking place imaginable for a hungry person to ride into; often one may ride the whole length of the village expectantly looking around for some visible evidence of wherewith to cheer the inner man, and all that greets the hungry vision is a couple of four-foot sticks of bread in one dust-begrimed window, and a few mournful-looking crucifixes and Roman Catholic paraphernalia in another. Neither are the peasants hereabouts to be compared with the Normandy peasantry in personal appearance. True, they have as many patches on their pantaloons, but they don't seem to have acquired the art of attaching them in a manner to produce the same picturesque effect as does the peasant of Normandy; the original garment is almost invariably a shapeless corduroy, of a bagginess and an o'er-ampleness most unbeautiful to behold.

The well-known axiom about fair paths leading astray holds good with the high-ways and by-ways of France, as elsewhere, and soon after leaving the ancient town of Provins, I am tempted by a splendid road, following the windings of a murmuring brook, that appears to be going in my direction, in consequence of which I soon find myself among cross-country by-ways, and among peasant proprietors who apparently know little of the world beyond their native Tillages. Four o'clock finds me wheeling through a hilly vineyard district toward Villenauxe, a town several kilometres off my proper route, from whence a dozen kilometres over a very good road brings me to Sezanne, where the Hotel de France affords excellent accommodation. After the table d'hôte the clanging bells of the old church hard by announce services of some kind, and having a natural penchant when in strange places from wandering whithersoever inclination leads, in anticipation of the ever possible item of interest, I meander into the church and take a seat. There appears to be nothing extraordinary about the service, the only unfamiliar feature to me being a man wearing a uniform similar to the gendarmerie of Paris: cockade, sash, sword, and everything complete; in addition to which he carries a large cane and a long brazen-headed staff resembling the boarding-pike of the last century.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Saturday 16th May 1885 (18:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Champs Elysees

Visiting the headquarters of the Societe Velocipedique Metropolitaine on Friday evening, I obtain from the president the desired directions regarding the route, and am all prepared to continue eastward in the morning. Wheeling down the famous Champs Elysees at eleven at night, when the concert gardens are in full blast and everything in a blaze, of glory, with myriads of electric lights festooned and in long brilliant rows among the trees, is something to be remembered for a lifetime.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Saturday 16th May 1885 (01:30 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Locked out

Among other agreeable and sensible arrangements at the Hotel du Loiret, there is no such thing as opening one's room-door from the outside save with the key; and unless one thoroughly understands this handy peculiarity, and has his wits about him continually, he is morally certain, sometime when he is leaving his room, absent-mindedly to shut the door and leave the key inside. This is, of course, among the first things that happen to me, and it costs me half a franc and three hours of wretchedness before I see the interior of my room again. The hotel keeps a rude skeleton-key on hand, presumably for possible emergencies of this nature; but in manipulating this uncouth instrument le portier actually locks the door, and as the skeleton-key is expected to manage the catch only, and not the lock, this, of course, makes matters infinitely worse. The keys of every room in the house are next brought into requisition and tried in succession, but not a key among them all is a duplicate of mine. What is to be done. Le portier looks as dejected as though Paris was about to be bombarded, as he goes down and breaks the dreadful news to le proprietaire. Up comes le proprietaire - avoirdupois three hundred pounds - sighing like an exhaust-pipe at every step. For fifteen unhappy minutes the skeleton-key is wriggled and twisted about again in the key- hole, and the fat proprietaire rubs his bald head impatiently, but all to no purpose. Each returns to his respective avocation. Impatient to get at my writing materials, I look up at the iron bars across the fifth- story windows above, and motion that if they will procure a rope I will descend from thence and enter the window. They one and all point out into the street; and, thinking they have sent for something or somebody, I sit down and wait with Job-like patience for something to turn up. Nothing, however, turns up, and at the expiration of an hour I naturally begin to feel neglected and impatient, and again suggest the rope; when, at a motion from le proprietaire, le portier pilots me around a neighboring corner to a locksmith's establishment, where, voluntarily acting the part of interpreter, he engages on my behalf, for half a franc, a man to come with a bunch of at least a hundred skeleton-keys of all possible shapes to attack the refractory key-hole. After trying nearly all the keys, and disburdening himself of whole volumes of impulsive French ejaculations, this man likewise gives it up in despair; but, now everything else has been tried and failed, the countenance of la portier suddenly lights up, and he slips quietly around to an adjoining room, and enters mine inside of two minutes by simply lifting a small hook out of a staple with his knife-blade. There appears to be a slight coolness, as it were, between le proprietaire and me after this incident, probably owing to the intellectual standard of each becoming somewhat lowered in the other's estimation in consequence of it. Le proprietaire, doubtless, thinks a man capable of leaving the key inside of the door must be the worst type of an ignoramus; and certainly my opinion of him for leaving such a diabolical arrangement unchanged in the latter half of the nineteenth century is not far removed from the same.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Thursday 14th May 1885 (19:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink


The market-women are arraying their varied wares all along the main street of Mantes as I wheel down toward the banks of the Seine this morning. I stop to procure a draught of new milk, and, while drinking it, point to sundry long rows of light, flaky-looking cakes strung on strings, and motion that I am desirous of sampling a few at current rates; but the good dame smiles and shakes her head vigorously, as well enough she might, for I learn afterward that the cakes are nothing less than dried yeast-cakes, a breakfast off which would probably have produced spontaneous combustion. Getting on to the wrong road out of Mantes, I find myself at the river's edge down among the Seine watermen. I am shown the right way, but from Mantes to Paris they are not Normandy roads; from Mantes southward they gradually deteriorate until they are little or no better than the "sand-papered roads of Boston." Having determined to taboo vin ordinaire altogether I astonish the restaurateur of a village where I take lunch by motioning away the bottle of red wine and calling for " de I'eau," and the glances cast in my direction by the other customers indicate plainly enough that they consider the proceeding as something quite extraordinary. Rolling through Saint Germain, Chalon Pavey, and Nanterre, the magnificent Arc de Triomphe looms up in the distance ahead, and at about two o'clock, Wednesday, May 13th, I wheel into the gay capital through the Porte Maillot. Asphalt pavement now takes the place of macadam, and but a short distance inside the city limits I notice the 'cycle depot of Renard Ferres. Knowing instinctively that the fraternal feelings engendered by the magic wheel reaches to wherever a wheelman lives, I hesitate not to dismount and present my card. Yes, Jean Glinka, apparently an employe there, comprehends Anglais; they have all heard of my tour, and wish me bon voyage, and Jean and his bicycle is forthwith produced and delegated to accompany me into the interior of the city and find me a suitable hotel. The streets of Paris, like the streets of other large cities, are paved with various compositions, and they have just been sprinkled. French-like, the luckless Jean is desirous of displaying his accomplishments on the wheel to a visitor so distingue; he circles around on the slippery pavement in a manner most unnecessary, and in so doing upsets himself while crossing a car-track, rips his pantaloons, and injures his wheel. At the Hotel du Louvre they won't accept bicycles, having no place to put them; but a short distance from there we find a less pretentious establishment, where, after requiring me to fill up a formidable-looking blank, stating my name, residence, age, occupation, birthplace, the last place I lodged at, etc., they finally assign me quarters. From Paul Devilliers, to whom I bring an introduction, I learn that by waiting here till Friday evening, and repairing to the rooms of the Societe Velocipedique Metropolitaine, the president of that club can give me the best bicycle route between Paris and Vienna; accordingly I domicile myself at the hotel for a couple of days. Many of the lions of Paris are within easy distance of my hotel. The reader, however, probably knows more about the sights of Paris than one can possibly find out in two days; therefore I refrain from any attempt at describing them; but my hotel is worthy of remark.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Wednesday 13th May 1885 (23:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Roll, Jordan, Roll

Fine roads continue, and between Gaillon and Vernon one can see the splendid highway, smooth, straight, and broad, stretching ahead for miles between rows of stately poplars, forming magnificent avenues that add not a little to the natural loveliness of the country. Noble chateaus appear here and there, oftentimes situated upon the bluffs of the Seine, and forming the background to a long avenue of chestnuts, maples, or poplars, running at right angles to the main road and principal avenue. The well-known thriftiness of the French peasantry is noticeable on every hand, and particularly away off to the left yonder, where their small, well-cultivated farms make the sloping bluffs resemble huge log-cabin quilts in the distance. Another glaring and unmistakable evidence of the Normandy peasants' thriftiness is the remarkable number of patches they manage to distribute over the surface of their pantaloons, every peasant hereabouts averaging twenty patches, more or less, of all shapes and sizes. When the British or United States Governments impose any additional taxation on the people, the people gruinblingly declare they won't put up with it, and then go ahead and pay it; but when the Chamber of Deputies at Paris turns on the financial thumb-screw a little tighter, the French peasant simply puts yet another patch on the seat of his pantaloons, and smilingly hands over the difference between the patch and the new pair he intended to purchase!

Huge cavalry barracks mark the entrance to Vernon, and, as I watch with interest the manoauvring of the troops going through their morning drill, I cannot help thinking that with such splendid loads as France possesses she might take many a less practical measure for home defence than to mount a few regiments of light infantry on bicycles; infantry travelling toward the front at the late of seventy-five or a hundred miles a day would be something of an improvement, one would naturally think. Every few miles my road leads through the long, straggling street of a village, every building in which is of solid stone, and looks at least a thousand years old; while at many cross-roads among the fields, and in all manner of unexpected nooks and corners of the villages, crucifixes are erected to accommodate the devotionally inclined. Most of the streets of these interior villages are paved with square stones which the wear and tear of centuries have generally rendered too rough for the bicycle; but occasionally one is ridable, and the astonishment of the inhabitants as I wheel leisurely through, whistling the solemn strains of "Roll, Jordan, roll," is really quite amusing. Every village of any size boasts a church that, for fineness of architecture and apparent costliness of construction, looks out of all proportion to the straggling street of shapeless structures that it overtops. Everything here seems built as though intended to last forever, it being no unusual sight to see a ridiculously small piece of ground surrounded by a stone wall built as though to resist a bombardment; an enclosure that must have cost more to erect than fifty crops off the enclosed space could repay. The important town of Mantes is reached early in the evening, and a good inn found for the night.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Tuesday 12th May 1885 (23:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Lost in Elbeuf

This Elbeuf hotel, though, is anything but an elegant establishment, and le proprietaire, though seemingly intelligent enough, brings me out a bottle of the inevitable vin ordinaire (common red wine) at breakfast-time, instead of the coffee for which my opportune interpreter said he had given the order yester-eve. If a Frenchman only sits down to a bite of bread and cheese he usually consumes a pint bottle of vin ordinaire with it. The loaves of bread here are rolls three and four feet long, and frequently one of these is laid across - or rather along, for it is oftentimes longer than the table is wide - the table for you to hack away at during your meal, according to your bread-eating capacity or inclination.

Monsieur, the accomplished, come down to see his Anglais friend and protege next morning, a few minutes after his Anglais friend and protege, has started off toward a distant street called Rue Poussen, which le garcon had unwittingly directed him to when he inquired the way to the bureau de poste; the natural result, I suppose, of the difference between Elbeuf pronunciation and mine. Discovering my mistake upon arriving at the Rue Poussen, I am more fortunate in my attack upon the interpreting abilities of a passing citizen, who sends an Elbeuf gamin to guide me to the post-office.

Post office clerks are proverbially intelligent people in any country, consequently it doesn't take me long to transact my business at the bureau de poste; but now - shades of Caesar! - I have thoughtlessly neglected to take down either the name of the hotel or the street in which it is located, and for the next half-hour go wandering about as helplessly as the "babes in the wood" Once, twice I fancy recognizing the location; but the ordinary Elbeuf house is not easily recognized from its neighbors, and I am standing looking around me in the bewildered attitude of one uncertain of his bearings, when, lo! the landlady, who has doubtless been wondering whatever has become of me, appears at the door of a building which I should certainly never have recognized as my hotel, besom in hand, and her pleasant, "Oui, monsieur," sounds cheery and welcome enough, under the circumstances, as one may readily suppose.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Tuesday 12th May 1885 (14:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

French Customs

Comfortable quarters are assigned me on board the Channel steamer, and a few minutes after bidding friends and England farewell, at Newhaven, at 11.30 P.M., I am gently rocked into unconsciousness by the motion of the vessel, and remain happily and restfully oblivious to my surroundings until awakened next morning at Dieppe, where I find myself, in a few minutes, on a foreign shore. All the way from San Francisco to Newhaven. there is a consciousness of being practically in one country and among one people-people who, though acknowledging separate governments, are bound so firmly together by the ties of common instincts and interests, and the mystic brotherhood of a common language and a common civilization, that nothing of a serious nature can ever come between them. But now I am verily among strangers, and the first thing talked of is to make me pay duty on the bicycle.

The captain of the vessel, into whose hands Mr. C assigned me at Newhaven, protests on my behalf, and I likewise enter a gentle demurrer; but the custom-house officer declares that a duty will have to be forthcoming, saying that the amount will be returned again when I pass over the German frontier. The captain finally advises the payment of the duty and the acceptance of a receipt for the amount, and takes his leave. Not feeling quite satisfied as yet about paying the duty, I take a short stroll about Dieppe, leaving my wheel at tho custom-house and when I shortly return, prepared to pay the assessment, whatever it may be, the officer who, but thirty minutes since, declared emphatically in favor of a duty, now answers, with all the politeness imaginable: "Monsieur is at liberty to take the velocipede and go whithersoever he will." It is a fairly prompt initiation into the impulsiveness of the French character. They don't accept bicycles as baggage, though, on the Channel steamers, and six shillings freight, over and above passage-money, has to be yielded up.

Although upon a foreign shore, I am not yet, it seems, to be left entirely alone to the tender mercies of my own lamentable inability to speak French. Fortunately there lives at Dieppe a gentleman named Mr. Parkinson, who, besides being an Englishman to the backbone, is quite an enthusiastic wheelman, and, among other things, considers it his solemn duty to take charge of visiting 'cyclers from England and America and see them safely launched along the magnificent roadways of Normandy, headed fairly toward their destination. Faed has thoughtfully notified Mr. Parkinson of my approach, and he is watching for my coming - as tenderly as though I were a returning prodigal and he charged with my welcoming home. Close under the frowning battlements of Dieppe Castle - a once wellnigh impregnable fortress that was some time in possession of the English - romantically nestles Mr. Parldnson's studio, and that genial gentleman promptly proposes accompanying me some distance into the country.

On our way through Dieppe I notice blue-bloused peasants guiding small flocks of goats through the streets, calling them along with a peculiar, tuneful instrument that sounds somewhat similar to a bagpipe. I learn that they are Normandy peasants, who keep their flocks around town all summer, goat's milk being considered beneficial for infants and invalids. They lead the goats from house to house, and milk whatever quantity their customers want at their own door - a custom that we can readily understand will never become widely popular among Anglo Saxon milkmen, since it leaves no possible chance for pump-handle combinations and corresponding profits.

The morning is glorious with sunshine and the carols of feathered songsters as together we speed away down the beautiful Arques Valley, over roads that are simply perfect for wheeling; and, upon arriving at the picturesque ruins of the Chateau d'Arques, we halt and take a casual peep at the crumbling walls of this of the famous fortress, which the trailing ivy of Normandy now partially covers with a dark-green mantle of charity, as though its purpose and its mission were to hide its fallen grandeur from the rude gaze of the passing stranger. All along the roads we meet happy-looking peasants driving into Dieppe market with produce. They are driving Normandy horses - and that means fine, large, spirited animals - which, being unfamiliar with bicycles, almost invariably take exception to ours, prancing about after the usual manner of high-strung steeds. Unlike his English relative, the Norman horse looks not supinely upon the whirling wheel, but arrays himself almost unanimously against us, and umially in the most uncompromising manner, similar to the phantom- eyed roadster of the United States agriculturist. The similarity between the turnouts of these two countries I am forced to admit, however, terminates abruptly with the horse itself, and does not by any means extend to the driver; for, while the Normandy horse capers about and threatens to upset the vehicle into the ditch, the Frenchman's face is wreathed in apologetic smiles; and, while he frantically endeavors to keep the refractory horse under control, he delivers himself of a whole dictionary of apologies to the wheelman for the animal's foolish conduct, touches his cap with an air of profound deference upon noticing that we have considerately slowed up, and invariably utters his Bon jour, monsieur, as we wheel past, in a voice that plainly indicates his acknowledgment of the wheelman's - or anybody else's - right to half the roadway. A few days ago I called the English roads perfect, and England the paradise of 'cyclers; and so it is; but the Normandy roads are even superior, and the scenery of the Arques Valley is truly lovely. There is not a loose stone, a rut, or depression anywhere on these roads, and it is little exaggeration to call them veritable billiard-tables for smoothness of surface. As one bowls smoothly along over them he is constantly wondering how they can possibly keep them in such condition. Were these fine roads in America one would never be out of sight of whirling wheels. A luncheon of Normandy cheese and cider at Cleres, and then onward to Rouen is the word. At every cross-roads is erected an iron guide-post, containing directions to several of the nearest towns, telling the distances in kilometres and yards; and small stone pillars are set up alongside the road, marking every hundred yards. Arriving at Rouen at four o'clock, Mr. Parkinson shows me the famous old Rouen Cathedral, the Palace of Justice, and such examples of old mediaeval Rouen as I care to visit, and, after inviting me to remain and take dinner with him by the murmuring waters of the historic Seine, he bids me bon voyage, turns my head southward, and leaves me at last a stranger among strangers, to "comprendre Francais" unassisted.

Some wiseacre has placed it on record that too much of a good thing is worse than none at all; however that may be, from having concluded that the friendly iron guide-posts would be found on every corner where necessary, pointing out the way with infallible truthfulness, and being doubtless influenced by the superior levelness of the road leading down the valley of the Seine in comparison with the one leading over the bluffs, I wander toward eventide into Elbeuf, instead of Pont de l' Arques, as I had intended; but it matters little, and I am content to make the best of my surroundings. Wheeling along the crooked, paved streets of Elbeuf, I enter a small hotel, and, after the customary exchange of civilities, I arch my eyebrows at an intelligent-looking madame, and inquire, "Comprendre Anglais." "Non," replies the lady, looking puzzled, while I proceed to ventilate my pantomimic powers to try and make my wants understood. After fifteen minutes of despairing effort, mademoiselle, the daughter, is despatched to the other side of the town, and presently returns with a be whiskered Frenchman, who, in very much broken English, accompanying his words with wondrous gesticulations, gives me to understand that he is the only person in all Elbeuf capable of speaking the English language, and begs me to unburden myself to him without reserve. He proves himself useful and obliging, kindly interesting himself in obtaining me comfortable accommodation at reasonable rates.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Monday 11th May 1885 (00:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

The end of England

The threatening aspect of the weather on the following morning causes part of our company to hesitate about venturing any farther from London; but Faed and three companions wheel with me toward Brighton through a gentle morning shower, which soon clears away, however, and, before long, the combination of the splendid Sussex roads, fine breezy weather, and lovely scenery, amply repays us for the discomforts of yester-eve. Fourteen miles from Brighton we are met by eight members of the Kempton Rangers Bicycle Club, who have sallied forth thus far northward to escort us into town; having done which, they deliver us over to Mr. C—-, of the Brighton Tricycle Club, and brother-in-law to the mayor of the city. It is two in the afternoon. This gentleman straightway ingratiates himself into our united affections, and wins our eternal gratitude, by giving us a regular wheelman's dinner, after which he places us under still further obligations by showing us as many of the lions of Brighton as are accessible on Sunday, chief among which is the famous Brighton Aquarium, where, by his influence, he kindly has the diving-birds and seals fed before their usual hour, for our especial delectation-a proceeding which naturally causes the barometer of our respective self-esteems to rise several notches higher than usual, and doubtless gives equal satisfaction to the seals and diving-birds. We linger at the aquarium until near sun-down, and it is fifteen miles by what is considered the smoothest road to Newhaven. Mr. C—— declares his intention of donning his riding-suit and, by taking a shorter, though supposably rougher, road, reach Newhaven as soon as we. As we halt at Lewes for tea, and ride leisurely, likewise submitting to being photographed en route, he actually arrives there ahead of us.

It is Sunday evening, May 10th, and my ride through "Merrie England " is at an end. Among other agreeable things to be ever remembered in connection with it is the fact that it is the first three hundred miles of road I ever remember riding over without scoring a header - a circumstance that impresses itself none the less favorably perhaps when viewed in connection with the solidity of the average English road. It is not a very serious misadventure to take a flying header into a bed of loose sand on an American country road; but the prospect of rooting up a flint-stone with one's nose, or knocking a curb-stone loose with one's bump of cautiousness, is an entirely different affair; consequently, the universal smoothness of the surface of the English highways is appreciated at its full value by at least one wheelman whose experience of roads is nothing if not varied.

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Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Sunday 10th May 1885 (22:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink


Spending the night at Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, I pull out toward London on Thursday morning, and near Watford am highly gratified at meeting Faed and the captain of the North London Tricycle Club, who have come out on their tricycles from London to meet and escort me into the metropolis. At Faed's suggestion I decide to remain over in London until Saturday to be present at the annual tricycle meet on Barnes Common, and together we wheel down the Edgeware Road, Park Road, among the fashionable turnouts of Piccadilly, past Knightsbridge and Brompton to the "Inventories" Exhibition, where we spend a most enjoyable afternoon inspecting the thousand and one material evidences of inventive genius from the several countries represented.

Five hundred and twelve 'cyclers, including forty-one tandem tricycles and fifty ladies, ride in procession at the Barnes Common meet, making quite an imposing array as they wheel two abreast between rows of enthusiastic spectators. Here, among a host of other wheeling celebrities, I am introduced to Major Knox Holmes, before mentioned as being a gentleman of extraordinary powers of endurance, considering his advanced age. After tea a number of tricyclers accompany me down as far as Croydon, which place we enter to the pattering music of a drenching rain-storm, experiencing the accompanying pleasure of a wet skin, etc

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Saturday 09th May 1885 (19:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Chiltern Hills

It rains uninterruptedly all night; but, although my route for some miles is now down cross-country lanes, the rain has only made them rather disagreeable, without rendering them in any respect unridable; and although I am among the slopes of the Chiltern Hills, scarcely a dismount is necessary during the forenoon.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Wednesday 06th May 1885 (17:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire

A pleasant ride along a splendid road, shaded for miles with rows of spreading elms, brings me to the charming old village of Dunchurch, where everything seems moss-grown and venerable with age. A squatty, castle-like church-tower, that has stood the brunt of many centuries, frowns down upon a cluster of picturesque, thatched cottages of primitive architecture, and ivy-clad from top to bottom; while, to make the picture complete, there remain even the old wooden stocks, through the holes of which the feet of boozy unfortunates were wont to be unceremoniously thrust in the good old times of rude simplicity; in fact, the only really unprimitive building about the place appears to be a newly erected Methodist chapel. It couldn't be - no, of course it couldn't be possible, that there is any connecting link between the American peculiarity of elevating the feet on the window-sill or the drum of the heating-stove and this old-time custom of elevating the feet of those of our ancestors possessed of boozy, hilarious proclivities!

At Weedon Barracks I make a short halt to watch the soldiers go through the bayonet exercises, and suffer myself to be persuaded into quaffing a mug of delicious, creamy stout at the canteen with a genial old sergeant, a bronzed veteran who has seen active service in several of the tough expeditions that England seems ever prone to undertake in various uncivilized quarters of the world; after which I wheel away over old Roman military roads, through Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire, reaching Fenny Stratford just in time to find shelter against the machinations of the "weather-clerk", who, having withheld rain nearly all the afternoon, begins dispensing it again in the gloaming.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Tuesday 05th May 1885 (19:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

The Starley Memorial

Pushing along leisurely, between showers, into Warwickshire, I reach Birmingham about three o'clock, and, after spending an hour or so looking over some tricycle works, and calling for a leather writing-case they are making especially for my tour, I wheel on to Coventry, having the company, of Mr. Priest, Jr., of the tricycle works, as far as Stonehouse. Between Birmingham and Coventry the recent rainfall has evidently been less, and I mentally note this fifteen-mile stretch of road as the finest traversed since leaving Liverpool, both for width and smoothness of surface, it being a veritable boulevard.

Arriving at Coventry I call on "Brother Sturmey, " a gentleman well and favorably known to readers of 'cycling literature everywhere; and, as I feel considerably like deserving reasonably gentle treatment after perseveringly pressing forward sixty miles in spite of the rain, I request him to steer me into the Cyclists' Touring Club Hotel - an office which he smilingly performs, and thoughtfully admonishes the proprietor to handle me as tenderly as possible. I am piloted around to take a hurried glance at Coventry, visiting, among other objects of interest, the Starley Memorial. This memorial is interesting to 'cyclers from having been erected by public subscription in recognition of the great interest Mr. Starley took in the 'cycle industry, he having been, in fact, the father of the interest in Coventry, and, consequently, the direct author of the city's present prosperity.

The mind of the British small boy along my route has been taxed to its utmost to account for my white military helmet, and various and interesting are the passing remarks heard in consequence. The most general impression seems to be that I am direct from the Soudan, some youthful Conservatives blandly intimating The Starley Memorial, Coventry, that I am the advance-guard of a general scuttle of the army out of Egypt, and that presently whole regiments of white-helmeted wheelmen will come whirling along the roads on nickel-plated steeds, some even going so far as to do me the honor of calling me General Wolseley; while others - rising young Liberals, probably - recklessly call me General Gordon, intimating by this that the hero of Khartoum was not killed, after all, and is proving it by sweeping through England on a bicycle, wearing a white helmet to prove his identity!

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Monday 04th May 1885 (22:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Merrie England

The country is favored with another drenching down-pour of rain during the night, and moisture relentlessly descends at short, unreliable intervals on Monday morning, as I proceed toward Birmingham. Notwithstanding the superabundant moisture the morning ride is a most enjoyable occasion, requiring but a dash of sunshine to make everything perfect. The mystic voice of the cuckoo is heard from many an emerald copse around; songsters that inhabit only the green hedges and woods of "Merrie England" are carolling their morning vespers in all directions; skylarks are soaring, soaring skyward, warbling their unceasing paeans of praise as they gradually ascend into cloudland's shadowy realms; and occasionally I bowl along beneath anarchway of spreading beeches that are colonized by crowds of noisy rooks incessantly "cawing" their approval or disapproval of things in general. Surely England, with its wellnigh perfect roads, the wonderful greenness of its vegetation, and its roadsters that meet and regard their steel-ribbed rivals with supreme indifference, is the natural paradise of 'cyclers. There is no annoying dismounting for frightened horses on these happy highways, for the English horse, though spirited and brim-ful of fire, has long since accepted the inevitable, and either has made friends with the wheelman and his swift-winged steed, or, what is equally agreeable, maintain a haughty reserve.

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Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Monday 04th May 1885 (13:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Macadamized highways

Our Sunday morning experience begins with a shower of rain, which, however, augurs well for the remainder of the day; and, save for a gentle head wind, no reproachful remarks are heard about that much-criticised individual, the clerk of the weather; especially as our road leads through a country prolific of everything charming to one's sense of the beautiful. Moreover, we are this morning bowling along the self-same highway that in days of yore was among the favorite promenades of a distinguished and enterprising individual known to every British juvenile as Dick Turpin - a person who won imperishable renown, and the undying affection of the small Briton of to-day, by making it unsafe along here for stage-coaches and travellers indiscreet enough to carry valuables about with them.

"Think I'll get such roads as this all through England." I ask of my escort as we wheel joyously southward along smooth, macadamized highways that would make the "sand-papered roads" around Boston seem almost unfit for cycling in comparison, and that lead through picturesque villages and noble parks; occasionally catching a glimpse of a splendid old manor among venerable trees, that makes one unconsciously begin humming:- "The ancient homes of England, How beautiful they stand Amidst the tall ancestral trees O'er all the pleasant land." "Oh, you'll get much better roads than this in the southern counties," is the reply; though, fresh from American roads, one can scarce see what shape the improvements can possibly take. Out of Lancashire into Cheshire we wheel, and my escort, after wishing me all manner of good fortune in hearty Lancashire style, wheel about and hie themselves back toward the rumble and roar of the world's greatest sea-port, leaving me to pedal pleasantly southward along the green lanes and amid the quiet rural scenery of Staffordshire to Stone, where I remain Sunday night.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Sunday 03rd May 1885 (21:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Leaving of Liverpool

Four o'clock in the afternoon of May 2nd is the time announced, and Edge Hill Church is the appointed place, where Mr. Lawrence Fletcher, of the Anfield Bicycle Club, and a number of other Liverpool wheelmen, have volunteered to meet and accompany me somedistance out of the city. Several of the Liverpool daily papers have made mention of the affair. Accordingly, upon arriving at the appointed place and time, I find a crowd of several hundred people gathered to satisfy their curiosity as to what sort of a looking individual it is who has crossed America awheel, and furthermore proposes to accomplish the greater feat of the circumlocution of the globe. A small sea of hats is enthusiastically waved aloft; a ripple of applause escapes from five hundred English throats as I mount my glistening bicycle; and, with the assistance of a few policemen, the twenty-five Liverpool cyclers who have assembled to accompany me out, extricate themselves from the crowd, mount and fall into line two abreast; and merrily we wheel away down Edge Lane and out of Liverpool.

English weather at this season is notoriously capricious, and the present year it is unusually so, and ere the start is fairly made we are pedaling along through quite a pelting shower, which, however, fails to make much impression on the roads beyond causing the flinging of more or less mud. The majority of my escort are members of the Anfield Club, who have the enviable reputation of being among the hardest road-riders in England, several members having accomplished over two hundred miles within the twenty-four hours; and I am informed that Mr. Fletcher is soon to undertake the task of beating the tricycle record over that already well-contested route, from John O'Groat's to Land's End. Sixteen miles out I become the happy recipient of hearty well-wishes innumerable, with the accompanying hand-shaking, and my escort turn back toward home and Liverpool - all save four, who wheel on to Warrington and remain overnight, with the avowed intention of accompanying me twenty-five miles farther to-morrow morning.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Saturday 02nd May 1885 (20:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

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