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.

Gypsy bands

The provost-judge of Neusatz shares the honors with Frau Schrieber of knowing more or less English; but this evening the judge is out of town. The enterprising professor lies in wait for him, however, and at 5.30 on Monday morning, while we are dressing, an invasion of our bed-chamber is made by the professor, the jolly-looking and portly provost-judge, a Slavonian lieutenant of artillery, and a druggist friend of the others. The provost- judge and the lieutenant actually own bicycles and ride them, the only representatives of the wheel in Neusatz and Peterwardein, and the judge is " very angry " - as he expresses it - that Monday is court day, and to-day an unusually busy one, for he would be most happy to wheel with us to Belgrade.

The lieutenant fetches his wheel and accompanies us to the next village. Peterwardein is a strongly fortified place, and, as a poition commanding the Danube so completely, is furnished with thirty guns of large calibre, a battery certainly not to be despised when posted on a position so commanding as the hill on which Peterwardein fortress is built. As the editor and others at Eszek, so here the professor, the judge, and the druggist unite in a friendly protest against my attempt to wheel through Asia, and more especially through China, "for everybody knows it is quite dangerous," they say. These people cannot possibly understand why it is that an Englishman or American, knowing of danger beforehand, will still venture ahead; and when, in reply to their questions, I modestly announce my intention of going ahead, notwithstanding possible danger and probable difficulties, they each, in turn, shake my hand as though reluctantly resigning me to a reckless determination, and the judge, acting as spokesman, and echoing and interpreting the sentiments of his companions, exclaims, "England and America forever! it is ze grandest peeples on ze world!" The lieutenant, when questioned on the subject by the judge and the professor, simply shrugs his shoulders and says nothing, as becomes a man whose first duty is to cultivate a supreme contempt for danger in all its forms.

They all accompany us outside the city gates, when, after mutual farewells and assurances of good-will, we mount and wheel away down the Danube, the lieutenant's big mastiff trotting soberly alongside his master, while Igali, sometimes in and sometimes out of sight behind, brings up the rear. After the lieutenant leaves us we have to trundle our weary way up the steep gradients of the Fruskagora Mountains for a number of kilometres. For Igali it is quite an adventurous morning. Ere we had left the shadows of Peterwardein fortress he upset while wheeling beneath some overhanging mulberry-boughs that threatened destruction to his jockey-cap; soon after parting company with the lieutenant he gets into an altercation with a gang of gypsies about being the cause of their horses breaking loose from their picket-ropes and stampeding, and then making uncivil comments upon the circumstance; an hour after this he overturns again and breaks a pedal, and when we dismount at Indjia, for our noontide halt, he discovers that his saddle-spring has snapped in the middle. As he ruefully surveys the breakage caused by the roughness of the Fruskagora roads, and sends out to scour the village for a mechanic capable of undertaking the repairs, he eyes my Columbia wistfully, and asks me for the address where one like it can be obtained. The blacksmith is not prepared to mend the spring, although he makes a good job of the pedal, and it takes a carpenter and his assistant from 1.30 to 4.30 P.M. to manufacture a grooved piece of wood to fit between the spring and backbone so that he can ride with me to Belgrade. It would have been a fifteen-minute task for a Yankee carpenter. We have been traversing a spur of the Fruskagora Mountains all the morning, and our progress has been slow. The roads through here are mainly of the natural soil, and correspondingly bad; but the glorious views of the Danube, with its alternating wealth of green woods and greener cultivated areas, fully recompense for the extra toil. Prune-orchards, the trees weighed down with fruit yet green, clothe the hill-sides with their luxuriance; indeed, the whole broad, rich valley of the Danube seems nodding and smiling in the consciousness of overflowing plenty; for days we have traversed roads leading through vineyards and orchards, and broad areas with promising-looking grain-crops.

It is but thirty kilometres from Indjia to Semlin, on the riverbank opposite Belgrade, and since leaving the Fruskagora Mountains the country has been a level plain, and the roads fairly smooth. But Igali has naturally become doubly cautious since his succession of misadventures this morning, and as, while waiting for him to overtake me, I recline beneath the mulberry-trees near the village of Batainitz and survey the blue mountains of Servia looming up to the southward through the evening haze, he rides up and proposes Batainitz as our halting-place for the night, adding persuasively, "There will be no ferry-boat across to Belgrade to-night, and we can easily catch the first boat in the morning." I reluctantly agree, though advocating going on to Semlin this evening. While our supper is being prepared we are taken in hand by the leading merchant of the village and "turned loose" in an orchard of small fruits and early pears, and from thence conducted to a large gypsy encampment in the outskirts of the village, where, in acknowledgment of the honor of our visit-and a few kreuzers by way of supplement - the "flower of the camp," a blooming damsel, about the shade of a total eclipse, kisses the backs of our hands, and the men play a strumming monotone with sticks and an inverted wooden trough, while the women dance in a most lively and not ungraceful manner. These gypsy bands are a happy crowd of vagabonds, looking as though they had never a single care in all the world; the men wear long, flowing hair, and to the ordinary costume of the peasant is added many a gewgaw, worn with a careless jaunty grace that fails not to carry with it a certain charm in spite of unkempt locks and dirty faces. The women wear a minimum of clothes and a profusion of beads and trinkets, and the children go stark naked or partly dressed.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Monday 15th Jun 1885 (21:00 +0100) | Add a comment | Permalink

The girl I left behind me

Such is the reverie into which I fall while reclining beneath a spreading mulberry-tree waiting for Igali to catch up; for he has promised that I shall see the Slavonian national dance sometime to-day, and a village is now visible in the distance. At the Danube-side village of Hamenitz an hour's halt is decided upon to give me the promised opportunity of witnessing the dance in its native land. It is a novel and interesting sight. A round hundred young gallants and maidens are rigged out in finery such as no other people save the Croatian and Slavonian peasants ever wear - the young men braided and embroidered, and the damsels having their hair entwined with a profusion of natural flowers in addition to their costumes of all possible hues. Forming themselves into a large ring, distributed so that the sexes alternate, the young men extend and join their hands in front of the maidens, and the latter join hands behind their partners; the steel-strung tamboricas strike up a lively twanging air, to which the circle of dancers endeavor to shuffle time with their feet, while at the same time moving around in a circle Livelier and faster twang the tamboricas, and more and more animated becomes the scene as the dancing, shuffling ring endeavors to keep pace with it. As the fun progresses into the fast and furious stages the youths' hats have a knack of getting into a jaunty position on the side of their heads, and the wearers' faces assume a reckless, flushed appearance, like men half intoxicated while the maidens' bright eyes and beaming faces betoken unutterable happiness; finally the music and the shuffling of feet terminate with a rapid flourish, everybody kisses everybody - save, of course, mere luckless onlookers like Igali and myself - and the Slavonian national dance is ended.

To-night we reach the strongly fortified town of Peterwardein, opposite which, just across a pontoon bridge spanning the Danube, is the larger city of Neusatz. At Hamenitz we met Professor Zaubaur, the editor of the Uj Videk, who came down the Danube ahead of us by steamboat; and now, after housing our machines at our gasthaus in Peterwardein, he pilots us across the pontoon bridge in the twilight, and into one of those wine- gardens so universal in this part of the world. Here at Neusatz I listen to the genuine Hungarian gypsy music for the last time on the European tour ere bidding the territory of Hungary adieu, for Neusatz is on the Hungarian side of the Danube. The professor has evidently let no grass grow beneath his feet since leaving us scarcely an hour ago at Hamenitz, for he has, in the mean time, ferreted out the only English-speaking person at present in town, the good Frau Schrieber, an Austrian lady, formerly of Vienna, but now at Neusatz with her husband, a well-known advocate. This lady talks English quite fluently. Though not yet twenty-five she is very, very wise, and among other things she informs her admiring friends gathered round about us, listening to the - to them - unintelligible flow of a foreign language, that Englishmen are "very grave beings," a piece of information that wrings from Igali a really sympathetic response- nothing less than the startling announcement that he hasn't seen me smile since we left Budapest together, a week ago. "Having seen the Slavonian, I ought by all means to see the Hungarian national dance," Frau Schrieber says; adding, "It is a nice dance for Englishmen to look at, though it is so very gay that English ladies would neither dance it nor look at it being danced." Ere parting company with this entertaining lady she agrees that, if I will but remain in Hungary permanently, she knows of a very handsome fraulein of sixteen summers, who, having heard of my "wonderful journey," is already predisposed in my favor, and with a little friendly tact and management on her - Frau Schrieber's - part would no doubt be willing to waive the formalities of a long courtship, and yield up hand and heart at my request. I can scarcely think of breaking in twain my trip around the world even for so tempting a prospect, and I recommend the fair Hungarian to Igali; but "the fraulein has never heard of Herr Igali, and he will not do."

"Will the fraulein be willing to wait until my journey around the world is completed."

"Yes; she vill vait mit much pleezure; I vill zee dat she vait; und I know you vill return, for an Englishman alvays forgets his promeezes." Henceforth, when Igali and myself enter upon a programme of whistling, "Yankee Doodle" is supplanted by "The girl I left behind me," much to his annoyance, since, not understanding the sentiment responsible for the change, bethinks "Yankee Doodle" a far better tune. So much attached, in fact, has Igali become to the American national air, that he informs the professor and editor of Uj Videk of the circumstance of the band playing it at Szekszard. As, after supper, several of us promenade the streets of Neusatz, the professor links his arm in mine, and, taking the cue from Igali, begs me to favor him by whistling it. I try my best to palm this patriotic duty off on Igali, by paying flattering compliments to his style of whistling; but, after all, the duty falls on me, and I whistle the tune softly, yet merrily, as we walk along, the professor, spectacled and wise-looking, meanwhile exchanging numerous nods of recognition with his fellow-Neusatzers we meet.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Monday 15th Jun 1885 (00:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink


This afternoon my bicycle causes the first runaway since the trifling affair at Lembach, Austria. A brown-faced peasant woman and a little girl, driving a small, shaggy pony harnessed to a basket-work, four-wheeled vehicle, are approaching; their humble-looking steed betrays no evidence of restiveness until just as I am turning out to pass him, when, without warning, he gives a swift, sudden bound to the right, nearly upsetting the vehicle, and without more ado bolts down a considerable embankment and goes helter-skelter across a field of standing grain. The old lady pluckily hangs on to the reins, and finally succeeds in bringing the runaway around into the road again without damaging anything save the corn. It might have ended much less satisfactorily, however, and the incident illustrates one possible source of trouble to a 'cycler travelling alone through countries where the people neither understand, nor can be expected to understand, a wheelman's position; the situation would, of course, be aggravated in a country village where, not speaking the language, one could not make himself understood in his own defence. These people here, if not wise as serpents, are at least harmless as doves; but, in case of the bicycle frightening a team and causing a runaway with the unpleasant sequel of broken limbs, or injured horse, they would scarce know what to do in the premises, since they would have no precedent to govern them, and, in the absence of any intelligent guidance, might conclude to wreak summary vengeance on the bicycle. In such a case, would a wheelman be justified in using his revolver to defend his bicycle?

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Sunday 14th Jun 1885 (16:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Female charms

While we are making our toilets in the morning eager faces are peering inquisitively through the bedroom windows; a murmur of voices, criticizing us and our strange vehicles, greets our waking moments, and our privacy is often invaded, in spite of Igali's inconsiderate treatment of them whenever they happen to cross his path.

Many of the inhabitants of this part of Slavonia are Croatians - people who are noted for their fondness of finery; and, as on this sunny Sunday morning we wheel through their villages, the crowds of peasantry who gather about us in all the bravery of their best clothes present, indeed, an appearance gay and picturesque beyond anything hitherto encountered. The garments of the men are covered with braid-work and silk embroidery wherever such ornamentation is thought to be an embellishment, and, to the Croatian mind, that means pretty much everywhere; and the girls and women are arrayed in the gayest of colors; those displaying the brightest hues and the greatest contrasts seem to go tripping along conscious of being irresistible. Many of the Croatian peasants are fine, strapping fellows, and very handsome women are observed in the villages - women with great, dreamy eyes, and faces with an expression of languor that bespeaks their owners to be gentleness personified. Igali shows evidence of more susceptibility to female charms than I should naturally have given him credit for, and shows a decided inclination to linger in these beauty-blessed villages longer than is necessary, and as one dark-eyed damsel after another gathers around us, I usually take the initiative in mounting and clearing out.

Were a man to go suddenly flapping his way through the streets of London on the long-anticipated flying-machine, the average Cockney would scarce betray the unfeigned astonishment that is depicted on the countenances of these Croatian villagers as we ride into their midst and dismount.

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

Songs in Slavonia

Six o'clock next morning finds us travelling southward into the interior of Slavonia; but we are not mounted, for the road presents an unridable surface of mud, stones, and ruts, that causes my companion's favorite ejaculatory expletive to occur with more than its usual frequency. For a portion of the way there is a narrow sidepath that is fairly ridable, but an uninvitingly deep ditch runs unpleasantly near, and no amount of persuasion can induce my companion to attempt wheeling along it. Igali's bump of cautiousness is fully developed, and day by day, as we journey together, I am becoming more and more convinced that he would be an invaluable companion to have accompany one around the world; true, the journey would occupy a decade, or thereabout, but one would be morally certain of coming out safe and sound in the end. During our progression southward there has been a perceptible softening in the disposition of the natives, this being more noticeably a marked characteristic of the Slavonians; the generous southern sun, shining on the great area of Oriental gentleness, casts a softening influence toward the sterner north, imparting to the people amiable and genial dispositions. It takes but comparatively small deeds to win the admiration and applause of the natives of the Lower Danube, with their childlike manners; and, by slowly meandering along the roadways of Southern Hungary occasionally with his bicycle, Igali has become the pride and admiration of thousands.

For mile after mile we have to trundle our way slowly along the muddy highway as best we can, our road leading through a flat and rather swampy area of broad, waving wheat-fields; we relieve the tedium of the journey by whistling, alternately, "Yankee Doodle," to which Igali has taken quite a fancy since first hearing it played by the gypsy band in the wine-garden at Szekszard three days ago, and the Hungarian national air - this latter, of course, falling to Igali's share of the entertainment. Having been to college in Paris, Igali is also able to contribute the famous Marseillaise hymn, and, not to be outdone, I favor him with " God Save the Queen" and "Britannia Rules the Waves," both of which he thinks very good tunes-the former seeming to strike his Hungarian ear, however, as rather solemn. In the middle of the forenoon we make a brief halt at a rude road-side tavern for some refreshments - a thick, narrow slice of raw, fat bacon, white with salt, and a level pint of red wine, satisfying my companion; but I substitute for the bacon a slice of coarse, black bread, much to Igali's wonderment. Here are congregated several Slavonian shepherds, in their large, ill-fitting, sheepskin garments, with the long wool turned inward-clothes that apparently serve them alike to keep out the summer's heat and the winter's cold. One of the peasants, with ideas a trifle befuddled with wine, perhaps, and face all aglow with admiration for our bicycles, produces a tattered memorandum and begs us to favor him with our autographs, an act that of itself proves him to be not without a degree of intelligence one would scarcely look for in a sheepskin-clad shepherd of Slavonia. Igali gruffly bids the man "begone," and aims a careless kick at the proffered memorandum; but seeing no harm in the request, and, moreover, being perhaps by nature a trifle more considerate of others, I comply. As he reads aloud, "United States, America," to his comrades, they one and all lift their hats quite reverently and place their brown hands over their hearts, for I suppose they recognize in my ready compliance with the simple request, in comparison with Igali's rude rebuff-which, by the way, no doubt comes natural enough-the difference between the land of the prince and peasant, and the land where "liberty, equality, and fraternity" is not a meaningless motto - a land which I find every down-trodden peasant of Europe has heard of, and looks upward to.

Soon after this incident we are passing a prune-orchard, when, as though for our especial benefit, a couple of peasants working there begin singing aloud, and with evident enthusiasm, some national melody, and as they observe not our presence, at my suggestion we crouch behind a convenient clump of bushes and for several minutes are favored with as fine a duet as I have heard for many a day; but the situation becomes too ridiculous for Igali, and it finally sends him into a roar of laughter that causes the performance to terminate abruptly, and, rising into full view, we doubtless repay the singers by letting them see us mount and ride into their native village, but a few hundred yards distant. We are to-day passing through villages where a bicycle has never been seen - this being outside the area of Igali's peregrinations - and the whole population invariably turns out en masse, clerks, proprietors, and customers in the shops unceremoniously dropping everything and running to the streets; there is verily a hurrying to and fro of all the citizens; husbands hastening from magazine to dwelling to inform their wives and families, mothers running to call their children, children their parents, and everybody scampering to call the attention of their sisters, cousins, and aunts, ere we are vanished in the distance, and it be everlastingly too late.

We have been worrying along at some sort of pace, with the exception of the usual noontide halt, since six o'clock this morning, and the busy mosquito is making life interesting for belated wayfarers, when we ride into Sarengrad and put up at the only gasthaus in the village. Our bedroom is situated on the ground floor, the only floor in fact the gasthaus boasts, and we are in a fair way of either being lulled to sleep or kept awake, as the case may be, by a howling chorus of wine-bibbers in the public room adjoining; but here, again, Igali shows up to good advantage by peremptorily ordering the singers to stop, and stop instanter. The amiably disposed peasants, notwithstanding the wine they have been drinking, cease their singing and become silent and circumspect, in deference to the wishes of the two strangers with the wonderful machines.
We now make a practice of taking our bicycles into our bedroom with us at night, otherwise every right hand in the whole village would busy itself pinching the "gum-elastic" tires and pedal-rubbers, twirling the pedals, feeling spokes, backbone, and forks, and critically examining and commenting upon every visible portion of the mechanism; and who knows but that the latent cupidity of some easy-conscienced villager might be aroused at the unusual sight of so much "silver" standing around loose (the natives hereabout don't even ask whether the nickelled parts of the bicycle are silver or not; they take it for granted to be so), and surreptitiously attempt to chisel off enough to purchase an embroidered coat for Sundays. From what I can understand of their comments among themselves, it is perfectly consistent with their ideas of the average Englishman that he should bestride a bicycle of solid silver, and if their vocabulary embraced no word corresponding to our "millionnaire," and they desired to use one, they would probably pick upon the word "Englander" as the most appropriate.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Saturday 13th Jun 1885 (23:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

A day in Eszek

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

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

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

Capital of Slavonia

Five o'clock next morning finds us wheeling out of Duna Szekeso, and during the forenoon we pass through Baranyavar, a colony of Greek Hovacs, where the women are robed in white drapery as scant as the statuary which the name of their religion calls to memory. The roads to-day are variable; there is little but what is ridable, but much that is rough and stony enough to compel slow and careful wheeling. Early in the evening, as we wheel over the bridge spanning the River Drave, an important tributary of the Danube, into Eszek, the capital of Slavonia, unmistakable rain- signs appear above the southern horizon.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Thursday 11th Jun 1885 (20:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Danubian roustabouts

Notwithstanding music until 11.30 P.M., yesterday, we are on the road before six o'clock this morning - for genuine, unadulterated Hungarian music does not prevent one getting up bright and fresh next day - and about noon we roll into Dunaszekcső, Igali's native town, where we have decided to halt for the remainder of the day to get our clothing washed, one of my shoes repaired, and otherwise prepare for our journey to the Servian capital. Duna Szekeso is a calling-place for the Danube steamers, and this afternoon I have the opportunity of taking observations of a gang of Danubian roustabouts at their noontide meal. They are a swarthy, wild-looking crowd, wearing long hair parted in the middle, or not parted at all; to their national costume are added the jaunty trappings affected by river men in all countries. Their food is coarse black bread and meat, and they take turns in drinking wine from a wooden tube protruding from a two-gallon watch-shaped cask, the body of which is composed of a section of hollow log instead of staves, lifting the cask up and drinking from the tube, as they would from the bung-hole of a beer-keg. Their black bread would hardly suit the palate of the Western world; but there are doubtless a few individuals on both sides of the Atlantic who would willingly be transformed into a Danubian roustabout long enough to make the acquaintance of yonder rude cask.

After bathing in the river we call on several of Igali's friends, among them the Greek priest and his motherly-looking wife, Igali being of the Greek religion. There appears to be the greatest familiarity between the priests of these Greek churches and their people, and during our brief visit the priest, languid-eyed, fat, and jolly, his equally fat and jolly wife, and Igali, caress playfully, and cut up as many antics as three kittens in a bay window. The farther one travels southward the more amiable and affectionate in disposition the people seem to become.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Wednesday 10th Jun 1885 (19:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sport and Adventure

Nine wheelmen accompany me some distance out of Budapest on Monday morning, and Mr. Philipovitz and two other members continue with Igali and me to Duna Pentele, some seventy-five miles distant; this is our first sleeping-place, the captain making his guest until our separation and departure in different directions next morning.

During the fierce heat of mid-day we halt for about three hours at Adony, and spend a pleasant after-dinner tour examining the trappings and trophies of a noted sporting gentleman, and witnessing a lively and interesting set-to with fencing foils. There is everything in fire-arms in his cabinet, from an English double-barrelled shot-gun to a tiny air-pistol for shooting flies on the walls of his sitting-room; he has swords, oars, gymnastic paraphernalia - in fact, everything but boxing gloves.

Arriving at Duna Pentele early in the evening, before supper we swim for an hour in the waters of the Danube. At 9.30 P.M. two of our little company board the up-stream-bound steamer for the return home, and at ten o'clock we are proposing to retire for the night, when lo, in come a half-dozen gentlemen, among them Mr. Ujvarii, whose private wine-cellar is celebrated all the country round, and who now proposes that we postpone going to bed long enough to pay a short visit to his cellar and sample the "finest wine in Hungary." This is an invitation not to be resisted by ordinary mortals, and accordingly we accept, following the gentleman and his friends through the dark streets of the village.

Along the dark, cool vault penetrating the hill-side Mr. Ujvarii leads the way between long rows of wine-casks, heber* held in arm like a sword at dress parade. The heber is first inserted into a cask of red wine, with a perfume and flavor as agreeable as the rose it resembles in color, and carried, full, to the reception end of the vault by the corpulent host with the stately air of a monarch bearing his sceptre. After two rounds of the red wine, two hebers of champagne are brought - champagne that plays a fountain of diamond spray three inches above the glass. The following toast is proposed by the host: "The prosperity and welfare of England, America, and Hungary, three countries that are one in their love and appreciation of sport and adventure." The Hungarians have all the Anglo-American love of sport and adventure.

* A glass combination of tube and flask, holding about three pints, with an orifice at each end and the bulb or flask near the upper orifice; the wine is sucked up into the flask with the breath, and when withdrawn from the cask the index finger is held over the lower orifice, from which the glasses are filled by manipulations of the finger.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Monday 08th Jun 1885 (23:24 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Supper under the trees

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reaching Budapest

Stone-yards thronged with busy workmen, chipping stone for shipment to cities along the Danube, are a feature of these river-side villages. The farther one travels the more frequently gypsies are encountered on the road. In almost every band is a maiden, who, by reason of real or imaginary beauty, occupies the position of pet of the camp, wears a profusion of beads and trinkets, decorates herself with wild flowers, and is permitted to do no manner of drudgery. Some of these gypsy maidens are really quite beautiful in spite of their very dark complexions. Their eyes glisten with inborn avarice as I sweep past on my "silver" bicycle, and in their astonishment at my strange appearance and my evidently enormous wealth they almost forget their plaintive wail of "kreuzer! kreuzer!" a cry which readily bespeaks their origin, and is easily recognized as an echo from the land where the cry of "backsheesh" is seldom out of the traveller's hearing.

The roads east of Nezmely are variable, flint-strewn ways predominating; otherwise the way would be very agreeable, since the gradients are gentle, and the dust not over two inches deep, as against three in most of Austro-Hungary thus far traversed. The weather is broiling hot; but I worry along perseveringly, through rough and smooth, toward the land of the rising sun. Nearing Budapest the roads become somewhat smoother, but at the same time hillier, the country changing to vine-clad slopes; and all along the undulating ways I meet wagons laden with huge wine-casks.

Reaching Budapest in the afternoon, I seek out Mr. Kosztovitz, of the Budapest Bicycle Club, and consul of the Cyclists' Touring Club, who proves a most agreeable gentleman, and who, besides being an enthusiastic cycler, talks English perfectly. There is more of the sporting spirit in Budapest, perhaps, than in any other city of its size on the Continent, and no sooner is my arrival known than I am taken in hand and practically compelled to remain over at least one day.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Saturday 06th Jun 1885 (17:00 +0100) | Add a comment | Permalink

Away in a manger

For some kilometres out of Raab the road presents a far better surface, and I ride quite a lively race with a small Danube passenger steamer that is starting down-stream. The steamboat toots and forges ahead, and in answer to the waving of hats and exclamations of encouragement from the passengers, I likewise forge ahead, and although the boat is going down-stream with the strong current of the Danube, as long as the road continues fairly good I manage to keep in advance; but soon the loose surface reappears, and when I arrive at Gonys, for lunch, I find the steamer already tied up, and the passengers and officers greet my appearance with shouts of recognition. My route along the Danube Valley leads through broad, level wheat-fields that recall memories of the Sacramento Valley, California. Geese appear as the most plentiful objects around the villages: there are geese and goslings everywhere; and this evening, in a small village, I wheel quite over one, to the dismay of the maiden driving them homeward, and the unconcealed delight of several small Hungarians.

At the village of Nezmely I am to-night treated to a foretaste of what is probably in store for me at a goodly number of places ahead by being consigned to a bunch of hay and a couple of sacks in the stable as the best sleeping accommodations the village gasthaus affords. True, I am assigned the place of honor in the manger, which, though uncomfortably narrow and confining, is perhaps better accommodation, after all, than the peregrinating tinker and three other likely-looking characters are enjoying on the bare floor. Some of these companions, upon retiring, pray aloud at unseemly length, and one of them, at least, keeps it up in his sleep at frequent intervals through the night; horses and work-cattle are rattling chains and munching hay, and an uneasy goat, with a bell around his neck, fills the stable with an incessant tinkle till dawn. Black bread and a cheap but very good quality of white wine seem about the only refreshment obtainable at these little villages. One asks in vain for milch-brod, butter, kdsc, or in fact anything acceptable to the English palate; the answer to all questions concerning these things is "nicht, nicht, nicht." - "What have you, then?" I sometimes ask, the answer to which is almost invariably "brod und wein."

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Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Saturday 06th Jun 1885 (08:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Hungarian Peasants

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

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

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

Crossing over into Hungary

At five o'clock on Thursday morning I am dressing, when I am notified that two cyclers are awaiting me below. Church-bells are clanging joyously all over Vienna as we meander toward suburbs, and people are already streaming in the direction of the St. Stephen's Church, near the centre of the city, for to-day is Frohnleichnam (Corpus Christi), and the Emperor and many of the great ecclesiastical, civil, and military personages of the empire will pass in procession with all pomp and circumstance; and the average Viennese is not the person to miss so important an occasion. Three other wheelmen are awaiting us in the suburbs, and together we ride through the waving barley-fields of the Danube bottom to Schwechat, for the light breakfast customary in Austria, and thence onward to Petronelle, thirty kilometres distant, where we halt a few minutes for a Corpus Christi procession, and drink a glass of white Hungarian wine. Near Petronelle are the remains of an old Roman wall, extending from the Danube to a lake called the Neusiedler See. My companions say it was built 2,000 years ago, when the sway of the Romans extended over such parts of Europe as were worth the trouble and expense of swaying.

The roads are found rather rough and inferior, on account of loose stones and uneven surface, as we push forward toward Presburg, passing through a dozen villages whose streets are carpeted with fresh-cut grass, and converted into temporary avenues, with branches stuck in the ground, in honor of the day they are celebrating.

At Hainburg we pass beneath an archway nine hundred years old, and wheel on through the grass-carpeted streets between rows of Hungarian soldiers drawn up in line, with green oak-sprigs in their hats; the villagers are swarming from the church, whose bells are filling the air with their clangor, and on the summit of an over-shadowing cliff are the massive ruins of an ancient castle. Near about noon we roll into Presburg, warm and dusty, and after dinner take a stroll through the Jewish quarter of the town up to the height upon which Presburg castle is situated, and from which a most extensive and beautiful view of the Danube, its wooded bluffs and broad, rich bottom-lands, is obtainable. At dinner the waiter hands me a card, which reads: "Pardon me, but I believe you are an Englishman, in which case I beg the privilege of drinking a glass of wine with you." The sender is an English gentleman residing at Budapest, Hungary, who, after the requested glass of wine, tells me that he guessed who I was when he first saw me enter the garden with the five Austrian wheelmen.

My Austrian escort rides out with me to a certain cross-road, to make sure of heading me direct toward Budapest, and as we part they bid me good speed, with a hearty "Eljen." - the Hungarian "Hip, hip, hurrah." After leaving Presburg and crossing over into Hungary the road-bed is of a loose gravel that, during the dry weather this country is now experiencing, is churned up and loosened by every passing vehicle, until one might as well think of riding over a ploughed field. But there is a fair proportion of ridable side-paths, so that I make reasonably good time. Altenburg, my objective point for the night, is the centre of a sixty-thousand-acre estate belonging to the Archduke Albrecht, uncle of the present Emperor of Austro-Hungary, and one of the wealthiest land-owners in the empire. Ere I have been at the gasthaus an hour I am honored by a visit from Professor Thallmeyer, of the Altenburg Royal Agricultural School, who invites me over to his house to spend an hour in conversation, and in the discussion of a bottle of Hungary's best vintage, for the learned professor can talk very good English, and his wife is of English birth and parentage. Although Frau Thallmeyer left England at the tender age of two years, she calls herself an Englishwoman, speaks of England as "home," and welcomes to her house as a countryman any wandering Briton happening along.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Thursday 04th Jun 1885 (22:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

Viennese regulations

At Vienna I determine to make a halt of two days, and on Tuesday pay a visit to the headquarters of the Vienna Wanderers' Bicycle Club, away out on a suburban street called Schwimmschulenstrasse; and the club promises that if I will delay my departure another day they will get up a small party of wheelmen to escort me seventy kilometres, to Presburg. The bicycle clubs of Vienna have, at the Wanderers' headquarters, constructed an excellent race-track, three and one-third laps to the English mile, at an expense of 2,000 gulden, and this evening several of Austria's fliers are training upon it for the approaching races.

English and American wheelmen little understand the difficulties these Vienna cyclers have to contend with: all the city inside the Ringstrasse, and no less than fifty streets outside, are forbidden to the mounted cyclers, and they are required to ticket themselves with big, glaring letters, as also their lamps at night, so that, in case of violating any of these regulations, they can by their number be readily recognized by the police. Self-preservation compels the clubs to exercise every precaution against violating the police regulations, in order not to excite popular prejudice overwhelmingly against bicycles, and ere a new rider is permitted to venture outside their own grounds he is hauled up before a regularly organized committee, consisting of officers from each club in Vienna, and required to go through a regular examination in mounting, dismounting, and otherwise proving to their entire satisfaction his proficiency in managing and manoeuvring his wheel; besides which every cycler is provided with a pamphlet containing a list of the streets he may and may not frequent. In spite of all these harassing regulations, the Austrian capital has already two hundred riders.

The Viennese impress themselves upon me as being possessed of more than ordinary individuality. Yonder comes a man, walking languidly along, and carrying his hat in his hand, because it is warm, and just behind him comes a fellow-citizen muffled up in an overcoat because - because of Viennese individuality. The people seem to walk the streets with a swaying, happy-go-anyhow sort of gait, colliding with one another and jostling together on the sidewalk in the happiest manner imaginable.

Posted in stevens blog by Stuart on Wednesday 03rd Jun 1885 (19:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

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