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.
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 Hamburg 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. 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.
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." 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. 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.
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.
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 Lour 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.]*
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.
Szekszard 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.
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 Duna Szekeso, 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.
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.
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