The Automobilist Abroad
In Holland and Belgium dogs seem to be the chief road obstructions, or at least dangers, not always willingly perhaps, but still ever-present. In England it is mostly children.
In France not all the difficulties one meets with en route are willful obstructors of one's progress. In La Beauce the geese and ducks are prudent, in the Nivernais the oxen are placid, and in Provence the donkeys are philosophical; but in Brittany the horses and mules and their drivers take fright immediately they suspect the coming of an automobile, and in the Vendée the market-wagons, and those laden with the product of the vine, career madly at the extremities of exceedingly lusty examples of horse flesh to the pending disaster of every one who does not get out of the road.
Sheep and hens are everywhere that they ought not to be, and there seems no way of escaping them. One can but use all his ingenuity and slip through somehow. Dogs are bad enough and ought to be exterminated. They are the silliest beasts which one finds uncontrolled on the roadways. Children, of course, one defers to, but they are outrageously careless and very foolish at times, and in short are the greatest responsibility for the driver in the small towns of England and France. In France some effort is being made in the schools to teach them something about a proper regard for automobile traffic, and with good results; but no one has heard of anything of the sort being attempted in England.
Touring abroad is nothing new, but, as an amusement for the masses, it has reached gigantic proportions. The introduction of the railroad gave it its greatest impetus, and then came the bicycle and the automobile.
With the railway as the sole means of getting about one was more or less confined to the beaten track of travel in Continental Europe, but the automobile has changed all this.
To-day, the Cote d'Azur, from St. Raphael to Menton, as well as the strip of Norman coast-line around Trouville, in summer, is scarcely more than a boulevard where the automobile tourist strolls for an hour as he does in the Bois. The country lying back and between these two widely separated points is becoming known, and even modern taste prefers the idyllic countryside to a round of the same dizzy conventions that one gets in season at Paris, London, or New York.
France is the land par excellence for automobile touring, not only from its splendid roads, but from the wide diversity of its sights and scenes, and manners and customs, and, last but not least, its most excellent hotels strung along its highways and byways like pearls in a collarette.
This is not saying that travel by automobile is not delightful elsewhere; certainly it is equally so in many places along the Rhine, in Northern Italy, and in England, where the chief drawback is the really incompetent catering of the English country hotel-keeper to the demands of the traveller who would dine off of something more attractive than a cut from a cold joint of ham, and eggs washed down with stodgy, bitter beer.
The bibliography of travel books is long, and includes many famous names in literature. Marco Polo, Froissart, Mme. de Sévigné, Taine, Bayard Taylor, Willis, Stevenson, and Sterne, all had opportunities for observation and made the most of them. If they had lived in the days of the automobile they might have sung a song of speed which would have been the most melodious chord in the whole gamut.
A modern writer must be more modest, however. He can hardly hope to attract attention to himself or his work by describing the usual sights and scenes. The most he can do is to set down his method of travel, his approach, and his departure, and, for example, to tell those who may come after that the great double spires of Notre Dame de Chartres are a beacon by land for nearly twenty kilometers in any direction, as he approaches them by road across the great plain of La Beauce, the granary of France, rather than give a repetition of the well-worn guidebook facts concerning them.
Chartres is taken as an example because it is one of those "stock" sights, before mentioned, which any itinerary coming within the scope of the grand tour is bound to include.
Almost the same phenomenon is true of Antwerp's lacelike spire, the great Gothic wonder of Cologne and, to a lesser extent, that of Canterbury in England; thus the automobilist en route has his beacons and landmarks as has the sailor on the seas.
Man is an animal essentially mobile. He moves readily from place to place and is not tied down by anything but ways and means and, perhaps, confinement at laborious affairs. Even in the latter case he occasionally breaks away for a more or less extended period, and either goes fishing in Canada, shooting in Scotland, or automobiling in France, with perhaps a rush over a Swiss pass or two, and a dash around the Italian lakes, and back down the Rhine for a little tour in Great Britain.
This is as delightful a holiday as one could imagine, and the foreign tour – which has often been made merely as a succession of nights of travel in stuffy sleeping-cars or a round of overfeeding orgies at Parisian hotels and restaurants – has added charms of which the generation before the advent of automobiles knew nought.
The question of comfortable travel is a never-ending one. The palanquin, the sedan-chair, the rickshaw, even the humble horse-drawn buggy have had their devotees, but the modern touring automobile has left them all far behind, whether for long-distance travel or promenades at Fontainebleau, in the New Forest or the Ardennes.
There is no question but that, when touring in an automobile, one has an affection for his steel-and-iron horse that he never felt for any other conveyance. The horse had some endearing qualities, no doubt, and we were bound to regard his every want; but he was only a part of the show, whereas the automobile, although it is nought but an inanimate combination of wheels and things, has to be humoured and talked to, and even cursed at times, in order to keep it going. But it works faithfully nevertheless, and never balks, at least not with the same crankiness as the horse, and always runs better toward night (this is curious, but it is a fact), which a horse seldom does. All the same an automobile is like David Balfour's Scotch advocate: hard at times to ken rightly – most of the time, one may say without undue exaggeration. Often an automobile is as fickle as a stage fairy, or appears to be, but it may be that only your own blind stupidity accounts for the lack of efficiency. Once in awhile an automobile gets uproariously full of spirits and runs away with itself, and almost runs away with you, too, simply for the reason that the carburetion is good and everything is pulling well. Again it is as silent and immovable as a sphinx and gives no hint of its present or expected ailments. It is most curious, but an automobile invents some new real or fancied complaint with each fresh internal upheaval, and requires, in each and every instance, an entirely new and original diagnosis.
With all its caprices, however, the automobile is the most efficient and satisfactory contrivance for getting about from place to place, for business or pleasure, that was ever devised.
Comparatively speaking, the railway is not to be thought of for a moment. It has all the disadvantages of the automobile (for indeed there are a few, such as dust and more or less cramped quarters, and, if one chooses, a nerve-racking speed) and none of its advantages, and, whether you are a mere man or a millionaire, you are tied down to rails and a strict itinerary, whereas you may turn the bonnet of your automobile down any by-road that pleases your fancy, and arrive ultimately at your destination, having made an enjoyable detour which would not otherwise have been possible.
Too great a speed undoubtedly detracts from the joy of travel, but a hundred and fifty, two hundred and fifty, or three hundred kilometres a day on the fine roads of France, or a hundred or a hundred and fifty miles on the leafy lanes of England's southern counties will give the stranger more varied impressions and a clearer understanding of men and matters than the touring of a country from end to end in express-trains which serve your meals en route, and whisk you from London to Torquay between tea and dinner, or from Paris to the Cote d'Azur between breakfast and nightfall.
Just how much pleasure and edification one can absorb during an automobile tour depends largely upon the individual – and the mood. Once the craving for speed is felt, not all the historic monuments in the world would induce one to stop a sweetly running motor; but again the other mood comes on, and one lingers a full day among the charms of the lower Seine from Caudebec to Rouen, scarce thirty miles.
Les Andelys-sur-Seine, your guide-book tells you, is noted for its magnificent ruins of Richard Cœur de Lion's Château Gaillard, and for the culture of the sugar-beet, and so, often, merely on account of the banal mention of beet-roots, you ignore the attractions of Richard's castle and make the best time you can Parisward by the great Route Nationale on the other side of the Seine. This is wrong, of course, but the mood was on, and the song of speed was ringing in your ears and nothing would drive it out.
Our fathers and grandfathers made the grand tour, in a twelvemonth, as a sort of topping-off to their early education, before they settled down to a business or professional life.
They checked off in their guide-books Melrose Abbey, the Tower of London, the Cathedral of Canterbury, and those of Antwerp, Cologne, Rome, Venice, and Paris, as they did the Cheshire Cheese, Mont Blanc, and the ruins of Carnac. It was all a part of the general scheme of travel, to cover a lot of ground and see all they could, for it was likely that they would pass that way but once. Why, then, should one blame the automobilist – who really travels very leisurely in that he sees a lot of the countryside manners and customs off the beaten track – if he rushes over an intermediate stretch of country in order to arrive at one more to his liking?
One sees the thing every day on any of the great highroads in France leading from the Channel ports. One's destination may be the Pyrenees, the Cote d'Azur, Italy, or even Austria, and he does the intermediate steps at full speed. The same is true if he goes to Switzerland by the Rhine valley, or to Homburg by passing through Belgium or Holland. He might be just as well pleased with a fortnight in the Ardennes, or even in Holland or in Touraine, but, if his destination is Monte Carlo or Biarritz, he is not likely to linger longer by the way than the exigencies of food, drink, and lodging, and the care of his automobile demand.
When he has no objective point he loiters by the way and no doubt enjoys it the more, but it is not fair to put the automobilist down as a scorcher simply because he is pushing on. The best guide-books are caprice and fantasy, if you are hot pressed for time.
Mile-stones, or rather bornes kilométriques, line the roadways of Continental military Europe mercilessly, and it's a bad sign when the chauffeur begins to count them off. All the same, he knows his destination a great deal better than does some plodding tourist by rail who scorns him for rushing off again immediately after lunch.
One of the charms of travel, to the tried traveller, is, just as in the time of the Abbé Prévost, the ability to exchange remarks on one's itinerary with one's fellow travellers. In France it does not matter much whether they are automobilists or not. The commis-voyageur is a more numerous class here, apparently, than in any other country on the globe, and the detailed information which he can give one about the towns and hotels and sights and scenes en route, albeit he is more familiar with travel by rail than by road, is marvellous in quantity and valuable as to quality.
The automobile tourist, who may be an Englishman or an American, has hitherto been catered to with automobile novels, or love stories, or whatever one chooses to call them, or with more or less scrappy, incomplete, and badly edited accounts of tours made by some millionaire possessor of a motor-car, or the means to hire one. Some of the articles in the press, and an occasional book, have the merit of having been "good stuff," but often they have gone wrong in the making.
The writer of this book does not aspire to be classed with either of the above classes of able writers; the most he would like to claim is that he should be able to write a really good handbook on the subject, wherein such topographical, historical, and economic information as was presented should have the stamp of correctness. Perhaps four years of pretty constant automobile touring in Europe ought to count for something in the way of accumulated pertinent information concerning hotels and highways and by-ways.
Not all automobilists are millionaires. The man of moderate means is the real giver of impetus to the wheels of automobile progress. The manufacturers of motor-cars have not wholly waked up to this fact as yet, but the increasing number of tourists in small cars, both in England and in France, points to the fact that something besides the forty, sixty, or hundred horse-power monsters are being manufactured.
Efficiency and reliability is the great requisite of the touring automobile, and, for that matter, should be of any other. Efficiency and reliability cover ninety-nine per cent. of the requirements of the automobilist. Chance will step in at the most inopportune moments and upset all calculations, but, with due regard given to these two great and fundamental principles, the rest does not much matter.
It is a curious fact that the great mass of town folk, in France and probably elsewhere, still have a fear and dread of the mechanism of the automobile. "C'est beau la mécanique, mais c'est tout de même un peu compliqué," they say, as they regard your labours in posing a new valve or tightening up a joint here and there.
The development of the automobile has brought about a whole new development of kindred things, as did the development of the battle-ship. First there was the battle-ship, then the cruiser, and then the torpedo-boat, and then another class of boats, the destroyers (destined to catch torpedo-boats), and finally the submarine. With the automobile the evolution was much the same; first it was a sort of horseless carriage, for town use, then something a little more powerful that would climb hills, so that one might journey afield, and then the "touring-car," and then the racing machine, and now we have automobile omnibuses, and even automobile ambulances to pick up any frightened persons possessed of less agility than a kangaroo or a jack-rabbit might inadvertently have been bowled over. These disasters are seldom the automobilist's fault, and, happily, they are becoming fewer and fewer; but the indecision that overcame the passer-by, in the early days of the bicycle, still exists with many whenever an automobile comes in sight, and they back, and fill, and worry the automobilist into such a bad case of nerves that, in spite of himself, something of the nature of an accident, for which he is in no way responsible, really does happen.
Once the writer made eleven hundred kilometres straight across France, from the Manche to the Mediterranean, and not so much as a puncture occurred. On another occasion a little journey of half the length resulted in the general smashing up, four times in succession, of a little bolt (no great disaster in itself), within the interior arrangements of the motor, which necessitated a half a day's work on each occasion in taking down the cylinder and setting it up again, and each time in a small town far away from any properly equipped machine-shop, and with the assistance only of the local locksmith. It's astonishing how good a job a locksmith in France can do, even on an automobile, the mechanism of which he perhaps has never seen before. Officially the locksmith in France is known as a serrurier, but in the slang of the land he is the cambrioleur du pays, a name which is expressive, but which means nothing wicked. He can put a thread on a bolt or make a new nut to replace one that has mysteriously unscrewed itself, which is more than many a mere bicycle repairer can do.
The automobilist touring France should make friends with the nearest cambrioleur if he is in trouble. In England this is risky, a "gas-pipe thread" being the average lay workman's idea of "fixing you up."
Away back in Chaucer's day folk were "longen to gon on pilgrimages," and it does not matter in the least what the ways and means may be, the motive is ever the same: a change of scene.
This book is no unbounded eulogy of the automobile, although its many good qualities are recognized. There are other methods of travel that, in their own ways, are certainly enjoyable, but none quite equal the automobile for independence of action, convenience, and efficiency. It is well for all motor-car users, however, to realize that they are not the only road users, and to have a due regard for others, – not only their rights, but their persons. This applies even more forcibly, if possible, to the automobilist en tour.
One must in duty bound regulate his pace and his actions by the vagaries of others, however little he may want to, or unfortunate consequences will many times follow. Always he must have a sharp look ahead and must not neglect a backward glance now and then. He must not dash through muddy roads and splash passers-by (a particularly heinous offence in England), and in France he must observe the rule of the road (always to the right in passing, – no great difficulty for an American, but very puzzling to an Englishman), or an accident may result which will bring him into court, and perhaps into jail, unless he can assuage the poor peasant's feelings for the damaged forelegs of his horse or donkey by a cash payment on the spot.
Maeterlinck's "wonderful, unknown beast" is still unknown (and feared) by the majority of outsiders, and the propaganda of education must go on for a long time yet. Maeterlinck's great tribute to the automobile is his regard for it as the conqueror of space. Never before has the individual man been able to accomplish what the soulless corporations have with railway trains. In steamboat or train we are but a part and parcel of the freight carried, but in the automobile we are stoker, driver, and passenger in one, and regard every road-turning and landmark with a new wonder and appreciation.
We are the aristocrats of tourists, and we are bound therefore to have a kindly regard for other road users or a revolution will spring up, as it did in feudal times.
Take Maeterlinck's wise sayings for your guide, and be tolerant of the rights of others. This will do automobilism more good than can be measured, for it has come to stay, and perhaps even advance. The days of the horse are numbered.
"In accord with the needs of our insatiable, exacting soul, which craves at once for the small and the mighty, the quick and the slow; here it is of us at last, it is ours, and offers at every turn glimpses of beauty that, in former days, we could only enjoy when the tedious journey was ended."
The "tour abroad" has ever been the lodestone which has drawn countless thousands of home-loving English and Americans to Continental Europe. Pleasure – mere pleasure – has accounted for many of these pilgrims, but by far the largest proportion have been those who seek education and edification combined.
One likes to be well cared for when he journeys, whether by road or rail, and demands accordingly, if not all the comforts of home, at least many things that the native knows or cares little of. A Frenchman does not desire a sitting-room, a reading-room, or a fire in his sleeping-room, and, according to his lights, he is quite right. He finds all this at a café, and prefers to go there for it. The steam-heated hotel, with running water everywhere, is a rarity in France, as indeed it is in England.
Outside Paris the writer has found this combination but seldom in France; at Lyons, Marseilles, Moulins in the Allier, and at Chatellerault in Poitou only. Modernity is making its way in France, but only in spots; its progress is steady, but as yet it has not penetrated into many outlying districts. Modern art nouveau ideas in France, which are banal enough, but which are an improvement over the Eastlake and horsehair horrors of the Victorian and Louis-Philippe periods, are tending to eliminate old-fashioned ideas for the benefit of the traveller who would rather eat his meals in a bright, airy apartment than in stuffy, dark hole known in England as a coffee-room.
In France, in particular, the contrast of the new and old that one occasionally meets with is staggering. It is all very well in its way, this blending of antiquity and modernity, and gives one something of the thrill of romance, which most of us have in our make-up to a greater or lesser extent; but, on the other hand, romance gets some hard knocks when one finds a Roman sarcophagus used as a watering-trough; or a chapel as an automobile garage, as he often will in the Midi.
One thing the American, and the Britisher to a lesser extent, be he automobilist or mere tourist, must fully realize, and that is that the tourist business is a more highly developed industry in Continental Europe than it is anywhere else. In Switzerland one may well say that it is a national industry, and in some parts of France (always omitting Paris, which is not France) it is practically the same thing; Holland and Belgium are not far behind, and neither is the Rhine country; so that the tourist in Europe finds that creature comforts are always near at hand. The automobilist does not much care whether they are near at hand or not. If he doesn't find the accommodations he is looking for on the borders of Dartmoor, he can keep on to Exmoor, and if Nevers won't suit his purpose for the night he can get to Moulins in an hour.
A hotel that is full and overflowing is no more a fear or a dread; the automobilist simply takes the road again and drops in on some market-town twenty, thirty, or fifty miles away and finds accommodations that are equally satisfactory, with the possibility – if he looks in at some little visited spot like Meung or Beaugency in Touraine, Ecloo in Holland, or Reichenberg on the Rhine – that he will be more pleased with his surroundings than he would be in the large towns which are marked in heavy-faced type in the railway guides, and whose hotels are starred by Baedeker.