Nellie Bly

Exploring Female Adventurers at London’s Women of the World Festival

Sunday 13 March, 11.30 a.m.  SOUTHBANK CENTRE, London   

wow logo 4As part of the Women of the World Festival 2016,  I am inviting women to ignite their own adventurous spirits through the journeys of  women explorers — past and present — who defied convention, pushed limits and travelled into the unknown.

In this era of shrinking comfort zones and glitzy role models, I’ll be celebrating women adventurers — women who take a walk on the wild side and explore the world. I’ll be paying tribute to those before us who left inhibition at home and journeyed through a man’s world on awe-inspiring voyages;  as well as today’s ‘adventuresses’ who challenge themselves on foot, bikes, skis; in boats, vans, planes…in the true spirit of adventure.

Today's female explorers (l to r) Felicity Aston, Rosie Stancer, Jacki Hill-Murphy, Lois Pryce, Ann Daniels and Arita Baaijens at the Women's Adventure Expo 2015.

Today’s female explorers (l to r) Felicity Aston, Rosie Stancer, Jacki Hill-Murphy, Lois Pryce, Ann Daniels and Arita Baaijens at the Women’s Adventure Expo 2015.

The stories of yesterday’s  women adventurers are often lost in time — let’s get them ‘back on the map’ as role models for women in the 21st century —  Women of the World like Lady Hester Stanhope, the first Western woman to cross the Syrian Desert; writer and explorer Mary Kingsley; and of course, crusading journalist Nellie Bly who beat Phileas Fogg’s fictional Around the World in 80 Days record 125 years ago.

Today’s women adventurers are not only rowing around Britain (Belinda Kirk), skiing alone across Antarctica  (Felicity Aston MBE), and reaching the North and South Poles (Ann Daniels), but also following  the footsteps of their predecessors like Isabella Bird, Mary Kingsley and Isabel Godin (Jacki Hill-Murphy), to name but a few.  Female explorers are true Women of the World.  Join me for a 15 minute WOW Bite on women explorers  Sunday 13 March at 11.30 a.m. at the Women of the World Festival.

Nellie Bly in the Sky: the Book is Out

Nellie Bly in the Sky book cover

Just in time to celebrate the anniversary of the departure of Victorian journalist Nellie Bly on her record-breaking journey around the world 14 November 1889, I am publishing a free e-book capturing the memorable moments of my own commemorative journey. Nellie Bly in the Skythe book, is a compilation of the best of this blog, edited for easy-reading all in one place.  You can download it here.

Re-blazing the ‘Nellie Bly trail, this 39-page PDF format e-book includes photos, edited blogposts and appendices so you can follow Nellie and me without interruption if you wish.

In a tribute on the title page, Matthew Goodman, author of bestseller Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World says“I am absolutely amazed, and thrilled, to find out about your trip around the world, à la Nellie Bly, and to read your accounts of it in your blog. And, needless to say, to hear that Eighty Days was helpful to you in your travels. Just know how impressed I am with your travels — you’re a worthy descendant of Nellie (and Elizabeth Bisland) themselves.”

The book is due to be published as an e-pub as well thanks to enormous help from my friend David Olver.
Nellie_Bly_in_the_Sky

 

 

 

Nellie Bly’s World Race Coming to Television

Nellie Bly’s Historic Race Around The World Being Developed For Television

By Anita Busch

This article is courtesy of Deadline.com: http://deadline.com/2015/03/nellie-bly-eighty-days-book-television-series-1201384763/ 

80days_cover_largeIt’s the best of journalism meets The Amazing Race meets Around the World in Eighty Days. Phileas Fogg, move aside. One of the most daring stories in history is that of investigative journalist Elizabeth Jane Cochrane (aka Nellie Bly) who in 1889 decided she would try to beat the fictional record in Jules Verne’s now classic story and go around the world less than 80 days.  At the same time, because competition is the name of the game in journalism, Cosmopolitan sent their own reporter Elizabeth Bisland, out to beat not only the 80-day fictional Phileas Fogg record but also try to one-up Bly who was working for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World  newspaper.

Now that story, based on Matthew Goodman’s bestselling book, “Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World” is being developed for television by Zero Gravity Management’s Christine Holder and Mark Holder with producer Lloyd Levin (Boogie NightsUnited 93Watchmen) and Beatriz Levin.

“We are developing it as a limited show and talking to creators now,” said Zero Gravity’s Marc Holder. “After that, we’ll go to talent. People have tried to explore her story from her days undercover at a woman’s insane asylum, but not many people have tried to delve into this particular story. Goodman just did such a wonderful job with this book. They are both courageous women and this story is really inspiring.”

The race started on November 14, 1889 and each reporter left from New York, but went the opposite way around the world. The story grabbed headlines at the time and enthralled readers who were kept on the edge of the seats as each reporter filed stories about their dramatic and sometimes dangerous adventures. The race spanned over 24,000 miles using railroads and steamships as their main mode of transportation.

Beyond captivating the nation, the lives of both the well-respected journalist Bly and her competitor Bisland were forever changed by the journey. Bly ended up winning the race by four and a half days and set a world record. She had circumnavigated the globe in 72 days.

 

Nellie Bly: Top of the Lists

Nellie Bly is top of the lists.

Nellie Bly is top of the lists.

Nellie Bly is ‘back on the front page’ as a chart-topper in the historical, convention-busting, inspiring and feminist leagues.

Just in time for International Women’s Day 2015, The Guardian  and The Observer named Nellie as one of the 10 best feminists.  Here’s what the article’s author Helen Lewis said:

“No one but a man can do this,” Nellie Bly’s editor told her when she suggested travelling round the world in less than 80 days. She would need a protector, he said – and how would she ever carry all the luggage a lady would need on such a trip? Bly didn’t worry too much about the first quibble, and travelled light, crushing all her belongings into a single handbag. She made it home in 72 days. That wasn’t the first time the pioneering American journalist had attracted attention through her work – a year earlier, in 1887, she faked madness to go undercover in an asylum, exposing its poor conditions and abusive staff.” Here’s the entire list of 10 Best Feminists

Nellie Bly's biography by Brooke Kroeger

Nellie Bly’s biography by Brooke Kroeger

In 10 Books About Innovative Women You Should Know More About, Kathleen Culliton names Nellie Bly: Daredevil. Reporter.Feminist by Brooke Kroeger.  This is what she says on online site Bustle:

“Here’s what I love about stories of women who innovate: they’re two stories. First you’ve got the story of the brilliant idea, or the world-changing artifact, the traveling of the globe, the charting of the star, the rallying of the people. Then, you’ve got the story of how the hell a woman got people to listen to her in the first place. These are stories not just of human beings who were crazy-smart, but women who were as tough as nails… Journalist Nellie Bly faked insanity to get committed in an asylum. She reported on its atrocities as she experienced them. When that was done, she circled the globe.”

Brooke Kroeger wrote this book because she could not find a single reliable source that accurately captured the story of Nellie Bly. Instead of a credible biography, she found brief encyclopedia entries and children’s books. And she was baffled because Bly not only had a major impact on journalism, but a fascinating life. In an age that relegated women reporters to the ‘Homes and Gardens’ section of the newspaper, Bly faked her own insanity to gain admission into and report on one of the nation’s most notorious insane asylums and effectively invented stunt journalism.”
Here’s the full list of 10 Books about Inspirational Women You Should Know More About.

Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly

Online worldwide news site Buzzfeed named Nellie Bly as one of  the Top 12 Historical Women Who Didn’t Give a ‘you know what’.

“Nellie Bly was a daring and influential investigative journalist who wrote groundbreaking stories about political corruption and poverty. She once faked madness in order to report undercover from an abusive mental institution in New York City, which led to outcry and reform. Her jealous peers referred to her investigations as “stunt reporting”, but Nellie, of course, didn’t give a  x*!x*!  about those whiny little x*!x*!     Oh, and she once travelled around the world in a record-breaking 72 days, just ‘cause.  Here’s the post.

She was named among the top 7 of inspiring ‘convention-breaking‘ women by Mother Nature Network who said:

Nellie exposed the abuses taking place inside the Women's Asylum.

Nellie exposed the abuses taking place inside the Women’s Asylum.

Nellie Bly was an investigative journalist who went undercover in a mental hospital to secure a job at a newspaper when she moved to New York City. She wrote about her experience spending 10 days in a mental ward: “What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment? I would like the expert physicians who are condemning me for my action, which has proven their ability, to take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane. Two months would make her a mental and physical wreck.”

Following that blockbuster story, Bly circled the world in 72 days in imitation of Jules Verne’s book, married a millionaire, ran his steel manufacturing company after he died, and developed a number of patents for her business. She covered the suffragist movement in an article titled “Suffragists Are Men’s Superiors” in 1913 but correctly predicted women wouldn’t get the vote until 1920.
See full post here.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette where Nellie was once a reporter invites us to ‘Learn from the Past’ via Nellie Bly.
“In 1887, she moved to New York City and landed a job at the New York World. For one of her first assignments, she went undercover as a patient at the Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum. She spent 10 days experiencing the asylum’s deplorable living conditions, which included rotten food and physical abuse from the staff. After the New York World demanded her release, Bly’s firsthand accounts of the horrors of the asylum, “Ten Days in a Mad House,” became a book that prompted a grand jury investigation.Two years later, she decided to travel the world faster than novelist Jules Verne’s character Phileas Fogg in “Around the World in Eighty Days.” She boarded a ship from New York Nov. 14, 1889, and returned Jan. 25, 1890 — 72 days, six hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds after her departure. Read the full article here.

 

 

Toolkit: Share the 125th Anniversary of Nellie Bly’s Triumphant Return

TEN TWEETS  & AND A FACEBOOK POST TO CELEBRATE 125th ANNIVERSARY OF NELLIE BLY’S RECORD-BREAKING TRIP
25 January 2015

Let’s get #NellieBly125 trending on twitter. Copy these or write your own. Use the #NellieBly125 hashtag. You can copy and paste the images in this post or look here, they’re in the public domain.

TWEETS

Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly

Let’s put journalist #NellieBly125 back on map.Jan 25 is 125th anniv of her record-breaking world trip.Pls retweet.http://bitly.com/1xsFo1A

125yrs ago #NellieBly125 was fastest to circle globe.She would’ve set twitter alight.Make it happen now.Pls retweet. http://bitly.com/1xsFo1A

#NellieBly125
 pioneered investigative journalism,paved way for women reporters &circled globe fastest 125yrs ago.http://bitly.com/1xsFo1A

Feminist Phileas Fogg #NellieBly125 circled world faster than anyone 125 yrs ago.Alone w/only clothes on her back.http://bitly.com/1xsFo1A

Celebrate 125 yrs since #NellieBly125 beat record for circling globe. Read her book free http://bit.ly/1umDvI3.

#NellieBly125 stepped off train & into history.125 yrs ago she beat record for round the world trip.http://bit.ly/1yGJxTX Pls retweet

#NellieBly125 among top 10 women adventurers.Circled world fastest.Jan 25 is 125th anniv of her triumph.http://bitly.com/1xsFo1A Pls retweet

Globetrotter #NellieBly125 circled globe in 72 days beating the record 125 years ago today. http://bitly.com/1xsFo1A

125 yrs later #NellieBly125 still among TOP10 women adventurers & TOP12 historical women who don’t give an X bzfd.it/17i9COI.

JAN 25 is 125th anniv of #NellieBly125 ‘s record-breaking trip round the world. She beat #PhileasFogg.http://bitly.com/1xsFo1A. Pls retweet.

Nellie_Bly4

Nellie Bly

If you like, you can add:
@
brookekroeger – author of bio Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist
@WIJ_UK  – Women in Journalism,UK
@NYWICI – New York Women in Communications,USA
@RGS_IBG – Royal Geographical Society
@explorerstweet – Explorers Connect
@AdventuressClub

FACEBOOK POST
Use this, edit it or write your own facebook post.

25 JANUARY 2015: 125th ANNIVERSARY OF NELLIE BLY’S RECORD-BREAKING WORLD TRIP

No-one had ever circled the globe with such speed. Journalist-adventurer Nellie Bly stepped off the train in Jersey City on January 25, 1890 …  and into history.  She raced through a ‘man’s world’ in 72 days —  alone and literally with the clothes on her back — to beat the fictional record set by Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg. She was a global celebrity. Today, she remains one of the top 10 female adventurers.  http://bitly.com/1xsFo1A

 

In Which Nellie Bly Begins and Ends her Race Around the World

Hoboken, New Jersey

Nellie’s date: 14 November 1889
My date:  25 September 2014

Nellie took the train to Hoboken Terminal to board the Augusta Victoria.

Nellie took the train to Hoboken Terminal to board the Augusta Victoria.

The Start 

“On Thursday November 14, 1889 at 9.40.30 o’clock, I started on my tour around the world,” wrote Nellie Bly in Chapter 2, entitled The Start, in her book Around the World in 72 Days.

Nellie was not an early riser.  She scolded ‘the good people who spend so much time in trying to invent flying machines’ saying they should devote more energy to promoting a system in which boats and trains would always make their start at noon or afterwards’ to be of greater assistance to a ‘suffering society.’

Nellie crossed the Atlantic on the  Augusta Victoria.

Nellie crossed the Atlantic on the Augusta Victoria.

Departing with a lump in her throat, Nellie encouraged herself by thinking:  “It’s only a matter of 28,000 miles and 75 days and four hours until I shall be back again.”

“The morning was beautiful and the bay never looked lovelier,” she recalls of her departure from Hoboken, New Jersey in New York Harbour. “But when the whistle blew and they were on the pier and I was on the Augusta Victoria, which was slowly but surely moving away from everything I knew, taking me to strange lands and strange people, I felt lost,” she wrote.

“My head felt dizzy and my heart felt as though it would burst.  … the world lost its roundness and seemed a long distance with no end.”

Nellie had never ever been on a sea voyage before.

Re-tracing the start … and finish 

The President and First Lady's departure from the United Nations on Air Force One temporarily closed the harbour.

The President and First Lady’s departure from the United Nations on Air Force One.

The morning was grey with sudden squalls when we headed to Pier 11 near Wall Street  for the ferry to Hoboken to retrace Nellie’s departure. Two ominous Osprey aircraft suddenly came swooping onto the Downtown Manhattan Heliport nearby. They were followed by a drove of helicopters and police cars with flashing lights. A Coast Guard cutter plied the waters. We looked up to see snipers atop the roofs of nearby buildings.  President Obama and the First Lady were leaving town by Air Force One after  three days at the United Nations of discussions on climate change, foreign terrorist fighters, education for all, and the Ebola epidemic. Soon the harbour was shut and ferries were frozen. Flocks of people in black suits delivered in long black cars strode towards the aircraft so we even never knew if we saw the President and  Michelle Obama. Within minutes of lift-off, the scene was cleared, the ferries were back in business and the Obamas were on their way to the White House.

And we were on the way to Hoboken where Nellie started,  and then Jersey City where she finished her epic travels. Nellie’s train pulled in to Jersey City at 3.51 p.m. on 25 January 1890, 72 days, 6 hours,11 minutes and 14 seconds since she had left. No one had ever gone around the globe as  fast. By then she was the most famous woman in the world.

After traversing 18 waters from New York Harbour to San Francisco Bay , she was at the end of her ‘flying trip’ by train across America.

“I only remember my trip across the continent as one maze of happy greetings, happy wishes, congratulations, telegrams, fruit, flowers, loud cheers, wild hurrahs, rapid hand-shaking and a beautiful car filled with fragrant flowers attached to a swift engine that was tearing like mad through flower-dotted valley and over snow-tipped mountain on-on-on! It was glorious!” she wrote.

Nellie arrived to a packed Jersey City station on 25 January 1890.

Nellie arrived to a packed Jersey City station on 25 January 1890.

People dressed in their Sunday best flocked to the train stations along her route to cheer on Nellie Bly. Multitudes of well-wishers filled the stations as she travelled through Albuquerque, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia. At Pittsburgh’s Union Station, not far from her hometown of Apollo, thousands turned out at 3.10  in the morning to wave her on. Nellie stepped onto the rear platform of her car and waved with tears in her eyes to all those who came in the middle of the night to see her.

When she reached on the afternoon of January 25th, 1890, she had won the race. The station was overflowing. On her victory parade to the New York World‘s headquarters at Park Row, the streets were choked with people and the windows of skyscrapers lining Broadway were filled with faces as Nellie’s carriage made its way.

“I wanted to yell with the crowd,” Nellie wrote. “ Not because I had gone around the world in 72 days, but because I was home again.”

In which Nellie Experiences Peaks… and Troughs… in Hong Kong

HONG KONG

Nellie’s dates:  23-24 December,  27-28 December 1889
My dates: 14-15, 19 September 

Nellie arrived in Hong Kong with the monsoon.  I landed in the midst of typhoon warnings and the undercurrents of civil turbulence.  Pro-democracy demonstrations — the Umbrella Revolution —   erupted one week after I left.

Competition

Nellie had no idea that Elizabeth Bisland was racing around the world in the opposite direction.

Nellie’s optimism at arriving in Hong Kong two days ahead of schedule quickly sunk to despair. She was only 39 days into her journey, and already in China. She headed straight to the Oriental and Occidental Steamship Company to book the first sailing to Japan, only to discover that someone was ahead of her.

Elizabeth Bisland, a journalist and author sent by a competing publication, set out from New York the day Nellie left, circling the world in the opposite direction.  Elizabeth had left Hong Kong three days earlier. An astonished Nellie kept her composure when the O&O Steamship officials told her the devastating news. Even worse, she would be stuck in Hong Kong Japan for five days awaiting her passage to Japan.

“That is rather hard, isn’t it?” she said quietly, ‘forcing a smile that was on her lips, but came from nowhere near the heart.’

When they told her that the race was over and she’d lost, Nellie replied:  “I am not racing with anyone.  I promised to do the trip in 75 days and I will do it.”  She did it in 72; Elizabeth Bisland finished in 76 days. The rest is history.

The Hong Kong that Nellie and Elizabeth experienced now exists only in photos, memories and a smattering of sites that have survived massive urbanisation. My goal was to locate them during my own race to beat the fury of approaching Typhoon Kalmaegi, due to sweep past the city at speeds of 125 km (77 miles) per hour. Warnings from the Hong Kong Observatory escalated.

slippery warningHappy Valley Cemetery  

Setting out from Wan Chai, one of the Umbrella Revolution ‘hot spots’, I travelled by metro, bus and finally tram to Hong Kong’s Happy Valley and the multi-faith cemetery that Nellie raved about. “It rivals in beauty the public gardens and visitors use it as a park,” she wrote. “One wanders along the walks never heeding that they are in the Valley of Death, so thoroughly is it robbed of all that is horrible about graveyards. That those of different faiths should consent to place their dead together in this lovely tropical valley is enough to give it the name of Happy Valley.”

Hong Kong Cemetery

Hong Kong Cemetery

Snakes!

Snakes!

It’s sad now. Neglected and unsafe, signs warn visitors of slippery grounds and stairs, and worst of all snakes!  The only living soul that morning in a massive, crumbling, reptile-infested cemetery,   I stepped warily (and loudly to ward off any snakes), across broken concrete and overgrown paths to explore the tombstones of Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Protestants. Although bereft of the beauty Nellie described, the cemetery and its ossuary, evoke a sense of the hereafter. A sign in the Muslim section states: “Visiting graves …. benefits both the dead and the living. While it is a tribute paid to the dead, it prompts the living to think about the essence of life.”

What a blast!

What a blast - the Noonday Gun

What a blast – the Noonday Gun

Something to ponder as  I left Happy Valley for Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay waterfront. I got to the Noonday Gun there just in time for the daily blast. Made famous in Noel Coward’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen, the tradition began in 1864 when Jardine’s, the company who owns it, was required to fire a one-shot salute every day at noon for perpetuity as punishment.  The company kept to the deal and now collects money for charity from those who wish to fire the Noonday Gun.

Nellie would’ve experienced a bigger blast. Jardine’s lowered the power…and the decibels… in 1961 at the request of neighbouring waterfront establishments.

Peak experience

From sea level at Causeway Bay, I headed for the highest point in Hong Kong — Victoria Peak via the historic Peak Tram to Victoria Gap.

Riding the historic Peak Tram

Riding the historic Peak Tram

Asia’s first funicular and the world’s steepest, the Peak Tram is a feat of modern engineering that Nellie rode a year after it opened in 1888.  The steam tram extending 1,350 metres to Victoria Gap cost Nellie 30 cents up and 15 cents down.  Today it’s electric and costs $5 US round-trip. The tram carried as many as 150,000 passengers its first year.  In 2013, its 125th year, the tram transported 4 million passengers.

Seats have always faced uphill to prevent passengers from falling forward. Intermediate tram stops are named after former British governors/administrators — Kennedy, MacDonnell, May and Barker.

If she stepped off the tram today, Nellie would be aghast to find Peak Tower, a colossal architectural icon devoted to consumption — home to the usual ghastly global suspects — Burger King, Crocs, Sunglass Hut, Adidas, Swatch, Swarovski and Travelex and more.

Fleeing commercialism, I located the Hong Kong Tourism Board based on the Peak Piazza in a former tram. There I met Sanford Lee and Windy Chiu who made my mission their own — to track down the ‘umbrella seat’ that Nellie describes in her book Around the World in 72 Days.

“…We were carried (by sedan chairs) to Victoria Peak. It required three men to a chair ascending the peak. At the Umbrella Seat, merely a bench with a peaked roof, everybody stops long enough to allow the coolies to rest…”

Windie Chui and I at the Umbrella Seat where sedan chair carriers rested before reaching the top.

Windy Chiu and I at the Umbrella Seat where sedan chair carriers rested before reaching the top.

Hong Kong Tourist Office Tram at Victoria Peak

Hong Kong Tourist Board Tram at Victoria Peak

Once I convinced them I was not in search of an umbrella (despite the approaching typhoon) nor a chair, Windy and I set off on an uphill search. Fifteen minutes later the elusive Umbrella Seat was before us. Not content with our original discovery, we climbed further up in the pre-storm heat to the Victoria Peak summit.

Rain was falling in sheets by the time we returned to the tourist office tram. The typhoon signal jumped from 1 (standby) to 3 (strong winds). Taking the Peak Tram down,  I arrived back at my hotel in Wan Chai to discover that typhoon signal 8 (gale and storm force winds) was in effect and all government agencies were now shut.

Would I be able to travel to Canton (Guangzhou) the next morning as planned?  Certainly not on a boat up the Pearl River like Nellie, but perhaps the trains would be running…

In Which Nellie Is Delayed in Ceylon

An outrigger like Nellie rode to shore

An outrigger like the one Nellie rode to shore

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (FORMER CEYLON)

Nellie’s  dates: December 8-14, 1889
My dates: September 7-11, 2014

Nellie was the first to step ashore in Colombo. Leaving the other passengers boarding a steam launch, she balanced on an outrigger that sped towards the small island once known as Ceylon.

“The island, with its abundance of green trees, was very restful and pleasing to our eyes after the spell of heat we had passed through on the ocean coming from Aden (Yemen), ” Nellie wrote. “We all stood impatiently on the deck waiting for the first opportunity to desert the ship.  With all our impatience we could not fail to be impressed with the beauties of Colombo … we could see the green island dotted with low-arcaded buildings, which looked, in the glare of the sun, like marble palaces.”

The Grand Oriental Hotel

Grand Oriental Hotel Museum with (l to r) Mr. Chandika, Mr. Nandana and Mr. Dushaatha.

Grand Oriental Hotel Museum with (l to r) Mr. Chandika, Mr. Nandana and Mr. Dushaatha.

One of them was the Grand Oriental Hotel. Nellie had already engaged her accommodations there when the steam launch arrived with the others. My own accommodations at the Grand Oriental Hotel were ‘engaged’ on the internet a month in advance. I’d hoped to stay in the same room as Nellie; but records of her stay no longer exist.

“It was a fine, large hotel,” wrote Nellie, “with tiled arcades, corridors airy and comfortably furnished… (where one could) sip the cooling lime squashes or the exquisite native tea or eat of the delicious fruit while resting in an attitude of ease and laziness.”

I was also greeted with a cooling fruit juice when I arrived at the Grand Oriental for the Asian start of my Nellie Bly 125th anniversary world trip.

With an exasperating five-day delay between ships, Nellie became well acquainted with the hotel. In her day, the corridors were ‘colonised’ by snake charmers, magicians and jewellers. They have long since disappeared — and so has much of the charm that once characterised the Grand Oriental.

GOH2

The Grand Oriental Hotel in its prime

Only 80 of the original 300 rooms remain – the rest were sold for police headquarters. Even so, the management is fiercely proud of the hotel’s legacy – it’s a listed site. The multitude of plaques in the lobby attest to the glorious heritage of the Grand Oriental Hotel, including a visit by Anton Chekov in 1890, a year after Nellie’s.

What’s missing is a tribute to Nellie. Perhaps I should arrange a plaque commemorating her stopover. I think they would make space in the lobby; or perhaps in the hotel’s little museum on the fourth floor where it could take its place among the time-honoured photos, ledgers, crockery and silver from the Grand Oriental’s past.

With a little help from my friends

Sri Lanka is known for its hospitality and I experienced it big-time. A simple introduction by email from a mutual friend in London was all it took for Lakmini Raymond and her two sons Jévon and Devin to share their local knowledge, their home and their friendship.

We started with a cup of famous Ceylon tea in the former Dutch Hospital — there even before the British arrived – now a dynamic mix of trendy shops and eateries. From there we relaxed in Lakmini’s home near that of the Sri Lankan Prime Minister; before dinner at the Hilton which was also hosting the Japanese Premier in the country to inaugurate a second terminal at the Bandaranaike International Airport as I discovered upon landing there that morning.

The Nellie Bly Research Team in Colombo — Lakmini, Jevon and Devin Raymond and Jagdesh Mirchandani.

Some of the sites Nellie visited in Colombo were evident, but Lakmini, her sons and friend Jagdesh Mirchandani formed the ‘Nellie Bly journey research team’ and managed to connect the current-day Ananda College with the Buddhist College Nellie visited 125 years ago. The big challenge was the Parsee Theatre where Nellie attended a theatrical performance so memorable that she spent two pages of her short book describing it. Even Jagdesh, whom Lakmini calls the Wikipedia of Sri Lanka, didn’t know. “Let’s ask a Parsee he said as he dialled a Parsee friend. We’re still not sure but Jagdesh’s friend thought it could have been at the Parsee Club under the pergola.

And that was day one in Sri Lanka.

In which Nellie Meets Jules Verne

AMIENS, FRANCE – 23 November 1889

Nellie risked a time-guzzling deviation only 8 days into the race, sacrificing two nights of sleep, to accept an invitation to the home of Jules Verne –  the author who inspired her own voyage. It meant going to Amiens, France.

“Oh how I should love to see them,” she said upon learning of the invitation when she arrived in London. “Isn’t it hard to be forced to decline such a treat?”

Jules and Honouring Verne at home with their dog Folette. Amiens 1894

Jules and Honorine Verne at home with their dog Folette. 1894

Two days later she received a memorable welcome from Jules and Honorine Verne. “Jules Verne’s bright eyes beamed on me with interest and kindliness, and Mme. Verne greeted me with the cordiality of a cherished friend,” Nellie recalls. “Before I had been many minutes in their company, they had won my everlasting respect and devotion.”

Nellie’s visit with the Vernes lives on today at the Maison Jules Verne, a living tribute to the French author attracting visitors from around the world. Many rooms reflect the descriptions in Nellie’s own book Around the World in 72 Days.

Nellie’s description of the Verne’s salon is framed and hung there for all to read:

“The room was large and the hangings and paintings and soft velvet rug, which left visible but a border of polished wood, were richly dark. All the chairs artistically upholstered in brocaded silks, were luxuriously easy…”

Here at the  Maison Jules Verne, for the first time, I was quite literally following in Nellie’s footsteps. Nellie Bly and I were in the same room …separated by 125 years.  I guess I might have asked Mr Verne the same questions:

Have you ever been to America? Answer: Once to Niagara Falls. I know of nothing I long to do more than to see your land from New York to San Francisco.

How did you get the idea for your novel? Answer: “I got it from a newspaper.”

It was an article in Le Siècle newspaper showing calculations on travelling around the world in 80 days that Jules Verne discovered the basis of his novel. They had not taken into account the difference in the meridians which gained a day for Phileas Fogg and meant he won his bet. Had it not been for what he called ‘this denouement’, Jules Verne told Nellie he would never have written Around the World in 80 Days.

By candlelight they visited the author’s study which remains just as Nellie saw it. She was surprised by its modesty. So was I. “One bottle of ink and one penholder was all that shared the desk with the manuscript.” The tidiness of his manuscript impressed Nellie giving her the idea that “Mr Verne always improved his work by taking out superfluous things and never by adding.” Great advice for all writers and something I must keep in mind as I write this blog.

Jules Verne's home today

Jules Verne’s home today

Before she knew it, it was time to leave her new friends the Vernes. They shared a glass of wine in front of a roaring fire before bidding each other farewell.

The race was on.

Jules and Honorine Verne diligently followed Nellie’s progress around the globe and sent her a congratulatory telegram when she reached America. That fleeting visit made a lasting impression.

Amiens railway station where Nellie was met by the Vernes.

Amiens railway station where Nellie was met by the Vernes.

In which Nellie Bly Packs Her Bag

“If one is travelling simply for the sake of travelling, and not for the purpose of impressing one’s fellow passengers, the problem of baggage becomes a simple one.”    Nellie Bly, 1889

OK Nellie, you’re on.  My rolling rucksack is slightly larger (21 by 10 inches) than your gripsack (16 by 7 inches). Even so it’ll be a squeeze to get everything in. But like you, I am determined that my baggage will not slow me down so a single piece of cabin baggage it is.

My expedition cabin bag

My expedition cabin bag

Unlike you, I will not be travelling in the same outfit. Indeed today’s technology means I can pack lots more in a much smaller space. So I’ve treated myself to a mosquito-repellent quick-dry skirt, a whisper-light, sun-resistant travel dress and heat-wicking t-shirts. Like your over-sized jar of cold cream, it will be my electronic equipment that takes up the most space — tablet, mobile phone, chargers, adapters — and I won’t forget my camera as you did. The tablet is my equivalent of your ink stand, pens and pencils.

I’m swapping three bandanas for the three veils you took. Not too worried about a tennis blazer or dressing gown, and my flip-flops can substitute as slippers. I’ll leave the hankies and ruchings (lace, muslin and other materials for trimming dresses) this time.

Nellie's global gripsack

Nellie’s global gripsack

Once I have ‘crushed’ everything in as you did, my reaction will likely be the same as yours:

“Packing that bag was the most difficult undertaking of my life; there was so much to go into such a little space.”

Nellie Bly’s packing list:
three veils,silk bodice,two travel caps,slippers, toiletries*,inkstand, pens*, pencils and paper*, sewing kit*, dressing gown, tennis blazer, flask and drinking cup, hankies and fresh ruchings, cold cream

My packing list:
two skirts, travel dress*, rain jacket, shorts, 4 t-shirts,khaki trousers, sewing kit*, toiletries*, swimsuit, first aid kit, glasses and sunglasses, research material, tablet, mobile phone, camera, chargers and adapter; notebook* and pens*; running shoes,sandals, flats,flip flops,torch,scarf and bandanas, microfiber towel, undergarments*

*the same