Sri Lanka

A Chain Around the Earth – Acknowledgements

Nellie and her bag“To so many people this wide world over am I indebted for kindnesses that I cannot… thank them all individually.  They form a chain around the earth. To each and all of you, men, women and children, in my land and in the lands I visited, I am most truly grateful. Every kind act and thought, but if an unuttered wish, a cheer, a tiny flower, is imbedded in my memory as one of the pleasant things of my novel tour.” Nellie Bly 1890

I’m with Nellie. My trip couldn’t have been so successful … or even ever happened…without the ‘kindnesses’ shown by so many. I send my heartfelt thanks to the countless people en route who helped me along the way and also to all those who generously donated to UNICEF  through my Footsteps of Nellie Bly page.



I must first acknowledge the support from my husband David Stanton and daughter Acadia. David helped me design my itinerary, plot the flights and pack my small suitcase so everything fit. Best of all they both believed in what I wanted to do.

My Chain Around the World

WIJlogoAlso on the home front, thank you to Anna Barfield and Janet Goodman for the lovely bubbly send-off at Heathrow. Barbara Richardson, Liz KhanSusan Lacy, Christina Watson, Vicky Webster, Dinah Nichol and Patsy Puttnam also spurred me on, as did everyone in my freelance writing course at City Lit led by Susan Grossman. Alan Taylor contacted our RGS logofriend Nikhil Hirdaramani who introduced me by email to his lovely friends in Colombo. I am delighted that Women in Journalism endorsed my trip and the Royal Geographical Society registered it.  Many thanks to  Michael Blunt, Vice-President of Corporate Communications at oneworld Alliance who asked his airline colleagues en route to offer assistance if necessary. Happy to report that I never needed to call on them because everything went smoothly. Nellie Bly herself travelled with a similar ‘letter of introduction’  from ocean liner officials.


Peat O'Neil (r) and David Stanton at the Newseum, Washington DC.

Louisa Peat O’Neil (r) and David Stanton at the Newseum, Washington DC.

Louisa Peat O’Neil gave me good advice from the start. She’s alwaysnellie-bly-daredevil-reporter-feminist been an inspiration. Back in 1980, she embroidered Rainbow of the Road on my bright yellow backpack and sent me off.  Alice Robbins-Fox, a terrific travel companion who keeps me on track, met me in New York City to share the journey and her birthday. Sally Emery made connections there and helped us plot urban itineraries. Victoria Fulmer offered to come around the world with me…as long as it was on a private jet. Pat Streifel and Vim Maguire helped pave the way. Dolly McCo80days_cover_largey and Arnold Blystone took me to explore Nellie’s birthplace in Cochran Mills, Pennsylvania. Donald and Marilyn Schlief kindly offered their apartment in Washington, DC so we could visit the Newseum that features Nellie Bly. Kristina Heintz‘ birthday card to me featured a dancing girl with the words ‘she could no longer deny the gypsy in her soul.’ Perfect. My trip was enriched by the writing and research of Brooke KroegerNellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist  and Matthew GoodmanEighty Days.


The Stapels family and guide at the Royal Botanical Gardens.l

The Stapels family and guide at the Royal Botanical Gardens.

Thanuja Kanchana Camlo Lanka Tours met me at the airport in Colombo and managed to extract my credit card from the machine that swallowed it – rescuing my source of funds for the rest of the trip.

Lakmini, Jevon and Devin Raymond; and Steffi and Moahan Balendra pulled out all the stops to show me the best of Colombo. Nushka Nafeel wrote about Nellie for the Sri Lanka Daily News.

The Stapels family — Bernie, Redda and Julia from Germany — invited me to join them and their guide in Kandy and together we visited the Royal Botanic Gardens that so impressed Nellie.

Adler Hostel (r) in Singapore's Chinatown

Adler Hostel (r) in Singapore’s Chinatown


Folks at the Adler Hostel  helped me to map out itineraries taking in all of Nellie’s sites. Stephen Wang at the Your Singapore Tourist Information Office provided tons of history and organised a tour of the Fullerton Hotel with Florence Minjout who shared her knowledge about Singapore in the 1890s.

Windy and I at the Umbrella Seat

Windy and I at the Umbrella Seat


Sanford Lee, Windy Chiu and Chung of the Hong Kong Tourism Board based at Victoria Gap joined my quest to find the umbrella seat where Nellie rested on her way to the peak. Windy and I trekked to the top and found it!


Jenny at the Hilton near Yuexi Park

Jenny at the Hilton near Yuexi Park

With the generous help from the team at the Customs Hotel, I was able to find obscure Nellie sites.  Business man Joe Yang not only gave me directions, but delivered me to the Nanyue King’s Tomb Museum. Jenny at the Hilton Hotel near Yuexiu Park gave me a map, advice and sent me off in the right direction.



Yoshihisa and Yoshie Togo in Hakone.

Yoshihisa and Yoshie Togo whisked me off to Hakone with spectacular views of Mount Fuji and Kamakura with the Great Buddha Diabutsu.

In which Nellie Visits the Mount Lavinia Hotel

Binara Full Moon Day at Garangaramaya Temple

Binara Full Moon Day at Garangaramaya Temple


It’s a holiday!
Today is Binara Full Moon Day across Sri Lanka. It’s a public holiday where businesses close, no alcohol is served, and women in white flock to Buddhist Temples. A monthly occurrence, this particular Full Moon Day commemorates the value placed on women in Buddhism. How appropriate for my quest ‘to commemorate the value’ of Nellie Bly and her achievements in the Victorian age.

I discover this while reading the local paper at breakfast at 9 am in the Grand Oriental Hotel’s Harbour Restaurant overlooking the port where Nellie arrived at precisely the same time on December 8, 1889.

Inside the Garangaramaya Temple

Inside the Garangaramaya Temple.

Colombo reminded Nellie of Newport, Rhode Island. “Possibly—in my eyes at least—Colombo is more beautiful. Their homes may not be as expensive, but they are more artistic and picturesque,’’ she wrote. I can’t see the connection between Newport and Colombo; but it’s nice to think that Nellie did.

Not sure exactly which temples she visited in Colombo, I hop a tuk-tuk and and head for one of the most famous, Garangaramaya  situated around a lake. It’s brimming with women of all ages, shapes and sizes adorned in white to celebrate their day. Processions wind around the giant Buddha, the famous Buddha tree and throughout the park. The heady profusion of gold, gods, incense and icons is so intense it makes me wish I’d worn white.

The Mount Lavinia Hotel

The Mount Lavinia Hotel

The Mount Lavinia Hotel

The ‘smoothest, most perfectly made roads’ Nellie ever saw led to the Mount Lavinia Hotel. “Many of these roads were picturesque bowers, the over-reaching branches of the trees giving us telescopic views of people and conveyances along the road,’ she wrote.

The thatched huts lining the road in Nellie’s day have given way to rows of businesses – local and international like Pizza Hut, Mango and Burger King – on both sides of a congested road. But every trace of this disappears as the 19th-century splendour of the Mount Lavinia Hotel comes into view.

Nellie described the Mount Lavinia as “castle-like building glistening in the sunlight … on a green eminence overlooking the sea.” With is grace, gardens, history and fountains, the Mount Lavinia transports one back to the most lavish of Victorian times. I absolutely love it.

I am here courtesy of new friends and newlyweds Steffi and Moahan Balendra, again connected by my friend in London, who have more than kindly allocated their day off to tackle traffic on a public holiday to take me to the Mount Lavinia Hotel, 15 kms outside of Colombo. They have inadvertently, but with enthusiasm, joined the Nellie Bly trail. We explore the elegant hotel and wander down to the beach for a seafood lunch overlooking an ancient outrigger (called a catamaran locally as Moahan confirms on his i-phone) like the one Nellie rode to shore when she arrived in Ceylon.

Ocean view at the Mount Lavinia.

Ocean view at the Mount Lavinia.

The romance of the Mount Lavinia is flamed by the story of Ceylon’s second Governor Sir Thomas Maitland and his lover Lavinia, a dancer. Sir Thomas built the current hotel in the early 19th century as his residence including a tunnel where he could secretly meet Lavinia. Upon returning to England for his health, he purportedly named the residence for her. Steffi and Moahan tell me that many weddings take place at the Mount Lavinia.

Nellie found the Galle Face Hotel equally romantic. “Where the ocean kisses the sandy beach and while listening to the music of the wave, the deep , mellow, roar, (one) can drift – drift out on dreams that bring what life has failed to give; soothing pictures of the imagination that blot out for a moment the stern disappointment of reality.”

My only ‘disappointment of reality’ at the Galle Face tonight is the fact that it is being renovated so much of it is inaccessible — and cloudy weather has obscured what could have been a spectacular sunset. But just being here, enjoying the grandeur on a sultry evening after a day with friends at the Mount Lavinia, is just fine by me.

Outrigger on the beach at the Mount Lavinia

Outrigger on the beach at the Mount Lavinia