Nellie Bly – Around the World in 80 Days

It is the 125th Anniversary of the Race Around The World.

Who was the first person to race around the world in 80 days?

It was not Jules Verne’s fictional Phileas Fogg. It was in fact a young American woman called Nellie Bly. She made it in only 72 days. Four days later, a second young American woman, called Elizabeth Bisland made it in 76 days.

14 November 2014 marks exactly 125 years since they set out on this record-breaking race.

In 1889, they covered 28,000 miles from New York back to New York, travelling by steamship, train, sampan, rickshaw, horse and burro over 4 seas and across 2 continents, an extraordinary feat in the age before aeroplanes.

The global race of these two women made international headlines and captured the imagination of peoples everywhere. But since then, their feat has faded into obscurity.

WomanGoingPlaces would like to recount the remarkable story of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland – two women who had the courage to go places in every sense.

Women in journalism in the 1800s 

Women did not have the right to vote when Elizabeth Jane Cochran adopted the pseudonym Nellie Bly, and began working as a reporter. Not only were there few women in journalism at that time, but she also pioneered what later became known as investigative journalism by going under cover and risking her life to expose important social issues.

She came from Pennsylvania coal country and talked herself into a job at ‘The World’ in New York under its renown publisher Joseph Pulitzer. She soon showed her courageous and intrepid spirit by persuading her paper to let her feign mental illness and be locked up in insane asylum. Her exposé of the cruelty in the asylum prompted a reform of the institution. Nellie also arranged to be thrown into prison so she could expose the treatment of female inmates; worked in a factory to reveal the shocking conditions of working women; placed herself in great danger in order to lead to the arrest of a sexual predator; and bought a baby to uncover the trafficking of babies in New York. The irony is that today she would most probably have been awarded one of the Pulitzer Prizes, named after her employer. But in the 1880s, she gained more recognition for her travels than for her journalism.

Elizabeth Bisland came from the South. Like Nellie Bly she had come to New York almost penniless and talked herself into a newspaper job. All the money she earned had been through her writing.

Both women struggled to carve out their positions as writers  at a time when journalism was almost exclusively, a male domain.

Unlike Bly’s exposés of social injustice, Bisland’s focus was on literature. She became the literary editor of The Cosmopolitan, a monthly magazine, and wrote essays, reviews, feature articles and poetry.

The race begins

Nellie read Jules Verne’s description of an imaginary trip around the world in 80 days. It made a profound impression. It sparked her decision to take on the challenge and record her own story, an experience she hoped would outshine Verne’s fiction. She also determined to do it in 75 days.

However, when she raised the idea with her editors, they dismissed it for two reasons. They told her it was unthinkable that a woman should travel around the world alone without a chaperone. And second, that as a woman, she would need so many trunks to accommodate all her finery, speed would be impossible.

But a year later, fearful that other newspapers might take up the challenge, they called the 25 year-old Nellie Bly into the office and told her to start a race against the clock around the world  – in two days time.

Elizabeth Bisland was given even less notice. Having read about Nellie’s upcoming trip in the morning paper, the editor of the Cosmopolitan magazine called the 28 year-old Elizabeth into his office and asked her to leave that evening to beat another young woman in a race around the world.

Clothing & Luggage

Nellie dashed home to assemble her clothing and luggage. She chose to go around the world in only one dress – a two-piece blue suit with a long skirt, a plaid coat and a cheeky cap, of the same style that years later would be adopted by the Sherlock Holmes character.  She would carry a single small leather bag that contained everything from personal items to writing materials.

Bly developed the concept of ‘carry-on’ luggage a century before it became common. With her extremely tight schedule, she didn’t want to be delayed – miss a boat or train – by waiting for her luggage.  “ If one is traveling simply for the sake of travelling and not for the purpose of impressing fellow travellers, the problem of baggage becomes a very simple one, ”  she remarked.

Bly’s photo in this outfit became an iconic image – splashed on front pages of newspapers and illustrated on posters around the world.

Elizabeth had only 6 hours to organise herself. She took 2 dresses, a winter coat, a Gladstone bag and a steamer trunk for the rest of her belongings that would not fit into the carry bag.

And they are off….

On November 14th 1889, Nellie Bly stepped aboard a passenger ship in New Jersey and the official timekeeper started the clock as her ship steamed east across the Atlantic to England.

Totally unbeknownst to Bly, eight and a half hours later, Elizabeth Bisland stepped aboard a train and began her journey in the opposite direction.

She took the train overland to the west coast of America and then a steamship across the Pacific to Japan.

The journey

They crossed through all four seasons around the globe and travelled on seas made treacherous by storms, typhoons, icebergs, and the loss of a ship’s propeller.

Bly travelled nearly 16,000 miles on sea and was not seasick once. Bisland was not as fortunate. Their frantic schedules left them little time to enjoy the places they rushed through, but wherever possible they would try to snatch a glimpse.

Bly however, made a deliberate departure from her route by insisting on visiting Jules Verne in Amiens, France. The writer who had envisioned this adventure, was quite patronising to the young woman who sought him out and thought her too slim, frail and unattractive to break his imagined 80-day record.

Wherever possible, Bly and Bisland would send through their reports of their travels by telegraph. But Bly was not made aware until about halfway through her journey that there was another young woman racing her in the opposite direction. Nor was she aware that her newspaper was running a competition which tens of thousands of readers entered and that sold out editions, to guess the precise time of her arrival back in New York. The World made a packet with the boost to its circulation. Bly received no monetary reward whatsoever.

The record

Bly completed her race on January 25th,1890 – exactly 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds after she started.

More than 10,000 people were at the train station in Jersey City to give her a tumultuous welcome and her success was hailed in American and European newspapers.

But there were no crowds to meet Bisland when she returned after 76 days, 16 hours and 48 minutes. Storms in the North Atlantic had cost her an extra 4 and a half days and consigned her arrival to the back pages of the newspapers.

Both Bly and Bisland then faded from public memory despite their record-breaking feat.

And it was only a hundred years later, in1998, that Nellie Bly was inducted into the American National Women’s Hall of Fame for her pioneering work as an investigative reporter.

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  • A very good detailed account of the race is in the book by Mathew Goodman ‘Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World’ Ballantine Books
  • Nellie Bly’s book about her trip: ‘Around the World in Seventy-Two Days’ -published by Pictorial Weeklies Company of New York
  • Elizabeth Bisland wrote an autobiographical novel ‘A Candle of Understanding’
  • Nellie Bly’s undercover articles for The World:
Nellie Bly's route in the race around the world in 72 days

PBS map of Nellie Bly’s route in the race around the world in 72 days





Our Woman In….Havana

One of my favourite ways to prepare for travel to a country, particularly one that is off the beaten track, is to read the country’s literature and newspapers. So before heading to Cuba earlier this year, I downloaded Everyone leaves (Todos se van), by contemporary Cuban author, Wendy Guerra.

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The book was set between 1978 and 1990 during the revolution, in a region in southern Cuba and in the bohemian quarter of Havana preferred by the intelligentsia of the time. It is about artist Nieve Guerra and, as the title suggests, about how the people she loves gradually leave her. Central to everyone’s leaving is the unrest and uncertainty of Cuban society during the revolution—which is the part that interested me the most. Putting aside any romantic notions of Che Gueverra and of revolution, I am fascinated by how people live during revolutionary times. The book gave me insight into the lives of Cuban intellectuals and artists who opposed the revolution and its curtailing of individual freedom.

By the time we arrived in Havana I knew which streets I wanted to walk and which localities I wanted to stay in.  When we reached our casa particulare, (a room in a private apartment or home rented to travellers and international workers) in a faded, blue-painted, concrete block of apartments in Vedado, Havana, I knew about such apartment blocks in this, the choice suburb of the intelligentsia.

I knew to question the closed up and condemned apartments we passed on the stairs on our way up to where our host lived; from my reading I was sure these were once the homes of people who were extradited for their political views during the sixties and seventies. Our host confirmed my suspicions with a shake of her head and a finger to her tightly closed lips.

I knew about the Bertolt Brecht theatre, which joy of joys was across the road from our casa. I knew about the famous Malecon, the stretch of water the city of Havana is built alongside, and the path on its edge leading from the suburbs into old Havana, for my heroine, Nieve, had walked the Malecon in winter, summer, day and night. I was determined to find the real Havana beneath the buzzing layer of hustlers, taxi drivers and self-proclaimed tour operators—although these too added a certain excitement to our adventure!

Travel guides gave conflicting advice around accommodation, from ‘don’t stay in the casas’ to ‘don’t stay in the hotels’! So we spread our time in Havana between staying in a casa particulare with Adele, who had Spanish origins, and her family—her husband, daughter, son-in-law and grandson—and a hotel in Old Havana. We booked from Australia and the confirmation we received from Adele was a bit like Clancy of the Overflow’s thumbnail dipped in tar! Once in Cuba we were quick to realise however, that Adele’s access to email was a feat in itself as no-one had internet connection to the outside world, and even the big hotels had rationed and unreliable connections. Informal, non-official looking emails are the norm, not a sign of dodginess.

The casa was terrific. Adele provided our meals and cleaned our room, and helped us with transport—her son-in-law owned one of those old American cars Cuba is legendary for—and suggestions of what to do. Cuba is not a wealthy country and the people have the bare essentials. They are on rations for some foods, they line up to do anything from going to the bank to buying ice-cream, and the government has only just given families permission to supplement income by renting out a room in their private home to travellers, so we were pleased to give Adele our business. But it was hard going because she spoke no English and we spoke a few words only of Spanish.

Adele booked us a bus trip to a holiday town, which happened to have a festival running the weekend we were there. Cubans love their festivals and this one went all night. Between the cracking thunder of a storm and the vibrating thud of the music, nobody slept much! But we were in one of those quaint, brightly painted houses with a rocking chair on the front veranda, so we were happy.

Adele had also booked us a horse ride to see traditional cigar making. Off we went, through the muddy back lanes of the town, over a creek swollen from storm the night before.  The horses swam across the creek and we dare-devilled along a plank while holding tightly to a single support wire which had far too much slack and wavered with us as we tried to balance. We continued up and down gullies tortured with erosion, to a dark, old shed where our young strapper made us a Cuban drink and showed us how they used to make cigars. Not quite the sanitized tour wrapped up in occupational health and safety compliance one would get in Australia, but it was typically Cuban. As it rained for most of the ride we were wet through and my sandals clogged with mud but we knew the inner workings of a cigar!

Perhaps the most defining moment of a trip is not one that is planned or found in a tour guide. Returning from our horse ride on the wet Sunday morning, we passed an ordinary looking apartment block, and it was the singing and chatter coming from within that struck me. We barely stopped, but I nudged my husband and said “listen”! Such apartment blocks in Australia are mute, but here in Cuba they sing! An unassuming moment but I’ll not forget it.

Considering their poverty you would be surprised to know that Cubans are among the most highly literate populations in the world. I was intrigued by the accessibility of art, theatre, history and music. While we were in Old Havana it was International Book Day so we dawdled around the streets lined with makeshift bookshelves and bought ourselves a pirated copy of Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, a delightful send-up of British intelligence and espionage pre-Cuban Missile Crisis, set in the very bars and street blocks we were passing.

We went to the Museo de la Revolucion (Museum of the Revolution), the most sacred building in Havana, where a young guide told us an absorbing story of Cuba’s history. The spectre of Che Guavera and the legacy of Batista can be seen throughout Havana, and of course we brought home the obligatory red scarf and Che T-shirt. Cubans are proud of their history and they can all talk about it. This museum was one of the highlights of our visit.

Old Havana was once a grand, old, Spanish colonial city. It has block after block of ornate buildings in all manner of disrepair and if the parts and materials needed for restoration or repair come from America, then an embargo means there is no immediate hope that the repairs will be done. The elevator in the Museo de la Revolucion, for example, had been broken for a year and as the parts come from America it will stay broken for some time yet. Scaffolding erected with hope around some of the old buildings is covered in vines. One day soon Cuba will open its doors and capitalism will move in. The Old Havana may be restored to its former glory, but I suspect this will come at a social and cultural cost.

Did I find the real Havana of Todos se van? Not in the sense that we met like old friends over coffee, but yes, the real Havana was there, just in passing.

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Photographs by Jacinta & John Agostinelli

Jacinta Agostinelli is a Melbourne-based writer and editor. She also works pro bono on the management committee of a local community organisation, cares for her granddaughter, and grows vegetables and raises chickens using organic and sustainable methods. She enjoys spending time with her family of five daughters and husband, especially in far away places.





100 Acres of Rhododendron Glory


One of the most glorious ways to spend a day in spring is to drive to the National Rhododendron Gardens in Olinda, just outside Melbourne.

15,000 rhododendrons bloom in brilliant colours across 100 acres of hillside. The vista is breathtaking, whichever direction you gaze. The paths meander up and down the hills and you are enveloped in a cathedral of colour as you stroll along – hot cyclamen, blushing pink, pearl white, deep purple, flame orange, buttery yellow –    each bush laden with flowers of overwhelming beauty.  The variety and gradations of colour, the sheer lusciousness, dazzle the eye.

A large variety of other plants complement the rhododendrons – rows of cherry trees with their delicate pink blossoms, banks of colourful azaleas, camellias, magnolias and daffodils. Abundant vegetation, shady trees and beautiful green lawns. It’s an ideal place to walk, to picnic on the grass, and to rest by the two lakes.

The Rhododendron Gardens are an hour’s drive from Melbourne. As you take the winding road up into the cool hills of the Dandenong Ranges, you are surrounded by soaring eucalyptus trees and dense ferns. These native Australian plants provide the backdrop for an extraordinarily successful plan to transplant and conserve  threatened rhododendron species.

Australia, with its hot climate, would seem the least suited place in the world to save rhododendrons, particularly since these flowers originated in the snowy Himalayas.

The earliest records from 1701, chronicle an Englishman going into China’s inner mountain ranges to collect and send back to England 600 dried specimens of rhododendron.

In his famed book, ‘ The Snow Leopard’, Peter Matthiessen notes the rhododendrons at 12,500 feet on his trek up the Himalayas. He marvels that the ” rhododendron leaves along the precipice are burnished silver” as they reflect the light of the glaciers.

In 1960, the members of  the Australian Rhododendron Society persuaded the then Premier of Victoria, Henry Bolte, to grant 100 acres of state land to establish gardens dedicated to rhododendrons. The members of this Society then volunteered to undertake the herculean task of clearing the land, much of it by hand, and planting  rhododendrons.

During the long hot summers, volunteers of the Women’s Auxiliary would drag heavy buckets of water up and over the hills to save the young plants.

Since then, 384 of the 1157 species of rhododendron, or one-third of the genus, are threatened according to a study. Forest loss, climate change and population growth have all had a negative impact.

The Rhododendron Gardens are now under the management of Parks Victoria, but the ARS is still actively involved. They organised a Convention in October to bring together international experts, Australian and overseas field workers, park managers and collectors to discuss the challenge of rhododendron conservation in a changing world. They also inaugurated a newly restored greenhouse, Vireya House, which is dedicated to saving the vulnerable vireya species of rhododendron.

Entry to the Gardens is free and even when the flowers are not in bloom, it is nevertheless a beautiful place to visit.

And if you have not brought a picnic, after visiting the Gardens you can enjoy the many cafes and restaurants in the pretty villages of Olinda and Sassafras.

For all pictures of the spectacular rhododendrons go to our Gallery page.

For details on opening hours, guided tours & directions go to: Parks Victoria

The Australian Rhododendron website:
Melways reference 66 K6.

Photographer: D. Zycher

Video Editor: Augustine Zycher

Music: J.S. Bach Prelude in C




Woman In … Lake Balaton, Hungary

Woman travelling with extended family.

With two grown-up sons, their partners  and a grandson living in London England, my base being a couple of hundred miles north of that, and a husband working in Hong Kong, it’s hard to get us all together for an extended piece of family time away from the day-to-day (i.e. me in the kitchen). Hence most years,  I’ve taken to booking a large comfortable villa (more of that later), somewhere close to the UK via a budget airline.


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Our age range is 3 to 57 years,  so I’m looking for somewhere that’s family friendly with the potential for a bit of gentle sightseeing, when I can drag them away from the pool. We like warm but not sweltering; much hotter than 30 degrees and we Brits melt. This year’s criteria also included a venue outside the Eurozone, as, until recently, UK travellers were taking a hefty currency hit against the Euro.

Joe, my eldest and dad to Theo (3), is my holiday guru.  Despite being half my age he’s seen twice as many countries as I have and he suggested that Hungary fitted all our criteria. He’d visited Budapest a couple of times,  loved it and he’d heard about the beauty of the Balaton area. Hence, after a couple of hours flight from London on Ryanair, and a further  1.5 hrs drive from Budapest airport, we found ourselves  a few minutes’ walk from the shores of Lake Balaton.

All sorted.

Views over the lake are certainly stunning; it is the largest inland body of water  in  Central Europe and a haven for bathers and small yachts;  speedboats and jet-skis being verboten.

I say verboten because it turns out that the Balaton region is a magnet for tourists from the old East Germany. And whilst the lake may be beautiful, looking back towards land is no less spectacular; the grassed area which forms the shore (there’s  no proper beach)  is where they all hang out during the balmy summer days.

And it really does all hang out. Everyone from aged 8 to 80 years, men and women, opts for the skimpiest swimwear.  Think Helmut Kohl in Speedos! My body is more Angela Merkel than Claudia Schiffer, so my idea of beachwear is nearer to the burka than the bikini: strappy maxi dresses, a tastefully draped sarong.

Unfortunately the Soviet era vibe continued to our accommodation which had looked first-class on the website and was pricey (twice as much as the fabulous villa in Turkey we’d booked the year before). When on holiday I want to stay somewhere AT LEAST as comfortable as home.

I know that there are intrepid women out there at this moment, setting off with two pairs of knickers and a T shirt in a rucksack, the jeans they stand up in and a sleeping bag that won’t see the inside of a washing machine for a month, …… but I’m not one of them.  I want deep mattresses, Egyptian cotton sheets, thick towels and gallons of hot water beating me into submission after a dusty day.

In 1994-ish  I went to East Berlin as a guest of a visiting Professor at the Humbolt University. He booked us into Humbolt student accommodation.  It was very basic, but clean, with a surprisingly good bathroom. Our villa turned out to be of a similar standard, but without the power shower.

A good meal was called for! So we headed to what we were assured was the best local restaurant. We English have a reputation for awful food (once richly deserved, but no longer). However this was truly terrible. Suffice to say that this was the first time I’d been served canned potatoes in about 40 years.

Thankfully, after this, things started to look up. We found excellent supermarkets with good fresh food and local wines that wouldn’t embarrass an Australian vineyard, but at prices Australians can only dream about. 1000 Hungarian Forint (about five Australian dollars) bought us a very quaffable bottle. We kept eating out to a minimum – a sandwich at lunchtime – and cooked cracking BBQs around the pool in the evenings.

We got into a groove – in the mornings a swim either in the pool or the lake, followed by a lazy breakfast. Then everyone into the hire car to explore the region.

Highlights included the Tihany peninsula which is accessible by ferry. We walked up the hillside to the magnificent Benedictine Abbey with wonderful views of the lake. The still-functioning abbey was founded in 1055 AD, although its church was rebuilt in the Baroque style in 1754. It was a blistering hot day so on the way down we ambled into a shady bar and availed ourselves of ice cold Hungarian beer served in terracotta mugs. The local food might not be great , but the ale is awesome.

Keszthely is also a must. Its centrepiece is Festetics Palace,  a Baroque palace set in parterre gardens which contains a magnificent library.  The palace  is a venue for evening classical concerts and houses a puppet museum. However, there  are tiny museums down every alleyway, including a display of pornographic waxworks! My sons visited it (in the name of research for this article, obviously) and assured me that the Bill Clinton & Monica Lewinsky exhibit is very lifelike…

We also spent a very pleasant afternoon in Badacsony, a hillside region scattered with small vineyards and wineries. The owners aren’t as geared up for visitors as Australian vintners, but they were very welcoming to tasters and justifiably proud of their wines. These are small concerns producing boutique wines which aren’t available in large stores and the prices reflect that. Nevertheless, we were sufficiently impressed to bring home a few bottles as presents.

We had five nights in the Lake Balaton region, before moving on to Budapest which is a whole different story – a magnificent city with an international vibe.  Once we’d found our feet in Balaton we had a thoroughly enjoyable, very relaxing family break and I would certainly recommend the area to families looking for something similar. However, on the basis of our experience I’d be aware that accommodation and restaurant standards can be below par for westerners. Choose your villa carefully and stick with a BBQ washed down by the excellent local hooch!


Sue Robson-Catling is English. She has run a Stage School and stood for election to the UK Parliament, amongst many other ventures. She is currently a company director of a management consultancy working for Airlines. Despite having flown many thousands of miles, for work and pleasure, she still never gets on a plane without thinking that aviation is a modern miracle.





Marvellous Buildings of Melbourne

We tend to forget that Melbourne is only 179 years old. Founded by colonial settlers on the traditional lands of the Kulin nation, the new city’s great good fortune came about not only  from the gold that fueled its growth, but also from the vision that drove its planners.

They built Melbourne according to a thoughtful design that created wide boulevards and verdant parks. The grand buildings that lined these boulevards were an expression of the city’s wealth, and represented the most impressive architecture of the day. “Marvellous Melbourne” as it came to be known, expanded rapidly to become by 1890, the second largest city in the British empire after London.

Within the grid laid down by the founding fathers, Melbourne’s skyline has since changed dramatically and ever more rapidly. The old heritage buildings that remain are now nestled  between skyscrapers. Victorian architecture stands side by side with a profusion of architectural styles that have been in vogue over the years – including Colonial Regency, Victorian Italianate, Art Deco, Neo-Gothic, Internationalist, Modern, and Post-Modern.

Melburnians and tourists are fascinated by this array of architecture and seize opportunities to explore the buildings in this city. One of the best opportunities is Open House Melbourne, when the month of July is dedicated to the exploration of Melbourne’s design and architecture. In one weekend event, 100 buildings are thrown open to the public. Thousands rush from building to building. Hundreds queue for hours waiting patiently for entry. Access to some buildings is restricted because they are working offices. There are even buildings restricted to only 10 people in total because they are so susceptible to damage. Hundreds of people enter ballots for a rare tour of these restricted buildings.

WomanGoingPlaces  took part in this event to bring you images of some of these buildings in our video presentation. We photographed a range of architectural styles  including the Manchester Unity building, an extraordinary example of Skyscaper Gothic built in 1932; the Windsor Hotel built in 1883, the oldest hotel in Australia; the 150 year-old Treasury building where the gold bullion found in the goldfields of Victoria was stored; the gorgeous Block Arcade of 1892; Harry Seidler’s 1988 building with its enamel mural by Arthur Boyd at No.1 Spring St. that heralded the European Modernist style in Australia; and Federation Square that recently won recognition as the 6th best square in the world.

Our access to buildings also enabled us to photograph aspects of Melbourne’s skyline of which most people are unaware and cannot observe as they hurry along the streets on their daily routine.

Even if you missed Open House this year or did not get to see as many buildings as you would have liked, you can still continue to visit many buildings. The Open House Melbourne printed program provides extended information on each building including its history, architectural features, significant stories, location and interesting facts. It is a valuable resource that has a life outside of the annual event weekend as it allows you to create your own Melbourne architectural walking tour year round. (See link below)

Marvellous Buildings of Melbourne photographer – David Zycher

Editor of video & post writer – Augustine Zycher

Music – Albare ‘No Love Lost’ from the CD  ‘The Road Ahead’

See the Gallery for the names of the buildings in the video.

For a map of where all the buildings included in Open House Melbourne are situated go to




Woman In…Patagonia

“Oh, that’s impossible, I can’t do that!” This is what I would have said, if I had known what I was about to embark on beforehand. But I didn’t know. And so, when my daughter asked me to go with her to Patagonia, I agreed. Although this remote part of Argentina and Chile had never appeared in my travel imaginings, I knew that I was going on a 60 kilometre trek of medium difficulty over five days, and I knew I could do that.

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So off we went, first to the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, and then to El Chalten in Argentina. We set off happily on our first day shouldering backpacks with six to seven kilos of bare essentials, our sturdy waterproof walking shoes, a map, water- and wind-proof jackets, and the promise of experiencing natural beauty which an American trekker we met in the base town of Puerto Natales told us “nothing can prepare you for.”

The natural beauty

The American was right. The mountains of snow and ice, the blue lakes (paine is the native word for blue) and the painted skies were endless. Natural tracks that were not manicured but still safe and easy to follow, lead us around the mountains, through wooded areas and over trickling waterways. The sky was a great empty plain and we could hear the rumble of avalanches falling miles from where we stood. There is only one path to follow so it is impossible to get lost, and yet you have the sense that you are lost from the rest of the world. I am privileged to own such rare,unique moments.

The refugios 

On the Torres del Paine trek you take a day to walk from refugio (lodge) to refugio. The path is well marked, and there is enough time to make the distance without having to hurry. You measure distance in time because the terrain has to be considered. Pre-booking is essential to make sure you get a bed, and we did all our booking from Australia. There are lots of companies online. I was unsure what to expect from the refugios as they are remote and Patagonia isn’t economically wealthy. We had dormitory sleeping arrangements and I hadn’t slept like that since I was young. But the lodging surprised me and it was always exciting to arrive at our new lodge, each one warmed by a stove and the sound of exhausted, hungry and happy trekkers. Food was delicious and ample, and we ate at long mess tables, so you always had company while dining. We collected a picnic lunch and snacks in the morning when leaving, which meant we only had to carry food for the day.


I am in my mid-fifties and if referring to age and fitness, I was in a minority. Most of the trekkers were under thirty-five. Some were extremely fit and I swear some of the young men who galloped past us were cloven-footed, their feet barely hitting the ground. But there were still plenty like me, moderately fit and young at heart, and we managed steeps ascents and the distances. Perhaps it was the curiosity of what’s around the next corner that kept me going, but mostly my strength of mind compensated for my lack of physical strength, and meditating on the present kept ‘what if it’s too hard’ thoughts at bay. I would have liked to have been fitter. It may have made the difficult stretches easier, although I have no lasting ill effects on my knees or ankles! However, be aware that once you leave the drop-off point and head into the mountains, there is no vehicular access. If you injure yourself you will rely on the goodness of strangers to carry you out or on the availability of a donkey.

Other trekkers

While there are many welcome ‘alone’ times, you are never lonely. We met women travelling on their own, families, dads carrying their small children in backpacks. We met an artist returning after ten years; people of all ages from around the world. So many interesting people and conversations.

El Chalten

Just when we thought it was safe to hang up our trekking shoes, we arrived by bus in El Chalten and Los Glaciares National Park – the trekking capital of the world. We hired a local taxi driver – enterprising young people use their own cars to provide a taxi service – to drive us out of town to a starting point for the Laguna los Tres hike. This day-long hike was the most difficult of all the hikes around El Chalten – but the most beautiful. At the bottom of the steep ascent to view FitzRoy Mount was a sign warning that only trekkers in top physical condition should attempt the climb. I knew by now that I always had one more step in me, so off we went. We climbed for an hour or so, the people on the rocky slopes ahead of us like a thin trail of ants. I treated it as sacred, my treading on the aloofness of mountains.

The weather

We had expected strong winds and rain, which are daily occurrences in Patagonia, particularly in March. But the gods were smiling on us and we had still, sunny weather for four out of five days. It was cold but it was a clear sunlit cold that is ideal for trekking. And being cold means the paths and lodges are less crowded.

And in conclusion…

Now back in Australia, I want my steps to stay slow, the silence of mountains to stay in my mind and their grandeur impressed on my imagination – and the impossible to remain possible.


Jacinta Agostinelli  is a Melbourne-based writer and editor.  She enjoys spending time with her husband and five daughters, and travelling to far-away places.




Making Vodka from Chardonnay

It is rare to find a winery and a distillery located in the same vineyard. It is extremely rare to find that this winery is producing chardonnay that is then transformed into cognac by the distillery.

But this is exactly what is happening at the Darling Park vineyard on the Mornington Peninsula. In this wine making region, the Darling Park winery and the Bass & Flinders Distillery have an unorthodox, but very innovative relationship.

Judy Gifford is the winemaker.  A former biochemist, she studied wine making at the University of Burgundy in France. She is an admired and respected member of  the Red Hill  community, and in a profession dominated by male winemakers, she has become the general manager of the of the Darling Park vineyard. Judy is responsible for a range of wines produced at the vineyard, including chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot gris, shiraz, and sauvignon blanc. But it is the chardonnay that is the basis of the relationship with the distillery as it is a base wine for the cognac.

Bob Laing and Wayne Klintworth are the distillers. They are neighbours who together decided to do things differently. Instead of making vodka and gin from potatoes and grains,  the way it is made in Russia and Poland, they wanted to make them from grapes. Chardonnay, which they source from different vineyards, was considered the  wine most suitable to undergo the conversion into spirits.

They sought mentors internationally, and then set up their Alembic copper still in Darling Park.  These copper stills date back to the Egyptians in 800AD, and were used over the ages to concoct not only alcohol, but also medicines and perfume. Alchemists even used the alembic still in their attempts to magically convert base metals into gold.

And there is something magical about the process of turning wine into spirits. The grapes are crushed and fermented into wine which is heated until it is vaporised. The vapour is then chilled to condense into liquid and flows out as spirits.

You can taste the wines and spirits at the Cellar Doors of both the Darling Park winery and the Bass & Flinders Distillery, and stroll through the pretty vineyard that surrounds them both.


Videographers and Photographers: David Zycher and Rosalie Zycher

Video Editor and Writer: Augustine Zycher

For further information:




Australia’s website for women’s travel, activities and adventure – Why we set up the WomanGoingPlaces Website?

WomanGoingPlaces is Australia’s website for every woman from 30 to infirmity seeking information and inspiration for travel, activities and adventure.

We set up the WomanGoingPlaces website because we recognize that there are many women like us. Women who want breaks from our everyday lives, or who want to do and see things we’ve put off while working or raising families, or both. Many of us are beyond the age of backpacking, but we still have the same enthusiasm for travel. We just want to do it more comfortably and safely. Women’s travel is now an exciting trend across the world.

Australia is our home and our focus. It is well-known for its many attractions, its extraordinary beauty and diversity. We want to share with you the things that appeal to us as Australian women, and that we think will be of interest to other women.

We will show you these places, people and activities from our distinctive perspective. We will also reveal places, people and activities that you would not otherwise hear about.

And we will do it in the most dynamic, colourful way through videos, pictures and posts.

We’re able to do this because together, we have many years of professional experience in journalism, media and the arts. AUGUSTINE ZYCHER is a speechwriter, and was foreign correspondent for The Age, Melbourne, a producer for CNN, director and producer of documentary films, and an investigative journalist. ROSALIE ZYCHER was an actor, theatre and opera director, New York International Arts Festival organizer, dramaturge, and is a business communications consultant.

Ours is the independent view of women who have lived and worked in different countries and cultures, and have frequently gone places on our own. We are not a travel or tour agency. We are writers and photojournalists.

Although Australia is our primary focus, we are nevertheless interested in overseas travel experiences, particularly those less well-known. So we’ll call on women in different places in the world to contribute posts and pictures giving their perspective on places that are special to them.

And we invite your contributions and comments. Let us know of places you’ve discovered and love.

You can send your submissions to our email address [email protected] or from the WomanGoingPlaces Contact Us page.

Let’s share our experiences and encourage a community where everyone can be a woman going places.




Why are women terrified of dining solo?


Why are women terrified of dining solo?

When Australian women travel overseas on our own, we know that part of that experience means eating out alone. But when home in Australia, a woman dining out alone is considered a rarity, and may even be treated as an oddity. We seem to view it as an uncomfortable if not humiliating experience. It can be such an ordeal for women, that few feel brave enough to put themselves through it.

I don’t mean grabbing a sandwich in your lunch-break or going to a cafe. I mean if by choice or circumstance, you find yourself alone for lunch or dinner – would you take yourself out to a fine restaurant?

Most probably not.

Even women who travel for business and are undaunted about representing their companies  find it difficult to face eating solo in hotel restaurants. “I’d rather call room service for a cheese sandwich than have to walk into the restaurants downstairs, unaccompanied,” said my friend Jean, a senior executive at a multinational company.

Brave women, women of intelligence, strength and capability are intimidated by the prospect.

But why is it, when we have overcome so many obstacles on the road to equality, our bravery deserts us when it comes to eating dessert on our own?

Here’s what happened to me when I went to a very trendy restaurant in town for lunch.

I was greeted by the maitre d’ with the question “Is it JUST you?” with the decided emphasis on the ‘just’.

So I put on my biggest smile and confirmed happily “Yes, it’s JUST me.”

I was led past the crowded tables all the way to the back to a place on the bar near the toilets. I looked around and saw that out of more than 100 people, I was the only woman there on her own. However, there were several men eating lunch on their own – not an uncommon sight.

While other people were served around me, even those who had arrived after me, somehow I had become invisible. No-one approached to set water or bread before me. No-one brought a menu. I waited and tried to signal to the waiters but their attention always slid away towards groups of patrons. I noticed the chef working next to me in the open kitchen looked over at me with growing concern. I signaled and waited fruitlessly for more than half an hour. Finally, the chef called to a waiter to attend to me. By that time I had lost my appetite and I walked out.

This type of experience would make women choose to eat at home or seek anonymity with a sandwich in a coffee shop.

But I’ve also had a few surprisingly good experiences in dining out alone.

On a hot summer’s day as I walked into the vineyard-restaurant, I felt that there was no way I would get a meal. Groups were packed around all the tables and spilling out onto the deck. I stood in dismay at the entrance, and then the proprietor came up to me. Instead of saying “Sorry, we’re full”, he said “Wait a minute.” He went out the back and brought out a small table and chair and placed them in the best position overlooking the vineyard. He then offered to prepare me a special version – suitable for one person – of the share plates that were their speciality.

He was gracious and accommodating, just as a good restaurateur and host should be. I became absurdly grateful for being treated in the same welcoming way as other patrons who came as a couple or a group would be treated.

What then is it that prevents greater numbers of women from going into a restaurant for dinner alone, as a man might? Is it the occasional bad experience or is it something else?

There are no restrictions mandating that we always have to be accompanied by a male, as is still the case in many societies. So there is no social prohibition. But there is a very powerful self-prohibition. And it’s based on fear. What will others think of me?

Perhaps we are afraid we are signalling that we have failed to acquire a companion, and that we are objects of pity. Or it could be we are afraid that people will misinterpret our being alone as being available.

We put up this barrier of negativity, so we don’t have the confidence to walk into a restaurant. Walking alone into a restaurant  becomes as frightening as walking onto a stage. It’s as though everyone is looking at us. We feel completely exposed with hundreds of critical eyes focused on us. We build it up in our minds into a 3-Act drama when in truth, how much scrutiny is there really going to be? A few seconds as the waiter leads us to our seat. Most people are too absorbed in themselves to give you more than a passing glance.

But it’s all about women feeling at a disadvantage in social situations when alone.

Many women don’t have the nerve to walk confidently into a restaurant and order from the staff without feeling they have no right to be there. Perhaps we feel we don’t deserve the kind of attention, and even fuss, that other patrons would expect.

Sometimes we are made to feel we are inconsiderately occupying a table that could be earning twice as much. So frequently we are not offered a table, but a seat at the bar or are squeezed into a corner.

We might help change that treatment by patronizing restaurants that welcome solo women diners. After all, in terms of numbers, we are actually an economic force, not a liability.

The reality is that the more we dine out solo, the less of an oddity we will be, and the less of an ordeal it becomes.

There is reason to be optimistic. I remember reading that Ruth Reichl, the famous New York Times restaurant critic, would always visit a restaurant several times before writing her review of the dining experience. So I decided to do the same and re-visited that trendy restaurant that I had walked out of 6 months earlier. This time however, even though the place was packed, I was greeted warmly and instead of being led to the bar, was shown to the only available table, right in the centre of the restaurant. The service was prompt and pleasant, and the food was good. A totally different dining experience! Why? Who knows, perhaps a change of staff with a better attitude.

But to begin with, we need to change our own attitudes. So let’s not hesitate to take ourselves out to lunch or dinner when we feel like it. Let’s savour our freedom, enjoy a beautiful meal in pleasant surroundings, and not waste a second worrying about what other people think.





Feed native birds in an Australian rainforest


WomanGoingPlaces went for a walk into a 60 million year-old Australian rainforest.

This forest is so ancient, it existed even before Australia was a separate continent, when it was still part of the massive land mass of Gondwana.

So it’s remarkable, that by simply driving one hour out of the city of Melbourne, we were able to hurtle back in time to these ancient origins.

The rolling hills and valleys of the Dandenong Ranges National Park are still covered by thick patches of cool temperate rainforest. But there is easy access for drives and walks, and many lovely spots for picnics. We began our walk at Grants Picnic Ground in Sherbrooke on the Monbulk Road (route C404).

Glorious crimson rosellas flew out of the trees and landed on our heads, our arms and our hands. We cupped a handful of seeds and they calmly nibbled them from our palms.  Green King parrots with their red bellies swooped down and settled on outstretched arms and were in no hurry to fly away. Sulphur-crested cockatoos, dazzlingly white with neon yellow plumes strutted around us. They vied with pink and grey galahs to snatch the seeds that fell to the ground.

We then took a dirt path leading us deeper into the forest along the Hardy Gully Nature walk. This is quite an easy walk, but there are many other different walks available, ranging in difficulty and duration.

Very quickly we found ourselves in a lush fern gully, walking beside spectacular Mountain Ash. These eucalyptus trees are the world’s tallest flowering plants and can reach over 100 metres in height, with massive thick bases 30 metres wide.  These giants of the forest provide shelter and food to over 100 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs.

Between and below the eucalyptus trees, are thick layers of of ferns. We are immersed in a world of green, lacy fronds. Bright green mosses cling to fallen logs and cover the base of trees. And we can hear water trickling  down through the ferns, over the moss and into small streams.

The smell of the air is unforgettable. It is a mix of eucalyptus leaves, tree bark, and the wet earthiness of ferns and undergrowth. It is a smell so distinctive and so clear that it seeps into your memory and just settles there.

The raucous laughter of a kookaburra breaks the stillness. But is it really a kookaburra?  Perhaps it’s the world’s best mimic – the Superb Lyrebird?  The lyrebird can perfectly imitate not only the warbling of other birds, but also the sounds of a chainsaw, explosions, musical instruments, dogs and babies crying! Occasionally you can spot one in the undergrowth, and see the magnificent tail feathers of the male on display in the shape of a lyre, which is how the lyrebird got its name.

Fossils reveal that the lyrebird has lived in these rainforests for over 16 million years.

But rainforests are shrinking dramatically. We must do everything we can to preserve these irreplaceable, incomparably beautiful forests.

Post and Editing of photos – Augustine Zycher

Photographer – D. Zycher

Photos of lyrebirds courtesy of Parks Victoria

For further information on visiting the Dandenong Ranges National Park contact

Parks Victoria