Monday, February 21, 2011

Amazing Journeys

When I was a child, we has a cat called Passepartout, named after the long-suffering sidekick of Phineas Fogg, the hero of Jules Verne's 'Around the World in 80 Days'.

What I did not know at the time, was that the book was based on the real-life adventures of George Francis Train, railway entrepreneur, author and eccentric, who made his first attempt to travel around the world in 80 days in 1870. The journey included some time spent in a jail in Lyons, but was nevertheless completed within 80 days. The book by Jules Verne, published in 1873, in turn inspired a reporter from the 'New York World', Nelly Bly, to travel around the world. She had at that time already achieved some fame for a well-documented ten day stay in Blackwell's Island Insane Asylum, in order to expose the harshly inhuman treatment that was common at the time in such institutions.

She began her round trip in New York on the 14th of November 1889, arriving back home 72 days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds later.

Although he was a vocal supporter of women's rights, George Francis Train promptly undertook another journey around the world, to best Nelly's record by finishing within 67 days. A plaque in Tacoma, Washington marks the start and end point of this journey.

Today, anyone (with enough money) can round the world in just a few days, something Phil Keoghan, host of the television show Amazing Race has done many times. In 2009, though, Phil undertook an amazing race of a different nature when he crossed America, from coast to coast on a bicycle to raise funds for research to combat multiple sclerosis. Starting in Los Angeles on the 28th of March, he reached New York City on the 9th of May. Parts of the journey was videoed and released as a film to generate additional funds for the cause.

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