Thursday, July 10, 2008

Why A Trip At All - Part One

I (Mike) have been interested in Solar Eclipses all my life. My wife (Carol) comes along for the ride.

I saw the eclipse of 30 Jun 1954 in the St. Paul, MN suburbs at sunrise with my parents as an 11 year old, having dragged them out of bed.

As a college student in Boston, MA, I piled into a car with 5 others and we drove 24 hours to Nova Scotia, getting to Halifax on 7 Mar 1970 just before the eclipse was to start, finding the sky overcast, then driving down coast toward the narrow slit of open sky, and finally seeing the eclipse in absolutely clear skies in Brooklyn, NS (look it up on a map). My wife saw the same eclipse in Massachusetts.

We then ignored eclipses for 20 or so years, missing the 30 June 1973 eclipse in Saharan Africa (over 7 minutes long - longest in our lifetime) because we were just married and had no income. I can't remember seeing the annular/total hybrid eclipse in Atlanta on 30 May 1984, even though I was living in Atlanta at the time; Carol remembers pulling off the road to watch the shadow crescents projected through the leaves. We also ignored the eclipse of 11 Jul 1991 in Mexico and Central America (next longest in our lifetime).

By 1997, however, our kids were 16 and 10. Just for the hell of it, we decided to fly to Curaçao to see the total eclipse of 26 Feb 1998 from the north end of the island of Curaçao. Our luck held and although Curaçao had had the first drizzle in many months and was clouded over in the morning, by 3 PM, the sky was perfectly clear with temperatures in the high 80s. The sounds of crowing roosters and barking dogs during totality were memorable.

The next eclipse, the next year, was going to be a family vacation. The eclipse was total on a path from extreme SW England, through northern France, southern Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Black Sea, Turkey, etc. For a few months, I traced out a 28 day "country-a-day" trip through Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania, that got us to Bucharest in time to see the eclipse, and then back to Hungary and Austria, where we would fly home. My wife's first and final reaction to that was yuk - 7 countries and 6 languages, only one of which we sort of knew. No way. Eventually she found an eclipse cruise that went from Piraeus, Greece, through the Islands, to Istanbul, Constanca, Odessa, view the eclipse in the Black Sea, back through the Bosporus, stop at another Greek Island, and back to Piraeus, all in 7 days. Before the cruise, we tacked on 6 days in Turkey, followed by 6 days in Greece. We added 6 days after the cruise in Sparta and Athens, and we had a vacation. The four of us had a great time. On eclipse day, all of Europe was overcast, except for parts of Romania. We, on the other hand, had an absolutely clear sky. The water was so quiet and the boat so still that the photographers were able to set their cameras up on tripods on the boat deck.

So now we had our family eclipse vacation ground rules: We will try to see every eclipse where we could make a decent vacation out of the trip. We will skip those eclipses where the only point of the trip is to go to some obscure place, travel 2 days to get there, see the eclipse, and turn around and come home.

So we passed on the eclipse of 21 Jun 2001, visible in Angola, Zambia and Madagascar (Angola was too dangerous to visit, and we didn't feel like visiting Zambia). We passed on the eclipse of 04 Dec 2002, visible in Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Australia (right at sunset), and the hybrid eclipse of 08 Apr 2005, visible at sunset in Panama (with an 80% chance of cloudiness).

But the eclipse of 29 Mar 2006 beckoned, being visible on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. My wife and I love Turkey, and after the 1999 trip, she had started taking Turkish classes. So we arrived in Istanbul on 16 Mar 2006, made our way through Turkey to Antalya. We viewed the eclipse from above the Roman ruins at Aspendos, looking over the countryside, in perfect weather. Then we flew to Jordan on 31 Mar, saw Petra, crossed over to Israel on 3 Apr, and flew home on 10 Apr.

The next major eclipse is to occur on 22 Jul 2009, visible in China from Shanghai, Wuhan, and much of east central China. It is the third longest eclipse in our lifetime, and we plan to go. (I am 5 for 5, my wife is 4 for 4, and this one is likely to be cloudy, but China must be seen.) However, on 1 Aug 2008, there also was a strange short eclipse that would cross Siberia, western China, and ended up in central China at sundown.

The more I looked at the path, the more I realized that to get there, you had to traverse a part of the Silk Route, that ancient set of routes that went from Xian to the Mediterranean. The combination of China and Turkey and the possibility of seeing both on one trip grew more and more fascinating.

Next, planning the trip.

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