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ECLIPSE '99

Three times lucky? You bet! My third total eclipse experience couldn't have been more perfect in every respect. One year of advance planning came to fruition on August 11, 1999, on the center-line in the Black Sea under beautiful clear skies, while most of Europe was covered by clouds, depriving thousands of people of an unforgettable spectacle.

The first 10 days of our trip were spent in beautiful Switzerland, in my home town of Zurich, with side-trips to Bern and Luzern. Next, we took a train to 'La Serenissima' - Venice, a virtual open-air museum; one could almost get jaded after a few days - "oh yes, another Tintoretto in this church, yet another Veronese in that alace...yawn...". Almost sensory overload if it wasn't so amazing.

August 4th, time to board our ship for the eclipse cruise. Lovely to be spoiled rotten after hot and crowded Venice - breakfast on deck, making new friends, enjoying astronomy lectures by one of the 4 astronomers on board, afternoon siestas on the shady Promenade Deck, four-o'clock tea, fabulous dinners, and after-dinner gambling in the casino...I could certainly get used to that lifestyle!

First port-of-call - Katakolon, Greece, located near Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic games. Katakolon is a very small seaside village, and we did not tour the area but were happy to just sit in a little cafe by the ocean, sipping strong Greek coffee and watching fishermen mend their nets.

ISTANBUL

A life-long dream came true for me to finally visit this city. The former Constantinople has been at the crossroads between Europe and Asia for over 1000 years, and its many mosques and palaces are a feast for the eyes and a treat for the history buff. First off, we visited the famous 'Blue Mosque', a graceful, yet powerful-looking building whose interior is almost too elaborate to describe. Massive pillars support the huge main dome, walls, pillars, ceilings are decorated with colorful mosaics and tiles, and the huge space is truly awe-inspiring.

Next was the Hagia Sophia, the other major mosque in the city. Again, words fail to describe the gorgeous interior with mosaics and murals in fabulous condition, since they had been white- washed over in the past and were therefore protected from the elements and deterioration.

Our next stop was the underground cistern of Istanbul. This vast subterranean cavern held the city's only water supply in ancient times, and it is truly a magical place. The huge space is supported by over 300 marble columns, row upon row of them, forming a vast stone forest marching off into the darkness. In former times of course these would be covered as the water reached up to the ceiling of the cistern. Today, there is only about 2 ft. of water left, exposing the columns, each of which is different, as the builders used whatever remnants of columns happened to be lying around in the city, left-overs from the many buildings and temples that had fallen into disrepair over the centuries. A wonderful place, dark, damp, cool, the only thing to be heard the sound of water dripping from the old aquaeduct above the ceiling into the water below.

After this beautiful place, we proceeded to the Topkapi Palace. This huge complex once housed the Sultans of Constantinople, their harem, staff, and army. Many of its buildings were closed for renovations while we were there, but we did get to see the fabulous Treasury which contains gems and precious objects almost too overwhelming to grasp, as well as their fabulous exhibit of ancient manuscripts.

YALTA, UKRAINE

A very pretty city and well-known health resort in the Ukraine, Yalta is nestled in a U-shaped mountain range by the sea. Today it is of course best known for the 'Yalta Conference', but in Czarist times it was a popular resort for Russia's aristocracy after the Czar built his imperial palace nearby.

ECLIPSE DAY!

Up early to check out the sky - perfect! Not a cloud to be seen, extremely hot, choosing a good viewing spot on deck, of course not too far from the pool so we can take a dip once in a while to cool off while we wait for the big event. Excitement builds as we get closer to first contact, electricity is in the air, somehow making a connection between everyone on board. 12.53 pm - First contact! Half-way through the partial phase of the eclipse, the temperature begins to drop noticeably, a cool breeze whispers over the sea, the light becomes strangely 'grey' and shadows become crisper.

Finally only a sliver of sunlight is still visible, you quickly look out to sea, and there it is - a dark cone on the horizon heralds the arrival of the moon's shadow, travelling towards us at a speed of over 3,000 km/hour. A monstrous, awesome thing, making you feel totally insignificant and helpless, yet overawed at the sheer power of it. Even though we saw this phenomenon during last year's eclipse cruise and knew what to expect, it affected us just as violently as it did the first time. In an instant, almost too fast for your brain to even grasp the fact, it is upon us, twilight turns instantly to night, the solar corona literally explodes into the dark sky. We can't stop ourselves, everyone is on their feet, yelling, jumping up and down, hugging each other, tears flowing, raw emotions exposed for one moment at the wonder of it. Then you realize you have only about 2 minutes to take it all in...there is Venus, brilliant in the dark sky. The horizon all around us is a beautiful dark orange, an 'artificial' 360-degree sunset, while overhead the blacker-than-black moon covers the disk of the sun, exposing a gorgeous corona and fantastic flares and prominences all around the sun's limb, brilliant creamy and red colored pearls of light around the sun. No matter how many times you've seen this miracle, it is different every time and causes tremendous emotions that are impossible to describe to someone who has never experienced it.

Then, all too soon, the second diamond ring effect. We watch until the last tiny black bite out of the sun is gone and our star is "whole" again. The tremendous emotions still lingering, you just HAVE to hug someone, an incredible experience to share with our new- found friends!

CANAKKALE/TROY

Another place I've been dreaming of visiting all my life - Homer's Troy. We opt for a private guide in order to avoid the large tour groups, and it was a wise decision. The massive walls of the ancient city (actually, cities - Troy has many levels and was inhabited both before and after Homer's city) are still impressive, and looking over the Iliad's Plain of Troy from the ancient city's hilltop was a thrill - you could just imagine the Greek army massing on the plain, ready for the final assault...

MYKONOS, GREECE

Final stop on our journey, 33 sq. mile Mykonos today is a tourist haven, but underneath it all still retains its magic. Mykonos is all whites and blues - the rounded, brilliant white houses, the countless small churches with their blue domed roofs, and the deep blue sky and sea. Sitting at a seaside cafe at night, sipping ouzo and watching a blood-red crescent moon slowly sink into the ocean was magical indeed and a fitting conclusion to our journey.


Eclipse 99 was written by Helene Studer, owner of Cygnus Designs. Helene creates simple, tastefully designed and well-organized webpages. If you need a web page for your home or bussiness, stop by Cygnus Designs.

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