1999 August 11

                       Szeged, Hungary

    Let me explain something.  I may not be any kind of astronomy
buff, but I really care for the sun.  My complexion won't allow me
much exposure to its rays and I've only been called a beach god once
in my life.

    But my day revolves around the sunrise.  I'll time my morning run
to catch the first chink of solar disk from an opportune place.  It's
an astronomical event of some importance and I hate to miss it.  And I
have to wonder that it took me four decades before I got into the
habit of chasing total solar eclipses.  There is something wonderful
and primal about watching the sun go out in the middle of the day
leaving just the corona around an empty black disk in the sky.

    1999 August 7-8, Lufthansa flight from Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)
to Frankfurt (FRA) connecting to Vienna (VIE).  I got in at 27:00 by
my biological clock.  (Don't tell me 3:00, I didn't get enough sleep
for that.)  My friend Tom met me as I came out of Customs and I got to
drive his new car East to Bratislava.  (Tom got nicked at the border
for not having his International Driving License, so I drove instead.)
His wife Eva was there with the three children they had since I last
visited them.  (Has it been that long?)  A family barbeque with folks
I knew from previous visits was really nice.

    1999 August 9, Monday.  The Grey family and I went to the Bojnice
Castle a few hours drive from Bratislava.  There are some good
pictures on which I recommend.  The
Slovakia countryside is lovely, rolling hills and lush greenery.

    1999 August 10, Tuesday.  European cities really are different.
Tom lives at the edge of Bratislava and he is a few hundred meters
from "the forest" that surrounds the city.  There are no suburbs.
I was able to run for an hour in the meadow and on wooded trails.
I took the train to Budapest in total comfort, but the trip from there
to Szeged was standing room only, shoulder to shoulder, with more
people piling on the train at each stop.

    Two million of Hungary's ten million people live in Budapest and
its second largest town is one tenth that size.  Szeged is also about
two hundred thousand and it's right on the total eclipse centerline.
Europe has seven hundred million people and a reasonable fraction of
those were going to be somewhere on that centerline, not to mention
visitors like myself.  One resort lake in Hungary had three million
visitors on Wednesday, so you can imagine that Szeged probably had
more visitors than residents on Tuesday night and most of those came
by train.  My hotel room was waiting, fortunately.

    1999 August 11.  My morning run saw a lovely sunrise fade to
drizzel and then pouring rain which continued for several hours
through the morning.  I met with folks from Jozsef Attila University
in Szeged.  Anybody traveling for pleasure is a dilettante, let's be
honest about it.  But once I'm traveling, I may as well meet with
academic colleages, people with similar technical interests, like I
did when I went to India last fall.  I was still a dilettante, but on
a much higher intellectual plane and I learned a lot besides.  So I
met Professors Csendes and Kuba and a doctoral student Peter Szabo
whose thesis work sounds quite interesting.

Web page for Szeged, Hungary:
Web page for Jozsef Attila University:

    The eclipse was at 12:55, noontime, rain or shine.  The rain
yielded to patchy clouds.  One young woman couldn't believe someone
would come all the way from Texas, U.S.A., just to see an eclipse.
The Great Big Moment came mostly between two clouds, so we got to see
most of the totality, no diamond ring at the end.  The inner corona is
still brighter than I expected, and this time there were four big red
promanances right on the surface of the sun, easy for naked eyes.  The
cute young woman said, in good English, "Now I understand."

A great BBC news eclipse page:

    Mr. Szabo spent the rest of the afternoon with me, showing me
synagogue, church, and other sights.  And, when every real restaurant
was packed, we got food because he took me to the student hangout
where the tourists dare not tread.  The food was fine and very cheap.

    Unlike Aruba, neither souvenir t-shirt nor eclipse photographs
were to be found for purchase.  I saw about half a dozen people
wearing eclipse t-shirts, but none for sale.

    1999 August 12, Thursday.  The train to Budapest was about as
crowded as the train had been the other way.  Budapest is supposed to
be the prettiest spot on the Danube River and what I saw didn't
convince me otherwise.  I spent one day on the Buda side and the other
on the Pest side of the Danube with a nice run up and down the Danube
the morning in between.  They had a concert for tourists in a small
hall, almost all Hungarian music, and it was great.

Budapest web page:

    1999 August 13, Friday.  I took a much less crowded train back to
Bratislava.  The Hungarian countryside still had much empty space,
flatter than Slovakia with much greenery.

    1999 August 14, Saturday.  Tom and Eva took me to Devin Castle,
another ancient Slovakian Castle.  It's older than Bojnice with a
wonderful grace even though much of it shows centuries of wear.

Devin Castle:

    Then I was driven to the Stop & Sleep hotel, about as cheap a
place as Vienna is likely to offer.  It was quite nice and the taxi
came at 6:00 as promised for my 7:25 morning flight home.  The cab was
a new Mercedes and the driver was an expert, smooth and controlled and
fast (170 km/hr).  It was worth the fare to see a car driven so well.

Stop & Sleep Hotel:

    So my trip to Europe was a success, and my eclipse chasing was a
success, with victory snatched from the clouds of defeat.  The view
wasn't as spectacular as it would have been in crystal clear skies as
they got over Turkey and Eastern Romania, but England got clouded over
and Munich had lovely weather until a few minutes before totality when
the rain started.  So I was luckier than many, no complaints.