Eclipse Trip 4: San Francisco

Thursday

For my final breakfast on board I opt for the signature dish of French Toast, which is rather good.  I spend most of the morning in the Sightseer Lounge, while we glide through canyons and along the Colorado River.  Here, people messing about on the river greet the train in their own special fashion, earning it the nickname “Moon River”.

There’s a 10 minute stop at Reno.  We reckoned that was so that couples who had been together 24/7 from Chicago could get a quickie divorce.   For lunch I tried the veggie burger, which was rather tasty.

We arrived at Emeryville, a transport hub on the edge of  San Fran at 4, and didn’t have to wait too long for the bus transfer.  We alighted at the Financial District drop off point,  and took a  taxi to Bush St, where we were staying at the  Grant Hotel, just north of Union Square.

The room was a decent size, but had a potentially treacherous step up into the bathroom.  Causing me to call out “Step!!!!” anytime R went to the loo in the night.  Our first night’s aimless wandering took us to Chinatown where we enjoyed a rather large meal for 2 special.

The walk home was a bit trickier – whilst the city is still on a grid system, there’s no indication of where the really steep hills are.  But we found that the little Kwik-e-mart on the corner does booze.

Friday

The breakfast in hotel is very spartan. There’s no milk for tea, not even in wee plastic jiggers.  There are pastries and croissants, but no butter or jam.  Or cutlery.

I’d researched the various ho-ho bus options, and chose City Sightseeing, as it included a Sausolito tour across the Golden Gate, and an evening tour. (The other companies were offering guided walking tours, which after last night’s steep hills experience I wasn’t prepared to risk).

On our first circuit on the bus, we learned the reason for Crissy Field cancellation – an alt-right free speech rally, which of course prompted much outraged protest rallies to be arranged.  Trump you’ve gone too far this time, messing with a parkrunner’s tourism plans!  The bridge itself is shrouded in mist, and we learned that this month is known as “Fog-ust”.

At Pier 39 we were delighted to watch the sealions at play, and checked various transport details at the visitor centre.  Trams and buses $2.75, payable to driver, cable cars $7.  A MUNI pass is good if you’re there for a few days, but we’d already gone for a 2 day bus pass.  I had lunch of traditional clam chowder served  in a sourdough bowl overlooking the bay.

In the evening, we’d booked the “Alcataz by night” tour – these sell out months in advance, so it’s worth booking online beforehand.  There is no booze allowed to be sold on the boat out, and none on the island.  It is chilling, in every sense.  The island is cool and foggy, and the cells suitably spine-tingly.  We had an audio guided tour narrated by former inmates and warders, and learnt of the various escape attempts.

R had a hot dog on the boat home, while I was ready for a glass of vino, and I got some humous from the Kwik-e-mart for supper.

Saturday

No parkun, boooooooo!

We treated ourselves to a fantastic brunch in the little diner on the next corner.

We got back on our City Sightseeing Tour, which was a bit detoured by all the protest and counter-protest shenanigans, and to our dismay find that it isn’t doing the Sausolito Tour.

They could’ve said earlier!  And I should’ve read the reviews on Trip Advisor.  We got off instead at Golden Gate park in the midst of a marijuana festival.  We weren’t too clear where the boarding point is, as these bus tours aren’t allowed to have anything useful like signs, but we made it back to hotel.  We took tram back  to fishermans wharf, where we intended to take the night tour, only to find that we’d missed the last one.  Again, I’m appalled by the lack of communication.  We took the tram back to the hotel, and I had a really lovely sushi roll in the place next to the hotel.

Sunday

We’d booked a hire car from the place across the road from the hotel.  Not just any old hire car, a Ford Mustang convertible, which we’d had visions of driving down Highway 1 in by the ocean, warm breezes in our hair.  After the compulsory argument with the  Sat nav  we escaped the city’s gravitational pull, and got onto Highway 1.  Sadly, Fog-ust extends down the coast, and we saw precious little in the way of surf or beaches, nor could we put the roof of the car down.

We stopped at Half Moon Bay for brunch, where I had Califormia Bendict.  This means it had avocado in it.  On to Santa Cruz, where R was meeting a biking chum, who he’d only ever previously engaged with online.

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We came back to the city via the Big Basin redwoods which are stunning, though the  teeny winding roads were a bit hairy.  Having successfully returned the car before closing time, we had a fabulous  dinner in Del Populo of eggplant salad and pizza, chatting to UK tourists sitting beside us.

Monday

Crissy Field is not the easiest place to get to, so we took an Uber to get there so I could do a freedom parkrun.

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It’s always hard running solo,  and I had to conjure up imaginary cheering marshalls.  There were still some chalk markings visible,  left by counter proterstors.

It’s compulsory to take a cable car ride, but these can be hard to actually board as they are always full.

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Most people queue at the end points and no-one gets off, so it’s pointless waiting at any other stop.

At Fisherman’s Wharf we had lunch at Cioppino’s – scampi aurora and a free cup of clam chowder.   We enjoyed a potter around the Musee Mechanique, where I got a mechanical fortune teller to tell me my fate.  I have have set myself rather a high goal, apparently, which I will surely reach!

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I took a quick visit to the Giardhelli chocolate shop.  We took the  cable car back down Powell, and opted for dinner at the pizza place across the road.  These served very odd antipasto, and an even odder carafe of wine which was only a fiver.

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Tuesday

On our last day, we had brunch at Lori’s Diner, which was really cute, with a vintage car as part of the décor.  R bid farewell to the super-duper Apple store, and we took a taxi out to the airport.  Our tickets said Terminal TI, which we read as “one” but really it was “I for International”.  Aer Lingus were as efficient and pleasant as I’ve always found them to be, and we had a hassle free journey home, even managing some sleep on the plane.

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I would go back to San Fran: as a bridge aficionado, it was disappointing not to see the Golden Gate, and of course I shall have to do Crissy Field properly!

Even Tony Bennett left his heart here.

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Eclipse Trip 3: Grand Junction

If it’s Tuesday this must be Denver.

 

After the very late boarding of the train in Lincoln, I woke in need of a decent breakfast, and joined the queue of people waiting to be put on a list.  It’s amusing to be seated with total strangers, and to compare plans and journeys so far.  My breakfast companion was a woman who lived in Glenwood Springs, and had travelled on this train many times.  We went for the creole eggs meal, which was tasty, though I wasn’t so keen on the grits.

There was a fair bit of shifting and shuffling at Denver.  I learned later that this is a switchover point for the track providers from BNSF to UP.  We were still running a couple of hours later, although there is a planned stop of 1 hour here, which was reduced to 15 minutes.

Coming out of the Mile High city, and the scenery really starts to get interesting.  To climb up into the mountains, the train takes a number of S bends, and the view back down over Denver was impressive.  We then began to travel though a series of tunnels, including the famous 6 mile long Moffat Tunnel, and the views each time we emerged were stunning.

Conversations with fellow passengers centered around the eclipse. For many, it had been their first experience, and I was impressing people with “it’s my 3rd total, plus a failed attempt to see an annular in Iceland” story, until I met someone for whom it was his 15th eclipse. He and his party had been so concerned by the clouds in Nebraska that they’d hired a plane to take them above.  And they were already planning the next trip to Chile in 2019.  I’m not sure I’ll make that one, though there’s one visible in Spain in 2026 (on Jemima’s birthday!) that might be in my plans.

There’s not too much that a train can do to catch up on lost time.  We were growing concerned about making our next stop in Grand Junction.  The timetabled arrival was 4.30, and we were due to pick up a hire car.  The hire car place closed at 6, and from what I could gather we were running about 2 hours behind schedule.  There’s no wifi on the train, and travelling through these remote regions a phone signal is not always guaranteed either.  When we did get a signal, we couldn’t work out what the USA access code was.  in the end, our wonderful steward Ralph lent us his phone to make the call, and Enterprise GJ were themselves monitoring the eta of the train, which they could see as 5.33.  I guess this is a situation they are all too familiar with!

We were met at the station and taken to the Enterprise offices not too far away, and a very smooth and swift handover process followed (complete with the compulsory oh wow, one day I hope to visit Ireland!).  I drove to our hotel, the Palamino Motel, where we checked in to a large room complete with fridge.  The receptionist recommended the Mexican restaurant a few doors down, and indeed the food was excellent, though far too much.  I saved some prawns, rice and avocado for lunch the next day, making use of our room’s refrigerator.

Getting back to the land of wifi, I checked on Facebook, and to my utter devastation learned that Crissy Field parkrun in San Francisco is cancelled this week.  Having been planning this whole trip for well over a year, and started a project to spell the word DANCER with my summer holiday parkruns, this was a huge disappointment.  But hey, these things happen, and I could still complete my spelling with a bit of rearranging.

Grand Junction is in a very fertile part of Colorado, famous for its fruit (especially peaches) and wine.  Our morning plan was to drive around Colorado National monument, which is a stunning scenic drive with lots of views of canyons and gorges and balancing stones.

 

After a bit of compulsory arguing with the sat nav, we got there, and the radio played Sweet Home Alabama to complete the idyllic picture.

We had our lunch at the Visitor Centre, where I loved seeing the bright blue colours of a pinyin jay.

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We left the hire car back in the early afternoon, dropped our bags at the station, and had a little explore of the town centre.  It’s definitely got a hippy vibe to it, with lots of street art and interesting shops.  We called into a café so I could try some local wine, which I have to say was delicious.  I’m not sure if it’s possible to obtain Colorado wine back home, but I’m going to try!

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The train was only 20 minutes late today, and around 5 pm we boarded along with about 30 others.

I’d been concerned about the train’s dinner reservations issue, as these are given out before 4 pm each day, but had been assured that our cabin steward would sort us out. I was less than impressed by the dining car staff, who said they’d squeeze us in somewhere, which meant it was 8.45 before they were hustling us into place, clearly while trying to get us out as quickly as they could.  We were supposed to get a side salad, which was not offered, and a dessert, which I had to prompt them about.  I do apologise to the people we were sharing a table with, for I was not very good company that evening.  They’d ordered a baked potato, were served mash instead with no explanation or apology. But we were charmed by John in the Lower Lounge of the sightseer, who was terrific company, and worked out how to make Roger a special vodka diet coke.

Back to my ironing board bed for the last night on board.

 

Eclipse Trip Part 2: Totality in Nebraska

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Boarding the California Zephyr at Union Station, Chicago, felt very momentous, but we were a little unnerved to find that when the ticket said “reserved coach” it meant that we had a seat in the coach class carriage.  Any seat.  Not a particular one, just whichever ones we could find free.  This led to a bit of unseemly scrambling, but we were happy enough with the pair we found in the upper deck.  There’s plenty of leg room, and space to store bags.  We had to stay put until the ticket guy had registered our names and assigned them to those seats, after which we were free to move around.  And the first place to move around to was the sight seer lounge.

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This has a variety of seating facing outwards to large windows and a panoramic roof.  Space here is at a real premium, and there’s an element of “towels on the sunloungers”.  However, announcements remind passengers not to hog seats, to vacate them if going to be away for a while, and not to place bags or sweetie wrappers on unused seats.

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There’s a real sense of unhurry, and people take the opportunity to talk to their fellow passengers.  Lots of them had this journey on their “bucket list” of things they must do, and had been planning it for some time.  There were quite a few  Amish and Menonites taking a trip, and of course lots of eclipse chasers.  Having failed to secure eclipse glasses in The Windy City, I was delighted to spot a NASA ambassador from Langley Research Center, who provided us not only with eclipse glasses but many other maps and goodies besides.

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There aren’t an awful lot of announcements given during the actual journey – I was glad I had printed out the detailed Route Guide which gives a paragraph or so about each stop and the area we were traversing.  We did get an announcement when crossing the Mississippi, which is half a mile wide. I was impressed by the  mile-long freight trains carrying coal pass us in the opposite direction.  And we cross from Illinois to Iowa and some point, and from there into Nebraska.

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We would be leaving the train at midnight, so I hadn’t booked a sleeping car for this leg.  Sleeping car tickets include all meals, and so reservations for dinner are offered to those passengers first.  Coach class passengers have to try to get hold of the dining car attendant as they make their way about the train, and Roger was successful in snaffling a dinner reservation, but it is dear ($ 100 for the 2 of us, with drinks).  The tables are in groups of 4, and so you will end up with strangers, who are happy to talk.  We even found an openness about discussing politics, particularly Trump and Brexit, which was refreshing.

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This isn’t the most scenic part of the journey, and anyway it was dark at about 7.  We arrived in Lincoln at half past midnight, and worryingly outside the small station there was  no sign of any cabs and the police are doing something across the road.  Left with no other option, we hired an Uber at $50 to take us to the hotel, about 2 miles away.  I usually avoid booking hotels in the railway district of cities, as they tend to be less salubrious, but we were regretting not having a hotel that we could have walked to.

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Baymont Hotel is fine, but a bit outside the town centre.  And for breakfast you could have biscuits and gravy.  If you like that sort of thing.  Our Sunday morning Uber retraced the journey from the night before, but this time cost only $7.  Like most places, Sunday mornings are quiet but we enjoyed a relaxed mosey around Historic Haymarket which has tried to retain its old buildings, with painted signs, and helpful plaques at each one telling their history.  There are many independent shops, bars and cafes here, and it is a lively enough spot once things open.

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We had lunch at a fabulous burger bar, with the “cry and fry” fried onions and fries side dish,

before paying a visit to the helpful people in the visitor centre, located in the OLD railway station.

 

We had planned to spend eclipse day in Beatrice, but that was one of the sites chosen by NASA to broadcast from, and Bill Nye the science guy would be there.  Along with, of course, thousands of other people.   We were concerned that if we got stuck in traffic we wouldn’t be able to return our hire car in time, though the half past midnight train shouldn’t be an issue.

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The helpful visitor centre staff ordered us a taxi to take us out to the Enterprise car place on the edge of town, where the friendly staff gave us an upgrade to something with a sat nav.  Anytime we said we were from Ireland people’s eyes lit up, and they would tell us about their granny who came from Limerick, or how they wanted to visit Dublin.

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Driving in The States takes a bit of getting used to, especially at junctions, but we made it safely back to the hotel.  There are a few drive through restaurants nearby, and we chose one of those for a Chinese dinner.

Monday

Up early for eclipse day, and an anxious look at the weather forecast. There would be hazy high cloud all day, with little chance of it burning off.  The newsreader reminded people not to try driving whilst wearing eclipse glasses.

We set off for our alternate viewing site at the little town of Crete, where we found a good spot to park near to coffees and loos and the like.  We enjoyed a great breakfast at IMG_2136Sport 9, whose staff were clearly experiencing  a bumper volume of customers, many of whom also wore eclipse T shirts.  During a wander around town, I was charmed by the home made signs about the eclipse, and we were greeted warmly.

One passer by even invited us to join her and her family for lunch down the road.

First contact was at just after 11, and I did my traditional happy clappy dance.  For this part of the eclipse, the high cloud wasn’t a real issue.

Lots of people kept popping out of their shops and business, and putting on their eclipse glasses to look up to the sky.  I spotted a tiny patch of blue sky, and held my breath and crossed my fingers, and sure enough….it reached the sun just immediately before totality.

 

IMG_2140 There was the most beautiful diamond ring, and then a good 2 minutes of corona.  The eerie purple-black darkness gave a spooky feel, and I wondered at the cars driving past with their lights on – did they not even have 2 minutes to spare to stop and enjoy this wonder?  Well, most of the village was out in the streets enjoying it, and when we repaired to Als on Main for lunch, they had just re-opened after being closed for the event.

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I’m always a bit self-critical after these things – should I have gone to Wilber where there was a bigger festival?  Or found somewhere out in the open where we could watch the shadow race across? Or should we have braved the traffic in Beatrice?  But from what I could gather afterwards, the cloud was an issue in Beatrice so it was just as well we didn’t go there.

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On the way home, we followed a brown sign to see a lakeside recreation area.  And then of course, having tried to avoid it, we hit the Beatrice traffic on the Interstate.  But we made it to the hire car place in time, and across the road from it was an enterprising young man selling eclipse T shirts, so I bought one of those.

We then had a 6 hour wait until our train, so we found a good spot in one of the Irish bars and set about making new best friends.  I did manage a quick shopping spree before 6, and got some souvenir Nebraska wine, and some liquorice for an emporium dedicated to that particular sweet.

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One of our new best friends collects old beer cans, and I showed them my parkrun analogue tracker.  They help us with our bags to the station, where we discover that the train is delayed, and it’s nearly 2 am before it arrives.  There are many passengers sprawled around the station and platform, and we are all ready for our beds.

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The sleeping car is small. The lower bunk isn’t too bad, but the upper one is little more than an ironing board, with a webbing strap to stop one falling out.  I have to channel my inner Jack Lemmon and pretend I am in Some Like It Hot before falling in and out of a restless night’s sleep.

 

Eclipse Trip Part 1: Chicago

This trip has been years in the planning.  Its origins date back to my first eclipse, in France in 1999, which I watched with cousin David and his wife Karen.  We discovered that the next eclipse in that saros would be on 21 August, 2017, which would be their 30th anniversary.  The path would travel right the way across the United States, making it one of the most accessible eclipses in history.  We would be there, come hell or high water.

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My husband had long wanted to take one of the iconic train journies that go right across the States, and so we looked at the route of the California Zephyr, worked out where it crossed the path of totality, and the bones of our itinerary were formed.

chicago posterPutting together the various components took quite some doing.  It began with the segments of the train journey, ensuring we would be in the eclipse zone with time to spare.  Then plane journies were added a few days either side of those, and finally hotel accommodation and car hire at key points were reserved.

Wed 16 August, and we began!

An early start and a drive to Dublin airport, where we parked at the Clayton Hotel.  Cars are packed in tightly here, and it took some searching to find an accessible spot.  But it’s much cheaper than the official car parks, and there’s a shuttle bus which ferries passengers to the shiny terminal 2 building.  Cases successfully weighed and checked in, we relaxed over breakfast before making our way to the US pre-clearance area.  More security checks, and then some finger printing and face photographing, plus some questions about the ESTA – had I answered all the questions correctly? It really is a huge bonus to be able to do all this before flying, and saves hours of queuing on landing.

The Aer Lingus flight was very smooth, with a tasty meal, and I watched The Founder, and Going In Style.  Having already done our pre-clearance, we arrive at Chicago’s domestic terminal, where our bags appear quickly, and we hop in a taxi to the Freehand Hotel.  There is heavy traffic – we could have taken the El train,  but I wasn’t too sure where to get off.

The hotel is in a good location, but the rooms are very small, with nowhere to store suitaces.  We spent out first evening indulging in “Aimless Wandering” by the River Walk.

chicago riverWe stopped at O’Briens for something to eat, and to  shelter from the heavy rain storm which came out of nowhere.

chicago obriensAfter chatting to the Irish staff, they recommended Big Bus tours.  We popped into an Irish pub on way home, where there was a pub quiz going on. I winced as I got the bill – the dollar- sterling exchange rate is painful at the moment.

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Thursday

I need tea to start my day, but discovered that the lobby café produced the Worst Tea Ever. I accept that the USA is a coffee drinking nation, but work out that ordering a “hot tea with milk” will get me something close to what I’m after.

We found the bus tour stall, and chose the 2 day ticket which included an architecture boat trip.

IMG_2024As the at least partial eclipse would be visible right across the states, the whole country was gearing up for it, with special mention at each weather forecast.  The Chicago Adler planetarium was giving out free eclipse glasses at the square, but by the time we’d got there they had run out. On the bus tour we stopped at planetarium itself, but the queue for the entrance was rather long,  so we just admired the skyline views.

We went to Navy Pier for lunch at Bubba Gump, and enjoyed the sight and sound of the  Blue Angels rehearsing for the Air and Water show passing overhead.

Friday

Next door to the hotel is West Town Bakery, where I get something tea-ish for breakfast.  Roger tries a Reuben sandwich.

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We walk to the modern art museum for an exhibition by some Japanese dude – Rog is entranced, but it’s not my cup of tea….

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The Hancock tower is round the corner so we opt for the view and drink package.

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In the afternoon, the Architecture Boat tour is very good – Pat the tour guide most informative. The city is very Gotham-like, and the skyscrapers are amazing.

IMG_2082I can’t find a hot dog place I like the look of, so we go for deep pan pizza at Pizzeria Uno.  It’s not my favourite, I’m not a huge pizza fan to begin with, but much prefer the thin and crispy style, rather than this overly sweet thick bready base.

Saturday

There’s no parkrun in Chicago, but I had planned to do their version organsied by CARA.  However, I abandon that idea as the Air Show is on and I’m not sure how to get there, am  worried about traffic and getting back in time for the train.  I run 5km along River Walk instead, before a WTB breakfast.  I’d estimate that more the half the people using RiverWalk at this time of day are fellow runners, and I feel I’m in good company.

We take an Uber to Union Station with plenty of time to admire the cavernous space, and vow to rewatch The Untouchables.

And I finally get to enjoy a hotdog with everything.

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It seems a little disorganised – announcements are unclear, and we just line up when told before being marched single file down to the platform.  And there’s the train!

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The next chapter awaits us.

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Chasing The Eclipse

Solar eclispes happen more frequently than you might imagine – there’s usually one per year.  However, they tend to only be visible in often very inaccessible places, such as the middle of the Pacific ocean, or over the polar ice-caps.

In 1999 I travelled to France, and managed to get into the zone of totality just south of Paris.  We met up with my cousin and his family, who are also dedicated space and astronomy nuts.  Sadly, we were clouded out right at totality, though I can still remember my amazement at this great dark shadow rushing towards me at over 1,000 miles an hour.

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In 2003, I took my gang to Iceland, where the promise of an annular eclipse, a ring of fire rising over a glacier at sunrise was too tempting to refuse.  Well, I say “promise”: the good weather prospects were less than 30%, and indeed I ended up seeing only murky grey cloud becoming slightly paler.  But still we had a fabulous week in Rejkjavik.

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In 2009 my husband and I went to China, and joy of joys were in the right place at the right time to experience 6 magical minutes of totality.

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And of course had an unforgettable trip seeing other fabulous sights such as the Great Wall, the terracotta warriors, and the brash skyscrapers of Shanghai.

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Eclipses go in sequences called saros: from Wikipedia

a period of approximately 223 synodic months (approximately 6585.3211 days, or 18 years, 11 days, 8 hours), that can be used to predict eclipses of the Sun and Moon. One saros period after an eclipse, the Sun, Earth, and Moon return to approximately the same relative geometry, a near straight line, and a nearly identical eclipse will occur, in what is referred to as an eclipse cycle. A sar is one half of a saros.[1]   

When my cousin and I were researching the France ’99 event, we discovered that the next one in that saros would occur on the day of their 25th wedding anniversary, and it would be in the USA.
So I’m currently well into my planning and anticipating this year’s holiday. We will fly from Dublin to Chicago, spend a few days there, before catching the  California Zephyr train, which crosses the States terminating in San Francisco. Along the way we will stop off in Lincoln, Nebraska, and drive to the little town of Beatrice which is in the centre of the zone of totality. Beatrice is one of my online usernames, so it seems fitting to go to a town with my name on it.

So what should I pack? Chicago is the windy city, even in August, there might be rain, there will be fog in San Fran, and of course we have planes, trains and automobiles to catch.

One of the most valuable pieces that a traveller can carry is a versatile wrap, pashmina, shawl. It serves as a blanket when trying to get some sleep, is a stylish cover up for evening strolls, and can be folded into a cushion. I love this Ichi reversible wrap in dove grey and mustard, which I found on sale for £10 in a little boutique in Carrickfergus called Lisa’s Attic.  It looks good, though the mustard side is a bit fluffy and sheds hairs over the clothes beneath.

Some companies specialise in being comfortable and stylish. I swear by my Craghoppers trousers and tops, which have features like security pockets, quick dry, and mosquito repellent. And I’ve just discovered Like Mary, an online company which makes gorgeous wraps and shawls, as well as other travel friendly clothing.

I treated myself to some cropped harem pants. I’d bought a pair of cheapie harems in Majorca and I love them for relaxing and travelling, as they take up very little room and are easy to dress up or down.

I alao bought some wrap dresses and tunics.  I was very pleased at the quick delivery service.  And when I had to return the wrap dress as it just didn’t suit me, the refund was also very prompt.  I packed the grey patterned tunic on a recent day trip to Dublin.  The sun was shining and I teamed it with leggings and a cardi for a stylish and practical outfit.  The tunic is lovely and roomy, with great pockets for thrusting your hands into when the breeze picks up.  It takes up little space in my bag, and washes like a ribbon, so it is destined to become a firm travel favourite.  My only quibble is with the itchy scratchy label which was annoying my neck, but I was able to remove it without too much trouble.

And they are a bit marmite, but I adore my Crocs!  They are lightweight and comfortable, especially when doing a lot of walking around a city.  And they are waterproof – I even hooked them over my wrists while swimming in Orlando.  So I’m not taking them out of my travel staples just yet.

Now, I wonder can I find a set of eclipse viewers among my souvenirs…….

Indefinable, that’s what hootoo are

Some disturbing news this week: as part of the BBC’s rationalisation (i.e. money-saving) of its online services, it is “disposing” of h2g2. It could have been worse – some sites were closed immediately, whereas this approach seems more akin to putting us in the animal rescue centre and hoping a new owner will fall in love with all our waggly quirks and big melting brown guide entries.
I’m finding it hard to be my usual positive self about this move. And who would want us? Part of hootoo’s problem has always been that it’s impossible to define. It’s not a social network, although the community aspect of it is very important, and indeed the “nicest bunch of wierdos on teh internet” has already set up its own community consortium (please follow h2g2c2 on Twitter, or search #saveh2g2) with the aim of taking over ourselves if a new home/ owner can’t be found.
It’s not a comprehensive encyclopaedia, though its been dubbed “the bastard uncle of Wikipedia”, as it predates that site but takes a different approach to recording and sharing information. The Edited Guide Entries, aiming to provide a unique guide to life, the universe, and everything, contain some gems, as does the Underguide, a repository for fiction.

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Never too far

Why has the site been so important to me? Well, it’s where I met my fiance. (And my previous serious bf, come to think of it). But it’s not a dating site.
It’s where I learned to improve my writing, particularly fiction. And Vogon poetry.
It’s where I learned how to use a mark-up language.
I’ve been archiving all the stuff I’ve written over the years, a task I can only manage in small bursts as it makes me cry. All my various columns in The Post, hootoo’s weekly newspaper where I am proud to be assistant editor. My first set was Murder on the Dancefloor, tracing my dancing exploits from tap-dancing in Luxembourg, to taking up Scottish dancing, and watching my daughter follow in my pointe-shoe footsteps and transform from cute Irish dancer to leading lady.
My Rear View set took me from being a pillion passenger to learning how to ride a motorbike myself, to following Roger and the Calums heros to The Gambia to build a road.
Take it to the Max followed the exploits of training a very boisterous puppy.
Eclipse hunting took me to China, from whence came a series of Little Bea in Big China.
I’ve met friends from all over the world, from Seville to Stockholm, Reykjavik to Alphen an der Rhein, Frankfurt to Torquay…and thankfully I’m in contact with all my good friends outside hootoo.
Its hard to know what the future will bring, or how hootoo will change. But change is inevitable. It’s highly likely I wont be able to access the site from work once it loses its BBC host – and that’s OK, I don’t feel I should be jumping up and down demanding access as a right from my employer’s equipment. If we have to have ads or some sort of subscriptions, well, you don’t get much for free these days.
As Chinese New Year approaches, I am reminded of the curse “May you live in interesting times.”

One week later

Last Saturday, having a bare necessities of a working loo and a fridge, I slept in the new house for the first time. So I’ve been here now one whole week.

The to-do list has shortened from eleventy-million items to a mere handful, and I’ve slept really well every night – despite the noise from the nearby planes trains and automobiles! But trains only run between 6 and 11, and planes between 6.30 and 10, so the only continuous noise is the traffic on the bypass, which is distant enough and constant enough to be almost a white noise background.

a plane landing against the setting sun

Planes and cranes

The most striking thing is how quickly I felt at home here. OK, I’ve lived in lots of different places, but I’ve lived in Belfast longer than anywhere else – East Belfast in particular. I love being so close to shops, that an Indian takeaway can find the address easily, that I can just walk across the footbridge to Victoria Park, that I can see the sunset from my back garden.
Had a real houseful on Friday – cousin Karen called in as she lives nearby, a friend M was staying the night, daughter and bf were also staying as they were heading to Dublin first thing on Saturday, AND I was looking after Max for the weekend. I was in my element with the place being full of life and chatter. Karen reminded me that it was 11 years since the France eclipse, and so we dug out the video tape of Jem’s 6th birthday in Disneyland Paris, and had a good ole reminisce…