Before 1999 I had never had any special interest in watching eclipses. I vaguely knew there was one coming up in the summer but didn’t think about it. Then while in Toruń, the hometown of Copernicus, I went to the planetarium, and the show was about eclipses, which was interesting but still… Poland wasn’t in the totality zone at all so it didn’t seem that big a deal.
As it later turned out a friend and I were scheduled to be at a conference in Hungary which did have a totality zone at the time of the eclipse. The problem was the conference was in Miskolc in the northeast of the country and the totality zone was the other side of Budapest.
I was prone to give up on the idea but the friend was very eager to see it. So I began making plans and looking up train schedules. A colleague was also going to be in Budapest and we made tenative plans to meet at Déli train station in Budapest (where trains to Szekésfehervár depart from).
On the day of the eclipse (to take place at 1:00 pm), we left the university campus where the conference was taking place at about 5:00. The trip there went smoothly enough through all phases with just minor hiccups.
- bus to streetcar stop,
- streetcar to train station,
- train to Budapest (Keleti station)
- Budapest metro to the Déli station (where we met up with colleagues surprisingly easily despite the crowd starting to materialize),
- train to Székesfehérvár (very crowded but with good energy).
We arrived in Székesfehérvár an hour and a half or so early and we spent some time walking around and getting something to eat before finding a place in a public park were people were collecting.
The conference had helpfully supplied participants with little rectangles of black glass to watch the eclipse with (I still have it somewhere I’m sure).
The eclipse itself is very different from what you might guess from movies. It’s not sudden at all. It takes over a half an hour from when the moon first touches the edge of the sun to the full eclipse event and it’s not very noticeable until about 10 minutes before the full eclipse event.
Part of what makes the eclipse interesting is the crowd buzz (I’ve always been pretty sensitive to collective moods). There’s a buzz that rippled through the crowd when the moon first started to cross the sun and then steadily increasing when it got visibly darker and cheering and applause at the very beginning of the full eclipse.
The full eclipse only lasted two minutes or so and it’s hard to describe why it makes such an impression. Part of it is definitely crowd reaction (if you’re into colllective emotional highs) but that’s only part of it. It’s definitely a case of the total experience being more than the sum of its parts. More on that in a separate post.
While the anticipation of the eclipse is huge, just a few minutes after the totality phase… people start drifting off (although the partial eclipse drags on for another half hour).
While getting to the eclipse zone was easy, the effort of handling the extra train traffic to the totality zone must have completely taxed the MAV, the Hungarian state train line to its limit and getting back wasn’t as easy. Nothing that dramatic just exhausting.
After waiting a while on the platform for a scheduled train back to Budapest, it began dawning on people that the schedules could not be trusted so we just had to wait until one showed up, which was already crowded and uncomfortable and just got more so until we finally pulled into Déli station.
At Keleti station (the train back to Miskolc) the situation hadn’t improved and it was almost two hours before the train rumbled in. Being grimly determined to have a seat on the train back I threw politeness to the wind and pushed my way onto the train while people were still getting off (I usually hate people that do that). It worked.
We finally got back to the campus where the conference was taking place after 10: pm.
All told, the day was over 16 hours in travelling for a two minute event. Was it worth it? Yes. Very much so and I’m glad I did it. Would I do it again? I dunno…. I’d gladly travel a few hours one way for a total eclipse but I’m not sure about a 16 hour round trip…