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Europe 1999

We spent eight weeks in Europe during the summer of 1999. Our itinerary included:

London, Glasgow and the Isle of Skye
Castles and cathedrals in Wurzburg and Heidelberg
Hiking in Switzerland and paragliding in France
Sun worshipping in Spain and taking the ferry from Barcelona to Genoa
Exploring the Cinque Terre region of Italy
Pisa, Florence, Cremona and Venice
Exploring the hills of Austria
Viewing the solar eclipse in Hungary
Traveling to Lake Balaton and Budapest, Hungary

July 3, 1999
We arrived in London on Thursday, June 24th. We enjoyed a performance of Cats at the theatre and took a city tour on an open air double decker bus. Perfect weather, sunny in the mid seventies. Julian and David enjoyed seeing a great collection of old scientific instruments at the Science Museum. Cynthia took Allison and Sarah window shopping at Harrod's. Allison was amazed that you can spend over $200 for bedsheets and $50 for a plain tank top outfit.

Flew to Glasgow on Sunday. Cynthia had been unable to contact any of her old friends in Glasgow and on the Isle of Skye, as directory assistance claimed that all the numbers were disconnected or no longer in service. So we simply drove to the home of her friends Helen and Donnie in Houston, outside of Glasgow. She was delighted to find them still living there (even had the same phone number as always!).

Drove our rental car to Edinburgh where we visited the Edinburgh Castle and Cynthia's friend Cathy Ritchie. She has a nice home in the country, surrounded by beautiful flower gardens.

Decided to bring Helen, her son Euan, her daughter Emily, and Emily's son Finn along with us, so Cynthia drove their car and David drove the rental car up to the Isle of Skye, about 5 hours north of Glasgow. The island has seen lots of development in the past several years.

Julian, David and Euan climbed a hill outside of Portree for a great view of the island.

Pictures we've taken in London and the Isle of Skye

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July 19, 1999
The best part of Germany was being able to stay in homes of friends and neighbors. Our friends Angelika, Martina and Sophia Tam invited us to stay with them in Wurzburg. We had dinner and conversation with their neighbors Signe and Hans. The kids played games with their kids, roughly the same ages. We also visited Michey Botsch and his family in Giebelstadt. Michey's brother Christian gave us a personalized tour of Heidelberg. First stop was the Heidelberg University Library where we did a quick check to determine how up to date they are: impressively, their workstations access the latest pages of www.tinyblue.com

We decided we wanted to find a thermal bath, so we scanned the roadmap for a town near with autobahn with "Bad" in the name. We found "Bad Krozinger" near Freiberg and found a guest house there. Turns out Bad Krozinger has some of the finest thermal baths in Germany, though it's practically unknown relative to the extremely popular (and expensive) baths at Baden Baden. Their hot pools provide a sequence of about 20 underwater jets that massage each bit or your body individually, ending in a shower of hot mineral water.


Our stops in Germany included Wurzburg and the nearby towns of Giebelstadt and Bamberg, and Heidelberg and Bad Krozingen near Freiberg to the south.


Next we looked for hiking trails in Switzerland near the town of Interlaken which looks up toward the rock faces and glaciers of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau (13,642 feet). There are frequent trains that climb all the way up to the upper reaches of the Jungfrau (there's a restaurant and observatory at 13,333'). We hiked between Kleiner Scheidegg and Mannlichen at about 7000'. The entire trail is wheelchair accessible and we met people wheeling themselves along it, some moving faster than we were. We managed to dodge the thunderstorms and stay relatively dry. The scenery looks like it was designed for picture postcards.

You see a lot of hang gliders and paragliders in the Interlaken region, but the weather was too dicey when we inquired about it. However, a fellow asked where we headed next and when we told him France, he gave us the name of a town near Grenoble, St. Hillary de Touvet that was another popular site for flying. That was enough for us to make our next destination St. Hillary de Touvet.

Cynthia had said years ago that she wanted to celebrate her 50th birthday by going paragliding, so she felt like she was a year overdue for that experience. Somehow Julian, Allison and Sarah all decided that they too wanted to try  flying like birds, so we inquired at a shop displaying a paragliding sign. Learned that a flight instructor named Dominique Henry, on the French national paragliding team for the past five years, offered tandem flights. We we signed up for flights the next day.

The valley north of Grenoble was carved out by glaciers about 10,000 years ago. Now there are rock cliffs to about 3000', a shelf on which the town of St. Hillary is located, then more cliffs to about 5000'. Winds coming up the valley are forced up the cliffs, which tends to generated nearly perpetual ridge lift.

The weather was splendid, and throughout the day, the sun generated stronger and stronger thermal activity. Conditions at the launch site were variable; you had to wait several minutes for the wind direction to change to a favorable direction (upslope), but once you were airborne, conditions were ideal.


Hiking in Switzerland and paragliding in France

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Now we're enjoying the beach in Spain, in a coastal town known as Calella, northeast of Barcelona. Sandy beaches and water temperatures in the 80's. Superb.

July 31, 1999
We enjoyed the Picasso and Miro museums in Barcelona. Then, before leaving Spain we visited the Dali museum in Figuera. That was one of the most memorable exhibits of the trip.


Costa Brava, on the coast near Barcelona, Spain

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Instead of going to Madrid where we had originally planned to go, we caught a car ferry from Barcelona to Genoa. Lots of fun aboard ship during our 17-hour trip.


After arriving by ferry in Genoa, we drove down the west coast of Italy to the Cinque Terre region near La Spezia. We stayed in Monterosso and went swimming, snorkeling, boating and sunbathing on the sandy beach.


We spent a couple of days in the museums of Florence. We saw Michelangelo's David in the Galleria dell'Accademia and spent several hours in the Uffizi Gallery enjoying the works of Botticelli, Lippi and Leonardo. We made our obligatory trip to the Leaning Tower in Pisa and confirmed that yes indeed it does still lean.

Today is our last day in Genoa, Italy. We enjoyed visiting our Italian friend Augusto Chioccariello and his family. Yesterday we visited the Genoa Aquarium and the Museum of Antartica, which were both fascinating. One of the displays I liked best at the aquarium was the large cylindrical jellyfish tank illuminated in a soft blue glow. It contained a few hundred animals, slowing revolving in a kind of liquid ballet. The Museum of Antartica has some terrific videos of penguins and sea lions.


We enjoyed the sights of Pisa, Florence, Cremona and Venice.

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August 8, 1999
We drove to Venice and found a hotel outside the city from where we could catch a bus into the city. We went to the island of Murano just north of Venice to see glassblowing demonstrations and to visit shops with a huge variety of artistic glass. The art of glassblowing is alive and well! Highly creative and very impressive.

Leaving Italy, we drove to Austria and stopped just short of Graz in a small town of Preims near Wolfberg. At an elevation of 1000 meters, the view from our room was fabulous. We spent a day hiking in the mountains. Then when threatened but a thunderstorm, we were taken in by a family who served us mineral water and offered to drive us back to our hotel. They even let the dog in who had joined us on our hike.

Now in Vienna, we have gone to a concert of Johann Strauss and will be seeing The Merry Widow. Then it's off to Hungary on Monday the 9th.


We spent a day hiking in the mountains above Wolfberg, Austria and had all kinds of adventures.

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August 11, 1999
Monday and Tuesday were hot and humid in Szeged and the sky had a bothersome haze. It didn't look great for eclipse viewing, though at least the sky was cloud-free. Then Wednesday morning at 2:30 am, Cynthia saw a starry sky outside our window. Unfortunately, by 5:30, the sky was starting to fill with clouds from the west. Szeged is so close to the borders of Romania and Yugoslavia that traveling any significant distance to the east was out of the question. On the other hand, the whole sky to the west was filled with a wall of dark storm clouds. By 6:30 it was raining hard in Szeged.

We logged onto the Internet and viewed some satellite photographs of Europe taken a few hours earlier. We tuned into CNN. Most of Germany was experiencing rain and overcast skies, while Austria and Hungary had patches of cloud and clear areas here and there. We decided to start driving west, hoping that we would encounter any gaps in the cloudy skies sooner than if we stayed in Szeged. We stayed as close to the path of totality as possible by coordinating between our highway maps and eclipse maps.

After about an hour, we started to see some clearing in the northeast, but didn't know whether we could find any gaps that would line up with us at the time of totality. Cynthia and Julian figured out that David had mis-judged the eclipse time by two hours! (One hour for not remembering to account for daylight savings time and another hour for time on the continent to be later by one our than Universal Time). So we were happy to discover that we had two additional hours to position ourselves and get things set up.

By about 10:30, things were looking up. We discovered a fairly broad region of clear skies in central Hungary near the center line of the eclipse path. We finally stopped about 8 km north of the town of Pacs (latitude 46.693 N, longitude 18.888 E) on the Danube River. There were a few small cumulus clouds in the sky, but the clear areas were blue, rinsed by the rains overnight.

Our view of the partial eclipse was excellent, and we used the time to practice our procedures for conducting our science "mission". We had arranged with a group of solar physicists to take a series of photographs through a polarizing filter according to some carefully specified conditions and we practiced our various roles so that we could complete 6 combinations of shutter speed and polarization angle within a 60-second time period. Sarah reporting the current sky conditions. Allison monitored the clock and reported time stamps into our audio tape recorder. Julian was in charge of rotating the polarizing filter and calling out the correct shutter speeds and angles. David checked the positioning of the camera and determined when vibrations had settled down enough to take each picture. Cynthia pressed the remote shutter release to take each picture.

Conditions continued to hold superior. The only risk was the appearance of a greater number of cumulus clouds that were blowing toward the position of the sun. At 12:52 pm, we saw the diamond ring effect and totality began. We ran through 2/3 of our photography assignment. Then we had to postpone the picture taking when a small cloud partially obscured the eclipsed sun. In about 15 seconds the eclipse reappeared and we resumed our photography. Exactly 2 minutes and 22 seconds after totality began, the diamond ring reappeared and the eclipse was over. Amazing sight. For our corona observation project, we took a number of additional photos for calibration purposes and will now send the film to the team leader in Belgium.

We saw some very nice, reddish prominences around the solar disk and a relatively small corona. We didn't notice any Baily's Beads this time. But we had a great view, just in the nick of time. As soon as I get some pictures developed and scanned, I'll put them up here.


The town of Paks lies along the Danube river in central Hungary. We reached this spot along the line of totality, relatively cloud free just minutes before the eclipse started.

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August 15, 1999
We arrived in Budapest this morning, having driven up from Lake Balaton. The Lake was a bit disappointing. Mucky bottom and, at least in some parts, large numbers of water snakes slithering around and poking their heads up to look around every once in awhile.

Met our new friend Ramona and enjoyed a guided tour of the city of Budapest today. She is studying violin making here, plays the violin and teaches English.


In addition to Szeged in the southeast and Paks in the center of the country, we also visited Lake Balaton in the east and Budapest in north central Hungary.

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August 19, 1999
We arrived safely back in Kenmore late Wednesday night. Everything seems to be in good shape. Sure is nice to be back in familiar surroundings. Took the eclipse pictures in for processing today. Hope to scan them and put them up here within a few days.

August 24, 1999
Learned that the photos we took of the solar corona for a collaborative research project may be usable for quantitative analysis. Eager to learn the results. Scanned our last set of pictures and posted them to the Web from Greeley, Colorado.

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