Wednesday March 29th 2006 will be a very special day in Turkey. Shortly before two o'clock in the afternoon local time an eerie darkness will descend across the land. Birds will begin to roost and streetlights will flicker on as the sun slips behind the moon in the first European total solar eclipse this millennium.
Standing in the path of a total solar eclipse is a dramatic and awe-inspiring experience. To watch the light fade from the sky and to see the last fiery wisps of the sun's disk be engulfed by the black moon is a stunning spectacle that stays with you forever. Adding to the thrill is the fact that the path of a total solar eclipse beats a track through Europe very rarely. The last was in 1999 when the path of totality passed through Cornwall (SW England); the next will be in 2026 when totality touches Northern Spain.
The eclipse begins across Turkey at around 12:45 in the afternoon, more than an hour before totality is reached. These early stages of the eclipse will go largely unnoticed. It is not until some 25 minutes before totality, when the sun's disk is more than half-covered, that it becomes noticeable that the light is fading. The ensuing half an hour is then nothing short of magical.
At t-minus 20 minutes the air is filled with the sounds of birds settling down for the night. A chill starts to circulate in the air and although the sun shines high in the sky, an eerie gloom reminiscent of a dull winter's afternoon establishes itself. The light only fades slowly at first, but with 5 minutes to go the onset of darkness becomes ever more apparent. By this time the birds have gone quiet and little in the way of daytime wildlife stirs. In the last minute the light falls more rapidly as if it were late twilight, and with only seconds to go a huge dark shadow sweeps in at speed engulfing you in almost complete darkness, although the horizon all around you appears lighter. Looking at the sun, wisps of fire can be seen around the dark disk; close-by stars shine out from an ink-black background. Then, all too soon, the sun reappears in a dazzling display and totality is over.
For the best views of the total solar eclipse in Turkey, you'll need to locate yourself in the path of totality - a 100-mile wide swathe of darkness that runs northeastwards from Antalya on the Mediterranean coast to Samsun on the Black Sea. Outside this zone the eclipse will still be visible, but it will never reach totality.
International travelers should arrange their flights into Istanbul from where internal flights to Ankara and Antalya can be caught. The path of totality crosses the land to the south of Ankara and can be reached in less than an hour by hire care from the airport. Car rental can be booked in advance for pick-up at Antalya, Ankara or Istanbul airport through http://www.your-carhire.com