4000 Miles for a 4 Minute Show

by Simon Beasor

This story is part of our 'Unforgettable hotel nights' series, featuring tales from luxury hotel guests which were sent in for our recent travel writing competition.

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Paying £350 each for just one night in a fairly ordinary hotel on the south coast of Turkey probably sounds crazy. And enduring a 4000 mile round trip, in cattle class, for a four minute show, must sound crazier still. But although we were there for just one night, we knew it was going to go dark not once, but twice, and that made the trip worth every penny.

You see, the night was March 28th 2006, and the trip was the Solar Eclipse Tour with Omega Holidays. Unlike most flights, with their herd of holidaymakers all setting off for different resorts, our flight was exclusive to eclipse watchers, and this created a palpable buzz of excitement for the full four hours, as seasoned sun-chasers shared their experiences with the novices among us.

On arrival, we found Turkey closed, windswept and cold, but we didn’t care – the sun had an entirely different role to play on this trip, as our guest astronomer explained in detail that evening. By the time he had finished, we were all so excited that we needed more than a little help from the all-inclusive bar to help us sleep.

Even so, we all still woke ridiculously early, like kids on Christmas morning, making the waiting feel like forever. By 1pm we had taken all the strolls, eaten all the snacks and played all the Frisbee we could take, and we were poised and ready on the beach for the grand spectacle.

Of course, what you don’t see in the news footage is just how long eclipses take. From the thrill of the first contact between moon and sun, to the breathtaking hole in the sky of totality, takes about an hour. And on a windswept March beach, that feels like a long time.

But all the shivers and shakes, all the sand in the beer, all the children’s complaints soon faded away as the eclipse reached its climax in awe inspiring style. For three minutes and 44 seconds we could lose the cardboard safety specs and marvel at the show, as the moon blotted the sun from the sky, amid the whoops and cheers of our beach companions.

We hadn’t come to Turkey for one night; we had come for this night. This spectacular swathe of darkness surrounded by an inverted sunset. This incredible, magical and strangely spooky experience.

Finally, with celestial style, the sun completed its show with a perfect ‘diamond ring’ as it reappeared from behind the moon, and all too soon it was back on with the safety shades, back out with the sun and back on to the coach to the airport.

There was little chatter on the flight back, but lots of satisfied smiles. No one was talking because in their minds they were still there, reliving the moment - on the beach, watching the sun go out, in a ‘night’ that lasted less than four minutes but which we’ll remember forever.

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