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It was a dark and stormy night
(with apologies to Dracula)
Jim Low
copyright 1999

That really is how my story should start.

This year's adventure was a trip to Romania with the Toronto Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, for the total eclipse of the sun of August 11th.

Of course, I use eclipse expeditions as an excuse to explore various exotic places of the world. Such trips never go as planned. There are always unexpected problems. One such problem became the highlight of our trip.

Having so much fun, we are, as usual, late in getting to our new destination: this time a hostel in the Carpathian mountains of Transylvania. It is a dark and stormy night of a new moon (it was just after the solar eclipse!) as our tour bus gets lost on a winding dirt road. Our loving bus --the one with the cracked windshield and broken front door that won't open -- has brakes that squeal and smoke at each hairpin turn. The working headlight gives a ghostly white appearance on the evergreen trees ahead of us, which suddenly turn black as the sky lights up with each lighting flash, every second or so. The scene appears as a positive and negative image alternating, as we look at it through the spider-web crack in the windshield. It becomes obvious where the inspiration of the Dracula stories came from. They are just stories, right? Right??

Just after midnight, we arrive at a building near the spot we were told our hostel was. It looks like a small deserted castle. No lights, and no other building in site. We are desperate, as we have been many hours on a bus with no washroom. Exploring, the men go off to mark their territories. The women, being more adventurous than men, find an open window in the darkened building. One woman crawls through and tries to open the front door, without luck. No one is home except for a couple of squatters. I'm not sure who is more surprised: the squatters or the women.

The women round up the scattered men and we continue to drive around another hairpin curve where we finally find our hostel -- in total darkness and visible only in the lightning flashes. A knock on the door, and a sleepy man, who could be mistaken for Dracula, answers. We found our hostel, but he was expecting us the previous day, and when we didn't show up, assumed we were not coming. But he finds room for most of us (a couple sleep on the floor). Next morning, one woman discovers what appears to be two mosquito bites on her ankle, about a centimetre apart. One fellow comments "Dracula is going fetish on us." Then, on Friday the 13th, we drive down the mountain in our bus with the same squealing and smoking brakes. We drove through Transylvania at night -- and lived to tell about it.

The eclipse? Oh, yes, we saw it in Bucharest, just before the storm moved in.

Jim Low

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