The Total Solar Eclipse in Bulgaria

Rali risking an eclipse-burn
In the summer of 1994, while I was working in Bangor, Maine, USA, just before coming to Bulgaria, I saw a partial solar eclipse. It was a strange experience to have the bright midday sun get dim (but not dark): it was like being in a room where half of the fluorescent lights went out. So when we learned that part of Bulgaria would be in the path of the total solar eclipse on Wednesday, August 11, 1999, we decided to go and see it for ourselves.

In Bulgaria, the total eclipse was visible in the northeast corner of the country (the entire country was able to see at least a partial eclipse), so Rali and I drove to the northern part of the Black Sea coast to see it. We drove on the morning of August 11, without any firm plans on where to go, except that we hoped to avoid the worst crowds.

Rich's scientific observation technique
As we drove north along the coast, it seemed that there were huge crowds in every town, on every beach. We decided to stop north of the tiny-but-crowded village of Kamen Bryag, hoping to find a little solitude. I turned off the road and took a bumpy dusty path through a field, ending at a cliff that was about 25 meters above the Black Sea. There were about 15-20 other cars there, but there was plenty of space. We parked and took a spot on a rock jutting out from the cliffs.

The best photo I could get with our little point-and-shoot camera
Rali had bought two sets of "eclipse goggles" about a week before. As we sat down, put on the goggles, and looked up, we were surprised to see that the moon was already starting to cross the path of the sun. It was still brutally hot and bright sunlight. So we sat back with the goggles on, enjoyed the sun and the sea breezes, and watched the disk of the sun get smaller and smaller through our goggles.

With the goggles off, the day eventually grew dimmer, although not dark. Even when the sun was just a sliver through the goggles, it was still hot, and there was no looking at the sun with unprotected eyes. When the total eclipse came, it was sudden. From our perspective, we were able to see several kilometers down the coast along the cliff, so we could see the shadow coming. It was a curtain of darkness that seemed to roar up the coast with a big whoooosh (although the noise was probably only in my own head).

And suddenly we were in darkness. The sky was deep blue-black, and we could see the stars. Where the sun had been was now a great circle of white fire in the sky. The air temperature started to drop suddenly, although the ground we were sitting on was still very warm. I wish I could find the words to describe the experience...since our little point-and-shoot camera didn't really capture the awe-inspiring sight we saw.

After the eclipse...
There was a group of German tourists sitting about 10-15 meters from us, whom we asked to take our picture. There were more foreign tourists in town than usual. After the darkness passed and we realized we were starving, we headed into the nearby town of Shabla for a late lunch (it was nearly 4:00 p.m.), where we shared a table with two Danish tourists on their summer vacation. He had wanted to go someplace to see the eclipse, and she had been interested in visiting Bulgaria, so they took their holiday in the tourist resort of Golden Sands and saw the eclipse there in Shabla. Fortunately, they took a few trips out of Golden Sands to see more of Bulgaria. Just my $0.02: Golden Sands is fine for a cheap-and-crowded beach holiday, but if tourists want to experience Bulgarian life, they should spend less time at the Black Sea coast and more time in the provinces (not Sofia) and the mountains.

Rali at Cape Kaliakra
After the eclipse, we had planned to spend a few more days at the Black Sea coast for a brief vacation, but there just wasn't much to do on that part of the coast. We spent a night in Kavarna, then visited the beautiful Cape Kaliakra the next day (right). But Kavarna had no beach and not much to do, so we moved south to Balchik. Balchik is an attractive town, but it has no beach, and after you walk up and down the cement seaside walk a few times and visit the Romanian queen's castle (we did), there's not much to do. So we headed to Rali's hometown of Pleven after just two nights at the Black Sea coast. But the eclipse made the trip worthwhile!


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