The travel industry is almost as adept as Nasa at tracking solar eclipses. Expeditions to this year's total eclipse of the sun, on 24 October, are selling fast, and plans are in hand for holidays celebrating astronomical events until the millennium.
The 1995 eclipse begins over Iran, traverses India and south east Asia, and ends over the Pacific. It will last longest around the mid-point, over south-east Asia, but uncertain weather means the chances of seeing it are only 50-50.
"You have to balance the duration of the eclipse with the risk that it will be obscured," says Brian McGee of Explorers Tours (01753 681999). His company is running trips to northern India: the Taj Mahal is expected to experience a 99.7 per cent eclipse. Explorers Tours has secured an observation post at the old deserted Moghul city of Fatehpur Sikri, outside Agra. The basic eclipse tour costs an unastronomical £795, including flights, eight nights' accommodation and tax.
A counter-claim is being made by Magic of the Orient (01293 537700), which says the place to be is Kudat, Borneo. The company says the Borneo eclipse will be the longest anywhere in the world, 134 seconds, and is conveniently at midday. The seven-night holiday costs £985, including flights on Malaysia Airlines, and will be led by an astronomer, Dr John Parkinson.
In March 1997, the sun will be obscured over the Gobi Desert, and Explorers Tours plans to take people by train from Waterloo to Mongolia for the event. In February 1998, attention switches to Cartagena in Colombia.
The last eclipse of the millenium takes place in August 1999, when the track will pass between Truro and Falmouth in Cornwall. Cornish weather is unpredictable at that time of year, so Explorers Tours plans to be in Romania.
Ferries strike back
In response to competition from the Channel tunnel and the airlines, Stena Sealink is offering a five-day return fare from London to Paris costing £49. The routing is from Victoria, via the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry, to Paris St Lazare - a more central arrival point than Eurostar's Gare du Nord.
The journey time is considerably longer than Eurostar, however: nearly 10 hours. And since the ferry berth at Dieppe was moved, passengers can no longer step from the ship to the Gare Maritime; you have to catch a bus from the port to Dieppe Ville station.
Stena Sealink also has a good fare to Dun Laoghaire, near Dublin, using the train to Holyhead and the boat from there. For overnight travel, the fare is £29 from Manchester, £34 from Birmingham and £39 from London.
Show and tell
The Destinations fair at Olympia takes place today and tomorrow at Olympia in London, from 10am to 6pm. Virginia McKenna is to talk about environmentally responsible tourism at 2.30pm today, and Emlyn Hughes chairs a panel on activity holidays at the same time tomorrow. Admission £6.
The march of high-technologycan cause alarm for travellers, especially when you are trying to buy a postcard stamp from a machine and are instructed to compostez sur clavier numrique le montant choisi pour la vignette. The new Rough Guide to French (£3.50) explains that this is your cue to enter the value required (francs, centimes), and reveals that a reverse- charge call is known as a PCV. The phrasebook will appeal to anyone who appreciates straight phonetic pronunciation: PCV is represented as pay- say-vay, while "I feel seasick" is "jay luh mal duh mair" (j'ai le mal de mer).
A similar treatment is applied in the Rough Guides to Czech, German, Greek, Italian and Spanish, enabling you to seek pomoc (help) in Prague and order roast-beef all'inglese (thin slices of beef served cold with lemon) in Rome.
Assuming you manage to get to Paris, the Frommer guide could prove useful. A series of walks is included, together with good entertainment information. But given the degree to which it is aimed at Americans, most British travellers would feel more comfortable with the new fifth edition of the reliable Rough Guide to Paris (£7.99).
Ten winter break briefings:
1. Visitors' Guide: Goa by Christopher Turner (Moorland Publishing, £7.99).
2. Australia: Travel Survival Kit (Lonely Planet, £14.95).
3. Landscapes of Fuerteventura by Noel Rochford (Sunflower Books, £5.99).
4. Thomas Cook Travellers: Madeira by Christopher Catling (AA, £7.99).
5. The Good Retreat Guide by Stafford Whiteaker (Rider, £11.99).
6. The Southeastern Caribbean: Windward Islands by James Henderson (Cadogan, £9.99).
7. Costa Rica Handbook by Christopher Baker (Moon, £12.95).
8. The Holiday Golf Guide (Kensington West Productions, £7.99).
9. Sri Lanka by Rail by Royston Ellis (Bradt, £10.95).
10. Volvo Ski Guide 1995 (Skier's Holiday Guide Club, £12).
Compiled by the Travellers' Bookshop, 25 Cecil Court, London WC2N 4EZ (071-836 9132).
Cosmos (0161-480 5799): 26 February, Luton-Paphos, seven nights self- catering, £169; 28 February, Gatwick-Santo Domingo, flight only, £329; 2 March, Manchester-Goa, 14 nights B&B, £439; 6 March, Birmingham-Gran Canaria, seven nights self-catering, £199.
First Choice (0161-745 7000): 26 February, Glasgow-Tunisia, seven nights B&B, £179; 1 March, Luton-Paphos, seven nights self-catering, £159; 12 March, Gatwick-Tunisia, seven nights B&B, £129.
Explore Worldwide (01252 319448): 11 March, three-week trip to Venezuela, £1,435 including flights and meals.Reuse content