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COMPANIES OFFER TOURS TO SEE SOLAR ECLIPSE

QUESTION: My husband has read that a solar eclipse will be visible over part of southern Asia in late October. What companies offer tours to the region then?

ANSWER: Several United States tour companies are arranging for the viewing of the total solar eclipse you refer to. It will occur over India, Cambodia and other countries in the region on Oct. 24.Because visibility of the eclipse - in which the moon will completely block the sun for a brief period - is dependent on weather, most tours are emphasizing sites that are historically clear and dry in late October. Among them is the Rajasthan desert in India.

A few companies have selected the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, where views of the eclipse could be particularly spectacular. Travelers should be aware, however, that Cambodia's monsoon season sometimes lasts through the end of October.

Outer Edge Expeditions, based in Michigan, (800) 322-5235 or (810) 624-5140, will lead a group to the Rajasthan desert in a tour scheduled for Oct. 18 to 27. The Taj Mahal, the Observatory Jantar Mantar in Jaipur and Delhi are among the other stops. The cost, $2,095 based on double occupancy, includes accommodations, local transportation, but not international air fare.

Overseas Adventure Travel in Cambridge, Mass., (800) 221-0814 or (617) 876-0533, is offering at least two 13-day eclipse-themed tours to India, one departing Oct. 17 and the other Oct. 18. Participants in both groups will converge at an "eclipse camp" northwest of Agra for the eclipse. Other sites on the itinerary include the Taj Mahal, New Delhi, Jaipur and Varanasi. The $3,190 cost includes round-trip air fare from New York, most meals and accommodations.

Absolute Asia in New York, (800) 736-8187 or (212) 627-1950, is offering a trip to Cambodia and Thailand from Oct. 20-31. In addition to viewing the eclipse from Angkor Wat, participants will go to Phnom Penh, Bangkok and southern Thailand. The cost is $3,150 from New York, and includes accommodations, air fare and most meals.

QUESTION: We will be traveling to England's West Country and would like to visit pottery workshops and factories. Could you provide information?

ANSWER: The West Country is best known for small pottery producers rather than large-scale operations like Wedgwood and others found in Stoke-on-Trent.

Leach Pottery, The Stennack, St. Ives, (01736) 796398, in Cornwall, is where the potter Bernard Leach started working in 1920 with his friend Shoji Hamada. Janet Leach, Leach's widow, carries on the tradition with Trevor Corser, who was Bernard's assistant. Leach Pottery is open Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and, in the summer, on Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Prices range from about $40 to $806, calculated at 62 pence to the dollar.

Bernard Leach's grandson John Leach has his own thatched workshops just south of the Somerset village of Muchelney. Prices start at $9 for a herb jar. Signed pots start at $55. Muchelney Pottery, Muchelney, Somerset TA10 0DW; (01458) 250324. The shop is open Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 to 5 p.m.; Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The workshop can be seen by appointment.

In Hatherleigh, a small market town in Devon, Elizabeth Aylmer works at Hatherleigh Pottery producing domestic and garden pots. The pots are stoneware with an incised pattern and a classical wood ash glaze. A casserole dish costs about $56. Individually designed pots start at $80. Hatherleigh Pottery, Hatherleigh, Devon EX20 3JP (01837) 810624. Open Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday by arrangement. Out of season, especially in the late fall and winter, it is advisable to telephone before visiting.

The Cornwall Tourist Board, 59 Lemon Street, Truro 2R1 2SY (01872) 74057, and the information department at the West Country Tourist Board, 60 St. David's Hill, Exeter EX4 4SY, phone (01392) 76351, can supply a crafts map of Cornwall along with several leaflets on individual potteries throughout the West Country.

QUESTION: What train and ferry connections are there from Athens to Rome, avoiding former Yugoslavia?

ANSWER: Since war and political upheaval in the Balkans have made rail traffic through much of the former Yugoslavia unfeasible for tourists, the most direct Athens-Rome route for those who do not wish to fly includes a bus, a ferry and a train.

From Athens, buses leave as often as every half hour between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. from the bus terminal at 100 Kifissou Street for the port of Patras, from which the ferries depart. The three-hour bus trip costs about $13.30, figured at a rate of 225 drachmas to the dollar.

From Patras there are nearly 20 companies with ferries leaving for three Italian coastal cities: Brindisi, Bari and Ancona. In August, many companies have two ferries leaving daily; during the winter months most ferry companies have crossings only every other day. Yet given the wide variety of choice at least one ferry can be found every day.

Brindisi is served by nine companies operating to and from Patras. For example, Adriatica di Navigazione, in Patras, (061) 421 995 has a ferry that leaves Patras daily at 7 p.m., arriving in Brindisi at 9 a.m. After Sept. 20 the ferry runs only on alternate days. A deck chair costs about $60, figured at a rate of 1,575 lire to the dollar, while a cabin with bath costs about $105 a person. Fares in the low season are 20 percent less.

Anek Lines, (061) 226 053, crosses from Patras to Bari on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday from April 4 to Sept. 29. Ferries leave Patras at 9 p.m. and arrive in Bari at 4 p.m. the following day. Tickets cost between $52 and $205 in high season and between $44 and $161 in low season.

Superfast Ferries, in Patras, (061) 622 500, makes the Patras-Ancona run in 20 hours, six days a week during high season; tickets range from $62 to $246. Ferries leave at 4 p.m., arriving in Ancona at 11 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday; at 7 p.m., arriving at 2 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; and at 10 p.m., arriving at 5 p.m. on Sunday and Monday.

Direct train connections from the three Italian cities to Rome are somewhat sparse. One direct train from Ancona departs at 5:50 p.m., arriving in Rome at 9:35 p.m. From Brindisi, one can take a train to Bari, about an hour-and-a-half trip. From Bari there are a few trains that go directly to Rome. The most convenient, though it must be reserved in advance, is the Intercity train that leaves at 6:20 p.m. and arrives in Rome at 11:25 P.M. For information call the State Railways: 43933 in Ancona; 5216801 in Bari; and (831) 521975 in Brindisi.