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To France

Posted by on 17 May 2011

Beach umbrellas at Choggia

Friday 13 May – This is the big one. Getting decent weather across the entire route was always going to be difficult and there were some indications of problems around the French Riviera with thunderstorms.

Crossing the Adriatic was straightforward having done the same route the day before. Weather was much brighter and views across the lagoon were great. Handling at the Lido was friendly; we joked about the police yesterday and we could get a coffee and go to the loo. But “don’t leave the terminal or we will arrest you!” A small amount of expensive fuel was uploaded.

Looking down at Genoa airport from 6,000'

One aim to come here was to avoid passing through customs. Coming from outside Schengen we would normally have to pass through customs. France wouldn’t know that we hadn’t cleared customs here; seeing only that we had come from Italy.

Departure was along the lagoon coast to Choggia and then almost directly west, passing just north of Mantua and south of Verona. The flat plain of the Po valley was fairly boring but it was bright and ATC were friendly. Italy is notorious for forcing you to fly low, below the class A control zones that cover vast areas of the country around Milan and Rome. This didn’t cause us any problems and I suspect they would have let us fly a bit higher if needed.

The problems started us we turned south to Genoa. We had to fly over the lowest part of the Appennines (up to 3,000’) to get to the sea. But cloud over these hills and Genoa ATC instructions forced us up to 6,000’, above the cloud. We could occasionally see the ground (maintaining visual flying) but it was questionably legal.

Genoa claimed cloud was at 2,500’ at Genoa and we had a clear view of the runway as we coasted out. But diving into the cloud we didn’t glimpse the sea until about 1,500’ and ended up at around 1,000’ before we were properly clear. That was a bit of a shock.

Round the Italian Riviera

We went on only because we would have to pass Nice and Cannes at 500-1,000’ anyway. There were also hints of sunlight above the cloud and occasional brightness as we followed the Italian coast round. We had a reassuringly good view of Albegna airport which could have been a bolt-hole had we got stuck.

Despite promising to clear the visibility worsened around Monaco and Nice. Kim clung close to the coastline at 500’, too close as Nice subsequently said we had infringed Monaco at one point. Presumably that was the point as I was staring into the windows at the royal palace. Much apologising.

Getting too close to the Royal Palace at Monaco

Rounding the headland to Nice we couldn’t see the other side of the bay so headed straight towards an active Nice airport before we realised where we were going. Inevitably ATC asked us to report at all reporting points that I had not managed to enter into the GPS. They begged us not to overfly the Cap d’Antibes; presumably the poshest part of the coast.

As we reached St Tropez the visibility began to improve. We even passed a plane flying in the opposite direction. We dodged the various prohibited missile testing zones off the Ile du Levant and the naval base at Toulon finally flying along the dramatic rocky coast that suddenly turns into the bay at Marseilles.

Marseilles ATC asked whether we would be requesting the transit over the airport there, but given that the storm scope was showing thunderstorms due north we continued west.

Safe in Avignon

We passed the refineries at the mouth of the Rhone, and crossed – at 700’ under blue skies – the pink salt marshes and wide sandy bay of the Carmargue. We turned north-east at the fortified town of Aigues-Mortes and followed the canals to Nimes and the happy sight of Avignon.

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