High in the Sky over Lazio

Lake Bracciano and the lakeside town of Anguillara seen under the right part of the wing of the little Allegro airplane. Photo by Chris Warde-Jones

Lake Bracciano and the lakeside town of Anguillara seen under the right part of the wing of the little Allegro airplane. Photo by Chris Warde-Jones

Dear Blog Readers –

This post is the story of how I found myself with sweaty palms in a plane about the size of a firefly looking out over the rolling hills, green fields, and tiny medieval villages around Rome.

It all started with the French language. I have been taking an intermediate French language class at the Foreign Press Association in Rome along with a Spanish and British colleague.

Shortly after we began the lessons, the British colleague, photographer Chris Warde-Jones, mentioned in passing that “Je suis un pilote” and on top of that “J’ai un petit avion.”   And, being me, I just had to ask for a trip on his “petit avion” although what I did not know is when you are up in it, it feels like a “petite luciole” (little firefly).

It took a while to organize, but finally we found the perfect sunny, clear day and we drove to a small airfield called “La Celsetta” in the Valle del Baccano. That was the first surprise….the runway was just a strip of grass! There was no one around, no air control tower, just a little red and white windsock gently blowing in the wind. Chris opened the hangar and I saw the cute little plane that he explained is a “microlight”,  is called an “Allegro” and is made in the Czech Republic. (I was wondering if it might be a little too “micro” and “light” for me to be “allegro” in, but I didn’t say that to Chris.)

The windsock at the "La Celsetta" airfield near Rome. Photo by Trisha Thomas, February 15, 2017

The windsock at the “La Celsetta” airfield near Rome. Photo by Trisha Thomas, February 15, 2017

Inside the plane we were surrounded by an acrylic sheet (Perspex) window on all sides and we had to use headphones to communicate with one another.

There was a remarkable moment, after all the business of getting ready and the sudden rush of the takeoff, when suddenly we were floating up in the air and I looked around – the blue sky above and the ground way, way down below and I thought – “Oh Dio Mio – what am I doing up here??? I am not a bird!” Of course, I was trying to play it cool and not reveal to Chris that I was a tad nervous about tumbling out of the sky.

After takeoff we swerved off to the left over the tiny Lake Martignano and then over to Lake Bracciano. I wanted to take a picture of the town of Anguillara jutting out into the lake and we swooped down and around it twice so I could get a photo. I did not get a very good one, but here it is.

The little town of Anguillara that juts out into Lake Bracciano. Photo by Trisha Thomas, February 15, 2017

The little town of Anguillara that juts out into Lake Bracciano. Photo by Trisha Thomas, February 15, 2017

At some point Chris suggested I try to control the plane by putting my hand on the joystick. But my palms were still sweaty and it seemed to me that my slightest twitch swerved the plane to the left or right. I gave up on the joystick business and went back to something a little less life-endangering, attempting photos with my selfie-stick.

Trisha Thomas attempts a photo with a selfie-stick as Chris Warde-Jones pilots the "petit avion" over Lazio. Photo by Trisha Thomas, February 15, 2017

Trisha Thomas attempts a photo with a selfie-stick as Chris Warde-Jones pilots the “petit avion” over Lazio. I am definitely not looking too relaxed! Photo by Trisha Thomas, February 15, 2017

We then headed over towards the Mediterranean Coast and the little town of Santa Severa with its castle. Chris said we would be flying under the “glide path” for jets landing at Rome’s Fiumicino airport. I was not keen on being a “petite luciole” in the pathway of a massive jet. Chris assured me we were flying very low (1000 feet) and the passenger jets would pass high above us ( at 2500 feet).

The little Allegro's shadow as we flew towards Santa Severa and the sea. Photo by Trisha Thomas, February 15, 2017

The little Allegro’s shadow as we flew towards Santa Severa and the sea. Photo by Trisha Thomas, February 15, 2017

Santa Severa Castle on the sea, as seen from above. Photo by Chris Warde-Jones

Santa Severa Castle on the sea, as seen from above. Photo by Chris Warde-Jones

From there we turned back and headed for Mount Soratte, which looks to me like the back of a Spinosaurus dinosaur emerging from the flat lands around it. Dante mentioned Mount Soratte in the XXVII Canto of Inferno of the Divine Comedy.  I won’t quote it here because it doesn’t make sense out of context.

In 1937 Benito Mussolini ordered a series of galleries and tunnels to be built inside the mountain as an air-raid shelter and eventually military headquarters.  In September 1943, after an allied bombing raid of his headquarters in Frascati, German Field Marshall Albert Kesselring made his headquarters inside the Mount Soratte bunker and stayed there for about 10 months.  There are still 4 kilometers of tunnels under the mountain that are open to visitors.

Mount Soratte in the distance as seen from the cockpit. Photo by Trisha Thomas, February 16, 2017

Mount Soratte in the distance as seen from the cockpit. Photo by Trisha Thomas, February 16, 2017

We passed over the hippie hangout of Calcata, a Medieval village perched on a pile of Tufa stone.

The medieval village of Calcata from above. Photo by Chris Warde-Jones

The medieval village of Calcata from above. Photo by Chris Warde-Jones

Turning back east we checked out some of the unusual curves in the Tiber river which winds its way through the countryside outside Rome.

The Tiber river makes an unusual loop on the outskirts of Rome. Photo by Chris Warde-Jones

The Tiber river makes an unusual loop on the outskirts of Rome. Photo by Chris Warde-Jones

Living in the daily chaos of the city of Rome, it felt so strange to fly quietly above the area, observing all the fields, vineyards, hills and open countryside. Italy often feels crowded and overpopulated to me but looking down everything was green, empty and peaceful.

Flying over the Tiber River - Photo by Chris Warde-Jones

Flying over the Tiber River – Photo by Chris Warde-Jones

After nearly two hours in the air we bumped back down onto the little grassy airstrip.  I jumped out of the plane thrilled with the feel of the ground under my feet but already missing the tranquility of flying around above the fray.

Final Note:

Some of the pictures for this post I did with my iphone, but the beautiful aerial photos were generously given to me by Chris Warde-Jones.  The photos from the plane he did with a Go-Pro camera mounted on the wing and the tail.  He snapped the photos with the use of a remote control hung by a cord around his neck and activated by blue tooth.

Chris’s photos appear regularly in The New York Times, The Daily Telegraph, Elle, Vanity Fair and many more.  If you are interested in learning more about his work and seeing some of his fabulous portraits, travel, food, landscape and news photos, check out his website www.warde-jones.net

Trisha Thomas
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

14 Comments

  1. Ciao Chow Linda
    2017/02/27

    Oh my goodness. What a joy ride! You are indeed brave Trisha. Maybe I would have done it in my younger days, but I’m not so sure now. (OK, so maybe the photographer in me would jump at the chance to take photos like these from a little microlight.) In any event, the photos are stunning – both yours and the ones by Warde-Jones. Brava. And bonne chance with your French lessons.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/02/27

      Are you kidding? I know you Linda, you would jump at the chance. Next time you come to Italy, let me know and I will introduce you to Chris. As a former journalist, a photographer,a blogger and a friend of mine, I am sure Chris could be convinced to take you up in his plane. It truly is spectacular.
      (You two also have another thing in common — I don’t know if he would define himself this way, but he is a bit of a “foodie” — check out his photos of food on his website. He also says he is a good cook, although I would not know)

      Reply
  2. Chris Warde-Jones
    2017/02/27

    Hold it! I never said I was a good cook. Sounds very arrogant. I said I loved cooking. :-)

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/02/27

      Well, I would not know and I suppose I won’t know until you invite the French class to dinner. But do you consider yourself a foodie?

      Reply
  3. Gwen Thomas
    2017/02/27

    What a fun day. Did he teach you where the rip cord is for the parachute just in case?

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/02/27

      Very funny. It never occurred to me to ask — but I highly doubt there was a parachute in there. I forgot to mention that as we were coming in for a landing there was someone in some sort of of paragliding contraption that was flying slightly below and to our right which was a tad disconcerting. No real risk though.

      Reply
  4. Gwen Thomas
    2017/02/27

    Just kidding :-) Great pics! Go Pro, very cool!

    Reply
  5. Nancy Rockwell
    2017/02/28

    What a great trip! And very cool guy, too! You get such wonderful adventures! And the green, lovely land looks so inviting, here where we still have piles of snow on the ground despite some spring like days. I wrote a post in defense of the press, and think of you often with this bully President declaring the press the enemy of the people. I’ve signed up for the online Wash Post and intend to also take the NY Times, my new heroes. And am SO SO proud of AP for boycotting the White House briefing from which CNN, The Guardian. NY Times, BBC, Politico, Huff Po and many others were barred entry. So good of AP to stand by them! NPR, which was not planning to attend has spoken up strongly, as has Wall St Journal, a GOP news org. Yet, Trump’s numbers are climbing slowly in favorability, so I think he is not hurting himself by his bad boy behavior. Europe will, I hope, keep calling the US to account for its behavior. And Trisha, you keep on telling us the truth, and Chris Warde-Jones, you, too!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/02/28

      Nancy, I have been a bit lax on my blog commenting (as I have on my blogging) and I am sorry I have not read your post on Trump and the press. I have so much to say about it all and I will read your post and comment. I appeared on an Italian TV show talking about it and wrote an essay in Italian on it, but have not commented anywhere in English. The situation is spiraling out of control and I think the news organizations have to be very careful about how they react to Trump. So much to say…but I will write it on a comment on your post. And these days I just wish I could get in a little plane and fly away from it all.

      Reply
  6. Alan
    2017/02/28

    Have a nephew with a microlight of this type so have enjoyed the pleasures of this kind of flying. The one he had before was made of fabric laced over alloy framework – now that was fragile and very draughty!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/02/28

      Wow, that sounds exciting Alan — where does your nephew fly with his plane?

      Reply
  7. Joan Schmelzle
    2017/03/02

    Late in reading this, but I certainly enjoyed it. Also loved the pictures. And my one year of college French even let me translate the plane description. One year only because eons ago 4 years of high school Latin left me short of a humanities credit. Saved my best question until last here–when are you going again? A presto, Joan

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/03/02

      Hi Joan — well, in answer to your question, I am not sure when I will be going again. Don’t want to get too much of a good thing. I am sure Chris has a long line of people eager for a trip so I will have to go back to the end of it.

      Reply

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