Kevin and I had already been to the Villa Doria Pamphili, but it’s a nice walk around anyway and I would recommend it to anyone outdoorsy or is looking to escape the chaos of the city. One day, the two of us decided to take the tram 8 all the way down to the end of the line from Piazza Venezia (a proper top of the line to the end of the line journey). It was an interesting ride to say the least. One definitely comes into contact with the citizens on the tram more than what the usual sidewalk provides, nothing short of a discotech on tram 8 at times as far as personal space goes. My stomach that’s already full of pizza gets achy from the squeezing along with partially eating the hat of the guy in front of you. Thankfully the space graduated from a sardine can to a half pack of tic-tacs after Piazza Belli. Kevin and I grabbed a seat towards the front that were oddly emptyThinking about our destination, it’s impressive to think that the Villa itself is indeed Rome’s largest public park. The park has a turtle laden lake, boundless
umbrella pines, and junglesque pathways where clever velociraptors will surely attack a most unfortunate jogger. We tended to shy away from those areas.
In addition, there are large open fields where intense battles took place when Italy’s future first king was first starting to subjugate the land. The battle was particularly fought against French settlers and Garibaldi’s army. One such famous injury was to the dismay of Goffredo Mameli. Dying just two months shy of his 22nd birthday, he had helped sustain the future unification of Italy and also interestingly composed the national anthem, as the world knows it today. There are two stories around his death specifically: one being the accidental injury to his left leg by a comrade’s bayonet or the more supported story of being gunned down by French occupants. Either way, due to infection the injury called for his left leg to get amputated, which resulted in his premature death.
At the beginning of the tour, we met up with Chris the On Site coordinator we have here to make sure that our shoes are tied and that any lost luggage eventually comes back to us. In fact, thanks to Romina, Justin, and Chris I managed to get my lost bag back to me without having to travel all the way back to the airport. Two girls from the American University of Rome joined us too along with Julia, another intern from Colorado! Chris brought with him a backpack full of the “essentials” as he puts it along with a soccer ball with dozens of flags from around the world printed on the synthetic exterior.
We started walking through the tranquil Monteverde neighborhood to get to the Villa at 5:45PM. During this time you can hear all the locals rushing in their banged up FIATs to get home alongside the squawking seagulls darting toward the fruit peels left by litterbugs in the park. The walk was short, about 15 minutes from the park in front of the office to get to the main gate. You get inside and the first thing you see is a sign written Battaglione della Speranza. Chris was recounting the history of the French settlers in the area and how the walkway we were on was called the path of the gigantic battle of hope. After the entrance we stopped to grab some ice-cold water that bountifully flows from the city fountains.
Lately the city has been getting a lot of bad press about how poor the internal services are, with that in mind I am thankful that at least the water fountains function. Even the dogs come running for them!
We started heading through the dirt path past sweaty joggers and sunbathers lying unsettlingly still at times. “It’s so hot!” sighs one of the AUR girls. Chris looks at her with a “give me a break” look on his face and says unapologetically, “It is indeed hot, but it is summer-time and it’s definitely not the Metro B”. I guess he was right to a given extent. It is July on the Mediterranean after all. Fortunately, with plenty of cold water, a little sunscreen, and light clothing it is genuinely not that bad. I will be honest though, nothing beats the cool waves on the beach of Santa Marinella these days.
To our joy, walking around the Villa Pamphili offers a Steven Speilberg’s Independence Day spaceship amount of shade. Translated: There is a lot of shade. The Villa hosts palm trees as well which gives the landscape a quintessential Mediterranean feel next to the large palace in Casino del Bel Respiro. The palace sits in front of a large courtyard like a nucleus surrounded by walls decorated with mosaics and statues. Taking in the image of the palace from the front is one of time travel. The structure oozes opulence and drips with patina. If those walls could talk, I have a feeling that we would be camping out and listening to an epic!
The gardens outside of the structure are gated to the public but viewable past the walled barrier. Each hedge is carefully groomed to create spiraling images that resemble green clouds being gently pushed from the epicenter. Dani said she wanted to live there while Carolina said that was too excessive and that she should just have the wedding reception there and then head back to Florida! As for me, the preservation was good enough and the silence of the inside just made it all the more enjoyable. Excuse me while I grab my cane and tell people to get off my lawn.
As we hiked up the stairs from the courtyard we came across a large open field that overlooked the remainder of the first half of the park. In all parts there were soccer players, furry ball-fetchers, runners, trainers, and picnics. We continued down through the shady parts of the park on the eastern side. I heard rustling in the bushes as we walked through. The sound was of what seemed to be mid-sized animal, perhaps the length of a raccoon come to think of it I have yet to see a squirrel here. Don’t worry though! There were no velociraptors in sight, yet.
All of a sudden, a brilliant hue of green swooped into the air out of the bush followed by another bright flash of emerald. “Parrots!” yelled Kevin. The two birds were zinging and zanging through the air, nose-diving and barrel-rolling as if to out maneuver the other. “I had no idea there were parrots around here! All I see are pigeons around our area. Eating, pooping, and trying to get some with the girl pigeons”, says Carolina. “I know! They are so weird” responds Julia.
Biology class here: essentially, when male pigeons want to attract the attention of the female, they will pump their chest up and dance around; typically in the same manner every time (circle spins and ducking up and down). I have yet to see this maneuver produce any results for the dancers though.
After the parrots we came across a proper sized pond filled to the brim with white geese, snapping turtles, and ducks with their ducklings. Fortunately there were benches spread throughout the area to take in the awe-struck travelers to gaze with “calma” as Alessandro puts it. We retired to the benches and allowed the scene to unfold.
Time passes as the sun lazily sank beneath the impending tree line of the towersome umbrella pines. The strums of a guitar were faintly heard in the distance. The calm damp air was full with sounds of quacks, splashes, and little kids laughing as they tossed pieces of stale bread in the pond. Chris and Kevin passed the soccerball back and forth to each other. “Don’t kick the Greece part too hard Kevin! It might deflate the ball” Chris shouted. The group playfully chuckled given the recent news from last week. Funny or oddly enough, Rome has been getting a lot of bad press as well for being one of the worst countries in Europe to live in as far as quality of life goes. Perhaps I have not been here long enough to truly jump on board with this message, but besides minor inconveniences it’s nothing grave to the point of making me want to leave. Where else can you find ancient history dating back to the 1600s in a national park right outside of your apartment while being able to grab a gelato? Not to mention, on average Italians work 35 hours a week giving more time to family and get 5 weeks of vacation mandatorily.
My mind drifts back to the lake. Groups of people with their dogs sauntered by as the minutes unnoticeably drifted away. Peace engulfs. We must’ve passed twenty minutes by that lake mouth agape just pondering. I got up and got closer to the water. There were turtles all over the place, when from the corner of my eye I spot a giant white fish. The girth was one of an overfilled barrel with eyes as black as onyx. Just drifting along without a care in the world. Blub*
Eventually, we arose from our meditative states and circled the rest of the pond. Geese could be noticed guiding their offspring and the snapping turtles just swam on top of each other. All of a sudden, THUD! The scream “Owwwwwww” howled through the pathway. I think I saw a goose get startled too. Dani tripped over a rock and ended up scrapping her knee very lightly. Fortunately Chris and his “essentials” were on the job. He had that scrape washed and patched up quicker than most nurses I’ve seen. “After three years as lifeguard you can’t leave without these”. Dani quickly got up and we kept on towards the original entrance. End Scene. See more photos of the trip here!