I have always loved going to the park… especially when I’m in the middle of a big city. Growing up around the world, it was sometimes difficult to navigate my way around foreign countries and new cultures. While it was rewarding to discover so many new places, and gather many different “homes” around the world, the lifestyle definitely was not without its challenges. But, whatever city in the world I was in, I always found the same comfort in visiting a park: sitting on one of the benches, people watching, and just taking a peaceful break in the middle of the life around me. This feeling was no different when I moved to Rome. That is why I was so happy to find some of the lovely parks that my new home had to offer.
When I was a student at John Cabot University, I remember sometimes feeling overwhelmed by the crowds of tourists, the noise of the cars and motorini, and in the summer, the scorching heat of the cobbled streets and the sun that would beat down on me. One afternoon a few of my friends said they were going up to Villa Pamphili for a run and they asked if I wanted to join them. I knew the famous park was only up the hill from my Trastevere apartment, but for some reason I had never gone to check it out before. Climbing up the winding steps and curvy roads that passed the Gianicolo Hill, I remember wondering if this was really worth it; I thought that maybe I should have just stayed in my apartment or gone to the library to study. But, once I made it up past the gorgeously ornate villa, I was so excited to see what this park had to offer.
As I peeked my head through the iron railing to see what was behind the villa, I was in awe of the most beautiful garden I had ever seen. The hedges were perfectly landscaped, forming a beautiful maze that intertwined around large potted plants, and a gorgeous pond with lily pads floating on top. I kept walking up the steps to finally enter Rome’s largest landscaped public park.
My friends ran off on one of the many tracks through the grassy hills to complete their workout. I was on my own in one of the best parks I had ever seen. I decided to explore a little bit. I walked passed kids blowing bubbles and families walking their dogs to find a lovely creek between the towering umbrella pines. I discovered a few elegant fountains. I felt completely alone — in the best way — yet surrounded by a community of people, all of us taking in Rome’s natural beauty. This was an element of the city I had not yet experienced, away from the historic buildings, the art, culture, and pace of life… back to nature.
I couldn’t believe I had not been there before. I had foolishly waited until my last semester at John Cabot to climb up the little steps on the very street that I had lived on for two years that led up to this park. Although I was late to discover this serene place, I made it my mission to visit it plenty of times before my journey in Rome was over. My boyfriend (who is now my husband) and I even celebrated our first anniversary with a simple picnic there, right in the middle of the Parco di Villa Pamphili. It will always be a special place to us.
That first afternoon spent in the quiet of the park in Villa Pamphili will always represent what being a John Cabot student meant to me. It was discovering the Rome that the tourists weren’t really there to see, it was living life among the local families, and it was finding “home” in the middle of a bustling city.
Alexa Vujaklija (Shearer)
Class of 2015
Grew up in The United States, Germany, The Republic of Georgia, Russia, and Bulgaria