By Joann Deutch, Travel Writer
ROME, ITALY — It’s noon and all the church bells are ringing. Where am I? Home to the Papal State, Rome of course, well, to be precise, the Vatican City. A City/State, by definition is a city surrounded entirely by a country, but which is completely autonomous.
I know the best area in Rome for your stay, whether you’re visiting for a week; going to a conference; coming to study Italian or you’re a college professor teaching a semester at the Rome extension of colleges and universities all over the world.
Even if you’re a tourist who doesn’t want to be overwhelmed by the tourist hubbub of the city, but want it all to be easily accessible, the Gianicolo hilltop neighborhood is the place for you.
You’ve seen photos of the view from the Gianicolo a million times, but probably didn’t realize where this skyline vista of Rome was. If the picture or movie you were watching, and saw had all the cupolas of churches and outlines of the Pantheon, the shot was taken from Piazzale Garibaldi, which is the heart of the Gianicolo.
I found a charming AirBnB called Gianciolo’s Dream. A 3 bedroom fully furnished apartment on Via Felice Cavalotti. It has balconies, an elevator, and clothes washing machine. All the amenities the make it home. Surprisingly affordable to boot, especially given the prices of a hotel room in this prestigious residential area in the Monte Verde Vecchio.
I have always felt that there is a difference between being a tourist and being a world traveler. The tourist looks at someplace through a distorted lens, missing the details of what makes another country and its people different. That’s why I love traveling AirBnB. You can do your own shopping, you meet the local store keepers, you see old men playing cards in the piazza, that never happens in the pristine tourists centers, and certainly not of Rome.
Let me gave you a practical tour of the area around Gianciolo’s Dream. Online they tell you, “well this is only a hop skip and jump” away. Better yet they tell you it’s 500m (meters). How far is 500 meters? As if it’s not bad enough that you need to do math whenever you look at your flight schedule with a departure after noon. No 3PM here, it’s 15:00 Zulu time.
So I’m going to give it to you straight in plain old English.
Rome is pretty good about having street signs. You’ll need to look about 12 feet above street level, and you’ll find the street names chiseled on marble plaques. Blocks in this area are less than ½ of NYC block.
There is a daily street market (closed on Sundays) on Via Dezza (technically Via Giuseppe Dezza) at the intersection of Via Vascello Dezza (the street sign says Via del Vascello) and Via Largo Miceli. Fruit and vegetable stalls are open until maybe 2 pm. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday you’ll find a fish monger and butcher stall, both offering fresh faire. Both will cut your fish or meat to your request. Pay now and pick it up later, they’ll keep if for you, as will the green grocer. Right on the corner is Panficio, a bakery, offering a huge variety of fresh breads and pastries. Taken a number as you come it. Go up to the counter and make your selections. If you have a preference for dark breads, place your order the day before. They also have a selection of toiletries; cleaning products, cookies and cold cuts. Barbara, a pleasant red haired woman will help you at the cash register. Everyone in the store is good at pantomime, they’re ready to help you with your terrible Italian. She’ll scan you bills for phonies, sadly it happens a lot and all stores scan your bills. Don’t take it personally.
There’s hardware store, hairdressers, profomeria pharmacies, restaurants, bars where you can get your morning shot of coffee. Italians stand at the bar and belt down an expresso. They seem to be immune from caffeine overload. They stop in for shots until late in the night. If you can’t keep up, order an Orzo, which tastes like coffee but is a grain, caffeine-free coffee.
Sorry no Starbucks, but you won’t miss it. Bars may also have sandwiches, or hot food on steam tables. Place your order at the cash register, but your money in the tray, they’ll give you your change and a receipt. Leave the receipt on the bar where the barrista will put a little tear in your receipt and serve you your order. The bigger bars will have toilets for when you’re on the run. You need to buy something or leave ½ EUR. PS locals don’t tip, and when they do, it’s minimal, the tendency is to round up.
So now that you know where to load up on carbs and caffeine, you’ll need to know where to walk/run them off. That’s the other terrific thing about this neighborhood. You’re surrounded by huge HUGE parks. The first and most famous one is the Parco Gianicolo. I mentioned it in the beginning of the article. 5 minutes tops. On your way out instead of doubling back, go ½ block to your right and you’ll see a great marble water fountain. The little known but amazing Il Fonatone, built by the Borghese family has a great view of the city below. If you see the fountain on your way to the Gianicolo, you’ve gone too far. Double back to the park entrance.
Once you’re in the Gianolco Park. You can follow trails in the park, or stay on the road that goes by the Hospital Bambimo Gesu. You’ll inevitably get all the way down to the river in Trastervere, the bohemian part of town. One of the other good points about the Gianicolo is that being on a hill there are public staircases everywhere. An added bounce on your run. You won’t need to bring your own water, there are drinking fountains everywhere. Put your finger on the bottom of the spigot to block the water stream, water will squirt out the side. The water is safe to drink.
Once you’re in the Trasevere area, it’s a 20 minute walk to Piazza Navone; then follow the signs to the Pantheon, and you’re last stop will be Fontana Trevi. Take a break on oogle the windows at the fancy stores along Via el Corso. Shop till you drop and take a taxi home.
As if this park were not convenient enough, there is also a HUGE park on the grounds of Villa Pamphilli. This park is big enough to run or bike for days without ever doubling over your tracks. It’s quiet during the week, but on weekends in good weather you’ll find Romans of all stripes out enjoying the park. To get there again go back to the market and walk north as if you were going the Gianicolo. You’ll come to a higgley piggy parking area, and be facing an old building which is the gate keeper’s house. Cross the street and there is an unmarked entrance on the left to the park along a gravel road. Have fun.
In both parks you’ll be running past old statutes and Roman Temples and fountains. Villa Pamphilli used to be a private summer vacation home beginning the 1600s.
Once you’re back at Gianciolo’s Dream, you can walk along Via Giacinto Carni. You’ll find small stores, a gas pump, a tabacco, which is are small green kiosks where you can buy bus passes and international newspapers. The local Piazza, Rosolini Pio is also the taxi stand. Go up to the cluster of cabs and ask who’s the next taxi. The run meters. During the day it’s 3.20 EUR to start. At night’s 7.20 EURs. You’re unlikely to pay more than 10-15 EUR to get anywhere nearby. You can flag down cabs on busy streets.
If you walk a few blocks to Vaile Del Quattro Venti from Gianciolo’s Dream and follow it to the south you’ll see more local shops. At the end of the road as it widens, on the right you’ll see UPIM, a department store. You can get cheap pots, pans, body lotion, scarves, hats. This a small Kmart for the odds and ends without paying a fortune for top end products.
And lastly, the bus stop is on the corner of Via Rosetti and Viali Gianicolensi.
So here you have it, how to make your trip to Rome a home away from home. Have fun in Rome.