I received a hardback copy of this lovely book from the equally lovely Deb at Readerbuzz. It's been sitting on my shelf waiting rather impatiently for my attention. A few weeks I couldn't get to sleep and I finally picked it up. I'm so glad that I got to this wonderful book in the week before we headed toward Europe, and Paris, again. The cover blurb that "Paris to the Past promises to become one of the classic guidebooks of our time." That's very true I think.
Ina Caro has created a wonderful testament to her passion for both history and for France. She fell in love with France on her first trip in 1974, and then made annual visits, for two months at a time- oh to have the same hemisphere freedom and cheap airfares to do that, and has lived in Paris at times. Ina often approaches travel in a different way to those I've thought of before. She toured the Chateaux of the Loire in the order they were built for instance, and thought of her car as a time machine. This book came about from Ina's dilemma (one that I share) "of how to visit all the places outside of Paris I had not seen, while not leaving it." Paris to the Past gives us 25 one day train trips that depart from central Paris and "transport us magically through eight hundred years of French history."
Ina appreciates the way that the French preserve their history.
Because the French, being the French, preserve their past with such pride and with such meticulous attention to detail, we actually had the sense of stepping back into the past. One restorer, at the Castle of Beynac, actually spent twenty years petrifying wood in a solution so that the staircase he was restoring would be exactly like the one that had fallen into dishabille. A countess who was restoring her chateau at Villesavin came close to tears when she told me she didn't have the money to replace the gilded lead roof that had been removed by Napoleon, who had used the lead to make bullets for his soldiers. Because restoration is so scrupulously executed, French fortresses, castles, and cathedrals seem to be frozen in the period in which they were built, making it possible to turn a French vacation into a magical tour through time.
And she realised that all the places she "really loved visiting had been built by memorable characters whose fascinating lives helped explain the age in which they lived". I knew that I would trust Ina's suggestions implicitly when she said
It is a terrible thing for a historian to have to admit, but the quality of my lunch really does influence how I feel about the places I visit.
I'm so glad that I picked up this book at this time. It has strengthened my resolve to visit the Basilique Saint-Denis this trip, and it will add many fascinating details to my appreciation of the day. I was a bit disappointed in the all too short chapter on The Louvre, but of course did learn things regardless. There were also interesting sections on Places des Vosges and The Luxembourg Gardens, where I have already made many wonderful visits this holiday.
Ina has thoroughly researched the modern day train trips that travellers need to undertake and gives us handy tips about train lines and things to watch out for so we don't get lost on our journeys back to Medieval France.
I only wish that I had had time to read the whole thing before we left for this trip (I only read the Paris sections), and to visit all the marvellous places that Ina suggests. But that's one of the great things for tourists to France, there's always something more, something new to discover, another reason to go back.