Several of the comments on the back of Paris to the Past called it a book about love. That’s exactly what it is. On every single page, Ina Caro’s love shines through – love for France, its history and people, its food, and for the husband who is by her side as she “travels through time.”
When Ina and Bob were married, decades ago, they couldn’t afford to take their dream trip to France. After putting in their time and accumulating their success, they finally left for the vacation of a lifetime in 1974 or so. And they’ve gone back every year, driving all around France and experiencing its architecture, culture and food with glee. Then one day Ina had an epiphany: she organized their planned driving route chronologically, allowing them to visit the oldest cathedrals and castles first and work their way up through history. This allowed them to, quite literally, see France evolve before their eyes, and it led to a book about driving through French history. But after years of returning again and again, driving around for a month or so, Ina and Bob decided, one year, that they didn’t want to hit the road. They wanted to stay in their comfortable Paris apartment.
Did this cramp Ina’s time traveling style? Never! She discovered that, between the Paris metro, the RER suburban trains, and the TGV high-speed trains, it is possible to travel through the entire course of civilized French history, from Clovis and Abbe Suger at Saint-Denis all the way to Napoleon III. This fantastic feat could be done entirely in day-trips that don’t require, generally, more than 90 minutes on a train from Paris. Ina could travel through time back to the fifth century and be back in time to hit up the neighborhood bistro for dinner. C’est magnifique!
Ina is a fabulous tour guide. Her interest in history tends toward the fluffy, so she glosses over battles and bloodshed and devotes far more time to juicy court gossip. You’ll hear of power-hungry and plaigarizing monks, effeminite kings, scheming queens and nobles, and one very famous peasant girl who gave the English fits during the Hundred Years’ War. Ina perfectly treads the line between giving good information about how we can bear witness to French history by examining its architecture and sharing dirty deets like your best eighteenth-century girlfriend. And she throws in mini-reviews of the restaurants she visits near each monument, too. Paris to the Past was a wonderful read… in fact, my only complaint was that it made me even more anxious to go back to Paris than I already was! Highly recommended.
Paris to the Past: Traveling Through French History by Train, by Ina Caro (not an affiliate link)