Paris is of course the capital of France. It’s also France’s most populous city, home to more than two million French people,
and is the center of a metropolitan area of more than 12 million. Add in the 42 million annual visitors, and one can’t help
but imagine a very crowded place. Which it is, but it’s also a place of great beauty and culture. The lovely Seine River
runs through the middle of it, bordered by pleasant walkways and crossed by innumerable bridges. Architectural marvels from
a variety of eras can be found throughout the city, as can some of the world’s greatest museums, and the food is of course
legendary. Add in a multifaceted public transportation system to efficiently move all those people around, and it’s difficult
to imagine a more attractive place to visit. But it wasn’t always that way.
Evidence of human habitation in Paris dates back to 4200 B.C. A tribe called the Parisii lived in the area from about
250 B.C., with the Romans conquering the place in 52 B.C. and hanging out for about 450 years after naming it
Lutetia. Germanic tribes pushed the Romans out by the late 5th Century, by which time the city had acquired the name
Paris. Vikings took a liking to the region, bestowing frequent invasions upon it. A fortress took shape on an island
in the middle of the Seine, now known as the Île de la Cité. A monarchy came into being which was able to protect the city
from invaders, but not from its many bouts with plague and cholera over the centuries (like many rivers through large cities,
the Seine had pretty much become an open sewer). The monarchs and their cohorts in the aristocracy treated the have-nots
pretty badly over the centuries, and eventually the have-nots took a cue from some goofy British colonists over in America and
staged a particularly bloody revolution of their own, installing a short-lived republic. A Corsican general named Napoleon
Bonaparte figured out how to make the government his own and took the French army out to conquer Europe, nearly successfully.
The government went back to being a monarchy and then a republic, and then a sort of monarchy-republic, etc., eventually
settling on republic. During this time artists found themselves attracted to Paris, and the late 19th and early 20th
Centuries saw a burst of creativity, with names such as Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Dali and Hemingway (among many
others) passing through. Paris managed to not get itself destroyed through two world wars (first by keeping the bad guys out,
second by hastily surrendering to them) and survived to become the most popular tourist destination in the world.
Which brings us to an afternoon in July of 2010. At this time Nella and I found ourselves camped out at a boarding gate at LA
International Airport, waiting to board a British Airways 747 for a trip to the City of Light.
(The attentive among you may have noticed at this point that I’ve switched my narration to first person singular. I found
first person plural to be awkward. And I can be more forthcoming with my impressions of things, with the disclaimer that
all opinions expressed are strictly my own, and Nella’s may differ.) Those who have slogged through the other trips on
bobandnellasworld.com might be wondering what happened to our fellow travelers and offspring, Philip and Connie. Philip was
starting a new job and was not in a position to take off for a couple of weeks to visit France and Spain. Connie had joined
a study abroad program, and was spending several weeks in England, studying hard (well, hard enough to get credit for her
classes, anyway). We had a tentative date for meeting Connie in Paris during a break in her class sessions, but it remained
to be seen how that would work out. So I got to travel with Nella, and Nella was stuck with me. Fortunately we seem to
like each other pretty well and even share many of the same interests, so things for the most part worked out nicely.
We were eventually able to board our 747, which whisked us (over a period of many hours) not to Paris, but to London’s
Heathrow Airport, where we connected with a much smaller jet for the last hop over the channel and into France.
We disembarked at the Charles de Gaulle Airport to the northeast of Paris and purchased tickets for an RER train ride into
the city with Euros we had obtained in the U.S. The RER, or Réseau Express Régional, is a system of train lines which
connect central Paris with its suburbs. There are several stations on the RER lines with connections to the Paris Metro, an
extensive subway system for getting around in the city itself. One such station is the St-Michel Notre-Dame station. Our
plan was to take the RER to this station and switch to Metro line 4 (price included in the RER ticket) for a short trip to the
Odéon stop near our hotel. But when we got to the St-Michel station and dragged ourselves and all our stuff off the train,
we found a lot of temporary-looking walls and scaffolding blocking the way to the Metro part of the station. Apparently a
renovation was underway, and the Metro wasn’t stopping here for the time being. Fortunately we had a map and our luggage was
on wheels, and we were able to navigate the last leg on foot to our hotel, the Best Western Left Bank Saint-Germain, just
north of the Boulevard Saint-Germain on the Rue de l’Ancienne Comedie.
We found our room to be small but well decorated, with a flat-screen TV hung on the wall. As it was well into the evening,
we went searching for food, and we found it at a Chinese restaurant a few doors up the street. We also found a place where
we could buy some bottled water to take back to the room and returned to the hotel. Our bodies were feeling like it was
early afternoon, but they were also very tired, so we were able to sleep reasonably well. A good thing, as we had ambitious
plans for the next day.