For those who have never heard of Beauvais, it is a small town of 55,000, about an hour and a half north of Paris by car. It is probably best known for its small airport, which exploded in popularity with the arrival of low-cost carriers. In 1996, the airport served 60,000 passengers and last year, nearly 4 million. I flew there from Vilnius and wanted to get to a hotel near Charles-de-Gaulle airport, in order to catch a morning flight to Canada. Not wanting to go into Paris and then get back out to CDG, which is also north of the city, I looked for a direct route and found a twice daily shuttle to EuroDisney, which can drop you off at CDG airport on the way. The trouble is, I would have to wait six hours.
Really not wanting to do the back and forth in and out of Paris, I figured I would go to Beauvais itself, have lunch and possibly go to the cinema.
As soon as I walked past City Hall, I realized it was not the village I had thought it to be. I went to the tourist office and they recommended I visit the cathedral and a little museum. Nothing sounded very interesting, but was I ever in for a surprise!
The Cathedral of St-Peter of Beauvais is widely considered to be the craziest ever project of Gothic architecture.
Built in the 13th century, its nave is not the highest in the Oise Department. At 48.5 m, it is the highest in the whole world, a few meters higher than St-Peter of Rome!
800 years ago, this was absolute madness. It pushed Gothic technology to its absolute limits, and in many ways, beyond the limits. In 1284, part of the nave collapsed, and since then, the building has been in a kind of permanent situation of imminent collapse!
Today emergency structures hold some of the columns in place.
And the flying buttresses are held together with steel rods, installed recently to replace iron rods which had been installed at an unknown date.
Apart from the extreme architecture, it is a normal Catholic cathedral, with two organs.
And a Great War Cenotaph.
Nearby, there is a small museum to peasant life, set in a 15th century home, called Maison des paysannes de l’Oise. Unfortunately, opened only 4 days a week.
Behind the Cathedral, a modest departmental museum, which may hold more than I saw, as parts of it seemed to be under renovation. Strangely, you must get a ticket to enter, but the ticket is free.
Inside, an exhibit by French printmaker Mario Avati, who died in 2009. A lot of unique works, but with glossy black backgrounds in a room full of windows, nearly impossible to photograph properly.
Eventually I settled in a cafe and filed my income tax declaration online! It had been a long time since I had been in France anywhere outside of Paris. If you speak French, it is always a pleasure to rediscover the extreme politeness and formal yet not stuffy demeanour of people in small French towns.
So, if you ever fly in or out of Beauvais at a reasonable time of the day, I highly recommend you avoid the regular bus shuttles between the airport and Paris. Take the train from Gare-du-Nord to Beauvais and spend a few hours there, the tourism office will even hold your luggage. The train doesn’t go to the airport, but it is only a few kilometres by taxi. I simply took the city bus, with takes 15-20 minutes and costs less than a Euro.
Finally, ugly transparent garbage cans at the airport, brought to you by… Islamic terrorists, of course! France adopted these after a wave of garbage can bombs in the 1990s. In fact, when my mother is concerned about my travels to terrorist infested places like Yemen or the Danakil, I remind her that the closest terrorists ever came to killing me was in Paris, when the August 17 1995 Arc the Triomphe bomb exploded just two blocks from where I was standing, injuring 17 people.
Unlike Bin Laden, justice was not slow in the making. The next month, police got word of where the terrorist might be hiding, in a small French town. They didn’t call the local cops, they surrounded to town by dropping a squadron or airborne gendarmes! (The old EPIGN). Khaled Kelkal was shot and wounded and from the ground, raised his pistol to fire at the numerous elite gendarmes surrounding him. Not a very good idea, as he was then shot about a hundred times in 2 seconds, all on live TV.
I now write this from Canada, where I am taking a two month break from travelling. From mid-July to late September, I will be back in Europe. Tomorrow or the next day, I will post the itinerary on Facebook, perhaps some of you will have travel advice. Between now and then, I may post a few things from Canada, or even “prequels” I had been thinking of doing from my pre-blog travels.