Spring is his favourite season because of the rejunenation of many species of plants in their various dress of colours. He loves to contemplate his garden. First, at the beginning of March, the “perce-neige” (snowdrop) flowers appear. Following them, the crocus, primroses, and later tulips make their entrances. Then, like in a movie, from east to west, trees play a ballet: yellow forsythias, red chaenomeles, red prunus trees, and photinias red robin. It was an appropriate decision that the gardener made when he chose to plant shrubs, in a specific order, around the house. Then, the grass and trees play green symphonies. Spring is also the time in which he removes his bicycle from winter storage as the temperature approaches 20 degrees Celsius. The city gardens also dress in a multitude of colours, depending on the flowers which had been planted. In April, walks in the countryside begin again amongst the green colour of forests and fields. In May, France has numerous bank holidays, creating time to travel across the country or to visit family and friends. At last it is time to commence projects for holidays as summer is coming!
Jean-Pierre was born in Vemeix, a village of 600 inhabitants in the Auvergne region of central France. His grandparents were farmers and his father was the foreman of the Dunlop Tire factory in the town of Montluçon.
He often uses the initials “JPA” instead of his full names because his family name has eleven letters and he has a double first name with a hyphen for a total of twenty-two characters when writing his name in full. That is difficult enough when signing his name as an adult, but it was a nightmare when he started to school as a child.
JPA’s first school, when he was six years old, was in his village of Verneix. There were only two teachers for the thirty children aged six to eleven years old and divided into five grade levels. His teacher was one of his aunts, a very severe woman.
After completing his studies in engineering in Lyon, he worked for eight years in Paris as a civil servant in the French Post and Telephone Office. This company later became the French telecommunications operator, France Telecom. He was transferred to the little town of Villefontaine in 1984. This town is located in the east central part of France, not far from Lyon and the Alps. Although his vocation entailed doing research in a laboratory, he did not actually work in one as opportunities gave him several jobs elsewhere: as methods for informatics in Human Resource, financial reporting, and staff. He had a fascination in working with numbers.
As does Christiane, JPA considers his town very special. Villefontaine is a unique town “une ville à la campagne”, that is, it has houses in the midst of nature, or it has the advantages of a city but with a countryside within it. In only a few minutes, one is among little forests, ponds, and fields of corn and maize. The Alps and other exciting areas lie to the east, while the magnificent, busy city of Lyon lies to the west and can be reached in thirty minutes. In 1998, UNESCO placed this city on its World Heritage list. In the old town, one can see evidence of the two last millennia of urban settlement and architectural evolution. Lyon is also known as the gastronomy capital of France with its 1 500 restaurants, which are listed in the Tourism Office, They include numerous “Bouchons” (traditional Lyon’s cooking), with well-known chefs (Bocuse) who can serve customers “saucisson”, “quenelles”, and “Beaujolais” wine.
Villefontaine is only one hour from the Alps, a very popular area for winter skiing and summer walks. An hour farther, one can reach Chamonix and Mont-Blanc, the highest peak of the Alps.
In September 2009, JPA and Christiane travelled to Canada, visiting North America for the first time! Since she was attending a scientific congress in Toronto, he decided to accompany her.
During their first week in Canada, JPA and Christiane travelled to Niagara Falls by bus. He was awed by the sight of the swirling cascade, but he was disappointed in seeing a town, tall buildings, and tourist shops. However, when they strolled along Horseshoe Falls, the noise and the scenery of the falls filled them with amazement. It was a childhood dream come true!
After the congress had concluded, they had ten days more to see the country, having to choose between Québec for old history and landscapes as most of French tourists do or the big west, with its vast spaces, mountains, and Pacific Ocean.
As the choice was being contemplated, he suddenly remembered that he had a book, Les Plus Beaux Voyages en Train, which mentioned three “mythical” train trips: Transsiberian, South Australia, and North America, which excited his dreams. When he opened this book and found Le Canadien, their decision was finalized!
Thus, they travelled from Toronto to Vancouver, the whole length of the route, as they wanted to see the Pacific Ocean. It helped that the congress was held in Toronto, one of the terminus points of the railroad. They would have liked to visit a few places along the way, especially Jasper, but their time was too limited.
All the way from Toronto to Vancouver was exciting for their first trip of discovery in Canada. However, the favourite part was the crossing of the Rocky Mountains west of Jasper, Alberta. Jasper was an interesting place, but the stop there was too short. Their cameras were not quick enough to record all the picturesque scenery: Mount Robson, icefields, valleys, and lakes. Like other passengers, they were thrilled to see a bear. The most scenic part of the Canadian trip takes place between Jasper and Blue River, British Columbia. He feels that, perhaps, the Thompson valley near Kamloops is also very beautiful, but darkness had descended by the time that the train arrived there.
The whole trip was almost perfect on board the Canadian. The friendly crew, the delightful restaurant, the comfortable sleeping car, and, especially, the dome cars made the trip most enjoyable. Everything was a very high level of quality, almost luxurious, a taste of the Istanbul Orient-Express! His only regrets were too few tourist explanations in French (it being difficult for them to understand English jokes in the dome car) and a too short stop in Jasper, Alberta.
As this was their first trip in Canada, they did not try to drive big, automatic, American cars. The surprise for them was the numerous pickups, which may be suitable for the fields; but what can an owner do with one in big towns? They travelled by bus to Niagara Falls and on Vancouver Island, and on each occasion they found massive traffic jams with many pickups with the driver alone before arriving at their destinations. Is petrol (gasoline) too cheap in Canada? Indeed, Canada is a vast territory with few highways and fewer passenger railway lines.
JPA is well acquainted with the French TGV trains, a technical success. The first TGV line ran from Paris to Lyon in 1981, three years before he and Christiane arrived in the latter city. The first impression portrays comfort, little noise, and exciting speed, yet not at all frightening.
He has ridden on the train more than one hundred times regarding his job. For meetings in Paris, he could leave home at 6 a.m., attend the meeting all the day and be back home at 8 p.m. That means under two hours of travel for 500 kilometres. It is so easy, although a little tiring; but he is now used to the trip. He has travelled all of the TGV lines in France, including the one via the Chunnel to London, England,
There are two difficulties now with the TGV. People live further and further from their offices for example, commuting from the northern city of Lille to Paris, 200 kilometres (124 miles) each morning. It is horrible to take a regional train three hours for 200 kilometres to reach his birth town. Without TGV, regions become like deserts!
Since JPA retired, he has attended numerous conferences about trains and other forms of transportion. One lecturer said that the most interesting countries for railways are Switzerland and Japan and JPA has travelled by rail in both.
Switzerland is a beautiful mountainous country that boasts scenic trains on railroads with marvellous bridges, tunnels, and technical rails. In Japan, he travelled on the Shinkansen line between Nagoya and Kyoto, which is like TGV, and also on a scenic railway in the Japanese Alps. All trains are clean, with information being shown on screens in both Japanese and English. The punctuality of the trains is exemplary.
VIA Rail is a very good and professional company. The workers seem happy. However, JPA and Christiane were surprised to learn that there are very few passenger trains in Canada. Winnipeg has a huge, beautiful station, but only two trains a day! He questions where Canada’s suburban trains are.
Each year for the past twenty, they have rented a boat for one or more weeks to travel on the European canals, including almost all the French regions, and, in addition, those in England, Ireland, Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. Now that he is retired, their objective is to acquire their own boat.
However, his first objective in retired life was to realize a very old dream, that of crossing France by foot along footpaths. He was able to accomplish this in 2008. For two months, he travelled alone with his backpack from Royan, on the Atlantic Coast to Sète, on the Mediterranean Sea across plains, tablelands, and mountains. The Massif Central is less than 2 000 meters (6 580 feet) high. The total distance was about 1 000 kilometres (621 miles), and he slept in small hotels or lodges. It was such an unforgettable adventure that he feels that he should publish a book about it!
(This page was updated in October 2012.)