Friday, July 26, 2019
I was here 25 years ago and again 20 years ago to visit corporate headquarters. In the photo you see a tall tower which is something new--the sphere whisks tourists up to the top for a photo opportunity.
Back in 1996 I visited steelmaker Arcelor. In 2006 Lakshmi Mittal, CEO of steelmaker Mittal Steel (based in India), launched an audacious takeover of Arcelor and was successful. It's now the world's largest steelmaker (ArcelorMittal) with over $76 billion in revenues AND, its CEO Lakshmi Mittal is one of the world's richest men with an estimated fortune of $11.7 billion. Though he's the big boss, Mittal doesn't live here but in very palatial pad in London. I took this photo of Arcelor/Mittal's building and chuckled in finding several Indian/curry food places close by.
My plan to spend the night in Colmar doesn't pan out thanks to cyclists--to be more specific----many, many cyclists. I read about a brand new hotel recently opening in downtown Colmar and that's where I was hoping to lay my head. So, imagine my surprise upon arriving in town late in the afternoon to barricaded streets, crowds of people and big police presence. Jeez, it turns out the Tour de France will be coming through in a few minutes.
Quick background on the Tour de France. It consists of 21 day long stages over 23 days and covers about 2,200 miles. The route changes every year and towns/cities vie to be on the route AND for the race to spend the night in their community. Why? This traveling circus (riders, support staff, media, advertisers, officials and so on) numbers about 4,000. Besides being an economic boom for the community there's the international media coverage. Sometimes the Tour de France goes through other countries and I was Lausanne, Switzerland when the Tour de France spent the night in town.
So, when I heard the Tour de France was not just passing through Colmar but, spending the night here I knew I had to get out of the area quickly because it'll be difficult finding a place within 30-40 miles (as mentioned before I don't book hotels in advance as I like having maximum flexibility). I ended up cycling to Freiburg, Germany 30 miles away. That's Breisach, Germany (population 16,000) in the photo above taken before I crossed the Rhine river into Germany.
Tuesday, July 23, 2019
Sunday, July 21, 2019
The RTZ Corporation PLC
London has loads of squares (Hanover Square, Berkeley Square) and circuses (Piccadiliy Circus, Oxford Circus, Finsbury Circus) which seem to be favorite spots for companies to congregate. The squares always seem to have a small fenced in park in the middle and ditto for circuses except the later seems to be circular (as in a circus arena) and sometimes has a monument instead of a park in the middle. A St. James Square address is probably one of the most prestigious addresses a company in London can have. The RTZ Corporation, an international mining concern has one. Also in St James Square are two other companies I'll be visiting later: Grand Metropolitan and Polygram.
What's the lure of St. James Square? Location, location and history. Several blocks away lies Buckingham Palace, the 600-something room home where Queen Elizabeth hangs her hat--oops I mean crown. Closer still is St. James Palace where Prince Charles (the queen's son and heir apparent to the throne) manages to make do with a smaller pad (it looks to have ONLY 100 rooms). Across the street from Prince Charles lives the 95-year old Queen Mother (mother of Queen Elizabeth) in her own palatial palace. Anyway, the development of St. James Square and it's beautiful town houses came about in the mid-17th century for the obvious reasons: the desire of the aristocracy to be near the Court of King Charles ll at St. James Palace.
With 1994 revenues of 3.9 billion pounds, profit 612 million pounds, RTZ is the world's biggest mining company. Yet, there's no name outside the six-story town house identifying the place. Entering is like walking into a fancy hotel lobby. The receptionist, sitting behind a big desk, looks more like a concierge. The floor is marble and the walls oak paneled. Oil paintings of London in the 1700's hang on the walls. A glass display case containing rocks and minerals (malachite, quartz and baryte to name a few) is off to the side. Another glass case contains a book I've seen before, "De Re Metallica" by Georguis Agricola (1494-1555). Western Mining Corporation in Melbourne, Australia also had a copy of this book on display in their lobby. It was the first systematic treatise on mining and metallurgy.
Hey this is great, my bike gets an invitation to be brought inside and stored in a side room. Wheeling the bike through the lobby produces double-takes from waiting Japanese businessmen.
I'm directed to an upper floor via an elevator but, one can't use the elevator unless the receptionist accesses it with a swipe card. Stepping off the elevator I'm introduced to someone who says, "hi, I'm sorry I haven't much time because I have to get to Parliament. If you don't mind why don't we talk in the car on the way over". He then hands me his card. It reads, "Lord Holme of Cheltenham CBE, Director External Affairs & Human Resources, The RTZ Corporation PLC".
Soon we're in the back seat of a company car with the driver weaving his way through heavy London traffic to Parliament several miles away. Knowing zilch about titles I ask Lord Holme how he got his. Seems there're are two ways of becoming a Lord. The queen bestows the honor for services to the country (which is for life) or, it's inherited-being passed on from generation to generation. The 58-year Holme obtained his the first way. Unfortunately though, when he dies his title goes with him.
Arriving at Parliament, Lord Holme invites me inside for a quick tour. It's pretty neat being quickly ushered through all the security checkpoints with Lord Holme saying, "he's with me". Passing the cloak room he points to the half-dozen wheel chairs and says, "I'm a youngster compared to some of these". It's true. I see dozens of old men (all of them Lords) just hanging around like it's their private club. The building is unbelievably beautiful with wood paneling mixed with wood carvings everywhere. You definitely get a feel of history and tradition here. Though I'm very impressed with what I see I'm somewhat disappointed to find being a Lord isn't exactly the same as being a US Senator. While they're only 100 US senators, there're over 1,200 Lords.
Though the driver's taking me solo back to RTZ offices, Lord Holme made arrangements for me to see the boardroom and Chairman Sir Derek Birkin's office. About 220 employees work in the 100,000 square foot building, which was rebuilt in 1960. Nothing special about the boardroom. Birkin's middle office has a view of the park in St. James Square and contains a double-sided partners desk, a fresh flower arrangement, no computer and neither rocks nor minerals.
RTZ stands for Rio Tinto Zinc, the name of a mine.
They make it very complicated to take your bike on the same train as you. There's only room for two bikes on a train (why?). I originally wanted to take the train to Lille, France but you have to bring your bike to the station 24 hours ahead of time and they don't guarantee it'll be on the same train as you. Evidently, they aren't interested in the niche market for transporting touring cyclists. Taking the Eurostar isn't cheap if you book it the day before. Cost was $70 for my bike and $282 for one-way train ticket.
What's frustrating is that the train from London to Brussels STOPS in Lille, France--yet they won't let me off there with the bike!
Thursday, July 18, 2019
Being a major port and also home port to some of the world's largest cruise ships I figured there would be plenty to see in Southampton. I'm loathe to make hotel reservations because I like to have maximum flexibility. Sometimes I get to a city and it's disappointing so I move on---you can't cancel hotel bookings at the last minute anymore. I have a list of all the cities I'm traveling through and two or three hotels I'd be interested in spending the night. Anyway, I arrive in Southampton at 6 PM and guess what, nary a single room is be found in the city. Jeez, I should have thought this through, it's Saturday night in mid-summer (July) in a popular waterfront city with weather in the mid-80's. It's called supply and demand.
At one hotel the clerk checked his computer for rooms in nearby cities and announced the coastal resort Bournemouth was showing three hotel rooms left in the city. I rushed to the train station and hopped on a train. It's an hour train ride and to make a long story short---at 8 PM at night I got the last room in Bournemouth, population 180,000. Bournemouth is a summer hotspot with almost seven miles of sandy beaches.
My original plan was to spend the next week cycling along England's southern coast. But, with the great weather I realized any beachfront town will be packed with beach-goers and booked up. Extensive touring over the years has taught me to be flexible. So, I'll probably return to this area sometime in the future--during the off-season. London here I come.