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Paris Sightseeing: The Eiffel Tower & The Notre Dame Chapel

The Eifell Tower

Apart from the Louvre, the most distinct cultural landmark of the city of Paris has to be the Eiffel Tower also known as the La Tour. Made of 2,500,000 rivets and 12,000 pieces of metal, Eiffel Tower exudes a feeling of eternalness thanks to its gigantic look and a towering presence. Your trip to Paris is not complete without visiting Eiffel Tower.

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This mammoth structure has very interesting tales to it where at one point it almost became scrap metal after its concession expired in the year 1909. However, it would have an unlikely saviour in the form of science where it was used a radio antenna. Since then it has become like a symbol for Parisians albeit there were some people like Guy de Maupassant and Alexander Dumas who had ridiculed the 1063-foot iconic monument.

Its cultural landmark status can be attested to the mere mention of La Tour and Paris in the same sentence. Most people will tell you that Parisian nights are not complete without a stroll around La Tour. The beauty of this structure is accentuated at nights thanks to a forest of astounding lights that highlight every girder in it. Stride up as far as the third floor (nearly 1700 steps) and then take the elevator if you want to take a close peek at the structure.

Noteworthy recent enhancements include renovation of the first floor, which brought about the addition of a transparent floor just above the esplanade and a pair of glass-facade pavilions that stay close to the side of the tower, housing educational areas. Addition of a mini turbine plant, eco-friendly solar panels and turbine windmills ensure the carbon footprint is kept to a minimum.

For a visit to La Tour, you should book tickets online and make reservations if you want a guided tour.

The Eiffel Tower is the perfect spot for a photography session. Paris photography sessions depend on the type of your celebration.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Paris is a cultural hub with several monuments that attest to the cultural splendour. More than 800 years old and situated on Ile de Cite, a small island between the River Seine, is The Notre Dame cathedral. Regarded as one of the Parisian gems and a great Catholic treasure, the construction of this cathedral took as long as 200 years only to be in 1345 during the reign of King Louis VII.

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As with any notable monuments that is centuries old, this cathedral has its own share of joyful moments and tragedy. The most notable moment was the coronation of Henry VI of England. After many years of being in a state of disrepair, it came close to getting demolished but was later saved by Napoleon Bonaparte who was eventually crowned right here in 1804.

Jean de Arc or Joan of Ark’s story was intertwined with that of the Notre Dame cathedral. Known for her bravery to pursue freedom when she rallied the French citizenry against the tyranny of the English, she met a very sad end at the hands of the Burundians who sold off to the English. The woman with paragon of bravery and tact was later beatified in the Notre Dame cathedral by Pope Pius X in 1909.

The cathedral even houses a distinct artefact with great history behind it- the famous ring bell which has been redesigned to ring on its own. Stride up 140 stairs to take a look at this artefact and you will be surprised to behold a great view of Paris. A collection of other distinct artefacts such as the 17th century organ, plans, paintings, engravings and drawings stand for the Paris of the old and say a lot about how this bristling city came into being.

Did you know?

  • 130 metres long, 48 metres wide and 35 metres high, this cathedral has rose windows with 10m diameter and pillars that are 5 metres wide.
  • To date, many Catholics use it for their daily mass. Access is open and free of charge.

Pictures: http://www.jleal.eu

Zacatecas and Colonial Mexico

The bright-red cable tram swung high above downtown Zacatecas, whisking us between twin hills that hem the colonial silver-mining city into a narrow valley. As the tram reached the halfway point, the cabin jolted suddenly. All conversation died, nervous glances were exchanged.

Estivan, our pint-sized and underage attendant, broke the silence. “We dropped a cable car last month,” he said with a wry grin.

Mark, the most fluent member of our small group of travelers, translated. We chuckled–uneasily. There was really little cause for worry. The Swiss-made cable system was recently installed and quickly adopted as an up-to-date symbol of the city. The incongruity of a ski lift in a city founded by sandaled missionaries, conquistadors, and brutal silver barons is hard to shake, but the views can’t be beat.

We soared over the old city’s rooftops and medieval-like layout of narrow, twisting side streets, some so steep they revert to stairs. Courtyards otherwise hidden from prying eyes behind heavy wooden gates revealed secret gardens spilling with magenta bougainvillea and equally gaudy collections of luxury automobiles. The small cable car tilted ever so slightly to the right as all eight occupants shifted positions to gawk at the city’s landmarks.

Dead center were the ornate spires and massive dome of Catedral de Zacatecas, the city’s cathedral, regarded as one of Mexico’s finest. Downhill and in the distance, I could make out the rounded outer wall of the former San Pedro Bullring, now imaginatively reconceived as a luxury hotel. On Cerro del Grillo, the mouth to Eden Mine, source of much of Zacatecas’s immense silver wealth and starting point for a thrilling tour into the heart of the mountain, gaped. From on high, Zacatecas (pronounced sah-cah-TAY-cus) might easily pass for Italy’s hilltop beauty, Siena. That perception carries through at street level. Zacatecas’ downtown of cobblestoned avenues and stately buildings from the 16th and 17th centuries–the colonial period of Nueva Espana–oozes old-world charm.

Only instead of the warm, yellow-brown color synonymous with Siena, Zacatecas is bathed in dusky rose. Most every notable building is constructed of cantera, a locally quarried stone said to come in 12 shades of pink, ranging from baby blush to salmon. In the high-altitude sunlight, the stone takes on a luminous, almost playful, quality. At sunrise and sunset, taller buildings blaze in the urban equivalent of alpenglow.

While steeped in history, Zacatecas, a small city of 300,000, is a bustling state capital and university town of the modern world. Situated at 8,100 feet in Mexico’s arid central highlands, the city enjoys a mild, dry climate year-round. This is cattle country, and ranchers in cowboy hats and boots are a common sight. So are European tourists, who long ago discovered the city and tend to arrive in force around Christmas and September during festival season. The city is also a popular destination with Mexico’s growing middle class. Noticeably absent are North Americans. Their tours of the colonial cities in the central highlands usually begin and end at Guadalajara and San Miguel de Allende, both at least a four-hour drive to the south. For Norte Americanos, Zacatecas remains off of the beaten path.

The story of Zacatecas begins with Spain’s lust for silver. When a Zacateco presented prospector Juan Tolosa with a clump of shiny ore in 1546, the friendly gesture ignited a silver rush. Fortune seekers flocked to the banks of the Arroyo de la Plata, followed by missionaries from the Benedictine, Dominican, Franciscan, and Jesuit orders of the Roman Catholic church. Zacatecas was soon producing one-fifth of the world’s silver and spreading Catholicism into the forbidding northern deserts as far as present-day Arizona and New Mexico. Spain claimed most of Zacatecas’ mineral wealth, but enough remained behind to spur a building boom of magnificent churches and pleasure palaces worthy of local silver barons.

The ultimate expression of the city’s religious and mining prominence took form in Catedral de Zacatecas. Built between 1718–1732 on the principle that nothing succeeds like excess, the pink-stoned edifice is an over-the-top example of Mexico’s Baroque style. On the main facade, not a square inch of pink cantera stone escaped the sculptor’s chisel. What at first appears to be a chaotic swirl of geometric carvings and festooned columns, on closer study reveals a studied order. Life-sized sculptures of Jesus and the 12 apostles occupy alcoves on the facade’s three tiers. In a nod to Aztec culture, the entire design pivots around a sun-shaped stained-glass window that substitutes for a rose window typical of European cathedrals.

If you tour the cathedral in the morning, you may encounter the honey-water man. He walks the streets selling aguamiel, or unfermented mescal, which he pours from corked jugs carried by his donkey. The sweet drink is said to be good for the kidneys. Mine have worked well since I downed a glassful.

Linger in front of the cathedral a bit longer, and you’ll inevitably meet another fixture of Zacatecas’ street scene, Don Rafa Vera. You’ll know him by his deep baritone voice and pushcart piled with warm-from-the-oven galletas, or cookies. During my stay in Zacatecas, I would run into Vera on four separate occasions. He bakes one and only one variety of galleta, a perfect blending of flour, butter, eggs, sugar, and cinnamon. It’s an addictive confection. Lured by free samples, my travel companions and I were soon buying bags of galletas, then later scouring town for another fix from Vera.

Vera’s real gift is for gab. In passable English, he tells us that he was a nightclub crooner and lived for a period in San Francisco. One of his sons still lives in that city’s Chinatown, and he visits occasionally. “San Francisco is too busy, always go, go. I am happy when I return to Zacatecas,” he said.

Zacatecas’ charm is in part due to its human scale. A good pair of shoes and relaxed pace (the elevation here exceeds many American ski towns) puts all of the city’s highlights within easy walking distance. Accustomed as I am to small cities in the United States, which function as parking lots by day and are all but deserted at night, the swirl of street life in Zacatecas was a revelation.

During the day, crowds surge through the open-air market at Callejon de Trafico, where stalls are piled with tunas, the fruit of the prickly pear, and Mexican-made shoes. In the early evening, families gather at Francisco Goitia Plaza to watch clowns or listen to La Tambora, a booming brass and drum band. At night, couples stroll past the old aqueduct and the many churches and significant public buildings, each beautifully and expertly illuminated. One evening, everyone in town turned out for the unveiling of the new jet fountain in Enrique Estrada Park. As spouts and curtains of water danced and changed colors to Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire” theme song and other contemporary standards, kids squealed while moms, dads, teens, and grandparents clapped.

For lovers of fine and folk art, a wide array of museums makes Zacatecas a cultural oasis. Before lunch and a siesta, we planned a visit to the Manuel Felguerez Museum of Abstract Art, a short stroll away on Avenida Hidalgo, the city’s main street. Along the way, we passed the lovely Plaza de Armas, which is surrounded by state government offices housed in former palaces. Intricate wrought iron decorates the balconies and doorways. Uniformed doormen stood at attention in front of the venerable Hotel Emporio. On the avenue, distinguished society women darted into the many silver shops, and fashion victims clutched shopping bags bearing the names of chic boutiques.

Museo Manuel Felguérez is the modern art museum for people like me who don’t otherwise enjoy modern art. Housed in a former seminary and one-time prison, the museum holds a collection of immensely appealing paintings and sculptures by Manuel Felguérez and many other Mexican and foreign artists. Worth the price of admission alone is the hall exhibiting 11 murals commissioned for the Mexican Pavilion at the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka, Japan. Many of the works measure at least 30 feet high by 20 feet wide and create a stir much as they did 35 years ago. I found myself riveted by Francisco Corzas’s Incomunicacion I, with its brooding Don Quixote; cow skulls; and arid, red landscape.

Art and colonial-era architecture also mix at the Museo Pedro Coronel, which showcases works by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, and Francisco Goya (his series of bullfighting sketches are a highlight) in a 17th-century Jesuit school; Museo Rafael Coronel, featuring thousands of ceremonial masks from all parts of Mexico amid the ruins of a 17th-century convent; and Museo Goitia, which displays the works of local artists in an elegant French-style former governor’s residence. Several days spent merely taking in the city’s artistic treasures would be time well spent.

That afternoon we attended Las Morismas de Bracho, a reenactment of the battle for Granada, in which the Christians expelled the Moors from Spain. The pageant is held every August on the outskirts of town on the site where Pope John Paul II performed Mass in 1990. Among the festivals celebrated in town–September’s bullfights included–Las Morismas de Bracho is the quirkiest and most bloodthirsty.

In the days leading up to the climactic battle, the armies take to the streets, marching beneath colorful banners and trailed by small yet noisy cannons. As many as 5,000 men, bearded ladies, and kids from across the region participate. The streets echo with the Spanish battle song “Fast Forward,” played ad nauseam by drum and bugle corps.

The Christian army dresses in long, black beards, tall top hats bearing a gold cross, and black leather aprons. As it was explained to me, the aprons were intended to prevent the blood of infidels from besmirching its wearer. (We’re only pretending, right guys?) The Moors march in baggy, red pants; turbans with red, feathery plumes; and improvised backpacks decked with onions, carrots, bottles of mescal, and loaves of bread. When the Cristianos storm the Moors in the field of battle, the roar of dummy rifles is deafening and the pall of smoke clouds the sun.

That night after a delicious dinner of enchiladas Zacatecana, a local favorite stuffed with chicken and smothered in cream and avacados, we were prepared to call it a day. Walking back to our hotel, we heard the sound of guitars and trumpets and joyful conversation coming from the Alameda. In the palm-fringed park, a troupe of callejoneadas, or street musicians, was playing “Barreteros,” an anthem of sorts for one of the city’s ancient neighborhoods. Couples of all ages shuffled and two-stepped along. Someone poured mescal into the cups dangling from everyone’s neck by a string. These roving street parties are a fixture in Zacatecan life. Even on a Wednesday night. Home is going to seem colorless by comparison.

Jim Gorman is a writer who lives in Melrose Park, Pennsylvania.

Destination Details

Getting There: Aero Mexico flies direct to Zacatecas from Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston. From Mexico City, Aero Mexico flies to Zacatecas several times a day.

What To See: El Eden Mine is open from 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily. Tours ($2.25) depart every 15 minutes. The more convenient of its two entrances is located near the Teleferico on Avenida del Grillo.

The Teleferico runs from 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily. The trip across to Cerro de la Bufa takes seven minutes and costs $2.25.

Catedral de Zacatecas is located on Avenida Hidalgo at the heart of town. While in the neighborhood, see the two-story mural in the center stairwell at Palacio de Gobierno, which vividly depicts the lengthy span of Zacatecas’ history.

Museo Manuel Felguerez ($2.25 admission) is open from 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Wednesday through Monday. It is located at the corner of Colon and Seminario.

Museo Rafael Coronel ($2.25 admission) is located at the corner of Abasolo and Matamoros at the north end of town. It is open every day except Wednesday, from 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

Where to Eat: Gorditas Dona Julia serves an inexpensive lunch of small, freshly made tortillas piled with your choice of chicken; shredded beef; or, for the more adventurous, cactus, tongue, or blood sausage. Located at 409 Avenida Hidalgo.

Los Dorado de Villa specializes in pazole and enchiladas. Parakeets and parrots inhabit the washroom, and a funky assortment of crucifixes and colorful papelle picano, or paper cutouts, liven the decor. Located at 1314 Plazuela de Garcia.

Hotel Emporio features the best Sunday buffet in town. Every month the menu shifts to spotlight the cuisine of a different Mexican region. Located at 703 Avenida Hidalgo.

Hotel Meson de Jobito occupies restored buildings on both sides of an old street, now closed. The restaurant serves a memorable breakfast in an elegant atmosphere, with coffered ceilings and French doors that open onto a plaza. Fruit-filled crepes and hard-boiled quail eggs on a nest of tortillas and potatoes are highlights. Located at 143 Jardin Juarez.

Restaurante El Paraiso, overlooking Plazuela Goitia, specializes in typical Zacatecan dishes, such as itacate de miner (lunch of the miners), asado de boda, and chorreados. Try a michilada, a beer spiced with lime, Worcestershire sauce, and Tabasco.

For ice cream: Barroca (on Avenida Tacuba across from Mercado Gonzalez Ortega) scoops rich ice cream in flavors that include cactus and tequila. Tepoznieves (on Avenida Tacuba across from the Los Faroles fountain) serves a bewildering array of ices in black pumpkin, pine nut, corn, and beet.

For a nightcap: Vaulted and romantically lit Bar El Botarel occupies the former bull chute in the old bullring that is now Hotel Quinta Real. Order Huitzila, a top-shelf mescal. Located at 434 Avenida Rayon.

Rome Travel – Spirit Reborn

Rome travel represents an opportunity to have your spirit reborn as you enjoy the sites, sounds, tastes and smells of one of the most glorious cities on Earth. Rome travel is perfect for the young and old, for couples and singles and for families and friends large and small. Rome travel is not only perfect but it is also affordable through Trivago.

Although there are no Trivago flights, you can find outstanding accommodations at some of the most popular hotels in Rome, as well as some hidden treasures.

Rome travel means different things to different people – Rome is truly a city that has something for everyone. Your Rome travel experience will always include the warm, friendly people of this glorious city. You will be welcomed with open arms by the Romans and you will feel your spirit reborn as you take in all the sites, sounds and tastes of Rome.

Rome travel can be both exciting and educational at the same time. You can learn about architecture when touring The Coliseum, you can learn about art while touring the Sistine Chapel, you can learn about religious influences while touring The Vatican City, you can learn about culture and wine at the many vineyards, and you can learn why Italian food is the most popular cuisine in the world.

Your Rome travel experience will include walking around the lively and charming streets of Rome. You will be impressed with the shopping, the terrific cafes, the street vendors, and all that there is to see and do. Rome is a great city to be enjoyed during the day and the night – there are many great places to enjoy a delicious Italian meal and then follow it up with dancing and entertainment.

For the art lover, Rome travel gives them the opportunity to see the most beautiful pieces of art from the Masters such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Boticelli and many others. The Pieta, the Sistine Chapel and countless other examples of some of the most famous pieces of art await you.

A Rome travel experience can also include learning about the great foods and wines of Italy – perhaps even taking a course or two with Italian chefs. You cannot help but to be impressed by their passion for good food, good wine and good friends and family.

Your Rome travel from Trivago will be your dream vacation come true. You will be amazed at how you can take such an amazing vacation at such affordable prices. Trivago is able to offer outstanding prices because their relationships with the top hotels, tour guides, venues and vendors.

A Winter Vacation Fit for a ‘Monarch’ – The Monarch Butterfly Heads South for Winter

This year, while much of North America prepares for a winter of ice and snow, an estimated 250,000,000 Monarch Butterflies will begin their annual journey to Michoacan, Mexico for what many consider to be one of nature’s most spectacular phenomenon.

Each year, the brightly colored orange and black Monarchs travel distances as great as 3,100 miles to avoid the North’s freezing cold temperatures. Originating in Canada and the U.S., the Monarch begins its month-long trip in late October or early November, flying approximately 70 miles per day (with a wing span of only four inches!). Those fortunate enough to live along this route are frequently exposed to this impressive site as they behold large groups of butterflies flying overhead en route to Central Mexico’s mountaintop pine forests.

Their final destination lies in the eastern mountains surrounding Morelia, Michoacan’s capital, a charming colonial city at the center of several sites, such as Lake Patzcuaro, Janitzio and Tzintzuntzan. Here in the Oyamel fir forests, the Monarch spends its winter waiting for spring awaiting mating season. When early springtime finally arrives, the butterflies mate then return north, laying eggs along the way.

If you plan on visiting Mexico to escape freezing temperatures, make sure to take time to witness this incredible site. The best time to go is first thing in the morning while the butterflies are still in the trees. There are two reserves open to the public:

Santuario de Mariposas El Rosario (“El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary”) – This is the larger of the two sanctuaries and it is open to the public in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in the mountains about three hours west of Mexico City. The Monarchs cluster together by the thousands in the pinetrees, often weighing down branches with their sheer mass. Ordinarily green pine trees glow orange from the multitude of the Monarch’s orange wings.

Another reserve open to the public is the Sierra Chincua Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary – which is a short distance from the small mountain town of Angangueo. Sierra Chincua offers guided horseback riding tours, as trails tend to be a little rough. Angangueo and nearby towns such as Ocampo, Zitacuaro and Maravatio celebrate the Monarch Butterfly in February with the Festival de la Mariposa Monarca with typical dances, music and craft markets.

Although the Monarch is not an endangered species, the Mexican government has taken several actions to protect the butterfly. In 1986, the Mexican government created a reservation to preserve the Monarch’s essential habitat. This reservation covers five of the 13 known sites in Michoacan where the butterflies spend their winter. In addition, Mexico’s government has established the Michoacan Reforestation Fund to set aside money to replant trees in the forest.

The Mexico Tourism Board, or Consejo de Promocion Turistica in Spanish, is an executive agency of Mexico’s Ministry of Tourism with autonomous management and the broad participation of the private sector. Its main function is promoting worldwide tourism to Mexico.

Whale Watching Off Baja California, One of Mexico’s Best Kept Secrets

Few would guess that stretching across an 800-mile desert filled with exotic cacti, barren hills and rugged mountains off the southern tip of Baja California, Mexico, is one of the best whale watching sites in the world.

Of the world’s approximate 15,000 gray whales, an estimated 11,000 make a yearly migration to the warm waters found in the Ojo de Liebre lagoon system of the Pacific Coast. The whales travel an estimated 10,000 miles from the Bering Sea to give birth here in the largest gray whale “delivery room” in the world.

Historically, these lagoons were sites for mass hunting during the early 1900’s, leading to the near extinction of California gray whales. However, largely due to governmental protection, one-fifth of today’s 80 recognized species of whales migrate to Mexico to one of the most biologically diverse bodies of water in the world. Today, visitors to Mexico’s Baja Peninsula can witness this spectacular congregation.

The peak time for whale watching in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula is January through late March or early April. During these months, it is not uncommon to see dark, elongated forms moving just beneath the surface of these shallow waters, shooting massive streams from its blowhole two meters into the air.

Many guides believe the best months for whale watchers to get a firsthand look at young whales is late mid-March to early April. This is the time when older males have begun to migrate and mothers concentrate on building the strength of their calves for the long journey north. The return journey usually commences with the first full moon in April. With the absence of male whales, mothers are less protective and often allow their young to approach tour boats more freely.

All travelers visiting Los Cabos, whether honeymooning, seeking an ecological adventure or traveling on business will not regret taking a day to revel in the spectacular beauty and majesty of a whale-watching trip. Both Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo offer a wide-range of resorts to suit a variety of vacation seekers.

San Jose del Cabo offers lush palm groves, friendly, historic charm and the sanctity and romance of a colonial village, ideal for honeymooners. For those seeking an active nightlife, Cabo San Lucas offers an array of nightclubs, exquisite shopping and fine dining.

No matter what you are seeking, the many moods of Mexico offer a variety of experiences difficult to match anywhere else. Where else can you climb a pyramid in the morning, snorkel before lunch, shop for exquisite crafts, dine on authentic Mexican cuisine and dance until dawn? Come discover one or many. Ranging from romance, adventure and ecotourism to golf, watersports, cuisine arts & culture, Mexico’s many moods are sure to fulfill your travel needs.

When Trucks Fly … Freight

o Doug Christensen, a one-stop-shop for shippers includes a ticket overseas. That may not sound like news to many air freight companies, but considering that Christensen’s bosses at USFreightways have their history more closely tied to interstate highways than international flight paths, it’s downright revolutionary. The Chicago-based less-than-truckload carrier is one of many American truckers branching out beyond services that have traditionally been restricted by the height and width of their trailers.

The truckers are setting up new divisions, making acquisitions, setting up partnerships and doing anything else they can to get into the international air forwarding business, all of it because they say that’s where their best customers are going. To many of them, logistics is nirvana, and air is the only way to get there.

“The world is globalizing and you have to get with it,” says Christensen. “It’s time to step into the global arena.”

“Less-than-truckload companies can’t continue to operate the way they did five to six years ago,” says Ernie Valdez, director of the new international business unit of regional LTL carrier Averitt Express. “You have to be a total solutions provider. … We don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves.”

On the other side, the air freight forwarders that are already coping with accelerating consolidation now see big trucks bearing down on them. Experts say the competitive threat is especially alarming to small- to mid-size air freight providers who are already squeezed by larger air-focused competitors and the spreading time-definite domestic services of regional truckers.

Air providers receive less than 5 percent of the spending on cargo transportation by American shippers. Truckers account for 80 cents of every dollar, and they believe they can add to that share and rake in the higher yields air services typically bring.

“I think the truckers can do it,” says Greg Smith, global segment manager for freight and logistics at IBM. “They have the customer base. They certainly have the operating knowledge. The question is, can they diversify their product base? I think they can.”

The U.S. trucking industry’s push into freight forwarding territory is hardly new. It grew after trucking was deregulated in 1980 and the trend picked up speed in the mid-1990s as truckers tired of watching top customers turn their most urgent shipments to air providers. At the same time, a new generation of regional surface operators sharply stepped up expedited ground services, offering delivery guarantees for regional hauls well below the cost of air service.

By cutting coast-to-coast transit time to as little as three days and dedicating trucks to expedited door-to-door service, truckers of all sizes have eaten into air freight trade. The providers claim the services have been added at the request of customers, but trucking executives clearly like the higher yields.

“Yellow is really putting a lot of focus on higher margin business, and air is one component of it,” says Peter Brown, president of Yellow Global, a young division of Overland Park, Kans.-based Yellow Corp., one of the nation’s top three LTL carriers.

But until recently, most truckers’ air forwarding business has been sold on an occasional and spot basis. By establishing separate freight forwarding divisions with offices throughout the world, the trucking companies hope to turn air freight from a small sideline business into a routinely used service that boasts a network capable of handling large accounts. Even higher profits await if the new air services, along with other new international products, lead to single-source contracts.

“You can only get so much efficiency out of one warehouse or one truck,” says USF’s Christensen.

And by almost all accounts, the time to make the push is now. Consolidation has left many forwarders looking to poach each others business. Forwarders large enough to handle the big multinational accounts are restructuring their networks and many that aren’t are focused on whether they are going to acquire another company or positioning to be acquired themselves. That leaves sales teams distracted, some say, and an environment ripe for new entrants.

“Right now things are good in the fright forwarder market and there’s a lot of shake-out,” says Patrick Brady, senior vice president of Consolidated Freightways, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based LTL giant.

“What’s changed has been very consistent with our business model and evolving strategy,” says Jack Edwards, chief executive officer of World Point Logistics, a recent startup hoping to quickly forge a global network of air forwarding. “Companies want door-to-door and they want multimodal capabilities.”

Of course, shipper demands can cut two ways and that’s why the trucking move into air business is also a defensive maneuver, a shift to higher-margin business in the face of profit-killing rate competition and declining returns of plain-vanilla LTL traffic.

The move upstream can be far more rewarding for the truckers than a move to lower-yield business would be for forwarders, say experts. “Those at the high end of the business have a much harder time adding business then those at the lower end,” says Smith.

Second, a trucking network is more difficult to match. “The most difficult thing to get you arms around is the U.S. truckload market because there’s 400,000 lines in the U.S.,” says Barry Butzow, senior vice president of C.H. Robinson, a trucking-focused third-party provider also trying to expand into other modes and international logistics.

By comparison, some argue that becoming a freight forwarder is about as easy as opening a travel agency. “What they do is something anybody else can do,” says Robert Schirmer, president of RAS Associates International, a consulting firm. “You just have to register to be a forwarder. I can be one tomorrow if I want.”

Winning high-stakes international freight business isn’t as easy as registering, however, regardless of the customer base and transportation expertise. And although most large domestic truckers are after that business, they don’t agree on how to find it.

Launched into forwarding with the purchase of mid-sized domestic forwarder Seko Air Freight a couple of years ago, USF prefers the Big Bang approach.

USF has quickly established 18 offices in Asia and is on the cusp of several acquisitions in Europe. It’s after international business from the largest of the multinational shippers, in particular large U.S. retailers that already spend about $50 million apiece annually with USFreightways.

“Our position with them is far greater than any international forwarder,” says Christensen. “We’re going to mirror the international flow with the domestic flow. … That’s where the opportunity is – to marry the flows.”

Rival Yellow believes it has a better shot at gaining international business from its mid-size customers, particularly those in the heartland, where Yellow Freight’s trucking network gives it operational leverage.

“Yellow Freight does significant business with almost every company in the U.S. at some point during the year,” says Brown. “(But) at this point in our growth we’re looking at the middle companies.”

Yellow also isn’t hunting for international acquisitions, preferring to stick with agent relationships. “We have no intentions to buy companies or open up offices outside the U.S.,” says Brown.

Yellow Global is instead looking at acquisitions in North America and expanding its domestic air forwarding network, which is now limited to nine offices. In that regard, Yellow is a couple of years behind USF, which ramped up its U.S.-based forwarding network quickly through acquisitions and has already opened forwarding offices in such secondary markets as Tulsa, Okla. Freight forwarding accounts for 10 percent stake of the company’s revenue stream and that should rise as USF pushes into Europe and Latin America.

“We’re getting global in a hurry,” says Christensen. “We’ll have an infrastructure as large as Expeditors (International of Washington) in six months and we’ve done it a lot cheaper.”

The comparison to one of the largest U.S. international forwarders is obviously bluster, but USF’s cash reserves and its expansion strategy are winning kudos from Wall Street.

“I think they’re doing absolutely the right thing,” says Gregory Burns, a New York-based transport analyst with Lazard Fréres. “They seem to be deploying their cash flow from their highly profitable trucking business into areas that have higher growth and probably higher margins down the road.”

Burns calls USF, along with CNF Transportation, which was split apart from CF in 1996, “the leaders of the trucking companies pushing into the forwarding arena.”

CNF’s trucking subsidiary, Con-Way Transportation Services, accounts for less than a third of the company’s overall revenue. CNF’s Emery Worldwide and fast-growing Menlo Logistics subsidiaries combine to account for well over a half of the company’s $5 billion-plus annual revenue stream.

For now, Yellow Global contributes just a sliver to its parent company’s top line and it will probably be a couple of years until it even reports its results separately. The unit was introduced in June 1998 as YCS International and won Cargo Network Services certification as a forwarder only in January.

“We’ve moved the needle considerably but we have a long way to go,” says Brown, former president of LEP Profit. “Yellow is a $3 billion company. We’re just a flea on the dog, literally. But we’re on the right track.”

Most trucking companies are just starting down the path to one-stop provider status and have little to show to support their rhetoric.

CF, for example, recently made its first serious push at diversifying since it split from CNF. In June, the trucking giant acquired Minnesota-based FirstAir and re-established CF Airfreight 11 years after the original company folded into Emery Worldwide.

FirstAir was a small, largely domestic forwarder with a handful of offices. It is a frame designed to build on however, and the company plans to add 40 forwarding offices in North America over the next two years. It has international offices on the drawing board along with high hopes for multinational accounts.

“Yes, we’re going after that, and yes, it’s difficult to sell,” says Brady. “But CF Airfreight has a very bold expansion plan … and FirstAir will benefit from the rebranding. The red and green on their business cards will get people into a lot more offices.”

Brady added that CF Airfreight will focus on shippers based at or near the largest gateways, although he acknowledges that the rural businesses among CF’s 400,000 customers are most likely to turn their international movements over to CF.

Even some regional motor carriers aren’t limiting themselves to small-volume international shippers as they expand into freight forwarding. Tennessee-based Averitt Express launched its international unit in July and has only handled domestic air freight since March. But while Valdez thinks he can exploit Averitt’s trucking infrastructure in the rural southeast, he also plans to compete with the largest forwarders at the region’s major air hubs.

“The trucking infrastructure is definitely an advantage over a forwarder who doesn’t have an office in a rural area,” he says. “(But) we are also targeting companies that are large exporters. We’re not going to do it halfway.”

Averitt International is even looking at winning shippers overseas.

But the company has only just started looking for foreign agents and isn’t planning to invest in acquisitions and new offices abroad. “I’m not that naive; our bread and butter is small and mid-size companies,” says Phil Pierce, Averitt’s executive vice president of sales and marketing. “This is an export product. We’ll be bringing in the imports later this year. We’re a small player, but we don’t expect to stay this size.”

The company already has a handful of small feeder planes in its stable and has been quietly looking at the air freight market even as it has stepped up its expedited trucking services this year. Larger expansion would for privately-held Averitt likely require an investment infusion from outside, however.

Indeed, the investment required for air services, even those that are supposedly non-asset-based, can be a cold slap for companies used to financing large-scale fleet overhauls with relative ease.

Convinced agents and alliances abroad won’t suffice over the long run, CF plans to take on additional debt to fund international acquisitions. And to raise the cash needed to broaden its services and geographic coverage, Schneider National is spinning off its logistics division. The company is planning a public offering of Schneider Logistics late this year or early next year, a bold move for the privately-held company that suggests the weight international logistics carries in the global marketplace.

The cash could pave the way for acquisitions that will give Schneider the international network needed to compete with its more diversified publicly-backed competitors.

And as the race to build international networks gains steam, those relying on partnerships abroad could find themselves precluded from single-source provider competitions. That’s certainly the hope at C.H. Robinson, which over the last decade has established 22 offices abroad.

“We want to be totally responsible for the total pan-continental pickup and delivery,” says Butzow. “What it gives the customer is a single point of contact from door-to-door.”

C.H. Robinson’s diversification since its 1997 initial stock offering may provide a glimpse into the future. “The (recent) development of air has been the direct correlation of the customer’s confidence in us and the other modes we perform. When we go to a customer the drive is multi-mode,” said Butzow.

But after 10 years of European operations, C.H. Robinson still handles 20 times more freight in the U.S. than in Europe, and the company is just getting started in Asia and South America. That leaves hardly an international success story to date among U.S.-based trucking companies and a lot of industry veterans wondering if they will ever pose a serious challenge to top international forwarders.

“I haven’t seen a lot of companies actually achieve that strategy,” says WorldPoint’s Edwards.

“It’s darn near impossible,” says Vincent Chin, a freight forwarding industry analyst with Merrill Lynch. “They don’t have the infrastructure or network to do it efficiently or profitably. … I don’t think they’ll be able to provide a high level of service.”

Air freight operators warn that there is a deep chasm between the cultures of the two modes and that truckers who are used to living by predictable, if not entirely dependable, networks may be shocked at the free-wheeling nature of international air freight shipping.

“It’s messier, you have a lot to contend with (and) you have more variables,” says David S. Quin, managing director of Emery Worldwide’s expedited division. “It’s not just picking up a shipment and delivering it with a hot-shot truck.”

Choosing Carriers

Today, in an effort to capitalize on technology, most manufacturers, distributors and others who supply the world’s shipped goods are focusing their attention on e-commerce strategies and general supply chain issues. They are interested in reaching no markets and new consumers, in other words. This emphasis, however, has overshadowed the impact that lower shipping costs may have on a transportation user’s overall logistics picture.

Shipping costs are by far the largest component of logistics, representing a whopping 57 percent of total expenditures. Companies that quantify their carrier costs and engage in active negotiations with their carriers are finding they can lower shipping costs by up to 38 percent or more.

These savings, in turn, will lower total logistics costs by 21 percent. How is that for a return on investment?

There are a number of steps any user of air cargo transportation should go through as they examine what they are looking for in expedited service, what the true costs are and what the impact of those costs will be on your company’s budget.

The first step is to generate a Request for Proposal, a seemingly simple enough process but one that can create a foundation for long-term savings if it is handled properly. Too often, shippers outline their shipping patterns without really knowing what how they use transportation every day.

You should start by establishing accurate shipping usage and service requirements. Use historical shipping and invoice data to break out the number of shipments and look at actual pieces and weight, class of service, as well as the actual pattern of distribution between the zones that have been a more important feature of express shipping.

It is extremely important that you take the time to review actual invoices and compare those to the carrier contracts. Most companies will be surprised at all the hidden costs and the financial impact of surcharges.

In some cases, you will discover that your shipping revenue and usage may fall outside or exceed your current contract’s rates and services. Gathering data and learning your company’s traffic controls the RFP process by setting the criteria and the evaluation of shipments and performance on both sides. One parcel shipper who went through the line-by-line listings in invoices recently discovered that a majority of its shipments were being charged by dimensional weight. This brought the average shipment weight from six pounds to 12 pounds.

In the RFP, we requested a higher dimensional exception and received an exception that generated more than $150,000 in annual cost savings.

It is also important to examine your company’s true service requirements. Most companies do this by looking at modes of transportation instead of service commitments and performance. But the gap between air express rates, even for discounted deferred service, and the rates charged by regional parcel delivery companies, trucking companies and other carriers and third parties may bring enormous savings over the life of a contract.

Opening up the service issue allows you more options and possibilities. Once you establish when the package needs to be delivered, you can look at which levels of service and cost meet your real requirements. It may be that you can meet your delivery deadlines with a less expensive routing.

Rates and service, of course, go hand in hand. A key factor in lowering your shipping costs is establishing some rate benchmarks from the different carriers.

This is difficult as transportation rates are extremely fluid and driven by both the markets and the carriers’ own internal drivers. Carriers may offer more attractive rates if they are in a growth mode and less attractive rates if they are focused on improving their margins.

Ask around and see how aggressive the carriers have been with other similar-sized shippers. Utilize resources such as professional affiliation groups, trade shows, or outside consultants to help establish the lowest available rates.

Once the groundwork has been set, create a request for proposal that maximizes your service and cost savings goals. Remember, this is the time in the process when you can ask for the moon.

When presenting the RFP to all the carriers, gauge their interest and capabilities to find the right fit. It’s important to know the business focus of each carrier, whether they have the ability to back up their promises and how your shipping profile may fit into their business plan. You shouldn’t wait until your shipments are backed up on a loading dock to find out that the carrier bid for your business to get a new line of traffic outside their specialty.

It is extremely important at the early stages of contract negotiations to leverage your strengths as a shipper while keeping in mind the carriers’ motivations.

As a general rule, most carriers seek an accurate representation of revenue, volumes, and other shipment characteristics. They also are motivated by the opportunity to gain incremental revenue and minimize dilution if they are the incumbent carrier.

Finally, the carriers may offer better rates if you can help them lower operating costs and offer long-term partnerships with growth potential.

A critical area that shippers too often ignore at the RFP process is the carrier’s capabilities for value-added services. Most shippers do not take advantage of all value-added services such as electronic billing, shipping automation, customer service support, and other logistics resources.

Electronic billing is probably the most overlooked way to reduce freight costs. With electronic billing, a shipper may recover significant audit savings by recapturing service failure credits or billing and rate overcharges. Upon implementation, most companies realize audit savings of between 4 percent and 8 percent, as well as substantial productivity gains.

Even if your company lacks the internal resources to implement electronic billing, it makes sense to engage a third-party freight payment company to realize these savings. Most freight payment companies work on a contingency basis, charging only a portion of the savings they recover.

Additionally, electronic billing can provide customized data to better manage your own shipping expenditures. Monthly reports can be created which will monitor and measure shipping activity, charge-backs or year-to-date comparisons all down to the user or department level.

Finally, approach the RFP process and carrier evaluations with an open mind. Do not rule out any options and only rate the carriers on their RFP responses and demonstrated services. Look at the value of single-source versus multiple carriers and weigh the potential cost savings against the operational issues.

One way to accurately predict future cost savings opportunities is to apply all proposed rates to the historical shipment database.

When it comes time to award the contract, or contracts, the best choice will be the carrier, or carriers, who have offered better rates, the highest level of services and have worked to continually improve their bid response. There should be a good fit between your service requirements and the carriers’ capabilities as well as a good understanding of what the process has accomplished.

Whether you have the time and resources to engage in this RFP process yourself or bring in an outsider, the payoffs are significant. Our experience over the last 5 years has shown that you can produce about a 20 percent up-front rate reduction, a 5-10 percent further reduction through operating efficiencies, and back-end audit savings between 4 percent and 8 percent.

Taken together, a shipper may have the opportunity to reduce total shipping costs by 38 percent and overall logistics expenditures by 21 percent.

An Air Cargo Century

Despite the fact that commercial cargo was carried aboard the first scheduled flight on the heels of World War I, and that the first all-cargo service was activated in 1926, air cargo—as the industry we know today— unfolded only after 1945. It took the horrors and global exigencies of a world war to open wide the gates of perception and expectation of a new industry-to-be.

The spark was created by the fabulous cargo-carrying exploits of the Air Transport Command and Naval Transport Service. Thousands of veterans returned to homes in the United States and in Europe, inspired by the new possibilities created by improving aviation technology. Many sought jobs associated with flying cargo, planting the seeds for dozens of airlines, forwarders and other companies that would paint the world’s air transport picture for decades to come.

The most dramatic culmination of this war-born spirit of enterprise was mirrored in the upsurge of so-called GI airlines, or nonskeds.

Many of these veteran-owned and -operated airlines (often no more than one or two war-surplus planes purchased at bargain prices) opted for cargo exclusively. From the colorful trading posts of China to garages in the new bedroom communities of the just-forming suburban United States, young entrepreneuers with the aroma of military jet fuel still clinging to their clothing started businesses with borrowed money and big dreams.

In nearly every case, however, their zeal exceeded the hard reality of the airline business; nudged by the tough competitive stance of the traditional airlines, they eventually faded from the scene.

Only a handful survived, notably among them Flying Tiger Line and Seaboard World Airlines. But the brief flurry of non-scheduled competition hastened the scheduled carriers’ interest and mounting investment in cargo, creating an industry that would ring the globe and forever change world commerce.

The early post-World War II era marked the fast-widening divide between small package/air express traffic, a staple of the scheduled domestic operators, and air freight/bulk shipments. With increasing frequency, United States and foreign-based airlines advertised their cargo capabilities.

It was a time when transport speed was the primary message to the shipping public. It was also a time when surface freight forwarders, domestic and international, hurriedly established air freight departments, and IATA-approved cargo agents mushroomed.

With the field largely theirs to control, the American airlines were less than ecstatic over the proliferation of forwarders, however. The airlines opposed them in several proceedings before the Civil Aeronautics Board. It took some years of heated battle in Washington before the forwarders were granted certification.

But the CAB eventually identified airlines and forwarders officially as direct and indirect air carriers, respectively. The terms live today at the Federal Aviation Administration.

Before 1945, and even for some time after, air freight dealing techniques were primitive. With few exceptions, cargoes were composed of emergency or other time-sensitive shipments. Then came the total cost concept (TCC). A Harvard physical distribution study mostly underwritten by Emery Air Freight, it clearly demonstrated the positive economic impact of speed on shipping costs and on marketing and distribution objectives. It set the foundation to drastically reduce the gap between high air transport and low surface transport rates—and in some instances proved that air could be more economical than lower-cost transport.

The airlines and major forwarders happily seized on the study—not as a serious developmental tool to be used by sales personnel thoroughly equipped to communicate its methodology to the shipping public, but instead as the latest promotional gimmick. Carriers told shippers that their one-on-one analyses were too costly and conversions meager. Instead, the airlines printed and distributed handsome do-it-yourselves forms. Fill in the figures and do your own arithmetic, and then ship with us.

In time, the campaign ran its futile course and disappeared. It took another generation for the TCC principle to become firmly embedded in logistics activity, pushed along by the academic backing of Just-in-Time principles and, still later, software that seeks to automate the process under a supply chain management banner.

The brand new cargo industry was basically structured on the DC-3 and DC-4, no-nonsense propeller aircraft that were later joined by larger, more efficient passenger-cargo and freighter planes. As the Forties edged into the Fifties, the volumes of domestic and international air freight showed consistent healthy growth. Cargo executives, consigned to departments their passenger peers saw as the equivalent of Siberia, started boasting that cargo revenue would soon bypass passenger revenue.

After all, they reasoned, this was a mere retelling of transportation history: witness what happened in the rail and ocean transport industries.

Introduction of the Boeing’s 707 came hand-in-hand with still another prophecy: the air freight breakthrough was at the industry’s doorstep! Jet-propelled flight, the virtual doubling of piston-engine speed, along with impressive capacity would create economic factors that were certain to force open the floodgates to an air freight torrent.

Wonderful visions of massive shifts of surface freight to air illuminated the crystal ball. It became fashionable to refer to the industry as a “sleeping giant.” Yes, freight traffic volumes climbed—but not at the predicted zooming rates. The breakthrough turned out to be a little more than a toothless tiger.

While engineering geniuses were adding unbelievable speed and range to aircraft, a new generation of industrial traffic/distribution executives, better educated and more sophisticated in their modal choices, were also looking for ways to move goods better, smarter and cheaper.

Jet transportation and the need for faster, simpler ground handling set off a concerted dash by airlines to construct automated/mechanized cargo terminals to deal with the problem. The earliest examples were push-button affairs that defied design simplicity and were often referred to as Erector sets. Many failed to do the job for which they had been built and were scrapped; others were modified. The ensuing generation of electronic-age terminals avoided the mistakes of their predecessors, and despite their seeming complexity they were impressive and cost-productive in performance. At the heart of these systems was the computer.

Casting an envious eye at the ocean carriers, the airlines clasped the concept of containerization. Here again, their early efforts in container development proved the old adage that one need to make haste slowly. Some costly lessons were learned.

In due time, a series of structural containers and rules to govern their utilization became the norm. Palletization did not disappear, of course. Indeed, many carriers eventually found it preferable to establish a mix, even eschew the carriage of containers on certain routes.

Deregulation of U.S. air transportation in 1977-78 was no less a revolution, and it was the launch pad for the air cargo industry’s character change. One of the most profound changes was the freedom of forwarders and airlines to negotiate prices, freed from the strictures of “official” rates.

In the United States, airlines now had the liberty to enter, or retire from, domestic markets. New-entrant airlines swarmed. Intermediaries tried their hand at operating aircraft.

If deregulation was tantamount to a revolution, the bursting on the scene of Federal Express may well be called a revolution within a revolution.

Federal Express, with its hub-and-spoke system behind the scenes and stark pitch to bypass the old shipping departments of companies large and small in the search for envelopes, blazed a vivid trail for what quickly came to be identified as the integrator—a hybrid carrier and forwarder providing expedited door-to-door service.

The birth of the integrator inspired an upsweep of overnight small-package enterprises. FedEx and its nearest competitors, United Parcel Service and DHL Worldwide Express, made enormous investments in facilities and advanced communication technology. As forecast by industry pundits, the integrators expanded from small-package to hard-freight operators.

A few years ago, it was unthinkable that Memphis, FedEx’s base, would become the world’s largest leading air freight airport. It is that now, and for a few hours each night, the airport becomes one of the busiest places on the Earth.

In the 1980s, Just-in-Time transportation became the newest entry in the air cargo lexicon, even though the process was known early in the century. A far cry from the haphazard ways of air shipping that characterized the pre-World War II erea, it was fated to become a much-abused phrase. In its original, unadulterated meaning, JIT defined the delivery of shipments between specific hours on a specific day— say between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. every Monday and Thursday—to dovetail with production requirements.

The key was planned predictability to keep inventories low. Whether by design or misinterpretation, service companies frequently confuse JIT with overnight delivery.

The century’s final decade saw the full emergency of logistics and logistics providers. Here, too, the term “logistics provider” was blurred by many intermediaries who actually were links in the logistics chain. The authentic logistics provider assured single-entity control through every stage of the operation, door to door.

In the twilight of the second millennium, driven by globalization and the Internet, the half-century old air cargo industry found itself roiled by the accelerated pace of acquisitions and consolidations. The rush to giantism was a mirror of what was occurring in the other industries and continues unabated. An air cargo oligopoly is in formation, fed by alliances and megamergers. In the forwarding sector there is expectation of substantial shrinkage via acquisitions, mergers and dropouts.

As the dawn of the third millennium approaches, air cargo leaders have rolled up their sleeves to deal with the new challenges confronting the transportation industry’s youngest component. No longer a mode that was used almost exclusively in emergency situations, air cargo today is a solid constituent of transportation, routinely turned to by a customer roster that girdles the world of shippers.

What a turnabout from yesterday’s traffic manager who hung a sign that read: “Use air freight as a last resort only!”

 

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