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“The Victoria and Albert Museum,” writes Correspondent Paul Lewis from London, “has just opened a bunch of new galleries specializing in Medieval and Renaissance Art, built at a cost of US$50 million over the last seven years. This ‘Renaissance City,’ as the museum calls its new galleries, houses a major collection of some 1,800 pieces from the storage rooms, most of which have not previously been seen by the public, at least not in recent decades.

“Many are large stone artworks hard to exhibit, including religious and secular statues, window-frames, wells, Gothic altars, Italian Renaissance street lights (which burned oil-soaked tow), and huge chimney-pieces. There are also notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci filled with his spidery mirror handwriting.

“The most impressive exhibit is probably the ‘boar and bear hunt tapestry’ woven in 15th-century Flanders. You can scrutinize while listening to the modern English poet Simon Armitage reading his translation of a hunting passage from the 14th-century poem, ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.’

“Or you can listen to period songs accompanied by the viola de gamba. You can read up on the exhibits in the new computer monitors conveniently located around the galleries. These show details otherwise hard to see and provide a full curatorial account of each object on display.

“Among the unusual exhibits is a wine glass with a windmill in the stem used for a drinking game. The drinker had to down the last dregs of wine while the windmill was turning or else pay for a round for those watching him try.

“Admission is free. The underground station is South Kensington, and you can get to the museum by underground passage.”

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London is in a Paris copycat mood,” writes Correspondent Paul Lewis from the British capital. “If you’re coming after July 30, bring a cycling helmet (or a bowler hat). That is when Mayor Boris Johnson’s Paris-inspired bike-hire scheme begins–6,000 new bicycles will be on street racks at 400 docking stations around the city for borrowing. But they will not be cheap. After a £3 registration fee, plus a £1/day ‘access charge,’ borrowers get 30 minutes’ free biking time, but must pay £6 for the next two hours of peddling or £50 for 24 hours.

“London is likely to be the overall loser. Since Paris launched its scheme in 2007, the French capital has had 8,000 bikes stolen and 18,000 damaged beyond repair.

“London is also planning to copy Paris’ decision to build the Eiffel Tower as a temporary advertisement for the French steel industry to mark the Great Exhibition of 1900. To mark the 2012 Olympic site in East London near Stratford, the city and Indian steel mogul Lakshmi Mittal will finance the construction of a 115-meter (about 345-foot) -high asymmetrical steel tower that looks like a broken roller coaster at a cost of US$15 million.

“Visitors will be able to scramble up the walkway or take an elevator to the top, where an observation platform and restaurant will await them. Unlike the Eiffel Tower, originally only a temporary construction, this steel monument is intended to last forever.”

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