The British Museum's circular Reading Room has provided a quiet haven for writers as diverse as Karl Marx, Virginia Woolf and George Bernard Shaw. deemed sufficiently "studious and curious" were granted tickets of admission. But from Dec. 7 the round room, restored to its original 19th-century splendor, will be open to all museum visitors for the first time in 140 years. In a $150 million development, the Museum's vast Great Court (previously filled with book stacks) has also been transformed-into Europe's largest covered square, with two sweeping staircases (which encircle the drum of the Reading Room), new galleries, an education center, restaurants and shops.
Most pleasure craft on Sydney Harbour travel at an appropriately leisurely pace. But if you don't mind the scenery rushing by in a blur, you can streak around the harbor at more than 50 knots (100 km/h) on Ocean Extreme's 7.3-m-long "special forces" boat. Dressed in life jackets and wet-weather gear, speed lovers hop aboard the black-and-grey rigid inflatable at Cockle Bay wharf for a twisting, turning, stomach-churning ride to the Heads. Tours leave daily at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and cost $US28 for 40 min.; $40 for an hour. See www.oceanextreme.com.au.
New York City
At the start of the third millennium, it's tempting to wonder what life was like 2,000 years ago, at the start of the first. "The Year One," at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, affords a glimpse, presenting art works made around the world between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D.,a period when traders, travelers and conquerors were forging new connections between cultures-from Europe, via Persia, India and Mongolia, to China and Japan. Highlights include Greek- and Egyptian-influenced trompe l'oeil panels from a Roman villa, and a Buddhist carving of a Bodhisattva-an enlightened being-that looks oddly like a Greek hero. Through Jan. 14.
Three-quarters of Hong Kong's visitors are happy with its taxi services, according to a 1999 survey. That result might be envied in cities like New York and Moscow, where a taxi ride can unnerve the most relaxed tourist. But it's not good enough for a "world class cosmopolitan city," according to Hong Kong's transport commissioner, who recently launched a language-learning program for mostly Cantonese-speaking taxi drivers. The free lessons, available on CD and the Internet, cover greetings, place names and useful phrases ("I am sorry, Madam, my taxi has broken down") in English and in Mandarin, the official language of mainland China and Taiwan.