Leeds joins London in arms race for tourists

I recently heard that the Tower of London's collection of armor will be housed in a new museum. Can you provide details? Is the Tower itself launching any exhibitions that focus on weaponry?

For more than 450 years, the collection of arms and armor belonging to the Royal Armories has been displayed in the White Tower at the Tower of London. Limited space at the Tower meant that only 10 percent of the 43,000-piece collection could be viewed.


On March 20, a new $66 million, 25,000-square-foot Royal Armories Museum in Leeds will open. The museum will display about 7,000 pieces in five galleries, and will feature interactive computer displays. Exhibits in four of the galleries will illustrate the use of arms and armor in war, hunting, tournaments and self-defense. The fifth gallery will be devoted to Asian armor and weapons.

Leeds, 185 miles north of London, can be reached by train from London's Kings Cross station. The journey takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes. The Royal Armories Museum, a 10-minute walk from the station, will be situated off Armories Drive, Leeds LS10 1LT; telephone (0113) 220 1999. By road, it is about a quarter-mile from the M1 highway. It will be open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Calculated at a rate of $1.55 to the pound, admission for adults will be about $10.75; children, 4 to 14 years, about $6.


At the Tower of London, a new permanent display, which will trace the history of the 900-year-old White Tower, is being developed. A highlight of the exhibition will be the Tudor and Stuart royal armors. The first stage of the permanent exhibition is scheduled to open in the spring of 1997. Currently on view on the ground floor is an exhibition of instruments of torture and armor for kings.

The tower is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Figured at $1.55 to the pound, admission to the Tower of London complex is about $12.85, about $8.50 for children 5 to 16. Information: (0171) 480 6358.

Short of calling individual embassies, how can American travelers find out which foreign governments ask for HIV tests?

The first step is to obtain the State Department's annually updated list of countries that require foreigners to present the results of tests for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Most of the 50 or so countries that request results from casual tourists will accept tests from American laboratories. An exception on the list is Russia, whose policy is still being developed.

The vast majority of tourists -- especially those who plan on staying less than a month -- will not be affected. Many countries -- including Australia, China, Costa Rica and India -- require HIV tests only for students, foreigners seeking work or residency and other travelers planning on staying a considerable period of time. Among the countries that have more stringent requirements are Egypt and the Marshall Islands.

The State Department strongly recommends that travelers get updated details on HIV test requirements from the embassy or consulate of the foreign country they plan on visiting. If you are told by the government representative of a listed country that it does not require test results, Billy Kolber, editor of Out & About, a newsletter for gay travelers, recommends getting the statement in writing.

Perhaps the most confusing entry on the list is Russia. Russia has long threatened to require HIV tests for travelers, and late last year a law requiring such tests was passed. Spokesmen at both the Russian Consulate in New York and the Foreign Ministry in Moscow say the law has not yet been implemented because officials have not yet decided on all the details. According to the Foreign Ministry spokesman, the tests will be required only for foreigners staying three months or longer.

A free faxed copy of the State Department list may be obtained by dialing the department at (202) 647-3000 on the handset of the caller's fax machine. One may also send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the Public Affairs staff at the Bureau of Consular Affairs, 2201 C St. N.W., Room 6831, Washington, D.C. 20520.


My wife and I will be in Florence, Italy, in September and would like to take day trips to nearby towns. Are there any festivals in the surrounding area?

Many of the small towns around Florence are hosts to festivities in September. For example, the town of Bagno a Ripoli, about six miles east of Florence, holds the Palio dei Rioni e Giostra della Stella (the Palio of the Districts and the Joust of the Star) on the second Sunday of the month (Sept. 8 this year). The palio is similar to the better-known version held in Siena each year. The four rioni, or neighborhoods, of Bagno a Ripoli compete in various activities.

The town of Figline Valdarno, 21 miles south of Florence, holds the Festa del Perdono (the Feast of Forgiveness) from Aug. 31 to Sept. 3. Here again, the neighborhoods hold various competitions, the most important being the Palio di San Rocco, where "knights" on horses try to lance a life-size puppet called the buratto. There is also a parade with floats.

Another popular festival, the Festa dell'Uva (Grape Festival), is held on the last Sunday of September in Impruneta, just before the grape harvest. The four rioni of the town, which is about eight miles south of Florence, compete by building elaborate floats related to the growing of grapes, the making of wine and other agricultural themes. The parade winds through the town and ends up at the central square, where dancing and small theatrical performances take up much of the afternoon and evening.