Steeped in extravagance What has 40 glass eggs, a...

TRAVEL SMARTS

January 16, 2000

Steeped in extravagance

What has 40 glass eggs, a two-story dancing bear ballroom, year-round Christmas decorations and indoor seasons complete with sunrises and snowfalls? The latest in amusement parks, maybe? Nope. It's that New York staple, the Russian Tea Room, after a rich revamping -- almost $20 million rich.

After three years of redesign, the restaurant reopened last fall under a new proprietor, theme-park designer and Tavern on the Green owner Warner LeRoy. In the process he expanded it from the original two stories into a seven-story feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.

The new Tea Room offers four grand dining rooms. The original cafe remains on the first floor, with thick red carpeting, gold-leaf ceiling and red leather banquettes. But level 2 now spans the height of two floors, as do levels 3 and 4. The second landing displays a Faberge-inspired Venetian glass egg tree and 15-foot-tall revolving bear-shaped aquarium under its stained-glass ceilings.

The Bear Ballroom, with giant animal-etched mirrors and bear-adorned bronze chandeliers, makes up the third floor, while the fourth floor boasts a three- dimensional animated diorama of the Kremlin covering all seasons with a simulated sequence of sunset, moonrise and snowfall right in the dining room.

The menu combines its traditional Russian cuisine with new influences, including European and Chinese. Dishes range from hot borscht to sturgeon schnitzel, and entree prices from $22 to $34 at dinner. The Russian Tea Room is located at 150 W. 57th St. Call 212-974-2111 or go to www.russiantearoom.com.

True love in Zambia

Wedding memories last forever, whether the marriage makes it or not. Tongabezi Lodge in South Africa offers dramatic backdrops for the ceremony and honeymoon designed to bolster memorability.

Celebrations for the newlyweds and their guests follow a simple civil ceremony by one of Zambia's local registrars and range from a picnic lunch for 10 perched at the top of Victoria Falls to a private dinner at a romantic table for two in the center of the Zambezi River at sunset. The meal's courses, prepared by a cordon bleu chef, are brought out individually by waiters in a small boat. Lodgings include luxury tents with baths open to the sky, and riverfront houses.

The wedding packages are available through June 30 and Nov. 1 to Dec. 14. Prices begin at $1,860 for a four-day event. Guests' meals, lodging and activities begin at $285 a night. Call Walden Garden International, 941-387-0027, or go to www.tongabezi.com.

National Liberty Museum

Philadelphia, home of the Liberty Bell, is now home to another symbol of freedom: the National Liberty Museum, which opened Wednesday in the heart of the city's historic district.

Dedicated to combating violence and bigotry, the museum honors more than 350 people who have stood up to injustice and helped their fellow man, including Oprah Winfrey, Jonas Salk, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela. More than 90 paintings, bronzes and glass sculptures, representing the fragile nature of freedom, adorn 30,000 square feet of presentation space.

Located at 321 Chestnut St., the museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for students; children under 6 free. Call 215-925-2800. -- Tricia Eller

A SUPER FOOTBALL ACTIVITY

It's that time of year again when football fans prepare for the ultimate competition. Apart from the lucky few who travel to the Super Bowl, watching the game is traditionally a home-based exercise in beer-buddy entertaining. If you're looking to get out of the lounger and into the action, the NFL and Coca-Cola have teamed up to present a pro-football interactive theme park in Atlanta Jan. 27-30 at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Those interested in comparing their skills with the pros can check out the "NFL Experience," more than 50 games spread across 15 acres. Try to match strides with the simulated speed of Tennessee Titans' running back Eddie George or see what practice is like in the "NFL Training Camp."

Space is also reserved for the "Football Kids' Zone," where youngsters can wear themselves with games.

Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children under 13, and are good for a single day and time. Fans can call a hot-line number for updated information at 888-NFL-2273. For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 404-249-6400.

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