Swiss Trains Striving to Have a Better Time

Fast Track: The Swiss Federal Railways, worried that its proverbial punctuality is slipping, has announced that workers will get bonuses if they make trains run on time more often.

"Passengers are not happy if they arrive late," said railways spokesman Christian Kraeuchi, linking the problem to stepped-up train service.

The problem: Only 92% of trains were on time last year, down from 93% in the previous three years, Kraeuchi said. In the Swiss network, trains more than six minutes behind schedule are considered late.

By comparison, in January, 1991, Amtrak had an average 80% on-time record, system-wide, up from 78% in December, 1990.

An Easier Albania: Little by little, access is getting easier to Albania, the Balkan country essentially closed to visitors for half a century. Now it is no longer necessary to get a visa from a foreign agency. Albturist, the official national tourist company of the Albanian government, has contracted with Kutrubes Travel of Boston to be the first and only U.S. company authorized to offer visas. While once it was almost impossible for individuals to travel to Albania, tourists traveling solo can get visas as quickly as two weeks. Group visas take a little longer. For more information, contact Kutrubes Travel at (617) 426-5668.

Out of Denmark: Rungstedlund, the Danish home of "Out of Africa" author Karen Blixen, who wrote under the name Isak Dinesen, will open to the public for the first time May 15.

In the early 1700s, Rungstedlund was an inn used by travelers going north to Helsingor from Copenhagen. In the late 18th Century, Johannes Ewald, author of the Danish national anthem, lived there for a couple of years. Karen Blixen's father, Wilhelm Dinesen, purchased the property in 1875. She was raised there and returned there from Africa in 1931 to write many of her stories.

The barn has been renovated and houses an exhibition room, a library, a bookstore, a theater and a cafeteria that looks out to the garden.

Restored to much the same way it was at the time of the novelist's death in 1962, the house contains pictures and furniture that Blixen took to her Kenya coffee plantation, including the wicker chair that was the favorite of her lover Denys Finch Hatton. In the room where she wrote many of her stories are two framed photographs of Hatton, exactly where Blixen placed them.

Rungstedlund is set 15 miles north of Copenhagen on a six-acre bird sanctuary and gardens. Blixen is buried there in a quiet corner.

The museum is open seven days a week, May 15 to Sept. 30, and closed Tuesdays, Oct. 1 to April 30. For more information, in Denmark call 42-57-10-57.

Quick Fact: Total number of tourists to Israel in February, 1990: 94,100. Total number in February, 1991: 16,200.

Brighton Beach Memory: Italy and Kuwait aren't the only places suffering from polluted sands. Tourists visiting the beach at Brighton, England, on the English Channel, are well advised to stay ashore. It is one of more than 140 British beaches too polluted with sewage and other muck to meet European Community standards.

Nearly one-fourth of Britain's 446 beaches designated for swimming fell short of the standards last year, according to the recently published "1991 Good Beach Guide."

Published by the Marine Conservation Society, the guide lists some of the nation's prettiest and cleanest sites. It also reminds beach-goers of pollution problems that caused the European Commission to begin legal proceedings against Britain last June in the European Court of Justice.

Since June, the British government has committed more than $5 billion to a long-term cleanup effort, and has pledged to have 95% of the bathing waters at EC standards by 1995.

However, Britain does not require water quality to be posted on public beaches, as France does, so people don't know whether they are swimming in sludge.

Never Forget Elephants: Estimated African Elephant Population in Kenya in 1973: 121,570. In 1977: 59,037. In 1987: 20,000. In 1989: 16,000.

Fair Warning: Just an hour away in Oxnard, tucked into a quilt of strawberry fields, the 18th California Strawberry Festival will dish up a whole lotta berries May 18-19. Among the celebrated events will be a strawberry shortcake eating contest, a strawberry blonde contest, strawberry tart tossing contest, a craft show, a 10K and two-mile run and, of essential importance, a wide selection of strawberry foods including plain strawberries. The Strawberry Festival is at College Park adjacent to Oxnard College, between Rose Avenue and Channel Islands Boulevard near U.S. 101. Going north, exit off U.S. 101 at Rose Avenue, head south and look for signs. Admission is $4 for adults and $2 for senior citizens and children 2-12.

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