News, Tips & Bargains : It's Tulip Time Here and Abroad

Although the Netherlands endured some of its worst flooding of the century this winter, the country's famous flower fields emerged unscathed and are beginning to bloom.

"The floods never threatened the bulb fields," said H. Koster, general manager of Keukenhof gardens in Lisse, about a 30-minute drive southwest of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. "The flooded areas were in the south and southeastern parts of the country."

The 40-year-old Keukenhof opened for its annual spring season last week. It covers more than 70 acres and is planted with about 6 million bulbs. The daffodils are beginning to bloom now and the tulips should come out in April. This year, it is open to visitors until May 25, from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily. Admission is about $10.

If Holland is too far away to tiptoe through the tulips, then travelers may be interested in the 12th annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in Mount Vernon, Wash., which takes place from Friday to April 16. Star of the show in the valley, which is about 60 miles north of Seattle, are the half-million bulbs planted by commercial growers (pictured right). Several other activities, including a salmon barbecue, art shows, bike rides and band concerts, also are scheduled. Information: (800) 4-TULIP.

Diphtheria Sweeps Russia

A diphtheria epidemic is sweeping through the former Soviet Union, according to health officials.

A spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said more than 48,000 cases were reported in 1994 alone and more than 1,700 people died. At least 12 of the independent states, including Russia and Ukraine, are affected.

Diphtheria, which often begins with a sore throat, slight fever and chills, can lead to difficulty in swallowing and, in the most severe cases, suffocation. It is fatal for one of every 10 victims, the spokeswoman said.

The disease has been controlled in much of the world by use of the familiar DTP vaccine, which also covers whooping cough (pertussis) and tetanus. However, health officials say that 68% of children in Russia--and just 45% in St. Petersburg--have received the three-shot series. The situation is more serious for adults there: Only about 20% of individuals between 30 and 50 have immunity. Associated Press reports that two Americans have returned from Russia with the disease.

The CDC says 30% to 60% of Americans do not have immunity to diphtheria because they haven't received vaccinations. Although proof of immunity is not required for international travel, the CDC recommends that travelers complete the three-shot series before departing or make sure they have had a Td (tetanus-diphtheria) booster, which is good for 10 years.

Magnificent Seven Open at Newport

The 100-year-old Breakers mansion, built in 1895 for Cornelius Vanderbilt overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Newport, R.I., is one of seven magnificent houses opening this weekend for the 1995 season.

Three of the houses--the Breakers, Marble House and Rosecliff--are now open daily. The other four--the Elms, Chateau-sur-Mer, Kingscote and Hunter House--will open on weekends only through April 30 before beginning daily summer hours.

To commemorate the Breakers' centennial, an exhibit of paintings, costumes and art objects from Vanderbilt collections will be on display May 27-Oct. 1. Admission will be part of a special $10 ticket, which also will include entrance to the house, the stables and the carriage house. Single and combination tickets start at $12.50 for admission to any two buildings. For information, contact the Preservation Society of Newport County: (401) 847-1000, Ext. 424.

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