Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Road Trip

So the other day after Sherpa's dog show we decided we needed a little break, a holiday...a wee vacation. A day trip to Newport, Rhode Island is just what we needed. So Roxie, Angus, and I jumped in the car and hit the road.

Now Newport is about 2 hours from our house and we had never been there before, but we knew about all its fancy mansions from the golden age and it's history with the America's Cup sailing race. We also knew that there is a 3.5 mile path along the Atlantic behind all the fancy mansions called Cliff Walk. Cliff Walk was the big draw for us.

Well, we arrived in Newport in no time and when we arrived dad was hungry. So we trotted up and down the shopping area on Thames Street. Dad thought Thames Street was touristy and not very interesting. We didn't mind it so much. Dad couldn't find a decent snack to satisfy his tummy. Finally he had to settle on Starbucks and came out with a Moroccan Sweet Bread. He shared a bit with us. It sure was tasty even if is was from Starbucks.

With a little fuel in our bellies, we headed for Bellevue Avenue where many of the mansions are located and past the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Did you know that tennis was invented in Newport. That's what somebody told me. I'm not sure if I believe that. I do love tennis balls.

Before we knew it, we were at the famous Cliff Walk. It was kinda cool, but somehow we expected something a little....fancier. For a good part of the walk, you are on a narrow little concrete walk between the ocean and the lawns of the mansions that face it. And most of the way the walk is fenced on both sides. I guess to keep us from stumbling over the cliff on one side and off the mansion lawns on the other. It had a bit of the feeling of being in a tunnel. Albeit a tunnel with beautiful views and fresh ocean breezes. Many of the mansions look to have lost their golden age luster. Just as dad got us all posed on a bench in front of one of the few houses that didn't have a fence around it, we heard the high-pitched scream of a woman in distress. Roxie and Angus craned their necks to see what was happening. Dad seemed annoyed and tried to ignore the whole thing. Well, it turns out, this woman had her dog off-leash (even though the posted rules clearly state that dogs must be on-leash at all times) and he or she jumped over the stone fence barrier that separates Cliff Walk from the sea. It was lucky for all that this was one of the few areas along the walk where it wasn't a sheer drop to the ocean. More of a rocky tumble down to the sea at this point. But it was a high fence and a long drop to the rocks below on the other side. Some guy in a loud print shirt walking a chihuahua (also off-leash) jumped over the fence and down the hill and saved the poor mutt. We couldn't tell what type of dog the little rule beaker was. He was kinda hairy and had a snipey little face like a miniature Afgan Hound. As we began to head in the opposite direction, we heard the owner exclaim, "Look Sugar there are some other Tibetan Terriers." We quickly picked up the pace.

Now when when we are on vacation (even if just a day-long vacation) we like to meet the locals. But here in Newport this was made nearly impossible by all those darn fences. Seemed like we spent most of the day peering through fences at big grey houses. We did talk to two nice girls, students at Salve Regina University. I had never heard of this school. Have you? The school buildings consist, mainly, of mansions from the golden age. It is really quite a beautiful campus and the university has received awards for its preservation efforts. The school also has a program in historic preservation and one of the students we talked with is a budding preservationist. As we walked, she gave us a brief history of Newport. In her opinion, Rose Cliff and The Elms are the homes to visit if you have to chose. She felt that although the Breakers is the largest, it isn't necessarily the most interesting. Take note. Well, I looked it up and Salve Regina has some very impressive grads including a woman that is now the CEO of The New York Times.

As we were driving out of town we came across what looked to be a little Swiss village, complete with rolling hills covered with sheep and cows, plunked down right in Newport. Turns out this is the Swiss Village Foundation. The Foundation was started and is funded by dear Dodo Hamilton. Her ancestors invented the condensing process for Campbell Soups. Dodo is an amazing, lovely woman that dedicates herself to charitable pursuits. She is also an expert gardener and if you are lucky enough to be in Newport for its secret garden walks, her garden just may be on the tour. An avid preservationist, Dodo realized that the pastures and fieldstone buildings could not only serve as a greenbelt, but would also be ideal for the conservation of livestock. After consulting with Tufts university scientists, she decided to create a frozen library of genetic material from farm animals in danger of being lost to extinction. The facility operates on an annual budget of approximately $2 million supplied by dear Dodo.

SVF Foundation's "Swiss Village" sits on 35 acres with an adjacent 11 acre site which was formerly part of Hammersmith Farm. Swiss Village was built in 1916 by Arthur Curtiss James and was modeled on a Swiss Village from the Italian region of Switzerland. The renovation of Swiss Village was completed in 2002, at which time SVF Foundation commenced operations. Hammersmith Farm was the summer residence of Jackie Kennedy's family and it was the location of her marriage to JFK.

At SVF there is one creature that I am particularly interested in. His name is Chip and he is a Tennessee fainting goat who sports a luxuriant Vandyke beard and an impressive pair of curlicue horns. Chip, like all Tennessee fainting goats apparently, is shy. As visitors approach his forelegs stiffen, his brown eyes go glassy and he begins to list to one side. I think I'm in love.

As we passed by the Swiss Village farm we couldn't help notice the locked electronic gates and signs warning: “Biosecure area. Absolutely no trespassing. Please leave immediately.” With a little research I discovered that due to strict biosecurity protocols, SVF is not open to the public. Each animal is thoroughly health tested before being brought on site to help insure against the spread of disease. The biosecurity protocols also protect the collection of germplasm by minimizing any risk of inadvertently cryopreserving pathogens. Guess I will have to admire Chip from afar.