Sunday, August 19, 2007

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Rene and I made plans to visit San Diego on Saturday: first to see the San Diego Mission (first mission in California!), then the Balboa Park Botanical Garden, Sunset Cliffs beach, and a nice dinner in SD to cap off the day. Unfortunately our late start, combined with the crazy traffic on I-5, forced us to make other plans. As soon as we saw the sign for San Juan Capistrano we got off that poop sandwich of a freeway and decided to visit Mission San Juan Capistrano instead. This mission is world famous for the swallows that migrate to the town in March every year (and leave in October). Apparently it is a sight to behold.

Mission San Juan Capistrano is the 7th of 21 California missions. Rene and I are planning to visit all 21 missions, and this is our second mission. Living in the valley we have passed the San Fernando Mission dozens of times but that I don't count that one because we have never seen the interior or taken pictures in front of the church. Anyway, the lovely people who oversee SJC kept the original structure of the mission, which was built in 1776 by Friar Junipero Serra. In addition to the church, there is a compound that housed the religious order and a garden area where crops were grown for the residents. Now the mission is a museum and can be rented out for special events. On the day we visited tables for a wedding reception were being set up. It must be great celebrating a marriage inside the grounds of this great place.

The first thing Rene and I noticed while wandering the grounds were the size of the doorways - Rene could've been Yao Ming's size back in 1776 judging from the small door frames. Even I looked tall standing right next to them! All the doorways in the mission were this size, so Rene had to duck under each entrance to make sure the frame didn't clock his head. These doorways reminded me of Castle Sant'Angelo in Rome. They are roughly the same height and width, which got me thinking - would I have been considered a tall girl back in the day?

The mission grounds were beautiful. There were two big fountains with koi fish and lotuses, one by the front entrance and one in the middle of the mission courtyard. The grounds were landscaped with rose bushes, succulents, and native California plants. They also had some crops growing on the side of the mission: corn, artichokes, beans, squash, and herbs like rosemary and fennel.

The crown of the mission is the church, and this one is beautiful. The altar is from the baroque period and it was originally brought over from Spain. According to the mission guide, this was the first church were Friar Serra gave mass. Although the church is small and only contained a few rows of benches, the altar was pristine and gorgeous, and the benches were originals from the 1700s (no doubt priceless antiques by now). This blend of ornate and simple gave the church a comfortable vibe, and some worshippers said a few prayers while visiting the church.

Outside the church is a small courtyard with a fountain, and this is where Rene and I took a break from the sun. After we regained our energy we visited the gift shop and more of the grounds. Here are some pics:

After we got back to the car, I thought that maybe our detour to SJC was meant to be: check out my necklace. As I've said earlier, SJC is famous for its swallows. To me, the fact that I am wearing a swallow necklace is a sign that I was meant to visit this mission today. That, or the I-5 had too many accidents that caused horrible traffic. I think the necklace as a sign is a more plausible explanation.

After our visit to the mission, we took PCH home and the 405 home (curse that I-5!). We ate dinner at Cafe Brasil, one of our favorite restaurants. I love having the ranchera meat with salsa, beans, plantains, and fresh passionfruit juice to wash all the goodness down. I've been coming to this restaurant since 2001 and I never tire of having the same thing.

After dinner we made a quick stop at Ross to look for a new lamp shade. Besides having low prices (the lamp shade cost $6.99!), Ross is great for unique finds. While browsing through the household section Rene found a Spode plate depicting the Vatican and Castle Sant'Angelo for $5.49! This is a great addition to our Roman sourvenirs and will be mounted on the wall next to the framed map of Rome. I was so happy that I decided to take a picture of our find in the store. Yes, I am a geek.

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