Monday, August 27, 2018


Mission San Juan Capistrano, California
Two weeks ago, when my family was visiting in Los Angeles, we wanted to get together with my brother, who lives in San Diego. We decided to meet half-way, at the beach in San Clemente, followed by lunch nearby in San Juan Capistrano and a visit to the Mission.
San Clemente Beach and Pier
We arrived at San Clemente at mid-morning and after parking our car in the lot just above the pier, followed the path along the beach and picked out a spot to spread our towels. It was a weekday, and the beach was not crowded despite the warm weather. The tide was out and the waves just the right size for boogie boarding. I got my feet wet as I walked along the sand, but the ocean in California is always too cold for me. I never swim–I leave that to younger family members. By the time we left for lunch, the morning fog had lifted and it was a bright, sunny day.
The Amtrak station at San Clemente is right at the beach.
After a tasty lunch at Ciao Pasta restaurant in San Juan Capistrano, we crossed the street to visit the Mission, taking the self-guided audio tour with the audio wands.
Lily pond in the mission courtyard
Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded twice, once in 1775, then abandoned and refounded in 1776. Mission San Juan Capistrano became the seventh of twenty-one missions to be founded in Alta California. Like the previous six missions, San Juan Capistrano was established to expand the territorial boundaries of Spain, and to spread Christianity to the Native peoples of California. For more about the history of this mission, click HERE.
Swallow nests, built of mud on the mission walls
For many people, the first thing they think of in connection with Mission San Juan Capistrano, is the swallows, which, according to tradition arrive on the first day of spring, or St. Josephs Day, and build their nests under the eaves of the mission buildings. On our visit, in August, we saw the empty nests but no swallows.
Statue of Father Junipero Serra outside the mission chapel. Saint Junípero Serra y Ferrer, O.F.M., was a Roman Catholic Spanish priest and friar of the Franciscan Order who founded a mission in Baja California and the first nine of 21 Spanish missions in California from San Diego to San Francisco, in what was then Alta California in the Province of Las Californias, New Spain. Serra was beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 25, 1988, in Vatican City.
View into the chapel
The mission grounds are a historical site, providing a glimpse into what life was like in the early days of California. The mission grew most rapidly during the years between its founding and 1812, when many of the buildings were destroyed by an earthquake. After that it gradually declined and then in 1834 the Mexican government disbanded the mission system and the property was sold. The restoration of the mission and its grounds and its development as a museum were spearheaded by Charles Lummis who, along with other notable Californians, founded the Landmarks Club in the early 1900s to save the California Missions.
Covered walkway provided shelter from sun and rain
Today, as one tours the grounds of the mission one can see the rooms where the padres lived and ate, the soldiers barracks, Junipero Serra’s chapel, gardens, a cemetery, workshops and more. There is even a small library. I was interested to see that even in the early days, books played an important role in the life of the Mission. (See my recent post at my Art and Books blog.) 
Central courtyard
Beautiful gardens filled with flowers, fountains, and butterflies decorate the central courtyards. Surrounding the courtyards are mission rooms which are bordered by colonnades that provide welcome shade on a hot day.
Tallow cooking stoves melted animal fat for use in making soaps, for leather work and cooking.
The Mission continues efforts in preservation, with the help of donations each year. Although the Mission is owned by the Catholic Church, it is run by a non-profit organization. This means Mission San Juan Capistrano does not receive any funding from the Catholic Church, State, or Federal Government for operation or preservation. It depends entirely on the generous contributions of visitors and benefactors. With the help of the public, the Mission can continue to be a an inspirational historic, cultural, and religious site.

Getting there: We drove to San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano (about one and a half hours or so on the 405 and 5 freeways from West Los Angeles) but one can also take Amtrak from downtown Los Angeles. The stop in San Juan Capistrano is just a short distance from the Mission; the stop in San Clemente it is right at the pier.
More info: For hours, ticket prices and more information go to the Mission website:

Monday, August 20, 2018

MADRID, SPAIN: Arts and Food, Guest Post by Humberto Gutierrez-Rivas

Plaza Mayor

My son in law Humberto recently went to Madrid for business and in his spare time enjoyed many of the sights and tastes of the city. As he learned, "When in Madrid, do as Madrileños do..." Here is his report:

Enjoy the Arts 

I got to Madrid in the early morning of July 15.  Having just 12 hours on my own, I decided that this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the works of Dali and Picasso, which are housed in the Museo de la Reina Sofia.
Museo Reina Sofia

3 examples of Dali works: Early and Surrealist

Another great museum I did not have the chance to visit is El Museo del Prado, the Spanish national museum. 
Museo del Prado

Enjoy "La Marcha"

The Madrid metro was an excellent way to get around the whole city with its 12 lines. Having a pair of comfortable shoes was also a plus. I found myself exploring the city going from one narrow street the next, and from one plaza to the next.
Madrid Metro - Line 2

During the week, after my meetings, I decided to go out and explore.  It was not just me, everybody seems to be out and about.  Street "Tavernas" and many of the smaller plazas around the center of the city were an opportunity to take a break from the walk and enjoy a sangria with tapas.  Every night at 10:30 PM, I was just getting started with my dinner and would not go to bed until midnight.  This was the pattern of my life for 4 days.  Just perfect for someone who likes to walk, eat, and go to bed late. 

Looking forward to going back to Madrid!

Narrow streets lead to Plaza Mayor. 

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Santa Ana
Taverna "La Plateria"

Sangria and Gazpacho

My new discovery, Eggplants with honey

Tapas: Salmon and Tuna

Tapas: Bacalao (Cod)



Monday, August 13, 2018

THE PLACE OF REFUGE on the Big Island of Hawaii

When I am on the Big Island of Hawaii, one of my favorite places to visit is Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, or the Place of Refuge, a 45 minute drive south of Kona. At the edge of the ocean, it is the perfect place for a picnic lunch, exploring tide pools, and learning about ancient Hawaiian culture. Once a sacred spot, it is now a National Historical Park.
Coconut palms line the shore in the Place of Refuge
On our recent visit to Hawaii we spent an afternoon there. After listening to an introductory talk from a park ranger, we explored the grounds on our own following the numbered posts that were explained in our brochure.
Carved figures guard the heiau (temple) where the bones of 23 chiefs are contained.
We learned that the first Polynesians arrived in Hawaii about a thousand years ago. People settled the islands and lived in family groups governed by chiefs or alii. Complex rules or kapu  governed every aspect of life. If kapu was broken the punishment was death. BUT if the person could make to a designated place of refuge or Pu’uhonua, a priest could cleanse the sins and the person could return to village life. During times of war the Pu’uhonua was also a sanctuary for children, elders and noncombatants. Defeated warriors could also seek safety in the refuge. When the battle was over, they returned home.
This 12 foot high stone wall, built without mortar, divides the royal grounds from the Place of Refuge
There are two main parts to the park–the royal grounds, which is where the priests lived, and the Pu’uhonua or Place of Refuge.
Fish pond in the royal grounds
In the royal grounds there are several shallow ponds that were used to keep fish for the royal menu.  As we looked into the water we could see dozens of circular depressions in the bottom of the pond, each occupied by a pair of fish. These were their nests.
Each circular nest is guarded fiercely by its occupants
Before metal was introduced to Hawaii by Europeans, tools and building materials were made of stone, wood, shells and other natural materials.
Two shelters in the royal ground display examples of canoe making and other craft skills.
Small holes carved in the surface of this rock were used for playing a strategy game called konane. It is played with black and white pebbles.
Complex rules governed ancient Hawaiian society.  In the time of kapu, examples of infractions included a man eating with a woman, a fisherman catching a fish out of season, or a commoner casting his shadow on a chief. In 1819 the tradition of kapu ended and the places of refuge were no longer necessary. Elsewhere on the Hawaiian islands were other Places of Refuge. This is the only one that has been preserved.

Monday, August 6, 2018

A DAY IN KAUAI, Hawaii's Garden Isle

Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii
At the end of our trip to Hawaii last April we flew from Kona on the Big Island to Kauai, for a short, but relaxing vacation before returning to Los Angeles. We spent two nights at the Plantation Cottages in Waimea--historic cottages from the sugar cane era.
Lawn in front of our cottage at the Waimea Plantation Cottages resort
Ours was built in 1910. It was modest but had a million dollar view as we sat on our front porch just a few yards from the beach. For supper we ate at the barbecue restaurant in the main lodge as we looked out onto the coconut grove.

Waimea Plantation Cottages
Kauai is the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain. On the rugged north coast the cliffs are almost vertical. The week before we visited torrential rains (up to 50 inches falling in one hour!) poured down the cliffs, causing mudslides that closed major roads. Luckily our plans had been for the south side of the island so we weren’t affected.
By the time we arrived the weather was perfect--sunny and warm--a change from the rain and overcast we had experienced most of the time we were in Kona. Part of The Descendants was filmed in Kauai, and it looks just like the movie.
Looking into Waimea Canyon
Our main activity was a drive to overlooks of Waimea Canyon--Hawaii's version of the Grand Canyon--and the Na Pali coast. The road began in Waimea, gradually climbing along the edge of the canyon. We stopped several times at both official and unofficial overlooks. We noticed the bright red of the soil–an indication that when erupting lava created Kauai, it contained a lot of iron.

One of the many waterfalls in Waimea Canyon
Art tried, with only moderate success, to photograph the white-tailed tropic birds that we saw soaring on the updrafts in the canyons. They were far away and moved fast, but he managed to capture a few with his long lens.
White-tailed tropic birds nest on the steep canyon walls
On the other hand, chickens were everywhere and close-up. Chickens, or jungle fowl, were brought by the early Polynesians to the islands and have gone wild. Most birds that you see in Hawaii have been introduced.
Chickens and doves
About half way along the Waimea Canyon road is Kokee State Park, where we stopped to eat our  picnic lunch. We ate in the shade of a tree while watching a group of hula dancers practice on the grassy field near the visitor center. A small museum in the park tells about native vegetation and bird life in Kauai (with stuffed birds on display.) Outside the museum there is a guide to local hikes. There is also a restaurant in the park–the only place to eat on the canyon drive. Apparently one can also rent cabins in the park.
Na Pali coast viewed from the end of the Waimea Canyon road--at 5148 feet above sea level
The end of the road is a spectacular view of the Na Pali coast–sheer cliffs above lush greenery and a small beach with sparkling waves beyond.
The beach at Waimea in front of the Plantation Cottages
We retraced our steps to return to the Plantation Cottages for a swim in the resort pool and walk along the beach.
Wrangler's Steakhouse is in one of Waimea's historic buildings; in 1909 it was Ako Store supplying local rice and sugar plantations
Then after dinner at Wrangler's Steakhouse, a restaurant in town located in a building that had once been the general store, we sat on our front porch to watch the stars come out. Orion rose over the ocean in front of us and the Big Dipper and North Star were low in the sky behind us. It was a perfect end to our short stay on the Garden Isle.
At 5148 feet above the Na Pali coast, Wai'ale'ale is one of the wettest spots on earth.