San Diego 2015: Little Italy and Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala

After visiting the rest of Harbor Island in the morning, I went back to my room to reequip for the rest of the day.

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I planned on visiting a few other places so of course I had to be prepared! A camera for pictures, sunglasses for sun, iPod-Nano-worn-as-a-watch for time, backpack for things, and water bottle for hydration.

Because it was almost lunch time, I decided that I’d go for lunch. I had heard that Little Italy was nearby at the edge of downtown, which isn’t very far away from Harbor Island.

I hopped into my car rental and drove downtown. I found myself a parking spot and marveled how technologically advanced parking meters have become. But the one I found didn’t use an app. Oh well.

I walked around Little Italy a little bit trying to see a restaurant that seemed interesting, cheap, and good. I settled for Landini’s because it wasn’t a sit-down restaurant, the food looked good, and it was reasonably cheap. I went with a “Toscano panini”.

After finishing my panini, I noticed that I had 30 minutes left before my parking meter expired. I had the brilliant idea of finding a bakery somewhere so I went to the Google and found a popular one several blocks away. I hurried over there dodging traffic and indecisive tourists looking for a place to eat.

The trying journey of about 5 minutes was met with delicious consolation at Pan Bon. This bakery and cafe has an impressive selection of sweets and eats.

I unofficially decided that my baseline standard of comparison for Italian baked goods is the cannoli. Therefore, I ordered two different kinds: the regular one and one of pistachio variety. Plus a tart for good measure.

As they say in Japan, it was oishi! (delicious!)

I hurried back to my car and set my GPS for my next destination: the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala.

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It’s not that far away from downtown, but it still involved some driving on the highway.

I appreciate history and Catholicism and one cannot simply learn about California history without also learning about the string of missions that were set up by St. Junipero Serra, who just got canonized a few months ago! This mission in San Diego was the first one! It’s been around since the 1700’s, and it is still an active parish.

I actually did the official tour quite wrongly because I went in through the side garden entrance. The front doors weren’t open and that side door was the only immediately obvious entrance onto the grounds. I don’t think it was supposed to be open because someone closed it later. As I was walking around the garden, I noticed a handful of families with kids holdings pamphlets almost seemingly doing a scavenger hunt. I later found out that you can pay $5 at the gift shop for a self-guided tour, and that’s what these people were doing.

Those bells are a prominent exterior feature, and they were imported from Europe! I think the structure that holds them was actually rebuilt because the mission got destroyed at some point.

Pardon me, as I like learning about history, but I don’t do a good job of retaining what I’ve learned.  I didn’t take notes. I didn’t do the tour. Whoops.

Conveniently, the side garden also has an entrance to the interior of the church. I went in and marveled at the simple and old-school Spanish style of the interior of the church.

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Taken from way in the back
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Looking backwards from the middle

I’m not sure what’s totally original, but some of the paintings and statues looked pretty old.

I actually knelt and prayed in the second row pew for a while. I mentioned when I first boarded the train coming here to San Diego that I made the mistake of not planning out how I’d get to Mass and realized that there’s no way I’d be able to go while traveling on the train. Therefore, I had to miss Sunday Mass. Unintentionally. More agonizingly, I didn’t receive Christ in Word and in the Eucharist.  Therefore, I just had to spend time with Him for a while. I guess I may have started a trend because I was the only one praying at the time, but after a few minutes, I noticed that a group or two of others came in, and several of them also put in some Jesus face time. Words I have heard before came to mind, but I don’t remember who said it, but it went something like:

“Catholic churches are the only places where you can find people praying and there isn’t a service going on.

Very true in that moment. I stayed up front for a while through a few cycles of groups before getting up again and continuing my unofficial self-guided tour.

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Dat front pew Jesus experience, doe!

Throughout the grounds of the Mission are different marked out places and landmarks. Usually they explain some aspect of mission life or a historically significant object or location. Quite a few of these can be found around the grounds.

I did stop by the gift shop because I’m usually on the lookout for some Catholic swag. I spent a long time browsing because I couldn’t decide if I wanted something specific to the Mission or something more generic. I ended up with a maroon knot rosary because, being a Fightin’ Texas Aggie, I never have enough maroon things. Even maroon Catholic things. Knot rosaries are nice because I can get through TSA security with them, haha.

In the bookstore, I learned that you can actually buy a stamp book to chronicle a pilgrimage visiting all of the missions in California along the El Camino Real! Apparently you can indicate whether you walk, bike, or ride horseback. I thought going on a pilgrimage visiting all these missions would make a great bucket list item and a good warmup to doing the El Camino de Santiago in Europe, which is already on my list. It’s nice to know there’s a stamp book. Future reference!

After the bookstore, I milled about another outdoor area. Some elderly Filipino women stopped me and asked me if I could take their picture in front of the water fountain. Apparently having a camera around my neck was an indication that I can take pictures. And then I’m usually the one who tries to verify whether my Filipino radar is working or not, but they asked me the question, “Are you Filipino?”, first. After saying yes to both taking their picture and verifying my cultural heritage, they continued to converse with me over simple questions in Tagalog. I really dig being Filipino because meeting Filipino strangers is so easy because that Filipino connection and kinship is immediate. One of them was kind enough to suggest that I go visit Old Town and even gave me directions. I didn’t have time to go this trip, but it’s certainly on my list of places to go visit next time.

Whenever we parted ways, I looked around on the outside some more and then visited the little museum that they have at the Mission. In it are various artifacts from the past as well as stories surrounding those artifacts. The one thing that sticks out in my mind is learning about how the United States occupied the missions, including this one, during and after the Mexican-American War. When the U.S. won the right to own the land in what is now California, President Abraham Lincoln returned the missions back to the Catholic Church. How cool is that!

I was pretty much done after the museum. On my way out, I shot this cool picture.

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I’m really glad I took the time to go visit the San Diego Mission. It really appealed to my appreciation for Catholicism and history. I was in awe that such a place has been around since the late 1700’s (okay, this might not be the original location, but whatever), and it was really cool to learn about its storied past. It also helped me gain a little more insight on St. Junipero Serra and the struggles of setting up this first mission. I know I want to read up more on him in the future.

St. Junipero Serra, pray for us!

-JD

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