Our dear friend Isabella from South Africa, who has the most delicious South African accent, who has spontaneously brought us dinner several times - months after we'd had our baby, bless her! - who has had us for tea, rooibos of course, and home-made scones with whipped cream - oh, she's a lovely friend to have - offered us free entry tickets to Mission San Juan Capistrano this week.
It is one of a chain of 21 missions in California founded by the Spanish padres to convert the Native Americans to Christianity. They stretch along the coast from San Diego to Sonoma, north of San Francisco Bay along El Camino Real or 'The Royal Road' separated by one day's long ride on horseback.
The beautiful gardens, as gorgeous as they are, are a more modern addition. Much of the land would have been used to grow food for sustenance.
We just don't see historical architecture dating back quite so far in California so the Missions have an awe inspiring presence here.
This little chapel called Father Serra's church is the only building still standing in California in which the founding father of the California mission chain, Father Junipero Serra, conducted mass.
One of the unique features of the San Juan Capistrano Mission is that it is well known for its cliff swallows which return every year in the Spring to soar through the air and build their mud nests under the rafters and anywhere else they can find a spot.
The picture book The Song of Swallows was written about this very mission and a boy awaiting the the cliff swallows' annual return.
Here's something fun - do you notice anything unusual in the detail of this doorway? Look close. I didn't notice it until I was editing the picture...
That little green thing hanging down. I thought it might have been gum until I zoomed in for a closer look. Can you identify it?
Below is my son's quick sketch of the mission bells. Who says nature journals are for nature only?
This is the great stone church which was built between 1797 and 1806 and collapsed during an earthquake in 1812.
If you'd like to learn more about the missions, you can read more about them here or here. And if you ever are in the area, do let us know!