Tian Tan Buddha, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

While I was in Hong Kong with my family in March 2011, one of the several excursions we made was to see the Tian Tan Buddha (also known as the Big Buddha) on Lantau Island.

The figure is colossal. It’s bronze, 112 feet tall and can supposedly be seen from as far away as Macau. (I imagine that’s on days the pollution-induced haze isn’t as bad as usual?) It sits high on a hill near Po Lin Monastery, surrounded by temples and very green mountains. We rode a glass cable car into the mountains, and then climbed the 268 steps up the hill to the buddha.

The Registry Room

In October 2010, my father and I visited New York City. I had always wanted to see Ellis Island, so we reserved a day for it.

What a humbling experience. Nothing can prepare you for what it will feel like to stand in the Registry Room, the same place where millions of immigrants first entered the United States and were reunited with their loved ones.

Codorniu Winery

[The interior of one of the main buildings at Codorniu Winery]

In July 2010, I was in Barcelona, Spain, for one week. During those seven days I tried to see and learn as much as I could, and that meant trying to find a good balance between going on tours and giving myself downtime to explore the city on my own.

One of the tours I’m incredibly glad I made time for was the Codorniu Winery, located about 40 minutes east of Barcelona. The property is impressive — the cellars there were completed in 1915 after 20 years of construction and with the help of Josep Puig i Cadafalch, considered one of the greatest Catalan architects in history and a contemporary of the legendary Antoni Gaudi.

The Codorniu family, now named Raventos, has been making wine since 1551, and champagne according to the traditional “French” method since the 1880s. Of course, because only champagne made in France can be called champagne, the Catalonians call their sparkling wine “cava.” But no matter what you call the bubbly beverage, Codorniu is the largest maker of it in the world, producing tens of millions of bottles every year.

The products are excellent, and I think it’s safe to say the family has become exceptional at what they do, so it’s no wonder the Codorniu Winery has been visited by many famous and important guests over the decades, including royalty not just from Spain, but from all over the world. In fact, since 1897, Codorniu has been the official supplier of wine for Spain’s royal family — every year they produce a special reserve exclusively for them and their royal residences.

If you have the opportunity to visit the winery in Catalonia, I highly recommend it. Not only will you get to see the winemaking process in effect if you’re there when the grapes are being harvested, but you’ll also be taken a few miles underground into the dark labyrinth of tunnels to see where all the different bottles are kept to age properly in their respective cellars. The number of crates and bottles being stores underground there will most definitely boggle your mind.

In the states, Codorniu takes shape in the form of Artesa Winery in Napa, California. I’ve personally never been, so no word on whether they have cava on hand for you to try. But if you come across any cava made by the Codorniu Winery that’s available in the states (and you can find it), buy it and try it! Whether you’ve had cava before or not, I think you’ll be pleased.

After the tour of the winery, our guide, Cesar, gave our group a recipe for sangria made with cava, telling us that if we liked the cava we had tried on the tour that day, then we would love Catalan sangria made with it. “The sangria made with cava is not to die for … it is to kill for,” he joked.

Palazzo Pitti & Boboli Gardens

In July 2011, my family and I spent a week in Florence, and among the places we visited was Palazzo Pitti, the one-time residence of the Medici family and other Italian royalty. Today, it houses a collection of several museums. And the Boboli Gardens behind the palace are also a very popular site to see. (Actually, more “to wander” than “to see,” as the grounds are expansive — and not well marked with signage, I might add. We only got a little lost …)

[A courtyard at Palazzo Pitti]

[A banner listing the museums]

[The ceiling of a grotto in the courtyard]

[A view from Boboli Gardens]

[Looking back at Palazzo Pitti from the gardens]

[My father took this photo while we were exploring the gardens. I love the closeup of the flower with the blurred primary colors in the background. I’m actually the red blur, my sister is the yellow blur, and my mom is the blue blur.]

[A relief on the wall of one of the buildings on the property]

[Sculpture by Igor Mitoraj]

Somewhat adjacent to the Boboli Gardens are the smaller Bardini Gardens. It was extraordinarily hot and humid the day we chose to visit the property (not the best timing perhaps), so once we discovered the latter gardens, we were pretty thrilled to find a small cafe, where we could rest a bit and enjoy some gelato.

[From the cafe, we could see Florence beyond these two statues]

[These covered pathways were gorgeous, and provided some excellent shade]

[Peering through some vines at the Duomo and Campanile]

[A better view of the Duomo and Campanile. The brown clock tower all the way to the left is Palazzo Vecchio.]

Photos by Marie Look