Wednesday, August 20, 2014

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Pacific Rim Win

Our intrepid travel queen follows Optimus Prime and company to Hong Kong.

It was fitting that I had only seen Hong Kong in movies, most recently an old Jackie Chan flick. A surreal mixture of futuristic high-rises and traditional clustered-together apartment buildings, Hong Kong is the stuff of fantasy. It was an “East meets West” gateway I never expected to touch or smell in person, only enjoy on the big screen. But an Autobot named Optimus Prime changed that. After director Michael Bay took his Transformers 4 cast and crew to Hong Kong for 10 days of shooting last fall, he made a decision to host the movie’s world premiere in the fabled city. An invite from Paramount and a 14-plus hour flight on Cathay Pacific out of LAX later, I touched down in the Asian hub ready to make the most of my three Hong Kong days.

 

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Hail Lake Powell!

Valley travel queen and TV Pro Tara Hitchcock makes a splash in Northern Arizona’s favorite body of water.

A few years ago, I sat down with Pixar head honcho John Lasseter to talk about his new animated film Cars. “You’re from Arizona?” he asked.

“Yep,” I answered. “In fact it looks like you put some Monument Valley in your movie.”

He said he had. “Can I just tell you, we’ve been all over the world,” he smiled. “Our favorite family vacation is to Lake Powell. We love that place and go every summer!”

If we had chatted five years earlier, before my first Lake Powell trip, I wouldn’t have understood the appeal. But as I sat in a California hotel room that day in 2006 at the Cars press junket, Mater and Lightning McQueen took a backseat to stories of anchoring a houseboat, grilling burgers on the shore, and playing serious card games for hours after the sun went down.

 

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The Super Staycation

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The Valley adventurist forages the landscape in our own backyard.

I've always had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of a “staycation.” How do you get in “vacation mode” when your worries and unpaid bills are just a car ride away? But that can also be my problem. Sometimes the greatest moments and memories are shared experiences that can be found right in our own backyard. Plus, there are great summer deals here and it's much cheaper than flying five people out of Sky Harbor. So I decided to tackle the staycation three ways (with a bonus overnighter in Sedona), and experiment with the people closest to me, my family.

 

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A Fight in Florence

PHMTARA01Valley travel maven Tara Hitchcock tells italy-bound attendees what to expect at Celebrity Fight Night.

I fell in love with Italy waaaay before Elizabeth Gilbert penned her “self-discovery tour guide” best seller Eat Pray Love. Italy is everything you see in the movies and more. Everywhere you look, there’s something old and historic and beautiful. Don’t get me wrong. I love Arizona, too. But it’s tough when the oldest and most historic structure you pass daily is the old Chevrolet dealership with that cool neon arrow sign on Camelback. It’s almost as if the arrow is telling me to go back to Italy, not into their car lot. We all have images in our heads when we think of Italy. My dad sees Sophia Loren, wearing glamorous big sunglasses and an Hermes scarf draped around her neck. I see George Clooney, inviting me for a boat ride near his house on Lake Como (which hasn’t happened yet, unfortunately), or world-famous tenor Andrea Bocelli, singing to me and a few others in a private concert at his home over a glass of great wine.

 

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Not Your Typical Travel Story

PHM 0414 BT1The Valley travel expert stays put, but takes a life-altering journey with help from a friend.

It had been 36 and a half years since he took a drink, something he was very proud of. But as he lay on a hospital bed, Ray Lamb for the first time thought about ending that streak. “That’s the day I was told by doctors it was very possible I was never going to walk again and most likely would be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life,” Ray told me.

 

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It's a Dry Cold!

The CBS5 globetrotter follows Ben Stiller to the land of Bjork and puffins.

In Arizona, we have a phrase that might as well be our state motto. When someone asks how hot it gets in the summer, no matter how many digits we throw out in response, we always follow it up with, "But it's a dry heat."

Similarly, the hearty Nordic natives of Iceland have a common answer when you ask them how cold it gets in their country: "They don't call us Vikings for nothing!" My guess is that's their way of saying "It's a dry cold." Actually, Iceland isn't as frigid as it sounds. In fact, it was warmer in Reykjavik after my 4 1/2 hour flight from JFK than it was in New York City.

 

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Blue Ridge Bike Tour

For her debut PHOENIX magazine travel story, the Valley TV personality unites rubber and road in the Smoky Mountains.

For years, my Good Morning Arizona cohort Scott Pasmore would ask if I wanted to jump on the back of his Harley for a ride. "You watched me almost crash a Vespa on television," I would remind him. "I'm never going near anything with two wheels."

Years later, I was asked the same question by the guy I ended up marrying, Kenn Francis: "Want to take a Harley ride?"

 

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