Archives for March 2015

The Westin Sydney: Location and elegance in the heart of Sydney

Westin SydneyWhen you are in the midst of logging the 20 hours in travel time to get to Australia, you definitely wonder if the trip is going to be worth the trouble.  Once you arrive, however, and step foot into the Westin Sydney, you at least begin to feel like the pleasure may indeed be worth the pain.  Located in the Central Business District, the Westin Sydney has an air of elegance and hospitality that exudes from everything that they do.  Even as we first walked in the majestic lobby area we were both welcomed and made to feel like we were on the road to something grand.  From the various shops to dining options a taste of Sydney can easily be found once stepping in the hotel.

The Westin Sydney is located at the Pitt St. Mall (Item I on the map)

The Westin Sydney is located at the Pitt St. Mall (Item I on the map)

As with any hotel, the people can often make or break the experience.  From the second we stepped in the door the staff at the Westin Sydney worked to ensure our stay would be an unforgettable one.  We arrived early, which is always a hard turn when all you feel like doing is hopping in the tub.  The staff, however, quickly swooped our bags away, took our number to notify us of the first possibility of receiving our rooms and gave us the option of a hot shower at the gym.  The concierge quickly became my city guide giving me tips on the best of the best, and being patient enough with me to stand my questions and delays throughout the duration of my stay.

Westin Sydney Lobby 4 Westin Sydney Lobby 3 Westin Sydney Lobby 2 Westin Sydney Bathroom 2 Westin Sydney East Wing Room Westin Sydney (4) Westin Sydney Walk in ClosetThe hotel pointed to luxury at its best at every direction.  Even the lobby bathroom was impressive with motion controlled doors and combined sink/hand dryers.  As with the rest of the amenities the gym blew a typical gym out of the water.  Instead of a couple of treadmills and weights within the Westin Sydney was a fully functional local gym that you received access to as a guest at the hotel.  From machines to free weights to classes, and even a steam room and showers for a weary traveler, they had it all.

During our several days at the hotel we had the pleasure of staying both in their more recent tower addition as well as the older renovated addition.  The tower rooms combined great city views of the city with the sleek elegance and of course dreamy shower heads the Westin is known for.  The older rooms, although lower, offered great views of the nearby shopping district and plaza as well as enormous room sizes that included sitting areas as well as a walk in closet.  Oh and who could forget the incredible oversized soaking tub in each room that went hand with the relaxation the vacation and the hotel should demand of you.

Westin Sydney (12)Outside of what was inside the hotel, The Westin Sydney gets top marks for location.  When traveling to Sydney you frequently hear about the Rocks, Circular Quay, the Opera House or even Darling Harbor as the prime locations.    While all of those locations are beautiful, you can be smack dab in the middle of all of them and right next to the shopping district in the Westin Harbor.  I was a 10 minute walk to almost all the attractions I wanted to see so I never felt limited to stick within the area I was staying.  From our hotel we got a vibe of the city on the relaxed weekends as well as the busy weekdays and feel the pulse of the city.

Westin Sydney Australian BreakfastFrom location, to staff, to food (the Australian breakfast is a must try), to rooms, the Westin Sydney is one of the best of the best that Sydney has to offer.

Exploring Sydney on foot

The Rocks Market (3)Maps, recommendations, Google… all of these things can help you navigate your way around a city but for me the best way to discover a new city and get your bearings is by walking.  Walking not only provides hands on experience to the lay of the land, but it also lays out the things you want to see and don’t mind missing as gives you a good idea of where you stand on plotting your adventures.  My most recent adventure to Sydney landed us in the city early in the morning with nothing but time before our hotel room was ready.  This also gave the perfect opportunity to get out and explore Sydney.

The Rocks Market (9) The Rocks Market (8) The Rocks Market (7) The Rocks Market (6) The Rocks Market (4)If walking is your means of transportation, making sure it is central is pretty important.  My first stay in Sydney I was in prime location in the Central Business District.  As you may expect for many downtowns throughout the world, arriving early on a weekend morning can be a bit slow.  Sydney, however, is a city made for walking with many of its sites and attractions are located fairly close to one another.  Our hotel was only a block away from the shopping district and a short ten minute walk to major attractions such as the Opera House or Rocks area.  So with a quick review of the map with the concierge and a recommendation on what direction would best serve our curiosities we were off.

The Rocks Market (2)For me walking and vacation are partners in crime.  At home there is always a schedule and a rush and someplace to be, but on vacation none of those expectations exist.  You can go as fast as your feet will carry you and following the gentle breeze of the water we found ourselves at the Rocks.  Walking also gives you a chance to get up close and personal to things that are easily missed when riding in a cab or with public transportation.  We saw shops and restaurants that peaked our interest and finally wound up at The Rocks market.  From cupcakes to fresh juicing options to some great local vendors it was a great lead way into another benefit of walking, meeting the natives.  The residents of a city are the best indicator of what is important to the culture and getting out and talking to people give you a sense of their values, lifestyle, fashion, and even sense of humor.  ApetitoTalking with the vendors we got first hand recommendations on where to go and what to do on a wide range of subjects that we could never have covered on our own.  These recommendations came from the true city experts, the people that live there and have seen all of the highs and lows.  Not to mention we found some great finds at the market that I wore throughout my trip.  All in all spending our first day walking the city prepared me for getting around the rest of my trip and taught me a lot about what makes Sydney such a special place to visit.



Houston Festival Season has officially bloomed

Houston Childrens Festival 2015 6With spring officially in bloom in Houston it is now time to get up, get out and do something!!  Between a really hot summer in 2014 and a constantly flip flopping winter in 2015 it feels like a steady spring is a long time coming.  Few cities can do spring better either as with temperatures in the low 80’s it is a great time to be outside.  The end of March leading up to April is a time where along with the weather, festivals flourish in Houston.  Festivals offer a great opportunity to stretch your legs, get a great breath of fresh air and discover the surprises that are around every corner in our great city of Houston.

Houston Childrens Festival 2015 5 Houston Childrens Festival 2015 4 Houston Childrens Festival 2015 3 Houston Childrens Festival 2015 2 Houston Childrens Festival 2015 1Over the past weekend two of the most popular festivals ran to kick of the start of the spring season.  The Houston Children’s Festival and the Bayou City Art Festival both offer great food, incredible entertainment and some of the best people watching around.   The Houston Children’s Festival always has a special place in my heart because for so many years it was a way to keep kids entertained and tired after a day of activities.  Where else can you can a one stop shop for celebrity appearances, entertainment, rides, crafts, and even a huge amount of resources for you as a parent?  As if this is not treat enough for the adults, with this being Houston after all, the food will always walk hand in hand with festivals. From sausage on a stick to roasted corn to the coveted funnel cake festivals offer something for everyone in the family and a great day to spend time enjoying the weather and each other.   Likewise the Bayou City Art Festival gets you moving and engaging the family in what is art to them.  Developing this perspective early not only gets the dialogue started it helps to start expand their vision for how art reflects life in their own experiences.

Bayou City Art Festival 6 Bayou City Art Festival 5 Bayou City Art Festival 4 Bayou City Art Festival 3 Bayou City Art Festival 1If you want to make sure you catch some of the great festivals headed your way in Houston make sure to sign up for the Play Hard Playbook Newsletter or check out some of these other great resources.






PHPB Book Club: The 48 Laws of Power

48 Laws of Power My first clue that I was on to a good read is that several people would stop me when they saw what I was reading to tell me how great of a book it was, at places from the courthouse to the park.  The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene is a guide to the delicate path required to attain power in relation to others around you.  I started reading this book fresh off a Napoleon Hill read and my first impression was the book was more on manipulation than inspiration.  In truth, however, the book’s guide to 48 laws of attaining power over others provides insight not only on your perspective, but on the tricks of the trade that others may be using or trying to use on you.  As I got further and further in the read I quickly began to pull out real life scenarios and pointers that would allow me to react calmer and anticipate better results as others behaviors swarmed around me.

Forty eight laws can be an overwhelming guideline to power, but the truth is every law is not for everybody.  The laws that apply to you not only depend on your personality and skill set but also that of the person you are interacting with.  You rely on different rules at different times and some may never apply to you but may give some pretty good insight on what others are plotting.  The book provides awareness that often in attaining power it is a chess match with your opponent.  The key to winning is not just your strategy but anticipated the moves they are going to play in order to ultimately be victorious.

What I enjoyed best about the book is how quickly you can began to use some of the Rules of Power in your own life.  Whether it is a difficult client or impossible boss, the examples in the book quickly come to mind when you are dealing with your own real life crisis.  Straight away from reading the book I began to look at how to approach others differently.  I understood better when to be quite when my natural reaction would have been to fight back or when to act clueless when I could see clearly.  The rules work because they first give you insight on yourself and then give you the motivation to apply in situations with others.  Not every rule was for me, but each one was an important piece in the struggle for power.  If the struggle is real and you want to better arm yourself to be a major player you cannot skip The 48 Laws of Power.



PHPB Book Club: Outwitting the Devil

The two sides of meFebruary I again set off on the road into my own self-improvement in my yearlong exploration into books meant to give me some perspective and empower my steps for the rest of 2015 and beyond.  First up in February was Outwiting the Devil by Napoleon Hill.

I choose Outwitting the Devil because I was such a big fan of Think and Grow Rich.  Outwitting the Devil acts as a guide when you are facing a fork in the road between defeat and victory and works as a great reminder of the forces at work all of around you and the part you can play in it.  By taking a look at the fork in the road from success to freedom the book details reasons why we fail and hopefully some skills in learning how to win.

As knowing is half the battle on the road to self-improvement these tips are helpful, however, what made me stop in my tracks is the theme of drifting.  A drifter is always pointing all around at the people, places, and events that prevented them from what they feel like they deserve.  When some of the examples hit a little too close to home I had to take a break and really examine myself.  Despite working hard and being driven there are times when I just let layback and rest on what I have done instead of what I intended to do in choosing the direction for my life.  From the times I play space cadet at my desk to the times I choose checking Instagram or playing Candy Crush instead of checking something off my to do list.  Like it or not that is drifting and good reason or not building those habits stand in the way of achieving goals

Luckily there is a way out of the drifting trap and it is not as impossible as one might think.  Choosing exactly what you want coupled with putting in the work to get it before you receive it is the universal heal all.  Once these habits replace those that let outside forces reign not only do you begin to see process with you but the world complies as well.  Outwitting the Devil definitely drew on the same foundation of Think and Grow Rich but in a sense tackled a much more personal struggle we all face to be the masters of our fate or let the storm around us be the deciding factor of our success.  I loved the balance encouraged by the book and its emphasis on the good forces that are out there for everyone to harness to find their success.

Stay tuned for 48 Laws of Power which takes on success in how you interact with others on the road of either your success of failure.



Prep Tips for International Travel

Travel Tips Hanging Sign Agency Advice Helpful InformationThere are few things you can do to enhance your perspective and appreciation for life more than traveling.  Along with the fun and adventure that comes with traveling there are a lot of unknowns that can make taking the leap to international travel a bit overwhelming.  These risks seem exponentially more frightful when you consider traveling as a family, as kids have their own set of variables that makes traveling seem like a no go.  The good news is there are some things that can increase the likelihood of making the first part of your trip easy sailing.

Choose your seats wisely: Eight plus hours in a condensed space is one of the things that nightmares are made of.  The plane offers limited places to go, limited options to move around, and limited choices in deciding who surrounds you.  You can be a bit proactive, however in choosing your seats.  Even in economy some seats are just meant to be more comfortable than others.  Check out seats at the front of a section for special accommodations such as baby bassinets or extra leg room.  These features are offered to you without upgrading services but usually require early purchase to lock and secure.  By taking a look at the seat map you can set your strategy for what features work best for you.  Don’t let fate choose for you and end up with a seat that gives you the short end of the stick.

Fill in the blanks: Even the best planned trip has some gaps that are unavoidable. Maybe it is your connection time between flights or the time between when you arrive and when you can actually check into your hotel but those breaks exist.  If you cannot avoid them you should consider them.  If you have a layover to change flights, knowing the layout of the airport can help whether you can just know a direction for your connecting flight for a quick transition or what they have to do or eat in the airport if you have a longer layover.  This information is especially helpful when you have to go through customs in between.  For good planning for my arrival I like to notify the hotel of my arrival time as well as to check out what is around the airport that is open when I will get there.  You may have several hours to kill between landing and the official check in time for the hotel and after an already uncomfortable flight sitting in the lobby for hours is probably not your first choice.

Money Exchange: Even in this day and age where credit is usually king there are times where having some cash is a big bonus.  You can get stiffed if you are not aware of the exchange rate as convenience in exchanging money usually comes at a high cost.  Take some time to look up the exchange rate so you can know a good deal when you see one (this good rate is usually not found at the airport exchanges).  This is especially true for transportation such as cabs as you are taking a gamble assuming they will take a credit card and if there is not a big surcharge for using credit.   Also check with your bank as pulling cash from an ATM or using your card for purchases can get you the exchange rate without an high fee to do so.

Pre-plan transportation: Every country and city is different and so is there transportation options.  Not knowing what options you have can leave you paying twice as much or without many options at all.  Your hotel should have some quick information for how to get to them so it is a great place to start.  If you are a bit more adventurous the public transportation options in many cities abound, just be careful on times of operation.  Finally riding in style may not be as high of a cost as you think.  When you take the time to research limo services often they are comparable to that of a cab without the hassle of waiting in line and hoping you are not being taken for a ride (literally and figuratively).

Don’t assume the same phone or data access.  At home everything is at the touch of a finger as if you don’t know you can always Google it.  Once you land someplace else those rules changes as you may either not have access or it may come at a pretty high cost.  Many major airports have free Wi-Fi but if you are not sure then check.  Also makes sure to explore the international cell phone options your provider has so you are not hit with an enormous bill on your return.  Also write down a couple of important facts like hotel number and address someplace you can access them regardless of your service in case something comes up.  Having email confirmations are good, but you may need to know hotel address or phone number even when you cannot access the internet like in filling out your customs paperwork.

Bringing out the best in people

Tutor helping student in classTry as you might to avoid it, people still need people.  On the path to success and happiness accepting this guarantee helps you brace yourself for the craziness that sometimes comes along with the business and personal relationship you have with others.  Although there is little to nothing that can be done to change someone (wish as we might change comes from within) there are certainly things that can be done to help motivate others to change if you are patient and understanding enough to take on the challenge.

So where to begin in pulling out the best in people? There is no better place to start than accentuating the positives.  Really focusing on the things, or something, you really admire about the person not only can help put their downside in perspective it can also give you the foundation you need to approach them.  You cannot force someone to start seeing themselves different but the more you actually believe in some of their positive attributes the easier it is to get them to see those qualities as well.  Just a spoonful of sugar always gives you a little padding and believing your compliment prevents it from just being fluff, which does little to get someone to change.  Start with the good and work from there to bring out more and more of those positive features.

Once you start to see some change then focus on making it last!  All of these good intentions can come and go if you do not couple them with an interest is what is best for them and not just want you want.  It is easy to point out ways we think others can improve but the question to ensure longevity normally boils down to if they share that same vision for their improved self.  Bringing out the best in others, although it may have a positive impact on you, should really be for their best interest.  If you can frame the improvement in a way where you tap into their vision from improvement you can get their imagination going on how a change for the positive might improve their lives.  From good or bad sometimes assisting other on their improvement becomes a mirrored reflection to the things we like or need to improve within ourselves.  If done with the right frame of mind working to bring out the best in others can easily have a reciprocal effect on you!