By R.F. Burton

I lived in London for a time when I was in College serving an internship for the European Parliamentary office, which, as you may have guessed, greatly contributed to my interest in global politics and business.  In a way, this trip brought me full-circle since the secondary headquarters of the company I work for is in London; however, this stay in the great city would be short, sweet, and mostly void of youthful debauchery.

 I arrived from Paris on the Eurostar. This particular train travels like a plane without the stress of take-offs and landings.  Unfortunately, the experience is not much better otherwise. I was still jammed in a tiny seat, my neighbor still fell asleep, trapping me with a full bladder, and the food was still marginal. On the other hand, it only took a few hours, getting on and off was much easier, and it delivered me safely into the middle of London at Kings Cross, which definitely beats landing at Heathrow.  Over all, I recommend the ride.  Just watch that you do not end up in backward facing seat. It sucked in the back of the family station wagon, and it still sucks now.

As I mentioned, I lived in London when I was a student, and through a random turn of events, I served an internship for the European Parliamentary office. I recently found my old boss from twenty years ago (thank you, internet!). I wanted to meet her again and thank her for helping me through those formative years, but thought it unlikely since she has earned the title of Baroness, and is currently a member of the House of Lords. I sent her an email fully expecting it to get lost or ignored.  Surprisingly, not only did I get a response, but I was invited to tea at Parliament.

The day was terribly humid and rainy. I was in a suit because I was conducting interviews all day. Luckily, I had my trusty Paris umbrella this time. Sadly, it folded at just the worst time, and I got drenched…again.

Looking impossibly fresh (read sarcasm), I proceeded through a security screening and was met at the door by the Baroness. She is the epitome of nobility: strong jaw, mumbles a bit when she talks to make you listen more intently, and very attractive in an intellectually intimidating way. She led me through the halls briskly, ignoring the history surrounding us. Despite its gothic styling, master’s artwork, libraries of books, architectural achievements, and mass of tourists lined up out the doors; Parliament is not a museum, but a working building. I had a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that this building was the source of so many of the monumental decisions in western history, and yet people bounce around in it like it is any other office building, nearly oblivious of the historical ghosts.

When we arrived at our destination, I was surprised to find myself in a pub. Save for the large paintings of Parliamentary scenes, it was like any other pub in London.  We sat near a window that opened to a view of the Thames, and then she ordered not tea, but coffee.  I did the same, and we chatted like old acquaintances meeting in the corner tavern.

We parted and I left through the old building where lines of tourists were waiting to get in. The Baroness spoke of meeting for dinner when I bring my family to London, but whether that pans out or not, it was great to reconnect. As I walked by all the tourists, I felt lucky that I got a real glimpse of the inner workings of the institution.  That’s not a souvenir you can get in a gift shop.

A few days later, I was treated to an entirely different British social experience; a party with Virgin Atlantic airlines. Now, if you pay attention to the airline industry, you already understand what might be cool about this. Briefly, Virgin is the airline started by Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire known for a quite adventurous lifestyle, so, perhaps by design; Virgin is probably the least politically correct organization this side of Playboy. The party was to celebrate the success of the sales team and partners. Naturally, a Miami, salsa theme came into play. I typically leave my Miami-wear at home on business trips, but I did have a salmon colored shirt. It quickly became clear that no one else had contemplated wardrobe as I had. In fact, most were still in business clothes. At least I was dry this time?

Virgin parties are a bit like Vegas, so I will not reveal all that went on, but Floriditas in Soho turned out to be the perfect party setting. Just beyond the walls of Floridita’s, transvestites hung out on the street, and a bevy of night clubs, strip clubs, and sex shops called to party-goers looking to take it to the next level.

I wasn’t one of the party-goers looking for “the best of Soho.” I left Floridita’s around 1am and walked back to my hotel. Walking through this part of London at night is a special experience. From seedy strip clubs to high-end theaters and restaurants, it is an eclectic mix of ancient architecture and modern frivolity… sort of like Parliament, I guess.

Needless to say, I was exhausted the next morning when I woke at 6am for a day that included more interviews and a mad-dash to Heathrow to catch a plane to Lisbon.  It has been a crazy couple of weeks, and I am hoping for a quiet weekend in the Portuguese capital.

Join R.F. Burton on his next stop during his 60-country journey around the world!

Next up: Portugal