Our trip to Brussels in January with Margaret Sherman, an assistant professor of legal studies at Georgia State University, and her student, Kelsey Scantland, was encouraged by then-Belgian Consul General Benoit Standaert, who happened to be there for official meetings.
Ms. Sherman ostensibly wanted to visit European institutions, but it appeared that an additional subliminal motivation was her love of chocolate. Both her curiosity and her appetite were fulfilled on the trip.
An effusive Mr. Standaert picked us up at the Brussels train station for a whirlwind tour including a visit to the European Parliament.
We also attended a press conference with Eva Joly, who was campaigning among the French community in Brussels as the official Green Party candidate for the French presidency, and a stimulating panel discussion on the future of the European Union.
In addition to the formal aspects of the visit, there was plenty of time to explore Brussels’ chocolate trail. Brussels may be most commonly known as the Capital of Europe, but chocoholics know it as the World Capital of Chocolate. After all, it’s where the praline was invented 100 years ago and proudly boasts some 500 chocolatiers such as Leonidas, Neuhaus, Pierre Marcolini and too many others to name.
As we walked along the narrow, cobblestone streets around the Grand Place with its multitude of tourists posing for photographs in front of the 17th-century buildings, we were surprised to see intricate African masks peering from the windows of the chocolatiers. It turned out that they were all made of chocolate and were a harbinger for one of the highlights of the trip.
As a Belgium diplomat who was posted for many years in Africa, Mr. Standaert encouraged us to visit the Royal Museum for Central Africa located in Tervuren, a small municipality 11 miles southeast of Brussels.
Dating back to 1898, the museum originally was conceived by Belgium’s King Leopold II as the Palais des Colonies on what was his royal estate. In 1904 he commissioned a French architect to design a larger facility inspired by the Petit Palais in Paris to enhance his colonial prestige.
The collection of African artifacts from Central Africa is the most extensive in the world. During our visit we were told by the museum’s director, Guido Gryseels, that the facility was to be closed for three years for a major renovation.
Thus began the brainstorming for Africa Atlanta 2014, which will bring to Atlanta objects from the museum for a celebration of the city’s many connections to the African continent that is being organized by Jacqueline Royster, dean of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Our visit also included a trip to the Port of Antwerp to compare its development with that of Savannah.
Upon our return to Atlanta, we passed through Paris, where we met with Hubstart Paris officials Elisabeth Mason and Vincent Gollain, who have been forging the bonds between Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and the airports in the Greater Roissy area of Paris in economic development initiatives.
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