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Brussels (Belgium)

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  There's much more to Brussels than beer, chocolate and chips. Brussels is a stylish city where business-suited Eurocrats(歐洲共同市場的官員)hope to build continental unity in one of Europe's only bilingual capital cities. Its millenniums-old tradition of pragmatic mercantilism and international relations is symbolized by grand halls, fabulous architecture and Pis Mannekin(尿童于連塑像), the sculpture of a little boy urinating that has become the city's beloved symbol. This inland capital city of Belgium, bordered by The Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg(盧森堡)and France, it is a multi-cultural and multi-lingual city at the very heart of Europe. Indeed, it claims with some justification to be the 'Capital of Europe'.

  Brussels was already a thriving trade centre by the Middle Ages. The Bruxellois(布魯塞爾人) have inherited the wisdom of ancestors who lived under Roman, Spanish, Austrian, French, Dutch and German domination - their country winning independence only in 1830. Today, Brussels boasts a highly skilled and adaptable workforce. Despite the population of Belgium numbering only 10.2 million, with Brussels itself just some 970,000-strong, the Bruxellois have the ability to compensate for their small numbers with skilled diplomacy, compromise and negotiation. These striking traits are followed closely by a highly intellectual and off-beat(不尋常的)sense of humour, underpinned(加強)by a strong sense of the bizarre. This may help explain why the Surrealist art movement(超現實主義藝術運動), pioneered by René Magritte, took off in Brussels. A playful and irreverent reaction to life is also revealed in the Belgian love affair with the comic strip(連環畫), popularised worldwide with Hergé's boy hero, Tintin.

  Language is a complex and serious issue in bilingual (French and Flemish) Brussels, as well as being a focus of communal tensions. Some 85% of native Bruxellois speak French as their first language. Ironically, Brussels is also capital of Flemish-speaking Flanders. However, the fierce linguistic debate takes a lighter form, with constant puns(雙關語)and word games forming a complex web. For instance, while a top-notch restaurant is called Comme Chez Soi (Just Like Home), a less prestigious establishment calls itself Comme Chez Moi (Just Like My Home), with more than a twist of irony.

  Yet the image of the city suffers abroad, due to its very diversity, as well as the self-effacing nature of its quirky inhabitants, too modest to blow their own trumpet. Brussels has no symbol to rival the skyscraping Eiffel Tower, aside from the tiny but famed Manneken-Pis, a statuette of a urinating boy.

  The first visit to Brussels, uncoloured by expectations, is therefore all the more rewarding. Narrow cobbled streets open suddenly into the breathtaking Grand-Place, with its ornate guild houses, impressive Town Hall and buzzing atmosphere. It would be difficult to find a more beautiful square in the whole of Europe. Bars, restaurants and museums are clustered within the compact city centre, enclosed within the petit ring, which follows the path of the 14th-century city walls. The medieval city is clearly defined by its narrow, labyrinthine streets, making it easy to distinguish the later additions, such as Léopold II's Parisian-style boulevards - Belliard and La Loi - today lined with embassies, banks and the grand apartments of the bourgeoisie(中產階級)and close to the glitzy new EU quarter. The working class still congregate in the Marolles district, although this area is on the up-and-up.

  With a pleasant temperate climate - warm summers and mild winters - and a host of sights and delights to entertain, Brussels offers far more than just beer and chocolate . The year 2003 marked the city's celebration of its cultural diversity - from its rich architecture to native hero and lyrical singer Jacques Brel - through a series of cultural events, festivals and restoration schemes.


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