BELGIUM: START HERE

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The Independent Travel
Stereotypes are a terrible burden for the traveller, and no country seems to generate more preconceptions than Belgium. Its chief industries, it seems, are beer, chocolate and bureaucrats, and the most notable natives are fictitious - Hercule Poirot and Tintin. Were Brussels a thousand miles further from Paris and Amsterdam, it might attract more tourists. But the city has the most unfortunate location in Europe, making it an apparent thorn caught between two roses. As a result, many people overlook the considerable charms of the capital.

Yet as a short-break destination it is ideal - a mix of lavish buildings, warren-like streets and some of Europe's best restaurants. And you can easily walk off your meals and see the best parts of the city in a weekend. The Grand' Place lives up to its name - or rather its names. The Flemish speakers in this bilingual city call it Groot Markt, and every street in the city has a Gallic and a gutteral version. But how can you avoid upsetting the locals, by inadvertently addressing an individual in the "wrong" language? Just talk in English, the safe lingua franca for a truly international city. Whitehall was never this much fun.

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