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The Cinque Terre Floods 2011

After the sad news that several of the World Heritage Site villages of the Cinque Terre were devastated by floods in October 2011

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New Trip in Piemonte

In 1388 the County of Savoy fought its way to the coast at Nice and so established a maritime port for the first time. The Duchy that was to follow added this magnificent part of Europe to the Holy Roman Empire. Later this came to form the nucleus of modern Italy, with Turin as its capital.

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Andalucía - The Permeable Barrier Between West and East

In the year 750 the slaughter of one of the most important families in the world took place in Damascus. There was only one survivor of the massacre, a young man named Abd al-Rahman, the legitimate heir to the title of Caliph, ruler of the Islamic world.

He left his home and began an extraordinary journey across the deserts of North Africa to reach the homeland of his mother, Morocco. Finding that many of his kinsmen had already moved across the straits of Gibraltar to settle in Spain Abd al-Rahman followed them and began the construction of a new Islamic empire in Al-Andalus.

In the centuries that followed the very core of modern western culture was shaped in this new Caliphate. In the universities and palaces of Córdoba and Seville arabized Jews reinvented their own linguistic heritage whilst Christians discovered the intellectual philosophy of the East and building styles and techniques of the desert. Here great thinkers in all disciplines, scientific, linguistic, philosophical and sacred, argued across cultural and religious boundaries in search of truth. Here the ancient Greek dramatists and philosophers were read again, translated and analyzed and passed on to the cultural centres of western Europe to the amazement of medieval Christianity. It was here that the approximation of the disciplines of art, philosophy and science was first attempted.

Our journey to Southern Spain takes us to the heart of this empire, to its great cities still draped in the ornament of their golden age and to its mountain fastnesses where young rebels planned new dynasties. We wander across this permeable frontier, between churches and mosques, from Christian El Bosque to Moorish Benamahoma.

There is no more beautiful countryside to walk in Europe and no area that repays that effort with greater reward. Whitewashed splashes on craggy hillsides reveal to the curious a Roman fountain, a Moslem minaret reshaped into a Christian belltower. Herds of wild bulls roam the upland pastures, pigs root for acorns under isolated oak trees and as if in homage to the past Egyptian vultures soar overhead. The harsh vocal tones and strident beat of flamenco music echo the call to prayer of the muezzin from centuries ago. In the land of Andalucía that once played host to a previously unknown level of cultural and spiritual syncretism we reflect on the debt owed by all western peoples to this civilization as we advance on our journey to visit the monuments and witness the most spectacular cultural inheritance that is left to our generation from that time.

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