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Eric: Northern Italy
Traveling in Northern Italy
By Nancy & Eric Anderson
Photography by Authors

taly seems to enjoy American visitors more than does any other European country. Indeed it really, really welcomes them -- maybe because Italy has sent us so many immigrants and we are now traveling amongst their relatives.

American travelers love Italy. That may go back to the early parts of the 20th century when, for sure, Rome and, probably, Florence were a part of the Grand Tour. But with the exception of Venice and maybe Pisa you seldom see folk from our country if you travel through northern Italy.

You will see these tourists. Some pale-faced people carefully, painfully watching their expenses, the British - and, if moths fly out of their purses, the Scots. You'll see chunky, noisy tourists, a few still with the most marvelous, gleaming metal cameras of the 1930s protruding from expensive leather cases, Germans. You'll see tall, bronzed beautiful blondes who are surely oblivious to how they're at risk of cold exposure, Scandinavians. But you won't see many tourists wearing colorful sneakers, baseball caps backwards, T-shirts with weird messages and multiple cameras around their necks, Americans.

Northern Italy is not on their radar. This is understandable. It's way up there, not always the easiest place to get to, and it's poorly promoted to Americans by Italian tourist offices in the Rome area. One doesn't want to dig too deeply into this but north Italy (the hard working and industrial part of the country that feels it pays a lot, too much in taxes) seems to regard the south part of the country as lazy, not doing its bit to help as the economy falters in some European countries within the European Union.

Yet northern Italy is refreshingly different.

Stresa, for example is unlike anything we've found in the south of the country. A bit northwest of Milan it's very European. The time seems to be the 1950s. It's somewhat similar to what Monte Carlo must have been like before Grace Kelly made it famous! The Regina Palace hotel, standing in its beautiful gardens, is delightfully Old World. We ask the concierge, "What's to do here?" and get the reply, "Strolling and relaxing are our favorite activities."

the Regina Palace in Stresa, Northern Italy

We follow her advice. Stresa is a lovely little town of about 5,000 people on the west side of Lake Maggiore, the lake of Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms. Beyond the promenade lie the three Borromean Islands, named after the Borromea family that has owned them, says our guide, since the 12th century. One of the islands, Isola Bella was just a deserted rock until Vitaliano Borromea built a villa there in 1629. His villa, palace really, was enjoyed much later by Napoleon and Josephine. The gardens are beautiful though those at Isola Madre are larger and better known.

boats moored by the pier at Isola Pescatori, Northern Italy

The island that's usually swarming with tourists is Isola Superiore more commonly called Isola Pescatori, the island of fishermen. Colorful boats bob at anchor, their hulls swinging from the wash of the public ferries. Many of the fishermen's homes are now souvenir shops. In the old days of travel one always chose a restaurant that was busy; in the same way, there is very little in Europe that hasn't been discovered so when you choose a popular place you find it, well, popular - and busy.

balcony and graffiti on wall at the Casa di Giulietta, Verona, Northern Italy

Verona is busy, too, a city of nearly a quarter of a million about 125 miles east as the crow flies. At one time it was the capital of this area until Venice became the supreme power. If you are "dreaming Shakespeare" this is where romantics believe Juliet lived. The Casa di Giulietta surely brings them in. As our guide tells us, "There is no evidence Juliet ever lived here or even existed but half a million tourists come here every year and we don't want to disappoint them." The building is certainly 13th century but it was abandoned and run down when the city grabbed it in 1905 to exploit the legend. Some guide books say it actually was a brothel at one time. So much for true love! The city's restoration of the property included adding a balcony in 1928 and a wall on which star-crossed lovers write about their angst -- because, after all, graffiti is an Italian word.

the Basilica San Zeno Maggiore with its Rose Window and abbey tower on the left, Verona, Northern Italy

The Basilica San Zeno Maggiore, on the other hand, is truly authentic. Built between the 9th and the 12th centuries, its residents and visitors treasure its Rose Window, the two pillars supported by marble lions and the bronze paneled doors that decorate the façade. The 14th century tower on the left was part of the abbey; the tall campanile on the right was begun in 1045.

left: visitors at the Leaning Tower of Pisa; right: boat gliding through a canal in Venice, Northern Italy

The two attractions in northern Italy beyond Verona are Pisa with its Leaning Tower and Venice with its magic. Pisa over on the west coast will beckon but, if time is tight, Venice will call you: it is, after all, the Siren Song of Italy.

view of St Mark's Cathedral and Venetian houses from the Campanile, Venice, Northern Italy

Maupintour tried taking travelers to the north of Italy in 2001 but it was hard sell even before 9/11 and even at a time when Maupintour was in its prime as a tour operator. North Italy doesn't figure in many travel itineraries for Americans beyond Venice theses days. We've done it every way except by bicycle: Train, bus, rental car and tour operator. It's not the easiest country to drive around in. The highway exits are sometimes listed like the menu in an Italian restaurant menu and you can be past before you quite realize it. And the Italians are such exuberant drivers; they drive as if they are bullfighting!

This might be the place to use an experienced tour operator. The bus tours across Europe that followed the end of World War II with space similar to today's economy class flying are truly a thing of the past. The vehicles of the best tour operators have been replaced by large comfortable motor coaches guided by guides fluent in English with smooth comfortable protocols to show the most of a country with the least amount of work for the visitor.

Trafalgar, for example, calls itself "the global leader for authentic escorted tours," and claims an incredible 98 percent satisfaction rating from its guests. It has six itineraries that go to northern Italy and offers a huge variety from 8-days trips costing $1400 per person plus air, to much longer more upscale tours costing as much as $5,000. In some of the tours travelers get guides who know about "Trafalgar's Hidden Treasures," fascinating bits and pieces that are not in the guidebooks and may make the vacation special for you.

Insight Vacations is another upscale tour operator. It thinks of itself as "the Business Class of escorted tours." The tour groups are smaller so there's more room in the coaches and they've been retrofitted with that in mind. The parent company president is more than 6 feet tall and says one of Insight's best features is the legroom on the coaches. Insight also has a program called Select Choices which is a hybrid between an Escorted and an individual tour. The traveler has the advantage of being taken from city to city, but once there is left on his or her own to explore. The Select Choices guide acts as a concierge offering suggestions for restaurants and sightseeing, but the traveler gets to do it on his own.

Brendan Vacations has been in Ireland for more than 40 years so we tend to think of them as first choice for a Self-Drive Ireland that would arrange a rental car for six days and five nights hotel accommodation with breakfast starting at $400 plus air, but Brendan is great for independent travel to destinations. "Our program 'Your Way,'" says a Brendan Vacations spokesperson, "can help travelers with suggestions that will get them out among the locals or secluded and on their own, depending upon what they want. And we can tell them, for example, about the restaurants where the locals eat rather than tourists." Brendan offers an independent two-night stay in Milan with round trip airport transfer, an on-off tour of the city, breakfast and two nights stay starting at $350 (air not included). What we like about Brendan is that your hotel choices are all laid out online with clear explanations of the differences.

We were once drinking coffee with a tour guide in an autogrill perched over the autostrada. "If we know Italy well," we said, "Give us three reasons why it makes sense to use a tour company rather than arrange things for ourselves." He smiled and said, "Money, money, money! Individuals can't arrange travel as inexpensively as tour operators can with their bulk buying."

authors' travel guide in Northern Italy: Vincenzo deMichelis

So spoke, Vincenzo deMichelis, the best guide we've ever traveled with: knowledgeable, interesting speaker, typically Italian (he brought 12 suits for a 12-day tour to maintain the macho la bella figura), fluent in English (he had an American mother and could even put on a Scottish accent) and fun. He has been a private Italian guide to both George Clooney and George Lucas, and guides at times for Insight Vacations.


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In the meantime, here are some of the feedback we have already received:


Hey Eric and Nancy! As a fellow Traveling Boy journalist, and as a confirmed WW2 aficionado, just wanted you to know how much I loved your story on Arnhem. Really great stuff, and truly brilliant riveting writing.

I’ve been there twice and covered it on my KNX radio show when I was on LA radio, and your story and evocative photos brought back a ton of wonderful and poignant memories. This could have been an amazingly brilliant military operation – as you both know – that might well have ended the War in Europe maybe a year earlier. However, allied misreading -- and in my view disregarding certain aspects of the situation in Holland -- plus the fact that they dropped the paras over 3 days and not in one huge assault at night (and not in the day as they did) doomed the mission to failure.

Your clever words and great photos brought all this graphically to life, and it should be required reading for anyone interested in any aspect of WW2, and certainly should be read by today’s teenagers. Again Bravo and well done!!!!

John Clayton
Travel with A Difference

We just couldn't leave your website before saying that we genuinely enjoyed the high quality information you offer for your visitors... Would be back frequently to check up on new stuff you post!

Raanana

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What a fantastic write-up!

I could almost copy and paste most of your narrative verbatim as it reflects our fantastic experience with Fantasy Cruises almost to a tee. It was truly one of the greatest vacations my girlfriend and I have ever experienced.

Cheers!
Mike Richard, Editor, Vagabondish.com

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One of my dreams is to go to Alaska by way of cruise. This article very much intensifies the longing for that dream to come to fruition. I simply cannot wait much longer. And I will never again be able to think of a waterfall without picturing myself "nosing up" to it. Thank you for this intriguing, virtual journey.

Sandra Mines, Seattle, WA

Thank you for writing, Sandra. Alaska really is a wondrous place. Re "Nosing up" to a waterfall: we have a different article up at Physician's Money Digest on the same cruise (Small Ship Cruising: Alaska by the Back Door). The third last set of images there shows a crew member filling a jug of ice water from a waterfall while standing in the bow of the ship! Best wishes. Get there! To Alaska one day.

Eric & Nancy

Loved your photos from Alaska! Because I am the Director of Sales & Marketing for Westmark Hotels, I am up in AK and the Yukon quite often to visit our hotels and staff! But your pictures were so enjoyable-love to see the "real" Alaskans!

Heidi Howeiler, Seattle, WA

Hi Ms. Howeiler, That was kind of you to write and yes, you do see real people in Alaska, don't you? Alaskans always remind us off rural Texans or Australians in the isolated Red Centre of their country: hard working, sensible, rolled-up-sleeves people with no affectations. We love your Westmark hotels and we take our hats off to the person who started your company, Chuck West. What a great guy!

Eric & Nancy

Enjoyed your realistic and practical comments on Provence. Always wanted to go there ever since reading Peter Mayle's 2 books on Provence. But the two times I went to France, time was always short, so we spent our days in Paris. And now you say, it is losing its unique charm to tourism. (Sigh). It's always a choice between sharing beauty, and keeping it hidden. The world lurches on. Thanks for your thoughts.

Dette, Iligan City, Philippines

Hi Dette, (Would love to see all your waterfalls), Thank you for writing. Provence is busy in the tourist season but it hasn't lost all its charm or the quirkiness Mayle talks about in his book Provence A to Z. It's still a place to visit. Appreciate hearing from you. Best wishes.

Eric & Nancy

What a great article, especially regarding Louis XIV. I was not aware there was a contemporary account of his execution. It was fascinating. Thank you!

Celtic fan, Nashua, MA

Dear Celtic fan, Thanks for writing. I didn't know about the account of his execution either till I stumbled upon it. Sad to think that the French revolutionaries thought they could be both judge and jury. We are lucky to have a more elegant system today. Thanks for writing.

Eric & Nancy

Nancy and Eric,

Enjoyed reading your article on Santa Fe, NM. I was in AZ travel nursing in 2008 and 2009 and made it to Santa Fe. Took a lot of pics and really loved walking around the old town while I was there. Hope to be able to take the wife there in the future.

Brett Eidson, Soso, MS

Hi dude! Nice to see your site. It's beautiful. My congratulations.

New York

Hi New York, Thank you for writing. Best wishes.

Eric & Nancy

Hi www.travelingboy.com! Your web-site is very interesting and I want to tell www.travelingboy.com G'night.

New York

Dear New York,

Thank you for writing. Glad you find the site interesting. We are here for you. Keep visiting.

Eric & Nancy

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This is all genuine. I will return to scan.

Keflavik

Hi Keflavik, Thank you for writing. We are happy you will return.

Eric & Nancy

Good article.

On Behalf Of Diane, Port Ludlow, WA

Thanks for writing from Port Ludlow. We hear that's a beautiful place. Best wishes.

Eric & Nancy

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When I was hurt in a boat accident my life would be changed totally. I really don't post much but thanks for the good times I have here. Love this place. Long time lurker, thought I would say hello!

Miami

Dear Miami, Thanks for writing. It's nice to hear from you. Hope you are getting better. Glad you get some good times at Traveling boy. Good luck.

Eric & Nancy

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Dear friends,

My name is Adelina. I am a 22 years girl from Italy. I was looking for a free translation software and I found one. Program's name is Babel Fish and it supports 75 languages. I installed it but I could not understand how to use it. I am not a computer expert. Can someone help me please on how to run this.The link is here :http://access.im/3/babelfish. I thank you very much for your help.

Adelina, Celaya

Adelina, I didn't want to download it but I saw examples online. It seemed easy. You select the page you want translated, copy it and paste it into the box. You then click on the button to translate. You may have to do one page at a time. You can also use Google to translate a page; that's what I do because I don't want to load too much software.

Eric & Nancy

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Amiable brief and this mail helped me a lot in my college assignment. Thanks you seeking your information.

WordPress Themes, Gray Mountain

We are glad to have been of help. Best wishes.

Eric & Nancy

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What's up everyone? Great forum. Lots of lovely people. Just what I need. Hopefully this is just what i'm looking for. Looks like I have a lot to read.

Spanish John, Benidrom

Encouraging to get your feedback. Glad to hear from you. Thank you for writing.

Eric & Nancy

Nice dispatch (http://www.travelingboy.com/travel-eric.html) - and this enter helped me a lot in my college assignement. Thank you as your information.

Gray Mountain

Hi Gray Mountain,

Thank you for your comment. Your email reminds us all at TravelingBoy how important it is to be accurate in what we write. Good luck with your studies and have a great life.

Eric & Nancy

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Hello people, I just signed up on this splendid community forum and wanted to say hey there! Have a wonderful day!

Jacksonville

Hi Jacksonville, We are pleased to hear from new readers at TravelingBoy. Your feedback encourages us all to do better. Thank you for writing.

Eric & Nancy

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What a fascinating bit of Russian history you wrote about! How sad to learn that 100,000 churches were reduced to create skating rinks and such during the revolution, after seeing the photo of the interior of a magnificent church filled with art! War is so devastating on so many levels! The art of their culture is so beautiful as is shown in the image of the painted box! Thank you,

Yoka, Westlake Village, CA

Dear Yoka,

Thank you for writing. Nancy is originally Lutheran and Eric is a dour Scot, more used to the frequently cold and often cheerless churches of his native land so we were both overwhelmed to see the beauty of Russian churches. It was kind of you to write, Yoka.

Thank you,
Eric & Nancy

Interesting observations.... Very informative and thought provoking. Questions.... What would be the best way to get from Moscow Airport DME to boat dock? taxi? prearranged limo? prepaid Viking Tours transfer? Any idea on cost and travel time for taxi or limo or Viking Cruise pickup from airport to boat? We shall be flying to Moscow on our own. Do you happen to have an address for the river boat dock that Viking Cruises uses in Moscow? I would be nice to Google map the situation. Thanks,

Robert Hopwood, Ottawa, Canada

Hi Bob,

Excuse the delay; we were on a trip. I do understand your question and will try and get you an answer. The Viking river dock in Moscow was for us in the north part of the city but once we were on the boat it was an easy ten minute walk to the Metro station that had us downtown within 30 minutes. I'm a lot more relaxed at the end of a trip than at the beginning and therefore I always feel taking the cruise-line sponsored trip from the airport to the dock makes sense: What starts right usually ends right.

Eric & Nancy Anderson

Hi Bob,

I’m back with more information. The river port’s address is Northern River Boat Station Leningradsky Prospekt, Khimki. If you Google that you will see it is about 15 minutes’ walk from two Metro stations. http://www.aptouring.com.au/files/documents/17/29022_Moscow2.pdf .

I spoke to Nancy at customer relations at Viking Cruises at the new LNR Warner Center in 5700 Canoga Avenue, Woodland Hills, Calif.

She was very helpful and advises you to take the Viking transportation service. She is biased, of course, but she’s right. Moscow DME airport is 40 miles away on the opposite side of the city, at least two hours driving time. The airport has no Metro station; you’d have to take the Aeroexpress train to Paveletsky station then change to the Metro and go to Rechnoy Vokzal station then take a cab to the port. A cab all the way from DME would cost at least 2000 rubles (more than $70). That’s less than the $60 each that Viking would charge…but…I think you’d be ill-advised to do it on your own. Why start the trip where the potential to screw up is so likely? Moscow taxi drivers are as dishonest as most tourist city cab drivers and probably yours won’t speak English. I think the address in Russian is

BUT...

I strongly discourage you from economizing on this and doing it on your own. Buy the transfer and save money somewhere else.

We have other Viking Volga web articles up at http://travelingboy.com/archive-travel-eric-russia.html and at http://www.ericandersonsworld.com/story.php?id=6LvDg.

Good luck. Great show Canada’s putting on for the Olympics!

Eric & Nancy Anderson

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Reseller Hosting, London

Hi, Is it Britni Freeman?

Thank you, we think... We suspect your comments are valid. In fact we think all of us writing for TravelingBoy are starting to get into the swing of things and do a better job -- and your encouragement spurs us to do even better. Thank you for writing. Have a good 2010,

Eric & Nancy Anderson

Dear Nancy and Eric

Thank you so much for the wonderful article on statues in Europe. Statues are my favorite art form and your descriptions were delightful to read - knowledge and fun together. I do still wonder about that foot in Rome...

Peggy - Pasadena, CA

Hi Peggy,

Thank you for writing. We appreciate your comments. We used to be critical of people who can't identify the persons on statues in foreign cities -- until one day a tourist stopped us in our own San Diego and asked us, in vain, for details on a statue we'd never noticed before! We wonder about that Roman foot too. If Eric had stood any closer he'd be in his typical foot-in-mouth position.

Eric & Nancy Anderson

I live in Santa Fe and see and delight in it every day, but your writing makes it sparkle even more. How nice to see Santa Fe through your eyes. Great photos!

Cynthia Whitney-Ward - Santa Fe, NM

Dear Dr. Anderson:

I have followed your writing career for as long as I can remember, and I think the thing I enjoy the most about your travel writing is the sense of joy and discovery that leads the reader to anticipate ever corner you turn in your travels.What a delightful traveling companion you are, and I know have always been, with that wonderfully eternally youthful joie de vivre...I wonder:do you feel that East, West, home is best? And where IS that place you have never been, but want to go most of all,yet? Bring we, your devoted readers ever along!

CAT -- San Diego (Scrips Ranch), CA

Dear CAT,

Thank for taking the time to write to TravelingBoy.com. You are very kind. We don't know that travel writers make the best companions; we suspect they may be obsessed with getting the best photograph or may monopolize the guide with questions so that others don't get to ask what interests them. What place is best? Well, it may be fun to sit in a rickshaw in Beijing or try to master the Metro in Moscow, but -- as you imply -- it is good to get home after trips.

Home is as comfortable as a pair of old shoes and home for many of us fortunately contains family.

We've never been to Easter Island and may have missed the boat (no pun intended) there. The island is losing its innocence; we've seen that happen at Machu Picchu or, closer to home, at Lake Powell in Arizona. So maybe the best travel advice is: Go when you are fit and healthy, before rising prices make a destination inaccessible -- and before hordes of tourists ruin any destination's mystique.

With best Holiday Wishes from Traveling Boy,

Eric & Nancy Anderson

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What a fantastic primer on New York City. I think you have really captured its essence with this exciting overview of its offerings. Well done!

Gillian Abramson - New York

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You describe a city on wheels - er, wings - and an absolutely perfect way to travel. SHOWERS & FLOWERS! Amazing! I love that your passion for all-things-aviation comes through in this story about an almost unbelievable airplane. Thanks for breaking the news in such an engaging way!

Richard Frisbie - Saugerties, New York

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Enjoyed your blog on Romania. Noticed you called Bucharest "The Paris of the East." I wonder, is there any city not called "The Paris of something." I've read San Francisco is 'the Paris of the West,' Buenos Aires 'The Paris of South America,' and even Tromso, Norway 'The Paris of the Arctic.'

Terry Cowan - Fresno

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Hi Terry,

Thanks for writing to TravelingBoy. And thanks for educating me; I didn't know that about Tromso, didn't even know there was a Tromso. I heard Bangkok called the Venice of the East when I was there and, in two weeks, I'm heading for the Venice of the North, St. Petersburg, Russia.

It does become a bit silly, doesn't it? But we are originally an immigrant nation that was Eurocentric. Maybe it gave our forefathers confidence even courage when they took old names, old ideas to the New World with them. I know I feel nostalgic if I drive around Ontario, Canada and see all the British place names.

I appreciate your email. Thank you for writing.

Eric

Eric -

Enjoyed your article on Madrid. I noticed that you find it superior to Rome. Most of the Spanish folks that I meet seem to prefer Barcelona. How would you rate that city?

Samuel K
Seattle

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Hi Samuel,

We loved Barcelona although driving around the city was surprisingly complicated as our maps were inadequate. The cathedral had scaffolding around it so I couldn't get the pictures I wanted but we found the architecture fascinating and the Picasso museum rewarding. We were anxious to get on the road to Costa Brava and didn't have more than a couple of days in Barcelona.

Thanks for writing.
Eric


Great article on Madrid. I've heard there is a rivalry between the people of Madrid and Barcelona. In which city are the people friendlier? How about for hipness? I noticed you were Scottish. I felt a similar thing in Scotland, with a Glasgow v. Edinburgh vibe.

Gary
Santa Monica

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Thank you for writing to TravelingBoy, Gary. We found Barcelona friendlier.

Maybe that's because it's not the capital and it's not so busy either. Maybe it's because the Gaudi architectural influence is pervasive and -- to both its citizens and tourists -- comforting. Maybe it's because Barcelona is the gateway to the work of artist Salvatore Dali, and his spirit catches us. (I don't know much about art but I've seen a lot of Dali's work enough to think he never took himself too seriously and often painted tongue in cheek. Maybe fun people spring for fun places?) Hipness? Madrid is more formal and dressy but Barcelona, I believe, is more hip maybe, again, because it's more fun.

Your points about Scotland are valid. It's more than a joke. The Glaswegians are more down to earth. I think we see it here in the belief that if you had a flat tire in Middle America passers-by would be more inclined to stop and help than perhaps New Englanders.

- Eric

Dear Eric,

I liked the article. As I read it, I was wondering how you as a physician were influenced by Hippocrates. What influence did this historical figure have on the practice of medicine beyond the obvious 'oath.' Why is Hippocrates considered to be such a paragon of medicine? DWA - San Pedro, CA

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Dear David,

Thank you for writing to Travelingboy.com.

Hippocrates is revered because he believed his duty was to the individual patient, not to the community at large. This is a very important premise. The Romans, whose empire followed that of the Greeks, achieved much in health matters by emphasizing clean drinking water and personal hygiene, and created great national works like aquaducts and public baths but wealthy Romans apparently preferred Greek doctors as their personal physicians.

Hippocrates is also respected because he brought intellectual thought to diagnosis. He taught his students to use their five senses in assessing patients and was openly critical of the junk science of his day as practiced by the priest-physicians who preyed on the fear and ignorance of the ill persons who came to them.

It is true that not all medical chools today require graduating doctors to take the Hippocratic Oath but most conscientious physicians base their lifetime commitment to the practice of medicine on the life and teachings of that one man.

Or so I think. Perhaps if we knew more about our heroes they would seem less heroic. But in Hippocrates' case he did leave a record of his thoughts and some of his principles are today as strong as ever.

Thank you for writing, it is appreciated.

Eric

Stay tuned.


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