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Eric: Norway
Hunting the Northern Lights with Norway's Historic Hurtigruten
By Nancy & Eric Anderson
Photography by Authors

he books in an American public library might put you off a winter cruise north along an Arctic Coast. The bookshelves have titles: Ice Crash, the story of Umberto Nobile. Fatal Passage, The Story of John Rae. Two Against the Ice, Amundsen and Ellsworth. Four Against the Ice 1743. Four Russian Sailors Shipwrecked for Six Years. Journey Into Silence 1976, A Piece of Norway behind the Chinese Wall Front Glacier.

Just as it's getting a bit gloomy, you find you don't have to go exactly there. The 1999 travel book Frost on My Mustache, by Tim Moore gives you permission to be more selective. Of Moore's book a critic writes, "There are places to which man was simply not intended to go. But he [Moore] succeeds in doing what only the greatest travel writers can do: he makes you feel you've been there, but glad it wasn't you who went."

But Ha! These are adventure tales of the far frozen North. And not stories of what is available today: Cruising the long coast of Norway with Hurtigruten.

But first the background. In 1837 the Norwegian government authorized the construction of a wooden paddle steamer, the Prinds Gustav, tonnage 325 gross. Length 214 feet, speed 8 knots with two 40 hp steam engines and the capability to handle a cargo of two tons. Initially designed for the summer months her first winter voyage came on the 5th of March, 1838.

The full details of that first passenger voyage that dared to sail up the wintry coast of Norway are lost in history but we have enough to visualize that special day. The west wind was blowing hard and there was snow in the air but the harbor in Trondheim was free of ice thanks to the Gulf Stream that warms the shores of Norway even when the land sleeps in snow. There were seven passengers on board that day and at the helm Captain A. Grunig, facing 545 sea miles to Hammerfest, the world's most northern town. The trip took eight days. And a service was born.

left: images and commemorative stamp of the Prinds Gustav; right: map of Norway

Norwegians are born to the sea. It's in their Viking blood. Snow, ice, fog? It's in their blood too. Scared to go to sea above the Arctic Circle? For Norwegians: Aldril! Never! Scared? Hey! they're the only country whose monarch won a Gold in the Olympics. King Olav V, 1928 for Sailing! So it was no surprise to find a Norwegian sea captain, Richard With, fortified by his Viking background, proposing that a route along the entire coast of Norway be opened to ships year-round. There were no maps and few lighthouses - and no shipping line was prepared to bid for the opportunity except With. He started off in July 1893 and took 67 hours for what had taken Grunig eight days.

And a year-round service was born.

After World War I Kirkenes in the far north was included and, after the Great Depression, Bergen became the starting point and many cruise lines joined the concept. As the 20th Century came to a close with its increased fuel costs there was a shake out among all the shipping lines. The two strongest joined up and called themselves Hurtigruten, a name that means "the fast route." The focus changed too. The shipping line no longer delivered mail to coastal communities just supplies and people, either residents using the ships almost like a neighborhood bus to visit the next town then, as the cruise line built new, comfortable passenger ships, tourists to see from the sea arguably the most magnificent scenery in Europe.

Our version of the cruise sailing was south down the coast starting in Kirkenes. On the round trip north from Bergen then south from Kirkenes the 11 Hurtigruten ships that leave Bergen -- one daily every day -- make 34 stops, some for as little time as 15 minutes and some in the middle of the night. The ports of call therefore can be so brief or so late in the day or night that no one leaves the ship. Other visits to the coastal towns last long enough that Hurtigruten, mindful that most of its passengers today are tourists, has arranged shore excursions that are as well run as a Swiss watch.

Alaska King Crab Safari, the Snow Hotel, night view from the Thon Hotel

Kirkenes is a good example. Excursions include an Alaska King Crab Safari and a chance to sleep in the Snow Hotel. Yes the bed is made of ice but you have a mat on top and the hotel provides a special sleeping bag. Or you can spend your last night on land before the ship arrives at the new Thon Hotel and, should you waken, maybe catch a first glimpse of the end of that night's Aurora Borealis.

from top: the MS. Trollfjord, Captain Arne-R. Gran Ernstsen, Chef Roy Kristensen in the kitchen, kitchen staff with dessert and shore excursions manager Isobell Hogseth getting ready to serve a drink

There's time in the morning before boarding the ship to walk around this town that's closer to the North Pole than Norway's capital, Oslo. Then the MS. Trollfjord summons its passengers who are embarked slickly and the cruise is on its way.

There are arguments about what makes a cruise a success. All other things equal it's probably the destinations, the ports of call. Yet individual ships have their own personality. Hurtigruten started as no-nonsense working ships but have more and more upgraded them to what experienced travelers expect from a cruise line. So passengers on the Trollfjord get a modern, comfortable ship built in 2002 with a two-story observation lounge and a sundeck, a small swimming pool and jacuzzi, two saunas and a fitness room, some shops and a very efficient internet café. The computers provided passengers seemed to be readily available. A Norwegian guest explains his countrymen and women are more the outdoors' people, more likely to be watching the passing scenery than gazing at a computer screen.

The ship had 674 berths, was 445 feet long and cruised at 16 to 18 knots. In charge of all that was a genial captain, Arne-R. Gran Ernstsen who started in 1965 as a 15 year-old deckhand and has been a Hurtigruten captain for 25 years. Passengers assume correctly they are in good hands on the bridge. But they may have more questions for the chef remembering Napoleon said "An army marches on its stomach." Some come to meet Chef Roy Kristensen in the kitchen and ask him, "We know you have been a chef for ten years. Where did you get your culinary training?" "On the ship" he says with a twinkle in his eye. Passengers had many choices beyond fish. His soups were acclaimed better than any cruise lines and his desert chef's as good as any other ship's. That was obvious because they always disappeared fast and staff had to hurry back with refills.

The third staff member important to passengers is always the shore excursions manager, here, Isobell Hogseth getting ready to serve a passenger the drink and reward spoon for crossing the Arctic Circle.

the towns along Norway's Long Coast: Vardo, Hammerfest, Bronnoysund and Bergen

There is a beauty to the towns along what has been called "Norway's Long Coast that surpasses the weather, the season, the time of the day. The only issue for passengers is how long do they get at each port? Even if it's late night as it was at Vardo, passengers will go off the ship to explore if they are given enough time. The towns seen in sunshine or even daylight look gorgeous. The winters are so long and dark, people like to paint their houses with bright colors. In the old days before there were lighthouses, the colorful homes helped sailors with navigation.

It's easy to talk to Norwegians for several reasons -- the first being so many of them are fluent in English, They are also a very open people and, despite being a wealthy country, rich from having the third largest oil fields in the world after Saudi Arabia's and Russia's, they are comfortable talking to visitors about their country. "We probably have the highest standard in the world," a Norwegian friend once told us proudly. "We welcome newcomers. Twenty percent of Oslo's population are immigrants; in fact Oslo has more mosques than churches."

In July 2011 when a home grown terrorist killed seven people in Oslo and 85 children on Utoya Island there was an outcry from the Norwegian people to have more strict immigration laws and to rethink their values. Jens Stoltenberg, prime minister of this country famous for its tolerance and Nobel Peace Prize spoke out and said, "No we will meet terrorism with roses."

from top: statue of Viking in Sandnessjoen, a ship's figurehead in Bergen, rural museum in Vesteralen, the Arctic Cathedral in Tromso, a Polar Night snowmobile trip in Mehamn, and the Aurora Borealis

So what can you see on Hurtigruten's winter cruise? Statues of Vikings in Sandnessjoen and examples of ships' figureheads in Bergen. A fantastic rural museum in Vesteralen, a midnight winter performance in the Arctic Cathedral in Tromso, a Polar Night snowmobile trip in Mehamn, -- and, for the photographers, (who studied the details at length of how to photograph the Aurora Borealis especially on a cruise designed to "Hunting the Light") the reality that if your only exposure to Nature's sky caprice is from the restless deck of a moving ship battling an equally restless sea, your fifteen second exposures of the Northern Lights might indeed show a touch of movement.

Related Articles:
Norway in a Nutshell, Norway's Fjords, Norwegian Arctic, Iceland, Stavanger, Norway, Baltic Sea Cruise, Copenhagen


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Tell Eric what you think of his article.
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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