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Eric: The Ideal Cruise?
The Ideal Cruise?
A River Runs Through It

Story and photography by
Nancy & Eric Anderson

he hot part of the travel market is the river cruise. It is exploding. Why wouldn't it? What's not to like about small ships with boutique hotel-like personal attention, hotel style beds, classic cuisine, insightful lectures - and shore excursions where, increasingly, the guides have microphones at their throats and passengers iPod-like hearing devices in their ears? River cruising has all the advantages of the European bus trip that was so popular in Europe after World War II but without the claustrophobia of being cooped up all day and the tedium of unpacking every night.

The better river cruise lines in Europe make a point of catering to North American guests and have knowledgeable guides fluent in English. For many travelers the best feature of river cruising is that the rivers were there long before there were roads and much has grown up around the ports over the centuries. Says Viking River Cruises, "You spend less time getting there and more time being there."

There is one caution about river cruising: it's an intimate experience. Passengers get to know each other. They talk. Costs vary. Deals abound. If one person got a great price better than any other it may become obvious on a ship with, say, 120 passengers - and cause resentments. So shop for your best price. Review advice and any complaints at community websites. Find out, for example, if the river you want has a low water season when you may travel more than you bargained by bus. Be aware of international manipulation by foreign countries. For instance, to build a new boat to travel a foreign river a cruise company may have to build it in that country with suspect quality. A boat built in Finland would not have problems but Finland doesn't have the Nile! Also be cautious when a cruise company expands a popular cruise. Given, say, the xenophobia of France it shouldn't be a surprise that French officials would drag their feet in authorizing American cruise lines the additional right to cruise through Paris for an evening on the Seine - not when a French company like the Compagnie des Bateaux Mouches has been doing it with its nine boats for 50 years.

So do your homework. Read about the countries to be visited before you get there. On the river you'll be closer to the land also. How else could you walk past a scarecrow in a farmer's field in front of the 1714 wooden church with its 22 onion domes on the island of Kizhi in Russia?

scarecrow in field with wooden church in background, Kizhi Island, Russia

So check things out. Ask questions. Where should you go and whom should you go with?

Several long-established river cruise companies have, of course, their enthusiastic supporters in Europe. Avalon (a member of Globus) started up in 2003 and AMA Waterways in 2002. Scenic (an Australian company) began in 1988 and Collette has been around since 1918. But Americans tend to favor either Viking or Uniworld. Nothing beats word of mouth and success begets success.

Viking River Cruises. The Volga is the longest river in Europe and in many ways the most interesting because Americans don't know much about Russia. In 1939 Winston Churchill described Russia as "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma" and it hasn't really changed that much. In addition Russia has more beautiful and photogenic churches than even France with all its magnificent cathedrals. Russia is unique and now its people want to see Americans. You may have difficulty on your own visiting Russia. English is still not common if you stop and ask for directions and even the street signs in Cyrillic will give you unexpected problems. In addition the distances are surprisingly vast; this is not dinky country like Monte Carlo or even tiny Luxembourg. Cruising with Viking River Cruises, the largest river cruise company in the world, is a safe, easy and relatively inexpensive way to see the country. Many cruise operators rent ships in Russia but Viking owns its own. And rest assured no one is going to try and indoctrinate you into the world of Lenin although you'll find out how much the Russian people care for Putin.

picture of Vladimir Putin on a Viking River Cruise

Uniworld Boutique Cruises is the big competitor to Viking. Guy Young, Uniworld's president, has long thought he should provide well-built, comfortable and attractive river boats created especially for the American market -- and sell them off to European companies if they start to show their age. Then build anew. Most tour operators believe American tourists want the best whereas Europeans are less fastidious and would be influenced more by low price than high quality. It is not difficult for Uniworld to clear its old stock to make room for the latest. The company is expanding into new areas so its clientele can always find fresh places to cruise with Uniworld. That is important: many who cruise rivers now had done everything available on the ocean previously and are thrilled to discover river cruising is just what they want and hadn't realized that it actually existed. It's like being a keen reader and suddenly are captivated to find a new author. The Danube is Europe's second longest river. Sailing down it with Uniworld, for example, from Vienna to Bucharest in Romania leads you into Eastern Europe, countries more poorly understood by Americans than even Russia. You are sailing into towns you have barely heard of, locations only now coming out from under the Communist yoke, countries that hope to encourage both American tourism and investment -- and places where the almighty dollar still has clout. And how else would you get such a front line view of Budapest's Houses of Parliament if not from a boat on the Danube?

a view of Budapest's Houses of Parliament on a Danube River cruise

Perhaps the most romantic of all European rivers is the Rhine, the river edged with Christmas scene villages and topped with towering medieval castles perched perilously on cliffs. This is the land where the Rhine Maidens of the Lorelei, the rock soaring 400 feet over the river would lure us to disaster unless our captain's wife Julie, our hotel manager, can distract our Uniworld captain Jord Zwaal, from their wiles. This is the river of legends where we enjoyed a hamburger and ice cream buffet on the sun deck as the castles of the Rhine unfolded in front of us in what our captain described as "a movie opening outside your cabin." It's been said the Rhine is romantic and has become for the English-speaking people that home of romance that Germans seek to find in Italy!

one of the castles along the Rhine River as seen from a river cruise

It would be hard to call the Columbia River which separates Washington State from Oregon romantic. Dynamic, powerful, remote, windswept, yes. Historical. Culturally interesting. All those things. But not romantic. Perhaps because the Columbia is so much a part of the expansion of America and that is not by itself a particularly romantic part of U.S. history. This is the land of Lewis and Clark. Of the Nez Perce People. Of harnessing the might of the fourth largest river in the United States. And it's the story of the spunky family of Chuck West, an Alaskan bush pilot who essentially jumpstarted Alaskan tourism and moved on to run a company called Cruise West, now with nine small ships, as feisty as the Wests themselves. Viking and Uniworld takes you into secret spots, places you can't be expected to know about. Cruise West brings to your country's own history; you don't sail to new places, you sail into times gone past that you almost remember as remnants from elementary school. It's as if Cruise West is sitting you down and whispering, "This is Your Life!"

docked river cruise boat on the Columbia River

Sailing with Victoria Cruises on the Yangtze, "the River of Heaven" is a completely different experience from any of the other river cruises. First it's a long way so you have more invested for the experience. Second, the country is more opaque, more inscrutable than even Russia. You really are a stranger in a foreign land. You are visiting a country that is the very antithesis of the United States. This is not the place of the common man, with the unalienable rights of the individual. Here is not the Pursuit of Happiness. This is a nation determined to rise, its only Superpower rival recognized as India. This is a country facing its future and even with a magnificent history of several thousand years behind it looking forward not back. To know the fertile plain of the Yangtze grows the food for one half of China and see how it is building dams five times wider than Hoover Dam to raise the Yangtze 575 feet is to reveal to American travelers that all this will impact America as much as it will China. And maybe this is the time to cruise the river that twists and turns its way to the sea like the Chinese Dragon itself.

cruise boat on the Yangtze River, China

To readers who have not taken a cruise. Of any type. It does seem to be the future. Despite the increased cost of fuel, despite the collapse of the economy, despite the hassle of flying to your departure port, cruising is the travel success story of 2009. The Cruise Line International Association claims that 53 percent of North American travel agencies say the cruise is the perfect vacation because of its value and the simplicity and ease of travel. "Cruising is the best deal," cry travel agents.

Fourteen new ships were built in 2009 and 21 are on order through 2112. The cruise business is booming despite the often quoted but inconsistent figures suggesting significantly less than 20 percent of Americans have ever owned passports. As if to substantiate those low figures (and many sources say the number is even lower) only 10 million North Americans cruised last year. Much of the trade is repeat business; it's not unusual to find passengers who have cruised more than 20 times. Happily.


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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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

* * * * *


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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