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Doing the Douro with Uniworld
By Nancy & Eric Anderson
Photography by Authors

e've taken a handful of river cruises in Europe, one with Viking and half a dozen with Uniworld, over the last ten years. We've seen this international enthusiasm for visiting those medieval towns of Europe that lie along their legendary rivers swell until its very success threatens the whole experience. We tell our friends and our readers, "If you haven't done European river cruising before, do it now! It will be too crowded in ten years to be as much fun."

It is already a crowded field – if we may mix our metaphors. Some European river towns are having to augment their old harbors with concrete additions and it's common to have river boats tied down not to the river's edge but to a similarly sized river boat that is already tied up to the bank. And if you've bought a suite with a veranda on a river boat you may find yourselves on the veranda looking at passengers on another boat on their veranda looking at you. So much for the serenity of cruising.

vineyards at the Douro Rivwer, Uniworld's Queen Isabel and the blue tiled azulejos of the Pinhao train station
The attraction: the vineyards of the river Douro. The boat: Uniworld's Queen Isabel. The history: the blue tiled azulejos of the Pinhao train station document the
antiquity of the port wine business.

Yet those are not our thoughts as we head for our Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection cruise on the Queen Isabel this springtime. We have probably researched its cruise on Portugal's Douro River more than any other. Travel writers don't really have bucket lists. They are not as disciplined as that. They tend to go where the whim hits them or where they think they can sell a story preferably about a destination that is less well known.

And that brings us to Porto, the second largest city in Portugal, a country that is emerging from the concept it is one of the last unexplored frontiers in Europe. Why has it been labeled so unexplored we wonder? Southern Portugal has long been the summer resort of many of the continent's monarchy. Europeans love it; it is less expensive and more friendly than the rest of Western Europe – and if they head north into the top part of the country up to Porto and beyond, much less crowded.

Portugal may be less well known to American tourists a guide book suggests because
"American travelers hit Western Europe and head east. They get caught up in Spain and run out of time before they can come west to Portugal."

writer's plane arrives in Porto; Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection's Queen Isabel

We've adjusted our time. We've flown direct to Porto but we arrive bleary-eyed after a transatlantic flight where Iberia Airlines changed the aircraft and lost us the economy seats we had paid for in advance. Fortunately, we are met by a cheerful Uniworld representative who proves happiness is contagious as she ushers us on to a bus to the river port.

We have plenty time to explore Porto before the other passengers drive down from their three-day stay in Lisbon. There's a lot to see: the legendary "lodges" in Gaia on the south bank where the port wine brought down the Douro River is left to mature; the 1886 Luis I bridge across the river to the north bank and the hills that overlook Rubeira. The bridge was designed by Belgian Theophile Seyrig, a colleague of Gustav Eiffel and is often erroneously ascribed to Eiffel – it leads us to Rubeira's colorful Middle Ages buildings and, up higher, views of the river itself.

buildings in Porto, Portugal

We will have the chance to replicate this walk the next day with a guide arranged by Uniworld as one of its complimentary shore excursions. Everything is covered by the cost of your Uniworld cruise now: gratuities for crew and shore excursions and their guides, all alcohol and special coffees, airport pickup and transfer (even if you arranged your air personally provided you travel within the generous time schedules the cruise line gives you). And if you have cruised even just once before with Uniworld you get a complimentary laundry of one bag per guest per week.

old buildings and port wine lodges in Porto; the Queen Isabel

We have enjoyed the architecture of the old buildings, visited the port wine lodges and heard about their history. We have spent a lot of time in our first port-of-call, the fascinating and colorful Porto and are anxious to start our cruise.

opening very old bottles of port wine, Caaptain Pedro Sardo and cruise director Luis Lopes

We had celebrated a special event on board last night: the opening of very old bottles of port wine celebrated for this occasion. We now meet our captain, Pedro Sardo, whose grandfather and father were both ocean-going sailors but he prefers the rivers. Porto can be wetter and colder in winter than the south of Portugal. We ask him if ice is ever a problem on the Douro? He smiles. "No, but if we've had lots of rain that winter the current can be really strong at the start of the season." We meet our cruise director, Luis Lopes. The tour managers or cruise directors are arguably the most important person on board for travel writers, more important than the captain, the chef or even the cabin attendant. They are the source of our understanding of what's happening and of our stories. Luis is the only employee of Uniworld on this ship; everyone else and the big comfortable coaches and even the boat itself are subcontracted from a Portuguese company that has been grandfathered in for the Douro cruises because, we suspect, of political and nationalistic connections. Uniworld's role is to put its company stamp on the experience and that it does well.

Douro River scenes

Before we quite know it we are out of the colorful old part of Porto and cruising up and later down this river that runs for almost 600 miles from its origins in northwest Spain to this city of 150,000. We pass through the narrow locks that require the river boats not to be big-beamed and sooner than expected we are at the Douro Museum in Regua.

museum spokesperson Marco and the Douro Museum in Regua

Uniworld has arranged a special lecture for us in the museum. Marco, a museum spokesperson, talks about the work required to prepare the slopes for American phlox-resistant roots after the vineyards were decimated with disease. He gives us the background of the companies that have competed for centuries to produce the best port wine. And he sends us into the lower level to gaze at the map of the river that gave its Scottish cartographer, Joseph James Forrester, the first baronetcy Portugal awarded a foreigner.

art works at the Douro Museum

In 1861 the boat Forrester was in with his friend Dona Ferreira capsized in the Douro and he drowned in the rapids of Valeria Gorge. His body was never found. It is believed he sank because of the weight of his money belt laden with gold coins for payment to the estate managers he was visiting that day. His companion in the boat, Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira, survived the accident, the story being she was saved by the buoyancy of her crinoline dress. She put her life to great use subsequently and Ferreira has become one of the great wine estates of Portugal.

blue tiled azulejos decorate Pinhao's train station

Pinhao, about 17 miles upriver from the Douro Museum had a population of 24,000 in 1960 but its population has dropped by half, typical of many rural parts in Portugal. It has, nevertheless, been called "Portugal's Picture Perfect Town." Its train station is delightfully decorated with the blue tiled azulejos that are part of Portugal's art scene.

the Mateus Palace, the University of Salamanca, artist at Guimaraes, the Castelo Rodrigo, Statue of Portugal's first king and at the Quinta da Avessada

Uniworld's shore excursions have always been popular perhaps because Uniworld has been looking after American tourists longer than any other riverboat company. They claim they have snapped up the best guides who speak the best English. Their excursions are even more popular now that they are included in the total price so passengers don't feel they are being nickeled and dimed.

Image: Top left Mateus Palace; top right the frog on top of the skull at the University of Salamanca. Middle left: An artist at work in Guimaraes, the town where "Portugal was born." Middle right: the view from the Castelo Rodrigo, one of the 12 historic hilltop villages on the border with Spain. Center: Statue of Portugal's first king. Bottom: Robots at the Quinta da Avessada demonstrate how locals once stomped the grapes to make wine.

musicians at the Queen Isabel

River boats will never be big enough to stage Las Vegas-style shows. What passengers get are enrichment lectures and a dedicated pianist always ready to play something that's contemporary or, more likely, melodies that embrace the age of the passengers who tend to be older. Uniworld is good at finding local talent in the port where the boat is tied down. And the quality is surprising although the night we had the lament of fado (not illustrated) made us feel it is an acquired taste.

vineyards along the banks of the Douro

So what's left to talk about? Memories.

Crouching over some grapes at Sandeman's Quinta do Seixo wine estate and looking beyond to this magical river, the Douro, that has carved its way from Spain for more than 20 million years. Sometimes it has denied access to the frail humans who tried to sail its dangers, other times it has seemed more generous. But never consistently. As the Portuguese say, "God made the Earth but Man made the Douro."

Related Articles:

Spain, Portugal, Morocco with Insight Vacations; Lisbon's Streetcars; River Cruises: Romantic Getaway in Picturesque Portugal; 3 Things We Didn't Know About Portugal; Medieval Towns Built To Last

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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!


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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.

Mike Richard, Editor,

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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! Your web-site is very interesting and I want to tell 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.


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

* * * * *

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!


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

* * * * *

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 : 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 ( - 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!


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. .

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


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 and at

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 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

* * * * *

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 -

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

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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.

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.

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

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.


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