An MIT Alumni Association Publication

What’s an Engineer’s Dream of Paradise?

  • Nancy DuVergne Smith

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An engineer’s dream of paradise might be passing through 22 locks during a leisurely river cruise through the verdant south of France. Floating past Avignon and Lyons through legendary wine regions, the 17 MIT alumni and guests on the MIT Alumni Travel Program trip, Springtime in Provence, Burgundy and Beaujolais, May 9–17, enjoyed fine food and wine while navigating up the Rhone and Saone rivers.

As local rains prompted higher water levels, our passages through locks and under bridges became a more precise dance. We approached each gate and we cruised into the lock. There, we were enclosed by concrete walls that darkened the windows, and then, once we were inside, with only about 15 inches between the ship and the wall, the ship was slowly elevated to the new, higher landscape—and light and greenery returned. For the tight-fitting bridges, the captain’s bridge was lowered from the sundeck to the deck below and even the 30” chess pieces on top were removed temporarily for safekeeping.

Our floating home, the MS Amadeus Provence provided luxurious accommodations. At 361 x 36 feet and four decks, the ship could dock alongside city centers and charming river towns such as Orange, where we visited a Roman Theatre that still hosts performances. In several cities we could walk to major sites. In Arles we visited landmarks of Vincent Van Gogh’s life and, in Avignon, we walked to the Gothic Papal Palace, built in 1309, where the popes lived for a century. For excursions deeper into the countryside, we took motorcoaches. One day we took a half hour’s ride to Chateau du Rully, a 12th century fortress situated among vineyards near Beaune and, another day, to the famous Pont du Gard, the towering remains of a Roman aqueduct near Orange.

Regional viniculture was a frequent topic of discussion over dinner and several alumni travelers were wine experts with substantial cellars at home. As a special MIT treat, an alumnus who has visited many vineyards in the region, was commissioned to select special bottles of wine for the dinner following the MIT reception. His observations about his local finds highlighted an evening of tasting.

Lectures by two faculty members added details and insights to the visual tours. One lecturer discussed regional architecture, art, and music through the ages and another talked about the life and work of Emile Zola, the 19th century naturalist writer who once lived in the region. The intellectual fare was balanced by onboard music and events, such as a tasting of regional wines and hand-made chocolates.

Sound like fun? Learn about upcoming trips hosted by the MIT Alumni Travel Program.

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