Your hosts - Kevin and Isabelle
Owning, maintaining and piloting a beautiful 1922 hotel barge in France takes great teamwork and a lot of laughter! There's never a shortage of lively banter aboard the good barge Nilaya and topical conversation blended with liberal dashes of typically British humour are but one of the magical ingredients making Nilaya such an outstandingly happy ship.
Having enjoyed the wonderful company of friends Josef, Bud, Stef, Rod and Barry who crewed during Nilaya's early years, unbeknown to me, the winds of change were blowing in my direction and fast!
After mooring under a bridge in central Nancy, France to spend a winter pulling apart and rebuilding Nilaya's 1955 Mercedes engine, at possibly the oiliest moment in my entire life, more resembling a Troll under that bridge than the loveable (?) barge captain I am, a French speaking Wallonian Belgian named Isabelle decided to join an international online dating site.
It just so happened that after a little too much wine during dinner aboard a friends barge a couple of nights earlier, I had been persuaded that joining that very same dating website was a very good idea. I parted with the necessary fee, created a profile that clearly wasn't me and added a picture of my best impression of Richard Gere.
Bear in mind that I'd joined an international website, spoke no French, I put my message out there before falling asleep and promptly forgetting the whole thing.
Isabelle however hadn't forgotten her subscription and somehow stumbled upon the rather sexy profile of 'moi'. Whilst out in town, still unbeknown to me, Isabelle spotted a guy looking just like the sexy 'moi' buying a camembert in Monoprix. More surprisingly, she then went home and sent me a message in her best French.
Rather surprised that anyone had liked my profile, I wrote the reply in English, used Google Translate to bugger it up completely turning it into 'French', before clicking send.
A couple of emails later, finally spotting that my ticked 'Speaks French' check box was possibly a lie, Isabelle finally wrote me in English and a new era of Anglo French communication dawned.
We agreed to meet and I explained that I lived in Nancy, under the tram bridge in the centre of town. She said she knew where that was and that she'd see me soon. Less than five minutes later in fact! I heard a knock at the door, opened it wide and was astonished to find Isabelle standing outside. After inviting her into the wheelhouse, she gestured towards the first building north of the bridge explaining that this was where she lived. Isabelle then turned 180 degrees, pointing towards the first building on the opposite side of the same bridge and letting me know that this was where she worked. It had taken an International website and miracle to bring us together, but all the time we virtually lived in the same place. I call it fate.
Anyway, to cut a long long story short, I came to know and adore my Belgian Isabelle and after three long years of warmth, her awesome cooking and companionship, invited to give up her full time job and join me aboard Nilaya as liveaboard crew! Two years after that, love had blossomed and in true nautical style, I dragged her across the Atlantic aboard the Queen Mary 2 and proposed in New York on Christmas Eve 2012.
Last October we were married aboard the world's first propeller driven iron steamship, the SS Great Britain in my hometown of Bristol, England. Isabelle is not only my wife, but the soul mate I'd been missing all of my life. Her passion for entertaining, cooking, food and fine wines added the well needed touch of class that further improves guests experience aboard Nilaya.
A little about me. To say that I love travel would be an understatement! Having enjoyed a good career way back in the dark ages of Thatcherite Britain, I realised that there had to be more to life than the nine to five. I chucked in the job, bought a backpack and a plane ticket to India.
After wandering the globe for nearly two years, it became ever more difficult to stay at home. Working in 'gainful' employment to replenish only my bank balance, the eighties gave way to the nineties, gave way to the millennium and I had spent most of it wandering the planet. I found being in the UK, depressing, dull, very threatening and incredibly expensive! All this at a time when lack of job "commitment" resulted in a CV with more 'holes' than a piece of Emmental.
That 'creative' resume provided ever more lacklustre employment 'opportunities' with the pathetic salaries that usually went with them. By 2001, I was forced to take positive action. What if I sold everything that wasn't bolted down, paid back the bank and with the residue buy a barge? Food for thought!
While searching the internet for suitable craft, up popped a plethora of English narrowboats. Closer inspection persuaded me they were a bit too narrow! I also decided that maybe I needed something a little more exotic than the Trent and Mersey canal.
Purely by chance, I stumbled upon the picture of a stunning 'luxemotor Dutch barge'. Beautifully photographed, in bright sunlight, with blue skies behind it. Happy healthy looking people populating the decks, each with a glass of wine in hand and gazing out across an undeniably French landscape. It was at this point that I begun to imagine barging on the canals of France. Bigger barges, a vast network of European waterways to discover and along with it, a Europe I had sadly neglected in favour of more distant long haul destinations. The rest as they say, is history.