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Blog Words : Freewheeling | 17 May

Coffee: fuelling long distance cyclists across Europe

Helen Moat arrives in a Dutch village celebrating their liberation by Americans in WWII. But where is all the coffee?

There was a single blue guitar on the edge of the Dutch village – a plywood cut-out secured to a post. No words beneath it. No advertisement or name. No clue to tell us why it was there.

We swung our bikes off the main road and cycled past the guitar. We were not in search of music though – just coffee. Ahead were pairs of notes, swinging from frames and secured to the walls and gables of houses. We rounded a corner to see a saxophone and more guitars. What was this? A music convention? A village festival? As we headed into the centre of the village, names began to appear: Frank Sinatra, The Andrews Sisters; Vera Lynn.

It was early Sunday morning and the village was devoid of life despite the musical decorations. A couple of hours earlier we’d crept out of Asher and Mary’s house in Dordrecht and cycled out of the sleeping town; past Noah’s Ark and on into the countryside. We’d spun our wheels through flat open Dutch countryside, seeing no one apart from a couple and their child, strangely formal in their Sunday best as they made their way to church. Blackbirds and wood pigeons filled the air along with church bells.

The sky was dark and iron-grey and we were already missing the sunshine that had filled the pretty town of Dordrecht and the warmth of Asher and Mary’s home, our Couchsurfing hosts.

Now at the end of the village main street, a banner arched the street: Land of Hope and Glory – I’d hoped for a café and coffee in this rural village but there were none to be seen. Jamie and I parked the bikes and set down on a low wall beside a large garage where we shared out our last bar of chocolate and contented ourselves with a drink from our water bottles.

A man came out of the side of the building and spoke to us in Dutch; then German when he realised I was foreign.

“Where have you cycled from?” he asked.

“Dordrecht.” He looked impressed.

“And where are you going?”

“Istanbul.” I felt ridiculous for naming such a far-flung place.


I changed the subject and asked him about the musical decorations.

“We commemorate the liberation of the Netherlands by the Allies every five years. This year each house will have their choice of wartime music played over speakers. There’ll be dancing and fireworks.”

Now it all made sense.

“I’ve got an old American jeep here in the garage. I’m taking it to a parade where we’ll be celebrating with Brits, Canadians and Americans.”

As the Dutchman got ready to go, I asked him where the nearest café was. “You won’t get anywhere open around here today with it being Sunday and a holiday.” The man’s wife appeared. He spoke to her in Dutch, then turned to me. “Look, I have to go, but my wife is going to make some coffee for you. Leave the cups on the wall. No one will steal them in this village.”

Soon his wife appeared with a tray of steaming coffees and a plateful of Brownies. Then the pair left us to it, waving from their car as they drove off.

Replenished, we mounted our bikes and headed on into the next village, along Route 66, past makeshift Burger King and MacDonald signs; Sunset Boulevard with its plastic palm trees and a plywood cut-out of Mount Rushmore – with the heads of ‘village celebrities’ rather than the presidents of the United States ‘chiselled’ into the rock . At the top of the road, we came to a miniature White House with its Neo-classical columns. Along with Noah’s Ark, the Netherlands was becoming delightfully surreal.

We cycled out of this mini-America and into the Dutch countryside again, flying along the top of the dyke by the side of the Waal as the first drops of rain appeared. Our short time in the Netherlands was almost over. From Nijmegen, we’d make the surprising climb out of town the next day before sailing down towards Germany.

I was looking forward to crossing the border into the country I’d once lived in and where I could speak the language – but I knew I was going to miss the Netherlands. A few days into our bike trip and we’d seen the kindness of strangers here again and again.

Helen Moat is the author of Slow Travel: Peak District for Bradt Guides.She is currently cycling from the UK to Istanbul. You can find more of her travel pieces on her blog.

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