Friend for life is to be treasured Ch 36   

Friend who is a soul mate just clicks instantly

Friend for life thought Sophie, following a quick visit by Bea’s very dear friend from the next apartment block.

Sophie purchased fresh fish and vegetables at the tiny market in the village square while Bea had her afternoon nap. Later Sophie prepared the dinner and dished up. Bea set the table and they began with the usual grace: ‘eet smakelijk,’

‘bon appétit,

‘dig in!’

‘Last week, on my first day-trip to Maastricht, I found the Sphinx ceramic factory as a result of searching for the first bulk-food retail store. Some of the crockery reminded me of the cups you have.’

‘Yes, we bought some when we didn’t have enough for all five children,’ Bea laughed. ‘You were able to buy it anywhere in Holland, because more was produced than our population could use.’

‘There were some photographs showing the release of products in other countries, too.’

‘All over the world. But the workers weren’t treated very well.’

‘Mmm… I read about that, and that most of the workers were women and children who were often quite young.’ Sophie sipped her red wine. ‘I’ve decided that each year when I come to visit you, I’ll spend at least a day in Maastricht, because it’s like my second home. Sometimes I drop into the places where I’ve made friends, like the boy at the fish market.’

‘It’s lucky you’re like your dad, making friends wherever you go. I’d love to do that as well, but now it’s too difficult for me to take the walking frame on the bus, then walk to and between trains. But I can tell you that right up to the last month I lived there, I found something of interest which I’d not seen before whenever I cycled into Maastricht city.’

‘Do you know of anything interesting to visit in this area where I can cycle to?’

‘Oh yes. I was just reading in the local paper that they have a tour of the church tower tomorrow afternoon. I cut out the article while you were walking to the supermarket this morning, thinking that it was something you liked doing when you stayed with me in Maastricht. It’s on my writing table by the window.’

Having finished eating long before Bea as always, Sophie hopped up and found a photo of people beside rows of bells. She brought it back to the table, ‘Wow! It would be great to walk around all those bells.’

‘I read that there are many floors like that. At the beginning of the tour all the bells are playing. You have to be there on time to hear them.’

‘It’s almost like being brought to church for mass.’ Sophie laughed.

‘Exactly. I think it’s tomorrow afternoon.’ Bea picked it up. ‘Yes, down here it says 2pm for one hour.’

‘Have you got used to living so close to church bells being only a few hundred metres from your bedroom?’

‘With my hearing aids out, I always have a peaceful sleep, and during the day I eventually hear them, especially when they ring for ten minutes before mass, or before a funeral.  I always know when somebody has died, because they also ring when the priest is advised of somebody’s passing.’

‘It’s a nice sound.’ Sophie poured them some more wine. ‘Even I only hear them when I’m unable to get to sleep for some other reason.’

‘My friend drove me to a museum where they have many antique organs which they play during a kind of festival activity, but it was closed. Last month I cut out a story about it, because it’s quite famous … aah yes, it’s called “Museum Dansant”. One day when I’m more settled in, I hope to visit it.’

‘Please can you write down the name.’ Sophie turned to her notepaper on the sideboard behind her chair at the dining table. ‘After dinner, I’ll Google it to find out when it’s open.’

‘You don’t have to wait for me to do it. As you know, my teeth are quite worn out after ninety-four years.’ They both laughed and Sophie reached back for her little tablet computer. With only two clicks, she was on the website. ‘Oh, wow! Look at that beautiful, huge organ.’

‘The museum has quite a collection I believe. But it’s not open very often.’

Sophie scrolled down the page. ‘Here we go. “Cabaret atmosphere and you will hear all about the history of the organs during a presentation and tour 14.00 to 16.00 on the second and fourth Sunday of the month during the regular opening hours of the museum”.’

‘So, you are interested in that kind of thing? It’s very unusual I believe.’

Sophie nodded vigorously, ‘Absolutely, historical culture and music experiences are much more interesting than just walking around a museum reading signs or listening to headphones. Look, it says, “A journey back in time with plenty of opportunity for a dance in our organ palace Museum Dansant.” And for 12.50 Euros you get coffee/tea, juice, wine or beer, and delicious Brussels waffle with whipped cream during the intermission buffet. Wow!’ Sophie looked at Bea, her eyes sparkling.


After Sophie prepared her raw vegetable brunch, compiled a shopping list for the larger supermarket, gathered sample sewing cottons to buy more for Bea and for her own modification of her recently deceased mother’s blouses, she packed the electric bike paniers. The May sky promised rain, and the chilly wind spurred a brisk cycle ride past forest reserves, farm fields and barns, with manure odours occasionally wafting across. In ten minutes, she was jolting over the narrow brick-paved street and cycle path of a larger village, negotiating buses, trucks and cars ducking in and out of side roads. Many streets were one-way with no traffic lights, because generally it was impossible to exceed thirty to forty kilometres per hour.

Village green & Bell Tower- not a friend in sight

With an hour before the church tower tour, she found a park bench under huge shady oak trees at the virtually deserted village green. Watching the only family on the play equipment and surveying the crowded surrounding cafés and pubs, she ate her brunch. She was reminded of Anzac Day in the city of Perth at about the same time of the afternoon where only the odd car passed. After using the toilet in a historic pub, she cycled around exploring other interesting buildings, all conveniently sign-posted. The Andreas church, dated 1809, with only a ten-metre frontage, nestled in with neighbouring old shops that were all closed. She walked her bike around the corner and found a beer museum, and she peeked inside.

This looks welcoming and will be open after I finish at the church, Sophie thought, and decided to return after the tower tour. After a bit more to eat and drink on her park bench, the church bells began pealing. What a magnificent orchestra of sounds. She wheeled her bike over the green as the signage directed and locked her bike with a few others inside the church wall.

There were two retired men and herself in the group, led by a man who was apparently eighty years old. The wooden stairs narrowed as they ascended each level and the various timber creaks increased, especially when the wind gusted. Outside the little windows she could identify the surrounding villages with the help of a metal plate where the horizon was labelled with place names and distances. On the fifth attic alone, there were fifty bells, twenty-three of which automatically rang on the quarter hours. Sophie lost count of the total, especially as ever more bells had continued to be donated. One timber pole had ‘1,429’ inscribed on it. Owing to wars and weather some parts had been rebuilt. Sophie felt awed by the age and history that lay beneath the immaculate presentation.

The Bell Tower winding narrow staircase

Their guide spoke Dutch. However he and one of the men happily translated when occasionally Sophie didn’t understand the general gist of what he was saying coupled with some written material in English. Their warm friendliness made the hour fun and Sophie was somewhat sad to bid them good-bye.

Returning to the beer museum she found that it had been concealed inside a factory during prohibition times, and it was claimed to be ‘the only genuine village brewery’ left in the Netherlands.  A sign stated that:


…hard evidence that beer production dates back about 5,000 years to the Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia. Archeologists have unearthed ceramic vessels from 3400 BC still sticky with beer residue, and the 1800 BC’s ‘Hymn to Ninkasi’ – an ode to the Sumerian goddess of beer – describes a recipe for a beloved ancient brew made by female priestesses. These nutrient-rich suds were a cornerstone of the Sumerian diet…


Sunshine came and went between showers, leaving the old building rather cosy as Sophie clambered up and down more creaky stairs and photographed some of the old tools and equipment used from 1877, until the audio trail led her to the tasting bar. The patrons were from all over The Netherlands, but engaged Sophie in warm, friendly banter and discussions ranging from beer tastes, politics, to questions about Perth, Australia, Sophie’s family along with stories about their family or friend who’d emigrated. Again, Sophie was sad to leave what had felt like get together with an old friend.  A smile branded itself on her face all the way home as she concluded there was only one word to describe her experience: ‘gezellig’!

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