Over a week ago, in part 1 of this blog post, I shared my weird and wonderful moment
which took place while in Warsaw. In it, I briefly delved into Frédéric Chopin's musical world through an intimate concert held in a dimly lit church late at night as we sat next to his pining heart which made it back home to the Polish capital after his death. I realized Chopin and I ended up having something in common; he eventually returned to Poland while I got my long awaited Chopin recital in his homeland. Both our wishes came true.
My second intoxicating spell took place on our sixth day of our Polish trip. It took place in Częstochowa, the sacred site where the Monastery of Jasna Góra is located. Ironically, my bubbling joy was not a product of my visit to Poland's spiritual heart, but rather it was due to our visit to the only museum in Europe dedicated to the match making industry, Muzeum Produkcji Zapałek, found within Częstochowa's Match Industry Factory!
Striking an Interest
The background to my intoxicating happiness in Częstochowa dates back to when I was growing up in Texas. With thousands of good restaurants to chose from in
Houston, my parents and I ate out quite a bit. It was the norm for restaurants to have
free matchbooks available for guests to take. Picking up on my dad's behavior at an early age, I would always grab a couple of matchbooks upon leaving a restaurant and
place them in a large glass container once at home. I am not sure when or why my dad got into this habit, but looking back, it became a family collection item as each matchbook had some sort of artwork or design pertaining to the specific restaurant, and each varied in type and size.
Years ago, my father pointed out to me the fact that free matchbooks in restaurants were no longer up for grabs. He was right! I had not noticed! The matchbook went on a decline due to high labor costs, overseas competition, and with the current anti-smoking campaigns and disposable lighters. Little did I know, but this small yet seemingly inconsequential family experience would spark so much glee within me throughout our match manufacturing tour .
A Match Made in Heaven
As the day's second attraction on our bespoke itinerary, both Barry and I knew Museum Produkcji Zapałek could be a hit or a miss. I had chosen this tour for sentimental reasons as mentioned above, but deep down I had no clue what to expect for I had never visited a match manufacturing museum, and neither had Barry.
Although our SatNav system lead us straight to the factory, signage was poor, and there was no indication of its main entrance or where/how to get in. Finally, after a few minutes of pressing a small white button near a large brown metal door, a small framed, middle-aged woman peeped through the metal bars and said something to us in Polish. We were clueless. I was lit.
Joanna, our tour guide, did not know a lick of English, and so we were seemingly stuck. Although it is a downfall in that English (non-Polish) visitors will struggle to understand anything, for the tour is only done in Polish (as is its website), very quickly we learned that in order to make the most out of this tour, we would have to go with the language of intuition.
I was so amused by the fact that each time I made an effort to say, "No Polish," Joanna just spoke to us louder and louder as if this would miraculously help us understand her. You guessed it, it did not. If anything, it was my Spanish and French language skills that saved the day. True.
I loved the fact that we were the only two tourists so we got the chance to take in the museum at our leisure. The tour started off by seeing two films, one of them being the oldest Polish documentary to have been made. My genuine sense of wonder and awe accompanied me as we walked through the exhibitions, especially when seeing “Sculpture on a Match” by Anatol Karon which shows numerous sculptures made out of only one match, and through the factory floor which holds unique and still operational machinery for the production and boxing of matches. Inevitably, the Catholic fervor was felt through the presence of religious images in nooks and crannies.
Although the factory is in quite a poor shape, one can easily perceive why it is a great piece of Polish history. I knew I was staring back into the late 19th century when match production began on site. As described in Polen Travel:
The main part of the museum is the factory which still produces matches.
Visitors can see historic machinery or follow the production cycle from wood preparation, through making of the sticks to packing them in boxes. The factory
was built in 1882 and was the first factory making matches in Poland. In 1930
it was modernised after the fire which destroyed it several years earlier. In the second hall is a phillumenist exhibition with a collection from the interwar period, post-war and contemporary match box labels. Among them is the famous series
of Black Cat matches with a picture of a cat, which was the emblem of the Czestochowa factory Museum of Match Production – Czestochowa (Silesia).*
I could not have said it any better.
Explosion of Emotion
Although we were unable to fully learn everything about match production due to language constraints, this knowledge vacuum was filled with a sensory overload and emotional connection with both the place and Joanna. She reminded me so much of my Colombian "tías" (Spanish for "aunts") through her caring yet persistent, hospitable
and educative demeanor. I could not leave without taking a picture with her. Here she is...and here I am grinning the whole way through the tour. I was on fire!
Prior to leaving the museum, we did the obvious...buy different types of matches for memory's sake. Inevitably, I bought a couple of boxes for my dad.
We genuinely hope we may spark an interest in you to visit this must-see historic place which is open all year long. It is off the beaten path for tourists and locals alike yet our opinion is that it will not disappoint. This is one time in your travel life you do not have to play it safe.
Please join us for our next BESPOKE travel blog post when Barry makes a 'guest' writing appearance with his new blog series on trips around his hometown of
Until then, happy reading and safe travels!
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