The Train Campos de Castilla is a different experience that will take you to the Soria of Antonio Machado
Early on a chilly May morning we headed off to Madrid´s train station in the north of the city at Chamartín. The Train Campos de Castilla ride to Soria would take us a little over two hours, but we were excited about our destination. This was no ordinary trip to Soria, a small capital city in the heart of Castillian Spain. This would be a trip, or rather something of a pilgrimage to the land that Antonio Machado and authors like Gerardo Diego and Becquer made famous.
We were on the Tren Campos de Castilla and in the town of Sigüenza a group of actors boarded our car. There was a posh looking woman dressed in clothing from the early 1900s, a gypsy woman with a basket of rosemary and a ticket collector dressed in a uniform from yester year. For the rest of our journey to Soria the three actors put on a short play where we were treated to passages from the works of Machado to get us ready for the visit.
After we arrived in Soria, a bus took us to visit the hermitage of San Saturio, located on a hillside at the banks of the river Duero. This was a place where Machado was said to come to write and think, although it is also a place of local interest and references to it can be found in works by Juan Antonio Gaya and Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. We also visited the Monastery of San Juan de Duero, with its curious courtyard made up of various architectural styles.
After lunch, was my favorite part of the visit to Soria. (Here I should admit that I studied Spanish poetry and enjoyed reading the works of Antonio Machado, so visiting the literary haunts of such a famous author clearly appealed to me.) We visited both the classroom where Antonio Machado once taught as well as the Casa de los Poetas. The classroom is filled with various artifacts, and framed photographs, as well as the same desks that might have been used in Machado´s day.
We were also treated to a lecture by an Antonio Machado enthusiast who captured the attention of the whole group for almost 45 minutes. As we listened to the lines of Machado being read in the classroom where he once taught was almost magical (although from what people say, he was a terrible professor). To give you all an idea, in case anyone is less familiar with the works of Machado, one of my favorite excerpts that was read that day is the following (from the work “Campos de Castilla”):
“Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. By walking one makes the road, and upon glancing behind one sees the path that never will be trod again. Wanderer, there is no road– Only wakes upon the sea.
We learned about Machado´s life, his brief marriage and depression following the untimely death of his young bride to tuberculosis. Antonio Machado, while he loved Soria for bringing him to his wife, later did not want to set foot in the city for fear of destroying the good memories he had. So, although Machado wrote about the natural beauty of Soria during a lifetime, it was, in fact, a beauty idealized and recalled more than anything else.
The Casa de los Poetas is a sort of museum to the poets Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, Gerardo Diego and Antonio Machado where the poets are celebrated in an artistic display on the top floor of the Casino Círculo Amistad Numancia. In the time of Antonio Machado, this building was a meeting place for literary types of the area. The building continues to serve as a cultural and historical center, as well as providing a space for concerts and local events. The Casa de los Poetas is a great way to get a quick history of these famous writers that are so closely tied to the area, especially if you are less familiar with their body of work.
On Sunday, we took the bus to continue our Antonio Machado themed weekend replicating the journey the poet took to the Laguna Negra, located about 40 minutes drive outside Soria. The lake is gorgeous and creates a perfect natural mirror for the trees and mountains surrounding it. This is a place so peaceful and beautiful that it’s impossible to imagine coming there and not being inspired by Soria and the landscape.
The lake was made famous in Machado´s work Hijos de Alvargonzález, a tragic story where Alvargonzález is assassinated by two of his three sons in order to get their hands on the inheritance money. The location of the crime is the Laguna Negra where they get lost and wind up at the bottom of the lake. The following is an excerpt from that work, which was eventually made into a movie:
The two murderers
reach Laguna Negra,
transparent and still water,
an enormous wall of stone
where the vultures nest
and echo sleeps and circles;
bright water where the eagles
of the sierra drink,
where the wild mountain boar,
stag and doe drink together.
Pure and silent water
copies eternal things.
The indifferent water holds
the stars in its heart.
Following our visit to the Laguna Negra, we visited the settlement of Numancia, which dates back to 153 B.C. and was a strategic point in the landscape of Soria, as you can see for miles all around, and hence defend the town quite well against any rivals. This was perhaps first chance we had to really contemplate the countryside and appreciate the natural beauty described by Machado. We ruskommend you take the opportunity to discover the literary side of Soria, as well as its natural beauty on the Tren Campos de Castilla and give it 5 boquerones for cultural interest, as well as the sheer beauty of the natural landscape and a different point of view for a city that you might ordinarily have passed over. Rusko is here to tell you that Soria is worth a stop.