Longing for warm weather, nice food and new places to explore - my latest trip took me to the region of Andalucia in Spain. It was also the first trip that I would take my new Sigma 135mm Art lens with me. I wanted a little more length in my usual three camera/lens setup. The Sigma 135 Art now became the longest in my new 28 (Leica Q), 75 (Leica M240 + summicron) and 135 setup. It replaces the wonderful Zeiss 100 F2 I had before on the Nikon Df. My wife and I arrived in Sevilla on a Friday night and were welcomed by the kind of warm air we were looking for. Our hotel was right downtown, overlooking the Giralda, the tower next to the Sevilla Cathedral. A former minaret, this tower is a beautiful and mighty overseer of the old town.
The close up taken with the Sigma 135 Art shows the sharpness of the lens. It can shine on bodies with much higher pixel count but on my trusty Df it delivers what it promises. The lens is seriously large and heavy. I will only take out this lens if I really want to have all options available or when shooting portraits. For everything else, my Leica 28-75 combo is light and easy to carry in a small bag. If I want to go even smaller, I will just take my M with my 50 summicron. But what comes out of the Sigma 135 makes me want to bring my backpack and carry the extra weight....
Sevilla is a beautiful place and with plenty of opportunity to catch the different ways it shows itself through your lens. Something I wanted to check out after reading about it was the Metropol Parasol, a wooden structure with a walkway on top of a square. The locals call it 'Las Setas' (mushrooms) and it is easy to see why. The structure flows along the square and crosses the street. It is built over the remains of the old Roman market on this square of which the remnants are made visible in the basement of the structure. Walking on the walkway above allows for great views of the city.
It was well over 30 degrees and the sun slowed us down as we tried to see everything we had on our list. One of which was the Plaza de Espana, a grand ode to Spain and it's provinces, built in 1928 for the Ibero-American exposition. It is a massive space and every province is represented in an alcove with tiles depicting it's characteristics. A pretty impressive building.
The tilework on the provincial alcoves is impressive to see. A street musician was providing the perfect soundtrack. Spain has a lot more provinces than I thought - it is a massive plaza after all. I can't really remember a anything like this being built in my lifetime, something of the same grandeur.
The Sigma 135 Art feels good in the hand. The materials are all incredibly solid and the focus ring is very smooth and easy to handle when shooting manual focus. It lacks image stabilization which gave me some blur in some photos where my shutter speed was too low. Thanks to the iso performance of the Nikon Df, I will keep my shutter speeds nice and fast and compensate with higher iso. Another solution would be a tripod but my backpack is heavy enough as it is with this lens in it....
The next day was very different in terms of the weather. It was still very nice and warm but a grey blanket lay over the city which was meant the light was not very pleasant. Our target for the day was to visit the Alcazar complex of palaces. Top tip for visiting this region is to book visiting sights like these in advance. It's very easy to buy tickets online and that saves you waiting in line or missing the chance to see something exquisite all together (more on that later).
On the way to the Alcazar, I spotted this street artist sitting under a tree. Even thought the Sigma/Nikon is indeed on the heavy side, the quick access provided by my Peak Design backpack helps in being able to take a shot in a matter of seconds. You can read my review of that backpack here.
After spending some time in the queue, we got in the Alcazar palaces and they did not disappoint. Different palaces connected with smaller and bigger gardens will lead you from gasp to gasp. The Arabic geometric patterns are simply gorgeous and the whole place has a serenity over it that is difficult to explain. A serenity that is maintained even with many tourists like us crowding the place.
Everywhere you looked, there were intricate patterns - on the floors, the walls and the ceilings. Apparently, part of the palaces are still being used by the Spanish royal family.
Between the palaces there were courtyards that connected them. The quietness must have stood in stark contrast with the noise and smell of late medieval life outside of the Alcazar walls.
Next to a series of smaller gardens, there is one big garden behind the palaces and it is also a place of breathtaking beauty. Beautiful trees and plants in many colors stand along walkways and smaller pavilions. Unfortunately, the sky was as grey as it can be, it's hard to imagine it looking even more beautiful against the backdrop of a blue sky.
As we left the Alcazar, we saw a street Flamenco performance. Driven by the rhythm of the guitar, clapping and chanting, the woman was stamping away with the pavement as her stage. Strong, proud and graceful she embodied emotions that ranged from despair to jubilation and everything in between. We thought about visiting a Flamenco show but I think this street performance was just as good if not better, given the surroundings.
Our next stop was Granada, home of the famous Alhambra. It turned out to be a really nice town, placed against the silhouette of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Quite a special place when you are about 30 minutes away from snowy mountains or sun-drenched beaches.
Remember the point above about ordering tickets in advance? That applies especially to the Alhambra. We had to get up at 6:15 and stand in line for almost two hours and we were lucky to have tickets. However, we did not get tickets for the jewel in the crown of the Alhambra, the Nasrid palace....
Like the Alcazar, the Alhambra is a wonderful mix of Arabic and European styles across many centuries. It sits atop a small hill overlooking the town of Granada and has buildings in it that range from Roman times to the 19th century.
Another street performance was waiting for us as we left the Alhambra. Another opportunity for me to bring out the lens I really came to enjoy this trip, the Sigma 135. It did everything I wanted and more, the sharpness and rendering of the out of focus areas are truly something.
The next few days would be spent at the beach but before that we went on a last stroll through the narrow streets of Granada at the end of the afternoon. My trusted 50mm summicron on my M240 over my shoulder, the only kit you actually really need. The rest is all bonus :).
There is much more to see in Andalucia and I am looking forward to come back.