Category Archives: Topic – Travel

CAE – M/W and Tue/Thu – Speaking (and writing) about photos

Came across some great photo galleries online this weekend, linked to a competition called Portugal: o teu olhar (Portugal – through your eyes (translation ok?)) organised by

I found two online galleries, one at Instagram and the other on Facebook.

(A) Part 2 Speaking – speaking about two pictures for about a minute

I’ve linked some images to the blog in three categories along with some typical CAE Speaking prompts.  You could use these to practise Part 2 speaking tasks.  You can practise speaking out-loud at home (maybe best done in a whisper to avoid family members thinking you’re speaking to yourself).  You could even record yourself using online presentation tools like brianshark.

Alternatively, you could write down what you’d say – think about how you’d organise your ideas to include a mixture of description and comparison leading to an answer to the question.

Here are some links and question prompts…

Leisure time

  • Why do people enjoy doing things like this?
  • How typical are these activities in Portugal?
  • How do you think the people in these photos will remember the day?
  • What do you think the people in the photos might be talking about?

Photo of a couple sitting on a wall looking out over the Tagus River by alaps

Photo of a group of friends, ‘sleeping time after pic-nic’ by renrib

Txim txim – photo by limaamj

Skimming – photo of a surfer by _dutti_

Surfing life by cataryna20

Setting up a street party by ceusobrelisboa

People working

  • Which of these jobs do you think would be the most difficult to do?
  • What kind of skills, abilities and qualities are required to do jobs like these?
  • Why might these people be doing their jobs?
  • What might the people like about their jobs?  What might they want to change about them?

Man pushing a wheelbarrow, ‘Balance‘ by ifox34

Street performer – photo taken by inessarzedas

Corn farmers – Desfolhada by renrib

Fishermen – Pesca by Marco Dores

Graffiti and street art

  • Why do you think the graffiti/street artist chose to paint/make these examples of street art?
  • What do these these examples of street art add to the place they were painted?  Do you imagine that any of them detract from their surroundings?
  • Would any of the images attract criticism?  Which might some people most want to be removed from the walls/buildings they are painted on?

Amy wall portrait – photo taken by danielff76 

Women eating pasta – street art windows – photo by inessarzedas

Street art tell no lies – ‘Til debt… – photo by luisrochareis

Jose Saramago picture and quote – photo by joaofernands

(B) Speaking presentations or writing about images using a variety of photos in the gallery:

Some ideas that you could work on, prepare, and make into a video presentation using online tools like brainshark or write up.

  • Imagine you are editing a photography book of the collection in one of the online galleries.  Which one image would you choose to use as the cover shot?  Why?
  • Imagine you are the picture editor for a national newspaper which is producing a Sunday supplement magazine entitled Portugal in 2012.  The magazine will be a mix of articles and photos.  Which image(s) would you use in the magazine?  Why?  What aspect of life in Portugal today does/do the image/s represent?  How?
  • Are you a photographer?  Choose a photo you admire or even wish you had taken.  What is it about the image you find powerful/moving/inspiring/interesting etc.?  How does the photo speak to you?
  • Imagine you are working for the tourist board of Portugal as a whole or one of the cities/towns/villages/regions etc depicted in the photos.  Which image would best sell Portugal to the widest audience of visitors if used in a poster campaign or brochure?  How might your choice be different if the publication were aimed at a smaller target group e.g. 18-30 backpackers, families, retired people, business travellers etc.  Choose one of these smaller target audiences and compare the photo you chose for that group with the photo you chose for the wider audience.  Compare the two photos giving the reasons behind your choices.  What would be a good caption for the shot?
  • Can you find a Coimbra/Santa Clara image?  What aspect of life in your city does it reflect?

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Filed under C1 - Speaking, C1 / CAE Writing, C1+ Vocabulary, Topic - City Life, Topic - photography, Topic - Portugal, Topic - Society, Topic - Travel

Travel videos – pick a destination

Following up on one of the CAE Writing tasks we looked at in class this term, a contribution to a tourist guide, here are some potential sources for building up some words, expressions, collocations that could be used in texts of these kinds.

In the ‘My City’ series of videos from The Guardian newspaper, residents of various cities give you a guided tour of their favourite spots.  They are basically doing what you did in your ‘Coimbra – Off the beaten track’ texts.

Choose a destination, make a note of any interesting phrases you hear, post them back as comments so other people can check out the phrases you found.


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Filed under C1 / CAE Writing, C1+ Vocabulary, Topic - Travel

C1 – Writing: A contribution to a guidebook (1)

The writing task in September was to produce a contribution to a guidebook for a section called Off the beaten track.  Many of you chose destinations in and around Coimbra that have given me a great list of things to do during my first months here.

For the first in a series of follow-up posts, this one will focus attention on a similar text in order to analyse some language features it contains.

Text reconstruction – Lagos

The following sentence beginnings and endings come from a text I found on the Internet (from a google search:  “off the beaten track” “Portugal”).  Match the beginnings 1-9  with the endings a-i.  The beginnings 1-9 are in their original order.

1 Lagos is a small city in a where you can make boat tours to the natural caves.
2 You can pretty b (the) Algarve, (in the) south of Portugal.
3 There is a great variety c of things to see;
4 The city centre is sculpted with traditional d activity, if you like to wake up early don’t miss it.
5 Beaches vary in shape and style from long sandy beaches e much walk everywhere.
6 Ponta da Piedade is a beautiful spot with a nice lighthouse from f about anyone, from the relaxing beaches to the exciting dolphin tours.
7 The harbor in the morning is full of g to almost private ones hidden by cliffs.
8 Also the fish market is an interesting h spot.
9 Lagos has things to do for just i architecture and colours from the region.

You can check your answers by following this link.

(Text source: Copyright 2011 GotSaga LLC)

A useful pattern to notice:

Find examples of the word from in the text (there are 4 of them).  How does from work with the other words around it to communicate the following ideas:
(a)  to show the origin of something (e.g. I’m from…)
(b)  to illustrate a range of possibilities that might be very different
(c)  to show that it is possible to make a journey that originates in a particular place
I am interested in highlighting the pattern in (b).  This is an extremely useful pattern/structure that can help give added cohesion to texts.  It can also be used in speech.  The form is simply:  from (example one) to (example two).  It is often used to show that someone/something is very varied.  So varied in fact that it includes things at different ends of a scale.  Take an example from the text:
“Beaches vary in shape and style from long sandy beaches to almost private ones hidden by cliffs.”  At one end of the scale we find the bigger, “long sandy beaches,” while at the opposite end, we find smaller, private ones “hidden by cliffs.”
Here are some more examples:
  • My music tastes are really varied, I like anything from Jazz and Classical music to Rock and Pop.
  • At XYZ language school we provide classes for everyone, from pre-school infants to retired people.
  • Coimbra is a great shopping city.  From dusty antique shops to state-of-the-art shopping centres, there’s something to fit everyone’s tastes.
  • He’s spent time living in many interesting places, from remote villages in The Andes to more than 5 European capital cities.
Generally speaking, we value variety in society so I suspect that this structure is often used to make people, places and things sound interesting, positive, professional etc.
We can use it to express negative ideas…
“I hate all forms of contemporary music from Hip-Hop and Techno to RnB and House.”
…but I doubt it is as frequently used in negative contexts as it is in positive ones.
This pattern is probably not new to you.  It’s frequent because of examples like…
The shop is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
I lived in London from 1999 to 2004.
I work from Monday to Friday.
What I wanted to highlight was how it can be adapted to add cohesion to texts like guidebook entries or even other CAE writing texts.
Here are some example sentences.  What type of CAE writing text type could these come from?
0)  Coimbra has something for everyone, from energetic water sports to quiet places to sit and read, there’s enough to appeal to everyone’s tastes.  A contribution to a guidebook
1)  As many students as possible were interviewed from those studying the arts to those focusing on the sciences, but the overwhelming majority of people expressed similar views:  It would be regrettable if the budget for the University theatre company were cut.
2)  I guess that if I was in your position I’d be doing everything I could to get them to take me on permanently from asking for extra work to show I was keen to telling the boss how great he was!
3)  She speaks German, French and Italian fluently, capable of doing anything in these languages from negotiating a key deal to socialising with clients and putting them at ease.
4)  We need to do all we can to act responsibly and protect the environment.  That could mean anything from using more public transport to recycling more of our waste to buying energy saving lightbulbs.
1)  Report  2)  Informal letter  3)  Character reference  4)  Article
The from ___ to ___ pattern causes some people to get a bit worked up about incorrect use of it.  If you are interested, read the short text on this link and decide if the writer would complain about the use of from…to in examples 1-4, above.  Why?
This warning apart, it seems that the pattern from…to is a much used technique for showing range of variety.  For texts such as guidebooks they can be really useful for showing why a region or city is worth visiting.
I’ll leave you with some further examples:
The perfect trip: California  Take a classic road trip through the best of the west coast, from Yosemite’s granite domes to the giant redwood trees, and acres of vineyards and dramatic landscapes in (travel)

Take a couple of weeks, hit the road and explore the best of America’s west, from nature’s biggest, tallest and most powerful features to beautiful wineries, before finishing by heading back to San Francisco or north to Seattle.

With 62 restaurants included in the programme, there will definitely be something for everyone, as it caters to all tastes: from the more conservative and classic environments to the more modern and trendier places

Holiday accommodation in Penela comes in many shapes and forms, providing the kind of variety and versatility that caters for anything from a quietly relaxing break for two to a vacation for all your family and friends…

 The final two examples really show how this aspect of pushing a message of variety is common in travel texts (“comes in all shapes and forms” / “providing the kind of variety and versatility”/”caters for anything”/”offers something for everyone”) because they add an element of persuasion.   Commercial travel texts and guidebooks try to sell a destination, make it seem appealing.  The more people they can attract, the better.  The more varied the experience the destination is seen to offer and the more they can make the destination sound like it will appeal to as many people as possible, the better.  For this reason I suspect that the frequency of using the pattern from…to with phrases like ‘there’s something for everyone‘ and ‘caters to all/many tastes‘ is quite high.


  • “caters to anything” – 20,400 google results, “caters to anything from” – 3,730 google results
  • “cater to anything” – 48,700 google results, “cater to anything from” – 22,700 google results
  • “cater to all tastes” – 1,700,000 google results, “cater to all tastes from” – 49,200 google results
  • “cater to any taste” – 40,800 google results, “cater to any taste from” – 1,340 google results
  • “something for everyone” – 37,100,000 results, “something for everyone from” – 5,500,000 google results


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Filed under C1 / CAE Writing, C1+ Vocabulary, Topic - Travel

Topic – Travel – Is Barcelona being spoilt by tourists?

Video link:  BBC fast:track – Is Barcelona being spoilt by tourists?

The report linked above investigates the impact of tourism on Barcelona.  It explores some of the negative effects for a city that popularity can bring.

Before watching

Before you watch, think about the following points…

  • What have you read in the newspapers in the last few years about tourism in Barcelona?  Can you remember any stories about the negative effects of tourism on the city?
  • Have you visited Barcelona?  What was your impression?  Was it a pleasant place to visit?  What 5 words best describe your visit?
  • Can you think of another place that you would say has been spoilt (ruined, damaged) by tourism?
  • What do you know about Barcelona before the 1992 Olympics?  How has the city changed since it hosted the games?

Now watch the video.  Were any of the points you thought about mentioned in the report?

After watching

What’s your overall impression of the report?  To what extent do you think it is true to say that BCN is being spoilt by tourists? 

Which interviewees’ point of view did you have the most sympathy with?  The politician, the hotel manager, the tourist board representative, the shop owner, the resident (author), the photographer, the tourists.

Are any of the points made true for Madrid or another place you know well? Do you think the effects of the successful Olympics in 1992 will follow if Madrid’s latest bid to host the games is accepted?

Watch again – extracting key information:

Why were the following numbers important in the report?

  • 80,000
  • 15%
  • 80-100,000
  • 1 in 10
  • 10 million
  • 2.5 million
  • 60-70%

Language points

Look at the following extracts from the text.  What do the words in bold have in common? 

This avenue, The Ramblas, used to be a river but the water ran out and now Barcelona is overflowing with tourists and the locals say they are drowning.

…the tourist dollars (are) flooding in…

The words are all associated with water – a common vocabulary group for metaphors.  By using ‘overflowing’, ‘drowning’ and ‘flooding’, the reporter creates a sense of quantities being out of control.  Here are some other examples that work in a similar way.  Who do you think the speaker might be in each case?  What situation are they facing?

  • I’m drowning in all this paper!
  • Our phone lines have been flooded with calls from people entering the competition.
  • The streets are overflowing with people who have come to protest about the cuts.
  • I broke down and was in floods of tears when I heard the news.
  • People poured out onto the streets to celebrate at the end of the match.



Filed under B2.2 - Speaking skills July 2011, Topic - City Life, Topic - Travel

“Live” Reading – follow a traveller as he visits Madrid

Today you can follow a traveller as he makes his way around Madrid.  The places he visits will be determined by recommendation messages he receives from Twitter.  You can follow his progress at: and

You can see the recommendations he gets here:

You could try collecting any new vocabulary as the trip progresses or useful structures for describing, asking for suggestions, responding to ideas etc.

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Filed under Topic - Travel