Monday, 22 September 2014

On being observed by trainee teachers #3

Last Tuesday, my DoS told me that I was going to be observed by CELTA trainees yet again! However, she was quick to add that they had been spoken to with regards to appropriate behaviour in the classroom, and that there wouldn't be a repeat of last week's performance. So, yet again, I typed up a proper lesson plan and photocopied all my material...

I was pleased to note that ALL of the trainees were in the classroom and were sitting quietly before the lesson began. They were even having a look through the paperwork I'd left for them. Progress indeed! That said, they were not the ones who'd been in my lesson last time. Still, so far, so good.

The topic of today's lesson was neighbours and the language points I was teaching were articles and quantifiers. I started the lesson by going through last week's homework. It didn't help though that one of the students had simply not bothered to do it. Well, he would just have to sit there while the others self-corrected and asked me for clarification.

We started talking about neighbours and whether students got on with theirs. Most had something interesting to say – F, a 53-year old man, made me laugh by telling me a story about his ground-floor neighbours who insisted on having loud parties several times a week. From his seventh-floor vantage point he was in the perfect position to throw water balloons at them. I just couldn't picture a middle-aged man doing such a thing. JA was in his usual odd mood, which meant muttered comments about killing people and calling police. I tried to brush it off, but that guy seriously creeps me out!

We then had a look at some language about relationships with neighbours, e.g., get on well with, do someone a favour, etc. While clarifying the meaning of 'to keep oneself to oneself', the ever-cheerful F piped up, "Ahhh! Is JA." [sic] and I couldn't help but agree. Silently of course. Outwardly, I smiled benevolently and quickly moved on to the next exercise – the pre-reading task.

Now either my instructions were not clear enough or the class was simply too keen to do the reading because two of the five did what I'd asked while the others got stuck into the text. Which made the pre-reading task redundant. You can't predict what you're going to read if you've already read it! Sigh.

The point of the text was to introduce the grammar point – articles. Based on some excerpts from the text, the students easily identified the rules, but actually applying them when speaking was much harder. Luckily, I had a game of snakes and ladders with question cards (thank you, Cutting Edge Pre-Int) to make the activity more fun. This class absolutely loves board games, JA excepted of course. Nonetheless, he enjoyed gloating at his team mates when he managed to give the correct answer and they didn't.

So much fun!

In an ideal world, I would have spent some time post-game looking at the language in more depth. But I didn't have time. Instead, I forged ahead and introduced the quantifiers. Again, if I had had more time, I'd have boarded some of the stuff, just to make it a little clearer. But I didn't. Time just escapes me with this class. One minute I have two hours to play with, and all of a sudden I find myself left with ten minutes of class time and 30 minutes of lesson plan.

Even without the boardwork, the students more-or-less managed to select the right quantifiers. There was some confusion over nouns that can be countable or uncountable, but otherwise, there were no real problems. We finished the lesson with a speaking task. Then, I assigned the homework and bid the students goodbye, and to JA, good riddance. Silently of course.

The trainees thanked me for the lesson and I, pleased that they had not stapled or written or talked through my lesson, thanked them. As I was leaving I told them they were so much more polite than the other group of trainees... just as those very people were leaving their classroom. Ooops.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Delta Diary: Why now?

This academic year, as well as working full-time, I shall be doing the Delta or, to give it its full name, The Diploma in English Language Teaching to Speakers of Other Languages. A Master's level course, it's aimed at experienced teachers who have a minimum of 1,200 post-qualification teaching hours under their belts.

In early 2009, bored of my graphic design career and needing a change, I hit on the idea of taking a TEFL course. But, having been at the top of my game in graphics for several years, I was reluctant to just jump off the ladder and start over. So I took an online TEFL course as a sort of 'taster', just to see if TEFL really was for me. Satisfied that it was, the following year I shelled out for the CELTA, which I passed with flying colours. Then I went to Vietnam to cut my TEFL teeth.

Even then, back at the bottom of the ladder, I knew that I didn't want to trade on my CELTA forever. After all, it's an initial teacher training qualification and it seems a little slack to expect such a thing to carry you through for the next 20 or so years. Thus, the Delta was always on the cards. But first I needed to get some experience.

Fast-forward four-and-a-half years and there's no doubt that I've now got that. I have taught monolingual classes in Vietnam, Portugal, Poland and Spain, and multilingual classes in the UK. I have taught VYLs (3-6), YLs (7-12), teens (13-18), and adults at a range of levels. I've taught English For Fun, General English and Business English, and I've also done exam preparation for Cambridge YLE, PET, FCE, CAE and BEC Vantage. Were that not enough, I've taught one-to-ones and in-company classes.

So now it's time. And this coming week, it begins with my diagnostic observation...

Friday, 19 September 2014

Better Together

The debate about an independent Scotland had gone on for so long that it had become one of those 'Oh God, not that again' situations. But, as the referendum drew ever closer, interest was renewed and you couldn't look at a news website without seeing dramatic headlines on the state of the campaign. In recent weeks, the BBC claimed that the 'no' camp, which had been the favourite since day one, was slowly-but-surely losing ground. The aye-sayers were ecstatic. After 307 years, it looked as though Scotland might actually win its bid for independence...

Yesterday, Thursday, 18th September, 2014, a record 84.5% of the electorate turned out to have their say, each side utterly convinced that they had it in the bag. With votes only given to those resident in Scotland, whether Scottish or not, the rest of the UK and the world could only look on praying that their wish would be reflected in the result. Though far from patriotic, I found myself hoping that the 'no' vote would win out, that Scotland would remain a part of the UK, that life would go on as it always had.

Caught in the middle (photo ©

The 'yes' campaign was led by the odious, outspoken Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister (now newly-resigned) and leader of the SNP, while the 'no' campaign, also known as Better Together, had Alistair Darling, the Labour party's former Chancellor of the Exchequer, at its head. If you could be objective for just one moment, you could see that both sides had some compelling reasons why voters should vote for them.

But, in true political form, many big questions remained unanswered. What currency would Scotland use? Would they be able to become a member of the EU? (Spain had already threatened to veto their membership, if only to try and dash Catalunya's hopes of independence). What would happen to the thousands of Scottish expats currently enjoying the benefits of their EU membership? And the EU citizens living in Scotland by dint of their EU membership? Salmond downplayed or simply ignored these issues, and his supporters, perhaps blinded by their desire for something new and exciting, seemed content to let sleeping dogs lie. After all, what's a little thing like EU membership when you're on the verge of making history?

As broadcasters warned of a move towards towards the 'yes' camp, the nay-sayers stepped up their game. With less than two weeks to go before the referendum, the Better Together team hit the campaign trail hard urging people the length and breadth of the country to vote 'no'. The three UK party leaders, David Cameron (PM and leader of the Conservatives, aka Tories), Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats) and Ed Miliband (Labour), cancelled their appointments in London and hot-footed it to Scotland to offer up a consolation prize in the form of more powers in the event of a 'no'. "Too little, too late", crowed the aye-sayers, safe in the knowledge that they were about to win. Victory was so close they could almost taste it. Scotland was well on its way to becoming independent.

Voters from both sides jostling for position (photo ©

In a last-ditch effort to sway the voters, both sides employed tit-for-tat tactics. Cameron was alleged to have said that Scotland would not be able to use the pound. Salmond's response was to threaten not to pay Scotland's £100 billion share of the national debt. But it wasn't just the currency Cameron was refusing to share – there was also a tug-of-war over the Monarchy. HRH Elizabeth II (r. 1952- ) is the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. She is NOT the Queen of Scots. However, Salmond had previously stated that she would continue to be Queen of the newly-independent Scotland in just the same way as she is Queen of the Commonwealth countries. Some said that the Queen herself wanted to retain her position in Scotland, but her hands are tied – she answers to the PM. So, if Cameron were to deny her her birth-right, who would be Queen instead? The newshounds did some digging and delightedly offered up the world's most titled woman – Duquesa de Alba, Spain's plastic surgery-loving, toyboy-marrying billionaire, who it would seem has a legitimate claim to the Scottish throne through the Stuart dynasty! If that didn't put the Scots off, nothing would.

Then came the day of reckoning. The polls were open from 07:00 to 22:00. Giving 16- and 17-year olds the vote proved to be a good call, and the polling stations were busier than they had ever been before. The announcement would be made between 06:30 and 07:30 the following day. I went to bed last night not knowing what I would be waking up to. Was the 307-year old union about to end? Or would the threat of Duquesa de Alba as Queen of Scots prove too much?

The Union Jack and the Saltire flying side by side (photo ©

As soon as I woke up, I reached for my phone. This was it, the moment of truth. Had common sense prevailed or would the Duquesa de Alba be flying into Edinburgh to claim her place on the soon-to-be-restored throne of Scotland?

I could have logged on to the BBC website, but force of habit had me clicking on Facebook. And there it was, the news I had been hoping for. Scotland had spoken and the result was a 'no'. There would be no independence and no Spanish noblewoman. My country was still in one piece.

The UK is often mocked for its so-called fall from greatness. Once it was the head of the largest empire the world had ever known; now it's little more than a small island nation tied to three other nations and a couple of overseas Commonwealth countries. Gone are the days of Rule, Britannia!, gone are the colonies and, if Scotland were to get their way, the Union too would be a thing of the past. The anti-British would have a field day. Indeed, they were rubbing their hands together in glee at the mere thought of Scotland's break for freedom.

But while the world was busy laughing at our imminent downfall, they missed the key issue: British democracy is alive and well – how many other countries can say that? You only have to look at mainland Europe to see how lucky we are. Unlike the former Yugoslavia – now Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo (disputed) and Macedonia – and the former Czechoslovakia – now the Czech Republic and Slovakia – we, the British, have managed to conduct a bid for independence without firing so much as a single shot and without a single death, civilian or other. The bid may have failed, but the way it was carried out should serve as a model for others hoping to follow suit. Take note, Catalunya, please take note.

Daniel Rue from Catalunya who travelled to Scotland to see the referendum in action (photo ©

Despite the outcome of the referendum, the UK as we know it will never be the same again. Not only will Cameron honour the pledge he made to give Scotland more powers, he has also promised to give England, Wales and Northern Ireland more powers. Though I am no particular fan of the Tories, I think that by allowing Scotland to vote, Cameron has done himself proud. Of course, only time will tell if his actions lead to a happier, stronger and more prosperous country, but as things stand right now, I am proud to be British. Long live the UK!

Monday, 15 September 2014

On being observed by trainee teachers #2

On Friday afternoon, I got a call from my DoS telling me that my Monday morning class would be being observed by three CELTA trainees. This makes it my fourth observation in a month (!), and I still have one more to go. Well, one more that I know of. Still, it's all good practice, I guess.

Last time the trainees observed me, I gave them a handwritten plan containing little more than the stages of the lessons and a brief outline of the procedure. This time, with a whole weekend to plan, I brought out the big guns – a full lesson plan showing stages, aims, timings and interaction patterns, and copies of all my materials.

To accommodate my observers, my class and I were moved from the rather compact Room 3 to the much larger Room 8. My students were very pleased with the new room; I was rather less so seeing as the trainees, i.e., the very reason for the move, didn't seem all that interested in showing up.

By the time I started my class, I had just one of the three trainees in situ. And rather than bothering to look at the lesson plan I'd helpfully left on her chair, she was engrossed in doing her own work. Humph.

Ten or so minutes later, a second trainee appeared. She banged into the room, barged past the student sitting on the end of the row, sat down heavily, and immediately started talking to the other trainee. Ummmm, WTF? You are in MY classroom, in MY lesson, and you're TALKING?! I shot her an 'are-you-f***ing-serious?!' look and, suitably chastised, she lowered her voice to a whisper.

Having corrected the homework, I moved on to the lead-in. Today's topic was emotions and the target language was -ed/-ing adjectives and zero and first conditionals. I got the students brainstorming emotions, which led to a reading text and matching pictures to words. I then set the speaking task.

While the students were reading through the questions to check that they understood the vocab, I looked over at the trainees. The first one was loudly stapling papers together – seriously, who does that in someone else's lesson? – while the second was apparently writing her assignment, you know, the one she'd had all bloody weekend to write! FFS!

With the vocab checked and clarified, the students got down to speaking. I was thoroughly irritated to note that the trainees had chosen that exact moment to get back to their conversation. Honestly, if looks could kill, they'd have keeled over right there and then. They took the unsubtle hint and went back to stapling and writing.

I did some feedback on the speaking, writing the errors up on the board and highlighting things with different coloured pens. I couldn't help but notice that I now had Stapling Trainee's attention. Perhaps she'd run out of staples? Writing Trainee, however, was still writing. Forget learning how to teach – that girl needs to learn some freaking manners!

My next activity should have been a pre-listening one, the idea being to show students some pictures related to the listening and then get them to listen out for some specific information on that topic. But, as so often happens with this class, time slips away and I realised that if I did the listening, which was long and tough, I wouldn't have enough time to do the grammar. So I did the pre-listening task because it was fun, and then ended up moving straight on to the grammar. Not, of course, that the trainees noticed. Stapling Trainee still hadn't bothered to look at the lesson plan, Writing Trainee was still writing and Absent Trainee was still absent.

I gave the students a handout and got them to complete the grammar rules in pairs. Having checked their answers and clarified the issues they had, I set a practice exercise from the book. Just as I did, the door opened and No-Longer-Absent Trainee walked in. An hour-and-a-half late. Seriously, why bother? All he got to see was the students working through a grammar activity and me answering their questions. Yep, guessing he got a lot out of that observation!

The trainees started gathering their stuff together before the lesson had even finished. To a background of chair-shuffling and paper-gathering, I set the homework. No-Longer-Absent-Trainee practically shot out of the classroom – evidently half an hour of forced observation was too much for him; Writing Trainee had the cheek to photograph my board-work, as if she even knew what it was about! Stapling Trainee politely thanked me for letting her watch the lesson, and I only just resisted the urge to say sarcastically, "Funny, I didn't think you did watch it". Instead, I said, "Oh, you're welcome" in a voice so insincere that the students could probably have picked up on it!

Back in the teachers' room the CELTA tutor asked me how it had gone, no doubt expecting me to say, 'fine'. Ha! I told him exactly what I thought – late, disruptive and completely lacking in common courtesy. Quite aside from it being my lesson that they had talked/written/stapled through, it thoroughly irritated me to see these trainees waste such an opportunity. You see in the 'real' world, thanks to timetabling, you so rarely get a chance to watch other people's lessons, and there they were with just such an opportunity and they were so utterly unappreciative. Oh, but they'll learn that one day. Hopefully, right about the same time they learn some manners. Because seriously, don't you come into MY classroom and presume to staple or write your way through my lesson! Just don't.

Exploring España: Sevilla #2

Following on from last week's post for Travel Photo Discovery's Travel Photo Mondays project, here's the second part of that trip. In June, I spent three days in Sevilla, but unlike just about every other tourist ever, I didn't fall head-over-heels in love with the city. Instead, I found it to be little more than a big fat tourist trap – overpriced, overcrowded and far from deserving of the accolades heaped upon it. But no matter how charmless I think a place, I can usually find something I like, and Sevilla was no different...

Close-up of some of the flowers on Muelle de Nueva York

Having been left distinctly underwhelmed by the city's historic buildings, I set off in search of a more modern offering – El Metropol Parasol, more commonly known as Las Setas (the mushrooms) for its funghi-like appearance.

Designed by the German architect, Jürgen Mayer-Hermann, the building – thought to be the largest wooden structure in the world – measures 150 x 70 m (490 x 230 ft) and has an approximate height of 26 m (85 ft). Work commenced in 2005 and, following long delays, it was finally completed in 2011.

I soon found what I was looking for. And that's when my opinion of Sevilla changed. Forget the centuries-old cathedral, forget the ancient Alcázar – THIS was what made Sevilla worth visiting. For a mere €3 (£2.50/US$4), I was treated to some stunning views right across the city. I could happily have stayed up there all day, just drinking it all in...

Las Setas

Standing underneath the 'mushrooms' in La Plaza de la Encarnación

Starting the walk...

Looking across the city with La Iglesia de la Anunciación in the foreground

View of La Iglesia de la Anunciación

An overview of the walkway


...and ascending

View of the waffle-like structure and the highest point

Oh, go on then, one more photo

Leaving Las Setas

On my second day, having had some breakfast, I went wandering and somehow mis-read my map (which is nothing unusual for me) and ended up getting lost. I can't even remember what I was looking for now, but what I ended up finding made my day. I had stumbled across La Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla (the bullring). Ordinarily, I wouldn't get all that excited about a bullring – I mean I live right beside one in Madrid and I've never visited it – but I realised that this one was the very one I'd seen in photos, one of the symbols of Spain so to speak. Guided tour for €7 (£5.60/US$9.35)? I didn't need asking twice!

The very view I was after

Breaking away from the guide to grab another photo

The top rows

Looking along the row of seats

Sol y sombra

Seat numbers
The shady seats – probably the place to be on a hot summer's day in Sevilla

Passageway leading to the museum

The museum's only cow, famous for being the mother of the bull that killed Manolete

Later, on the way back to the hotel, I passed the cathedral. Outside on Avenida de la Constitución, there was a dancer drawing quite the crowd. I carefully edged forward till I had a front row view and watched for a while. But soon our eyes were drawn away from the dancer and towards a little girl in a pink dress who was imitating the dancer's moves with concentrated determination...

Flying shawl

Dancer having her moves copied by a fan

The picture of concentration

Seeing these simple sights made me look upon Sevilla more kindly. While I am unlikely to be running back there anytime soon, I can at least look back on my trip and smile. And given my earlier feelings towards the city, that's got to be progress!

Monday, 8 September 2014

On being observed by newly-qualified teachers #2

Following on from last week's two observations, I kicked off this week with another one. Yet again, I had planned my lesson properly. I had written an in-depth lesson plan complete with aims, I had made some resources, and I had photocopied everything that needed to be photocopied. What could possibly go wrong? Ha! It seems that I hadn't banked on one of the student's moods, which ranged from grumpy to downright rude.

Because the students tend to arrive at different times, I had planned to start the lesson by collecting the homework and finding out about their weekends. But just getting them to understand that I wanted them to write their name on the homework sheets was a mammoth task in itself. I asked them to write their names on the papers, and even showed them where I wanted it written. But they sat there like lemons, staring miserably at the white space as though a translation might magically appear. Seriously?! These people have been learning English for THREE freaking years and they can't understand basic instructions?! Name. Here. Now. Oh FFS! Escribe tu nombre aquí. You think they were losing the will to live? I could have freaking walked out there and then! Needless to say, by the time I got on to the weekend chat, both I and the class were pretty damn stressed. And things just went downhill from there.

On Saturday, when I was on my back from the El Día de Mercado, I jumped on the metro and found myself sitting right beside JA, one of the students. He was very friendly and we had a chat in Spanglish for a few minutes before he got off. So naturally, today, I said, "I saw you on Saturday, remember?" He looked at me blankly. I repeated it, and added, "On the metro. At Lago. Remember?" He narrowed his eyes, glared at me and muttered, "You are very strange person. I not understand nothing." [sic] So I tried again. And he point-blank refused to engage in conversation with me! I glanced at my observer, who will be teaching this very group on Thursday. She looked horrified. I moved on quickly and asked F, a very cheerful older man, about his weekend. He was much more forthcoming and order was soon restored.

Today's lesson was about the personal qualities required to do certain jobs, and millionaires. For some reason, the second exercise, which involved brainstorming qualities needed for three jobs, took forever-and-a-day to complete. Now I was ten minutes behind schedule. I would have to cut some time from somewhere. Rather surprisingly, an activity I'd assigned 15 minutes to took closer to five, and before long, I was back on track timing-wise. For another stage, and then I fell behind again.

I had printed off some pictures of millionaires, among them Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg. I divided the students into two groups, and gave them the pictures. I wanted to see if they knew who the people were before discussing whether the quotes from the text they'd just read applied to them. In one group I had C and N working together, in the other there was F, ME and the grumpy JA. It soon became clear that JA was not remotely interested in working with his partners. I reminded him jokingly that he was in a group, before turning to his partners and politely hinting that they might like to include JA. Ever the people-pleaser, F obligingly tried... and was met with complete silence. Like me, he rephrased his question and tried again. And was ignored again.

Now if there's one thing I can't stand it's students being rude to other students. Be rude to me if you like – I can take it – but there is no call whatso-freaking-ever to be outright rude to your classmates. If JA did not want to participate then I wasn't going to make him. But neither was I going to sit by and let him treat other people like that. So I pointedly asked F and ME for their opinions while leaving JA to his own devices.

Thanks to my timings having gone further awry, I had to cut the speaking task short. After all, I had grammar to teach – must, have to and should for obligation. (Fun, fun, fun for everyone!). As I had predicted, the students struggled to grasp the meaning of don't have to and the lesson ground to a standstill. I ended up sacrificing the final activity so I could explain the grammar a little better. I assigned them a practice exercise for homework, so hopefully by tomorrow I will know exactly what their issues with this bit of grammar are.

I couldn't have been happier when the lesson ended. It had been tough-going, and tough lessons seem tougher still when you are being observed by someone. But at least it's done. And on Thursday, my observer gets to teach the first half of the class. Yay for me!

Exploring España: Sevilla #1

For this week's Travel Photo Mondays post in connection with Travel Photo Discovery, I'm blogging about a trip I took in June. With a history dating back 2,200 years, Sevilla has long been one of the most important cities in Spain. It was originally inhabited by the Phoenicians, who called it Spal. The name was later Latinised as Hispalis by the Romans. Following the Muslim conquest in 712 AD, the city was renamed Ishbilyya, from which the word 'Sevilla' derives. In 1248, after centuries of Muslim Rule, Sevilla became part of the Christian Kingdom of Castile under Fernando II, King of Castile (r. 1217-1252) and later King of León (r. 1230-1252). Today it is the capital of both the province of the same name and the autonomous community of Andalucía.

Were the mix of Roman, Moorish and Christian history not enough, the city is home to no less than three UNESCO World Heritage Sites – La Catedral de Santa María de la Sede, El Real Alcázar de Sevilla, and El Archivo General de Indias. And of course, there are other tourist favourites such as La Plaza de España.

As with many places in Spain, I had long wanted to visit Sevilla, but every time I looked at flights or trains – six-hour bus journeys are NOT for me – they were ridiculously overpriced. So when I found a return flight for £49 (€60/US$83), I booked it without a moment's hesitation. Time to see what the hype was about...

View from my riverside walk

My flight landed ten minutes early. I got the bus into town, and too late realised that I should have gotten off before Plaza de Armas. Since it was such a beautiful day, I decided to re-trace the bus route and see the things that had caught my eye.

I walked along the banks of the River Guadalquivir, pausing to take a few photos of an interesting twelve-sided building. I later learned that this was La Torre de Oro (The Golden Tower), a military watchtower built around 1220 by Abu l-Ulà, the Almohad governor of Sevilla. Constructed of mortar, lime and pressed hay (!), the building gets its name from the golden shine it projected onto the river.

Torre del Oro

On reaching the Old Town, I made a beeline for the first of the big-hitters – La Catedral de Sevilla. In the years after the Reconquista of 1248, Sevilla grew to become a major trading centre. To demonstrate the city's new-found wealth, a cathedral was commissioned. In 1401, work commenced on the site of a former mosque. Over 100 years later in 1506, the cathedral was completed. But in 1511, the dome collapsed and work began again. In 1888, an earthquake caused the dome to collapse once more, and repairs went on into the 20th century.

With a length of 135 m (443 ft), a width of 100 m (330 ft) and a height of 42 m (138 ft), La Catedral de Sevilla is the largest cathedral in the world, and the third largest church building. However, its claim to fame lies not so much in its size but in the fact that it's the burial place of Cristoforo Colombo (c. 1451-1506), better known – to the English-speaking world at least – as Christopher Colombus.

The south façade (with queue to enter)

La Puerta del Príncipe

Keen to see inside this 600-year old church, I joined the long and winding queue and stumped up the €8 (£6.50/US$10.50) entrance fee. But once inside, the cathedral did not live up to expectations.

For such a large space, there seemed to be little room to move without finding yourself under the feet of a huge tour group, hell-bent on taking ALL the photos. Even those wanting simply to sit and reflect fell victim to rude tourists who thought nothing of barging through the rows of seats in order to get that perfect shot. After all, why let a few people sitting on said seats get in the way of your quest for a great photo?!

The deceptively spacious interior

Golden altarpiece

Looking down the aisle

Pretty much the only photo I got of Columbus' tomb

In a bid to escape the manner-less morons, I moved away from the big draws and tried to focus on other things – the high ceilings, the length of the aisles, the stained glass windows... But to no avail, because no matter where I went, I found myself standing beside some tw*t suffering from 'photo envy'. You know, the kind of person who sees you pointing your camera at something and panics that they might be missing out on a must-have photo. Cue getting unceremoniously elbowed out of your own freaking shot!

I was most annoyed to have shelled out a less-than-purse-friendly €8 (£6.50/US$10.50) for what amounted to little more than twenty minutes inside a veritable cattle market. But, beyond fed up of being pushed and shoved by no less than THREE bloody Japanese tour groups, all desperate to take ALL the photos of Colombus' tomb – as if they even knew who he was – I gave up and exited stage left leaving much of the cathedral unseen.

La Puerta de los Palos

La Giralda is all that remains of the former mosque

The former minaret from another angle

Back outside, safe in the knowledge that the world and its mother were in the cathedral, I joined the short-ish queue for the Alcázar. Then, on payment of €9.50 (£7.60/US$12.50) – just how freaking expensive are Sevilla's tourist attractions?! – I was free to explore.

A hint of what's to come

The archway leading to the complex

Patio de la Montería
Patio de las Doncellas (The Courtyard of the Maidens)
One of the things I love about Moorish constructions is the fine detailing. From the intricate stone carvings to the decorative ceilings to the colourful tiling, I was in an architectural heaven. And with the photo-hoggers still busy trampling each other in the cathedral, I was even able to get a few pictures.

Detail above one of the doors

Beautiful ceiling

Close-up of the tilework

Salón de Embajadores

The ceiling in El Salón de Embajadores

More tilework

Close-up of stone carvings

Having seen the buildings, I went to check out the gardens. But the steadily rising temperatures meant that I did little more than have a quick scoot round before heading off in search of food and shade.

Seating area under a canopy of vines

Green as far as the eye can see

It seems that even the Alcázar, Europe's oldest Royal Palace still in use today, could not change the quietly creeping feelings I had of Sevilla. This most beloved city is nothing but a lie, a big fat tourist trap thinly-disguised in centuries of history...

But since I was here, I figured I might as well continue hunting for whatever it is that people see in this city. And no trip to Sevilla would be complete with a visit to Plaza de España, a huge semi-circular plaza situated on the edge of El Parque de María Luisa.

Commissioned by Alfonso XIII, King of Spain (r. 1886-1931), the plaza was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American exhibition of the following year. Designed in the Art Deco and Neo-Mudéjar styles by the Spanish architect, Aníbal González Álvarez-Ossorio (1875-1929), it comprises a semi-circular building, a moat and four bridges, each one representing one of the ancient kingdoms of Spain. Running along the outer wall of the building is the tiled 'Alcove of Provinces', a big draw for tourists wanting to photograph themselves in their home/host province.

Having easily located the plaza, I stood in the centre surveying the scene. It should have blown me away, but instead I was left feeling a little 'meh'. Maybe I just don't get what makes other people tick, or maybe it was because of the seemingly endless stream of tourists, balancing on the edge of the fountain or posing for one stupid jumping shot after another – seriously, what is with that?! – but I just didn't love it.

The central building
Covered walkway
Close-up of the ceiling
Looking out towards one of the towers

View from upstairs

The next day, determined to give Plaza de España a second chance, I returned. Perhaps because it was quieter and there was a distinct lack of stupid jumping tourists (nope, still don't get it), the place grew on me a little more. But not so much that I fell in love with the city, which still felt like one big tourist trap.

One of the four bridges

Painted railings

Pretty in pink

One last look at the square

I have no doubt that I have just committed blogger suicide by speaking of this tourist favourite in less-than-glowing terms, but I honestly did not get why people rave about this city. Based on what I had thus far seen – a couple of overpriced and overcrowded attractions that generally weren't worthy of the hype – I wasn't all that impressed.

So there I was, in a city I had longed to see and I was feeling utterly cheated. Pretty much every other blogger positively gushes over Sevilla, so what was I missing? Well, that would be telling. You'll just have to wait for next week's post to see what made me smile...