Friday, 23 September 2011

StarCraft II and eSports

A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with a friends of mine, Vincent Laurent (aka Amnesia, to tetris folk), on our history playing Tetris, and why we still bother hanging around the community and playing the game. There came a point at which I mentioned that if I could go back five years with the hindsight I have now, and do things differently, I'd probably choose to play StarCraft instead.

His first response was "so you regret everything?" (it was probably a bit more Frenglais than that), and no, I don't regret anything. I could have probably done something with my time that wasn't playing video games, I'll ignore that line of thinking. The fact is that while I've met some awesome people and hand awesome times in the community (and still do), the competitive scene for the game seems to be a complete dead-end. It's fragmented, has very little official support (aside from not-even-a-handful of tournaments) and to be honest I can't see it ever becoming particularly big.

On the other hand, StarCraft's competitive scene is now almost reaching the point where it's moving across from being big in the community of people who play the game to being small in the world at large as an eSport. There's big money to be made by the players, and the audience numbers are starting to really kick off.

I don't know how truthful the comments that StarCraft is Korean's national sport are, but it's historically where most of the big competitions and money has been. Korean players have had teams, coaches, sponsors and all that jazz for longer and on a much bigger scale than in the US or Europe (or so I am lead to believe), but it's now really starting to increase in the West as well (the US Evil Geniuses team has a frickin awesome team house).

There is a lot of money to be made as an SC2 player these days, and I'd say pretty surely that those numbers are only likely to go up. Even aside from prize money and team salaries, there are players like Destiny and other casters online that are making a fairly solid full-time salary just through streaming their daily gaming over the internet with the size of audiences their streams regularly get.

I wouldn't try to claim that if I'd started on StarCraft: Brood War instead of Tetris DS that I'd be making some pretty nice money on the side by being one of the top EU SC2 players instead of top EU TGM players, because that's just not how this sort of thing works (and Tetris, with a far smaller player base, is much easier to become one of the best at), but it would have been nice to have given it a go and seen where I'd gotten. But this post is not to lament stuff I could-but-probably-wouldn't have been, this is more a prediction that in 10-15 years the whole eSports scene will be substantially bigger than it is now to the point at which it verges on mainstream viewers.

Forbes magazine recently interviewed Sean "Day[9]" Plott, a guy I've come to have a lot of respect for and be a huge fan of, on the issue. Firstly, I think the fact that Forbes have even bothered to interview someone almost entirely unknown outside the SC2 community is a fairly big deal for this sort of thing (they also did quite an interesting interview with Destiny on how he now makes a living streaming and can earn up to $40-50 an hour doing so). Secondly I think some of the points in that interview are pretty interesting and enlightening on how the whole eSports scene could develop as a whole in the next few years.

StarCraft: Brood War matches attract sizes of crowds in Korea that can literally fill a stadium

eSports and professional gaming tournaments have been around for absolutely ages, but it seems only recently that things have properly started to pick up, I'd say most probably because live streaming of matches over the internet has exploded the audience sizes far beyond the few thousand people who are nerdy enough to go to these events to watch it first-hand.

Gaming tournaments always used to be sponsored by extremely nerd-centric brands. Companies that make graphics cards and high-end hardware and various other brands that my parents have never heard of (well, maybe my Dad would have). And sure, the sponsorship is still largely covered by brands like NVidia and Alienware, but these days you also see brands like Pepsi (sponsor of the GSL in Korea) and Dr Pepper (I think MLG?) plastered all over these sorts of tournaments. The fact that companies as big as Pepsi and Coke are getting involved and putting money into these sorts of events is a show that they're starting to gather serious attention beyond the most hardcore nerd scene. There was also Day9's After Hours Gaming League, a tournament involving employees from Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and various other US internet giants. A couple of weeks Destiny and Sheth did a 24-hour charity drive on their streams for Doctors Without Borders and managed to raise around $32,000 from stream ads and viewer donations on Paypal.

So aside from internet streaming becoming far more widespread and popular, why now, and why StarCraft? Personally I think it's because SC2 actually provides a decent eSport from the spectator's point of view, whilst most other games don't.

I used to think the idea of watching people play games was totally stupid. I was a huge player of games, but the idea of watching other people play just seemed totally dull. Sure, they might have been awesome, but I didn't know any of these people, and why should I care? Partly I think this stemmed from the fact that most pro gaming videos on the internet are first-person shooters or music-based games like IIDX or Guitar Hero, which all produce games that are totally useless to watch as a spectator. Sure, maybe you can see that it's quite impressive that they can do that, but to your average player or non-player everyone who is really good just looks the same (high-level Tetris is the same), and for first-person shooters you're either watching a first-person cam from one player and missing most of the action, or you're watching from a higher level and can only really see people shooting each other and dying.

The difference with StarCraft is that its gameplay creates something which is far closer to a conventional sport. You can see players gain and lose the upper hand, make tactical decisions and errors, you get close calls and tight spots, comebacks, and all the other stuff that makes regular real-life sports entertaining to watch. To steal and extend an analogy from the Day9 interview, it's like chess, only a lot fsater, with real time explosions and stuff, and where the strategy can still be subtly there, but from a spectator point of view it doesn't require you to be at their level of thinking to see what they're doing.

Blizzard have gone to great lengths to create a game which is fun and provides depth in strategy and skill, whilst still being extremely balanced at a competitive level, and they've done all of this almost with making it a spectacle in mind. It's set up so that casters and commentators can easily have an overlord view of the entire game and present it live how they want to.

What's more, it's accessible as a spectacle. With commentators you don't need to have played the game to understand what's going on. Sure, you probably need to watch a few games to pick things up, but that's the same for any sport. You might not appreciate the difficulty and complexity of what the players themselves are having to do to manage and control everything as well as they do (and I'll say after a few months of playing - it's fucking hard), but appreciation for the skill isn't something that's necessarily required to enjoy a sport.

I think the fundamental barrier to the likes of SC2 becoming majorly popular is that it is still a video game, and just the label of "eSport" will cause most people to be somewhat prejudiced against its qualities and validity, in the same way I was until not that long ago (it doesn't help it's also a stupid term). That said, the generation currently reaching their mid-twenties is one that grew up playing video games in a way that the previous generation didn't, and it could be that the viewpoint of video games being a pointless hobby and waste of time opens into one that allows them to be seen as a legitimate form of entertainment. Sure, it's just two people manipulating things on a screen, but there's not a huge fundamental difference between watching people running around kicking a ball on TV and watching player-controlled armies duking it out in terms of the entertainment it provides.

Short of a small miracle, there's no way I'll ever come even close to a professional level on StarCraft II (especially not if I stick to my current timetable of only playing it for a little bit every few days) but I'd personally find it awesome if the game itself and its competitive scene would keep its current rate of gaining popularity. The last MLG had a record 130,000 live viewers online during the event (on the main website, not counting other official streaming sites or people who watched the recordings at a later time). That's still tiny compared to most regular sports (or even the Korean GSL's reported 100 million viewers when you include people watching the recordings uploaded online), but for an American gaming event broadcast over the internet it's not a bad figure.

So whilst in terms of the internet the figures are relatively small for the most part, I still think that as word gets around a bit more, and maybe as the available audience shifts into one that is a bit more receptive to this sort of thing, StarCraft II and a few other eSports could genuinely start to pick up a proper audience, even amongst people who don't actually play the games themselves, and it honestly wouldn't surprise me to see these sorts of things proper televised in the west in ten or twenty years' time. It won't ever happen to Tetris, and I totally backed a losing horse there in terms of monetary repayment for invested time (not that I ever played it for that reason anyway), but I still think it'd be fricking cool for SC2 anyway.

Either way, StarCraft II is one of the few sports (to use the term liberally) that I can actually watch as a total neutral and enjoy (the others being forms of cycling and motorsport). Because despite my original scepticism, it's actually surprisingly entertaining.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Fourth Year

I was sort of vaguely aware that I've not actually written a blog post in a while. I've got a few I've been half-writing that are unfinished at the moment, so it doesn't feel like I've neglected this thing too much, but then my pa brought it up in an email and I also noticed that Anna Railton was also massively out-posting me, so I figured I should get off my arse and write some shit down.

There main reason I've not written much recently is pretty much that I've not done much recently. I've moved into our new house in Cambridge and pimped out my room a bit, but really there has been very little interesting going on in my life and I've sort of burned all that out over the summer. We have a PS3 in our house now, so that's been getting a fair bit of attention (not to mention nostalgia gaming on the PS2 and N64), as has StarCraft II. Usually I'd feel fairly crappy about just whittling time away doing sweet fuck-all in this sort of manner, but the rough MET IIB timetable has been put up on Camtools, and it's totally killed any regret for not doing much the last few weeks.

In short, the timetable is absolutely fucking ridiculous. People following this or who have spoken to me in person recently will probably know I've got like 14 weeks of work placements outside of Cambridge. In itself I'm not actually that bothered by this - it'd be nice if they gave us more info on what the hell it actually involves and where we'll be (heck, I'd take any info at the moment), and it's more the amount of time I'll be away from Cambridge that I'm actually unhappy about, because it kills any chances of doing coxing or any of that jazz for my final year.

But I'm fine with the placements. What I'm significantly less fine with is the rest of the timetable, which basically involves 9am-5pm lectures every day. Except Wednesdays, when we apparently get a half-day. This is ridiculous to the point where my first reaction to seeing it on the calendar was "that's a mistake". No course has 36 hours of lectures a week. That's just mental. Hell, on one week we've even got 9-5 marked down for Saturday and Sunday.

And this shit starts on Monday. This Monday. Monday 26th September. A good week and a day before Cambridge full term actually starts. And we have a three-day placement the week after that (i.e. freshers week). And we apparently don't finish until Friday 9th December, which is again a week after Cambridge term ends. And we apparently have either 31 hours of lectures or work placements every week for the entire ten weeks?

I still reckon that there's just something of a misunderstanding over this, and despite what people have apparently been told it just means that we have lectures scattered around the 9-5 time period rather than filling the whole block. I feel it has to be because I just don't see how the hell we can actually have all of that, and have examples papers and project write-ups and not die before the middle of November. I mean, such a heavy work-load might help prepare us for the working life and all that jazz, but you generally don't come home from work with more work to do. And you also get paid.

So yeah, I'm doing as much as I can this week to avoid anything that even resembles work, because I may cease having any sort of life for ten weeks starting Monday. Still, if it turns out it's apparently true, then MET should be a popular course once the £9k fees are introduced. You'll certainly be getting your money's worth.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Return Of The King

When Hodgson was sacked, all the way back in January or whenever it was now, I had somewhat mixed opinions. I thought perhaps it would have been fairer to give him more time, but at the same time I didn't particularly like the direction of football he was taking. I'd still somewhat stand by my opinions that Benitez was a good manager, and I feel that his demise was largely down to his inability to work under Hicks & Gillett than it was his lack of ability to run the team.

I was also in mixed opinions on Kenny's appointment, which is largely why this post is being written now, seven or eight months later, rather than at the time. Dalglish is generally considered to be the most talented player to ever play for Liverpool, and probably only has the unfashionable trait of having Scotland as his national side to thank for not being more renowned outside of Merseyside and the UK. That said, as various players-turned-managers have proven (Souness and Barnes, to name a few) being a great Liverpool player does necessarily lead into being a great manager. Dalglish did well in his first stint as a manager, but that was well over a decade ago. There's also the questionable video game, "Kenny Dalglish Soccer Manager".

And then there's his voice. I'd say the gift of the gab is a somewhat vital quality for managers. Benitez gave a legendary speech to his players at half-time in Istanbul to rouse his players into making a comeback. Does Dalglish really have the ability to rally his troops with his indecipherable Scottish mumblings? I'm not so sure.

With the ownership saga long put to bed, and Dalglish now solidly into his tenure, there isn't really much room left for doubts. A fairly princely amount of money has been spent, but the squad has now been bolstered over the summer, some real quality players brought in, and some less quality players cut from the wage bill. It's a ridiculous turnaround given the state of the club only a year ago.

Dalglish seems to have rejuvenated the squad, and the fans, and suddenly from the upper echelons of management to the fans the whole club is moving in the same direction again. He's been given money, and he's invested heavily in young British talent. I think some of the signings (Carroll, Henderson and to a lesser extent Charlie Adam) are gambles given how much we've paid and the age of the players, but at least currently those signings look to be pretty positive. Suarez looks absolutely fantastic, and I'd be astonished if his total goals plus assists wasn't over thirty by the end of the season, injuries aside.

I managed to scab a ticket for the Bolton game last weekend, and there were flashes in there of the sort of team under the high-point of Benitez that beat Manchester United 4-1 at Old Trafford, or Real Madrid 4-0. There were long periods of play where we were creating chance after chance, and were it not for a few close misses and some suspect refereeing decisions we could have easily scored five or six goals. Not to mention this was without Gerrard, someone who, if critics and rival fans are to be believed, Liverpool have been completely dependent on over the past few years.

The crowd as well was a lot louder than I can remember it ever being for a relatively no-name league game. You get the big atmospheres for the derby games, and really important fixtures, but I was surprised at how vocal the Kop was considering it was only Bolton.

Dalglish has done a fantastic job turning the club around, and whilst I wouldn't want to start getting overly optimistic at this stage of the season, I think he's solidly put the team back up into contention for the Champions League places, and with a bit of luck we'll still be in the hunt for the title as the season draws to a close. He's created a strong squad which should stay strong for next three or four seasons at least, and a squad that plays exciting, attacking football that is genuinely entertaining to watch.

The King will almost certainly remain a legend regardless of what he does or does not achieve in his second stint as a manager, but he's definitely not hurting himself at the moment. If anything, he seems like he's just genuinely enjoying his role back at the club.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Day 30: Paris -> London -> Home [Epilogue]

For our final day we stayed in the hotel as long as we could, watching South Park in French (which I could follow a surprising amount of, though it helps when I've seen it before). Eventually we had to shift out of the hotel, and we basically just set up camp in Gare du Nord until our train was due. Occasionally we'd venture outside the station for food, or for a toilet cheaper than the 75 cents one in the station (which, frankly, is taking the piss [no pun intended] unless it a hell of a nice toilet), and we'd get mobbed by the various beggars outside asking for change.

There are tons of people asking you for money in Paris. Probably the most outrageous I saw were the groups going round asking for money for deaf people. Originally I thought these people were legit, until I saw multiple groups in various locations, all the exact same ethnic appearance, age, and all female. If it was a genuine charity you'd be getting student helpers and the like, and you'd be a bit more officially dressed rather than just having some scrappy bits of paper on a clipboard. Plus I'm pretty sure you also wouldn't all be pretending to be deaf (which apparently involves being mute and grinning like a moron, whilst repeatedly shoving the paper in your face and pointing to where "DEAF" is untidily scribbled on the top). Surely proper charities for the deaf would be able to get a few non-deaf people to help out the good cause as well? Aside from the sheer audacity and dishonesty, these people are also asking for fairly big money. You might give pocket change to regular beggars and street performers, but these people want €5 or €10 notes.

Anyway, after an afternoon of reading and not doing much, we finally made our way through the crazy pseudo-airport-security section to the Eurostar lobby, and got our train. Given that we were now not really on holiday any more, trains and general transport had stopped being a respite from walking and seeing stuff, and were now back to merely transportation. I didn't really care for much else besides getting back home at this point.

We arrived at London in the Kings Cross international and walked to Euston to take our respective trains home. This also involved Nick rushing around to find a photo booth, because he'd booked his train ticket to Birmingham without a valid railcard, and totally didn't listen to me when I told him you needed a passport-sized photo to get a new railcard if you wanted to do it at the station office.

I also had drama, because my train home was cancelled. I spend a month catching trains around Europe, almost entirely without hitch, and my final train back home was cancelled. This meant I could either wait for the next Liverpool train, which risked also being cancelled, or I could find another way back. I opted for another way back, which involved getting the Glasgow-bound train. Right as it left the platform there was an announcement over the train intercom about how this was a specific express train, how off-peak tickets weren't valid, and how tickets to other destinations were also invalid. I'd asked the guy on the platform as I'd gotten on if I could use my ticket for the train, and he'd said yes, but I was still bricking it until the ticket inspector came that my ticket wouldn't be valid, and that I'd have to pay the full £100 fare or whatever.

Turns out that I was fine, because my booked train had been cancelled (I'd have been screwed otherwise), and I got home without further issue. And done!

The whole trip of 30 days has seen 13 cities in 9 countries, covering around 4300 miles (just under 7000km). Reflecting back, I really enjoyed it, and it'd be fantastic to do it again when I'm older, especially if I can live a bit more luxury and stay in nice hotels and the like.

For how we did it, there's not much I'd really change. I think with the benefit of hindsight I'd probably have not bothered with Italy, and would have gone somewhere else instead. I enjoyed Italy, but it was quite pricey, and the trains were fairly awkward because they were almost always full, and without reservations (which were quite expensive) you'd struggle to get anywhere.

I also think that we made the right choice spending around two days in every city. It meant that the days were fairly intense, but it allowed us to see quite a lot of each city whilst still seeing tons of place. There were a lot of people who we met on the road who were inter-railing and spending four or five days in each place, and I'm glad we weren't doing anything like that. Four or five days doesn't really push you to be that intensive each day, and you'll either see the same amount of stuff spread over an unnecessarily long time, or you'll run out of stuff to see for the last couple of days (I don't feel like I left any cities with things I really wanted to see but which we didn't have time for). Plus the main focus of the trip is in the interrail pass, and really you're only getting good use of that if you're seeing tons of different places.

The trip also educated me on just how much it costs to go on holiday - something I'd not really had previously because I'd only ever really been on family holidays where most stuff is just paid for by my parents. Accommodation and food really start to add up abroad, even staying in hostels, and €30-40 a day just to cover basic living starts to add up really fast when you're out for four weeks.

Still, I had a great time, I saw a lot of cool shit, and I've given myself quite a few places in Europe that I'd really like to revisit when I'm a bit older and more cultured (specifically Brugge, Munich, Vienna and Paris). If you're prepared to save up for it, I'd definitely recommend it to anyone considering giving it a go next summer.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Days 26-29: Paris

We kicked off our first full day in Paris by basically retracing the steps we'd taken the night before, and having a look around Montmartre in the daytime, heading back to the Sacre-Coeur and the surrounding area at the top of the hill.

From there we went back to the hotel, picked up all our stuff, and shifted it to the hotel we'd be staying at for the rest of our time in Paris. Our second hotel was situated near the Bassin de la Villette, and owned by a French couple who spoke no English whatsoever, but were nice enough. Our four-bed room only actually had two double beds, making our time in gay Paris a tad bit more gay than I'd have otherwise liked, but aside from that and the fact the overground metro was right outside our window, it was pretty nice, though in a rough area. Certainly good for the price given how expensive most places in Paris are.

We split up at this point. Jamie was meeting with a friend who lives in Paris, and I wanted to watch Arsenal v Liverpool. Nick and Gerry wandered into Paris to see the sights on a little man-date, Jamie disappeared to meet his friend, and I went on wander towards the centre to try and find a place showing the game.

In any UK city this would be a trivial exercise. You get pubs and sports bars everywhere, and they'd almost certainly be open at what was about 12:30pm on a Saturday. In Paris, this is not the case. Partly because sports bars and pubs just don't seem to be particularly common, and partly because for the month of August all Parisians apparently fuck off elsewhere and most places are shut.

I ended up at an English pub called "The Frog & Rosbif", which is around two and a half miles away from the hotel, though given the indirect route I took and the getting lost (the map I had was totally useless for smaller roads), I probably walked a good four miles by the time I'd gotten there. And it was the first pub I'd come across showing any sport, let alone Premiership football. Having to pay €6.50 for a pint hurt, but I was grateful just to find somewhere showing the game (and I'd later find that in Paris that isn't actually that expensive).

Liverpool won 2-0, so I was in decent spirits for the rest of the day and met back up with the guys at the Notre Dame cathedral. The weather had really kicked up a level in Paris, and it was in the mid-to-high thirties in the sun. From Notre Dame we made the short walk to the Shakespeare & Company shop, which is a tiny but densely-packed English bookshop just on the other side of the river. It was pretty much the same as the little bookshops in the centre of Cambridge, but a little more crammed in. We chilled out for a while before heading back to the hostel.

The next day we got out fairly early to hit the Musee D'Orsay, an art gallery consisting mostly of art from the 1850-1930 period. The building itself is a spectacular ex-railway station, and it has a massive amount of art in there. It's not completely my preferred sort of art, but I quite enjoyed the Nouveau and Impressionist stuff. Plus most of the museums and galleries in Paris are free to under-25 EU citizens, which is fantastic.

The D'Orsay took up the entire morning, so we had lunch at a café nearby and moved on. The other guys went to chill in the Jardin du Luxembourg, whilst I went to walk down the historical axis. The axis starts at La Defense, and continues in a straight line through the Arc de Triomphe and Place de la Concorde to the Louvre. In total it's around five miles long (8km).

I started by getting the train out to La Defense and the Grand Arche, which is ridiculously big. It's pretty difficult to get a decent photo of the thing, because you have to be stood miles away just to get the whole thing in shot. The rest of La Defense is pretty nice as well, with a lot of fairly new skyscrapery buildings.

I grabbed a java chip frappé from the Starbucks in the shopping centre there and started off my walk down to the Arc de Triomphe, which seemed miles away (and I guess it literally was). On the way I also happened to randomly stumble across a really ancient Jaguar, which my dad has since correctly identified as a Jaguar C-Type.

Though my huge chilled chocolate-coffee thing barely lasted me a third of the way, it actually didn't take too long to get to the Arc de Triomphe, probably helped by the weather being pleasant. It's possible to go up the Arc, again free for EU U25s, and the views from the top are pretty good.

From the Arc de Triomphe I continued down the Champs Élysées, now somewhat freshly excited for the fact that I was on the course for the circuits on the final stage of the Tour de France. I even managed to find what I'm pretty sure is the finish line (I have no idea why else there would be a white line painted across the road). It was also getting into the latter half of the afternoon and it was really hot at this point - some of the patches of tarmac on the Champs Élysées were literally molten.

At the end of the Champs Élysées is the Place de la Concorde, with its huge Egyptian obelisk, the fountains, and some quite nice surrounding architecture. It also has the HQ for the FIA, which I didn't know was there but the name of the Concorde Agreement makes a lot more sense now.

The final part of the axis is through the Jardin des Tuileries, to the square in the middle of the Louvre. I've been to the Louvre before when I was younger, but I was somewhat taken aback by the sheer size of the thing. It's absolutely massive on a scale I'd never really known before.

Having gone the whole way down the axis, the final thing I wanted to find was the statue of Joan of Arc, which is a something that's fairly heavily seen in the Tour de France TV coverage. It actually took me ages to find the sodding statue, because the camera positioning on TV makes it seem like the statue is in a fairly open space, when actually it's tucked away off to the side of the Louvre in the middle of a road junction, right next to some large buildings.

Absolutely knackered at this point, I headed back to the hotel, somehow ending up in the Les Halles metro station, which is just staggeringly big underground. I swear by the time I'd actually walked from the entrance I came in at to the line I needed to get I'd pretty much covered half the distance back to the hostel.

The next day we started out at the Pompidou, which I'd been looking forward to. I think the building itself is really cool, but it's also primarily the art period that I really like. It didn't disappoint, and some of the stuff on display there is awesome. I particularly liked a video Nick directed me to of a bunch of scouse primary school kids describing a Picasso painting and coming out with some of the most hilarious stuff.

From the Pompidou we headed back to the Notre Dame (at which I used up the last of the well-preserved camera battery), and then again to the Shakespeare & Company shop. I wasn't really interested in superfluous browsing of books or buying anything (I mean, it's going to be cheaper on Amazon anyway...), so I went to the park next to it to read the book I had in my rucksack, and was joined fairly shortly by Nick. Turns out the public park had free wifi access courtesy of Orange, so instead I actually checked emails and Facebook and the like for an hour or so until the other guys were done in the bookshop.

From the bookshop we wandered through Paris a bit trying to find areas that were good for pubs and bars. Our final full day in Paris was Gerry's 21st birthday, so the plan was to spend most of the afternoon and evening using up what remaining Euros we had. We stopped for a pint in a fairly small pub, and it turned out that Gerry's twin brother was actually in pretty much the exact same area we were. Unbeknownst to Gerry, his brother had come to Paris for our last two days to celebrate with him, so we moved to the pub they were in, and they sat in the table next to us until Gerry noticed they were there.

With drink being ridiculously expensive in pubs, we went back to our hotel, buying a ton of cheap (really cheap) wine in a convenience store in the next street. There were various drinking games, lots of alcohol was consumed, we got very, very drunk.

The plan for the last full day was to go round the Louvre. None of us were particularly interested, but we figured that if it was free we might as well pop in and see the Mona Lisa. It's probably a good job we weren't looking forward to it that much, because the Louvre is apparently shut on Tuesdays. So is the Musee de l'Orangerie, which was another option. Most of us felt like crap and weren't too keen on walking much anyway, so we defaulted to an alternative plan of sitting by the fountains in the Jardin de Tuileries and not doing an awful lot for a while.

We did a bit of walking around the gardens and the Champs Élysées, before going back to the hotel and heading out to go drinking. Gerry's brother, Pete, had brought a ton of money with him from their dad, which was greatly appreciated because most of us were broke by this point. The Irish bar we were at was pretty good, and the barwoman who served us at the start of the night was decent for giving us discounts on account of it being someone's birthday, though her shift ended about halfway through and the guy who replaced her was far less generous. Still, it was a really good final night of the trip.

I liked Paris a lot more than I thought I would, and I felt like we did OK in terms of time there, having thought that six days might be a bit excessive, though it did help we spent one of them hungover and didn't really do a great lot. It was also brilliant for sights being cheap/free for students, unlike a good 80% of the other places we've visited. Definitely one of the best cities on the trip, and a lot more than simply where we were catching the Eurostar from.