Just got back from three weeks in France. It was pretty amazing. I'd never been there before, and it was exactly what I thought it would be like and at the same time it wasn't even close.
I spent the first few days in Paris taking in the city and trying to get close to the experience of life as a Parisian. I've always preferred living as closely as possible to the locals as opposed to staying separate and only getting my glimpses through the tourist traps and foreigner-filled cafes. A tourist never really gets to enjoy himself thoroughly. You should live where the locals live, eat where they eat, go where they would go. Just take your time to walk around the city for a few hours without any aim at all. Those hours will be well spent.
After a bit in Paris, I journeyed down to Marseilles and was amazed all over again by this beautiful coastal region that was nothing like the urban sprawl of Paris. The Marseilles region is a marvelous series of towns spread throughout the mountainous coastline, and even being the second largest population center of France, it feels so much more rural than it is. The weather was great; the days were hot, the nights cool, and even the rain was ever so refreshing (what little there was). It was an entirely different experience from Paris and well worth the money to travel down there.
When I left Marseilles, I returned to Paris for a couple of days before heading up to Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and finally east to Berlin before making my return flight to JFK. All were fantastic places and each showed the diversity of Europe that is rarely seen so obviously in the states. In a future post, I'll give my thoughts on Amsterdam in particular. It truly is a holy land for smokers.