I also of course decided to arrive a few days early: the workshop ran from Monday until Wednesday, but I flew down Friday evening to be sure I had the whole weekend to check out the local landmarks. This was possible in part thanks to a furry friend who graciously put me up at his place for three nights and showed me around the city (so, super huge thanks to mut for that!) Since I'd never actually been to Paris before, my list of must-see sights was relatively simple and obvious: Notre Dame cathedral, the banks of the Seine, the Eiffel Tower and the enormous Louvre museum. But even just walking around the streets was fun: Paris is unquestionably one of those "world" cities like New York, Tokyo, or London where things seem to be happening everywhere and every side street or intersection offers something else interesting and new to look at.
After the weekend ended it was time to shift over into conference mode. But it was a pretty relaxed workshop: attendance was only around 20, and most of the people in attendance were long-time collaborators and already knew each other (and I knew most of them). I was new to the group and didn't have a talk to worry about preparing, so the atmosphere was relatively relaxing. Still, it was useful to go to help secure my participation in the project and get up to speed with its status. And of course the evenings offered the possibility of food/drinks with long-term scientific collaborators which is always fun.
I also decided I liked France a lot. Of course my experience was only Paris, which is probably no better an indicator than judging the US based on downtown Manhattan. Still, despite the stereotypes of rude waiters and haughtiness and so on, I found everyone to be easy to deal with, had no language problems despite my next-to-zero knowledge of French, and appreciated the pride that they have in their own culture (despite a strong commitment to mulitilateralism in today's interconnected world). And one definitely gets the impression that this is a place where people know how to appreciate all aspects of life. I'm definitely looking forward to returning sometime, whenever that might be!