It is possible that it's worse than other European cities, or that Europe is messier than I remember it. More likely I've got used to Osaka which, local protestations to the contrary, is a remarkably clean, neat city1.
Not all graffiti is ugly. This kind of stencilled decorations were pretty common too, and at least they improve on the usual unimaginative tags.
While Paris architecture is quite beautiful, the Charles de Gaulle airport is an example of minimalism gone wrong. It's a depressing concrete wasteland with dim, gloomy halls and low-ceilinged passageways. It has the feeling of something that was really cool when new, but now just feels neglected and ageing.
If you stop to look for a moment, however, there are many places where the design really shines, such as the passage above. I could look at this kind of scene all day. Where the airport falls down, I think, is that this kind of bare-concrete minimalism doesn't scale well. As an accent, as a part of something larger it's really cool. When done throughout a multi-hectare complex it just becomes intimidating and ugly.
Paris in August also feels more than a little like a huge outdoor theme-park as much as a living, breathing city. The locals are away on their summer vacations and the foreign tourist season peaks so that's not exactly surprising. The big tourist spots are silly crowded. Meanwhile, many local restaurants and shops are closed for summer, leaving the less touristy areas almost deserted.
I suspect summer really isn't the best season for this city. The beautiful old buildings and stone-paved streets seem better fit for autumn, with fallen leaves drifting along rain-soaked streets and the small cafés becoming warm, bright refuges from the cold and the damp. The modernist architecture sprinkled throughout the city would also benefit from less sunlight to expose every crack, flaw and stain (*cough* Beaubourg *cough).
We stayed at hotel Observatoire Luxembourg, a smallish medium-class hotel right near the Luxembourg park. It was a surprisingly good experience. it' s an independent hotel, I believe, so it doesn't have that smooth but bland efficiency of large chains. We had some minor issues: The bathtub plug handle was broken so I borrowed a monkey wrench from the front desk (I'm sure they would have been happy to fix it for us but I think this stuff is fun). The breakfast was supposed to include hot food like sausages, potatoes and scrambled eggs, but that was never ready early in the morning when the dining room first opened.
On the other hand, the slight quirkiness also made for a memorable visit. At a chain hotel we would perhaps never have encountered a broken bathtub plug handle; on the other hand I'm pretty sure they would never, ever let me borrow a few tools to fix it myself. The room was spacious and quiet, the breakfast we did have was good, and the atmosphere was overall very pleasant. Yes, I would happily stay there again.
The conference was about half an hour away by foot, so I left early each morning. Waking before dawn is not normally a favourite activity for me, but the jetlag really helps when you travel west like this. And early morning photography is not something I normally get to do a lot of - my body values its morning sleep thank you very much - so that was a novel aspect too. I realize I really should try to do some early morning photography in Osaka too, but as that means getting up early in the morning...
#1 Neat in the garbage-and-graffitti sense; I did not say "beautiful". The best thing you can say of Osaka streetscapes is that it's surprising, and occasionally surprising in a good way.