By Guest Blogger Shawndra Russell
For our 5-year anniversary, my husband and I decided to plan a whirlwind vacation through Europe, hitting six countries (France, Belgium, Netherlands, Czech, Austria and Germany) in nine days. Yet, one night stands out more vividly than the rest.
After a full day at the Louvre and walking around Paris, we started trudging up to the highest point in Paris atop Montmartre. Off to the right, we could see the Eiffel Tower and with this reference point could identify other landmarks we’d already visited. We timed it perfectly, arriving right at sunset and then staring out over the City of Lights as it came alive bulb by bulb until curfew.
Yes, we had a curfew on our second night in Paris.
See, we opted to stay at the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre, a Roman Catholic Church that will house guests for only five Euros per person. The curfew was 9:30, but since part of our night’s stay required that we pick an hour to pray as part of the perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and our prayer slot was 6am, we happily obliged to an early evening. This continual praying has been going on for 125 years, and it felt humbling and otherworldly to take part in such a long-standing tradition. Waking up at 5am and tiptoeing from our partially underground dormitory to the main church in total silence (another requirement) was probably the most unique and beautiful way I have ever woken up.
As for our lodging itself, the room was located in the basement-like dormitory with views of the landscaped grounds and a sliver of Paris twinkling below. I was expecting separate single beds but instead we slept on a standard double that was surprisingly comfortable. We also had our own bathroom—another surprise, especially since it was described as a dormitory—and a small sitting area. You can opt for rooms in gender-segmented dormitories, too.
The overall atmosphere at Basilica of Sacre-Couer was stoic, and we talked in whispers the whole time we were on the grounds. But after a jam-packed two days in bustling Paris, the silence was comforting and peaceful.
Sure, it was great having such a cheap night on our itinerary, but my husband and I also have a habit of seeking out high points and looking out over the city or countryside whenever we travel. What better place to really gain an understanding of a new city than from up above? Plus, the trek down the next morning allowed us to see how locals lived, weaving through residential areas, popping into local markets, and getting up and away from the tourist areas for a few hours.
I would stay at Sacred Heart Basilica in Montmartre again in a heartbeat. I still have the emails saved from “The Sister at the Welcome Desk” in case I need to make another reservation through her in the future.
Shawndra is a digital strategist that helps small businesses tackle their social media and the Savannah correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide. Read about her services and work at www.shawndrarussell.com.