Mt. Angel Abbey
We took a baby-free escape day and headed south from Portland to see what we could discover. Salem, the state capitol, doesn't always have the best reputation for engrossing culture, but just outside it's limits lies Mt. Angel, Oregon, a tiny town worth visiting.
The population is under 5,000, but the town's on the map for the large number of Bavarian emigrants that settled in the area, and the yearly Oktoberfest every fall that pulls in thousands of participants. We have still yet to arrive during the celebrations! This trip was in February, so while there was no Alpenmusik, we did see the Glockenspiel chime, and we munched on pretzels and steins of Munich's finest lager at the Mt. Angel Sausage Company.
The year-round attraction in town is Mount Angel Abbey, a Benedictine monastery established in 1884. The school is still a lively (well, lively for monks) and happening spot, with a beautiful church, bells that ring out the time of day, and well-manicured grounds. In the forest around it's visitors can walk a meditative path visiting fourteen stations of the cross, ending in the Grotto of Mary. A calm exudes throughout the whole campus, and it's pleasant to walk on the grounds on their self-guided tour.
We were happy not to miss the Museum, a strange collection of rocks, skulls, stuffed and mounted wildlife, art, and artifacts from around the world. Half of it is a fascinating natural history museum, and the other half is a weird "My aunt went to Guatemala and brought back these souvenirs, so this is how people in Guatemala live" show-and-tell.
A top attraction is the library designed by famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto--one of only four buildings he designed in the United States. It's a beautiful example of Aalto's modernist style, and visitors can happily wander the quiet space enjoying books on philosophy and religion. In the cafe we easily fell into the temptation of buying monk-brewed beer. The monks have followed in the centuries-old delicious tradition of brewing, and offer their Black Habit black ale for sale on the hilltop. They have plans to open an official brewery later this year, but for now the bottles are only available by the case in the Cafe and Bookstore. (It's worth it!)