I am a nerd.
Up until now, I bet you thought I was the hippest bombdiggity on the Internet, yo.
(Confession: I have no idea what a bombdiggity is. I just heard it on a commercial.)
But, it’s true, guys.
I’m a total nerdball.
One of my favorite activities to do as a child was to memorize random facts from the set of animal flashcards we had at my school, and then attempt to amaze my classmates with my extensive knowledge of water buffalo. (Mind you, they did a very good job of hiding their amazement. By telling me to go away.)
I spent my teenage years secretly reading historical fiction novels.
And you should probably never challenge me to a game of Trivial Pursuit because I will play dirty. Plus, you know, if there’s ever a question about water buffalo, you are so going down. Consider yourself warned.I try to keep my nerdy tendencies on the down low when I’m hanging out with friends so that, you know, they’ll keep on hanging out with me.
Every once in a while I get a bit tipsy and let on that I know way too much about nerdy stuff like Elizabethan book-binding.
But usually I’m pretty good at playing it cool.
I mean, OBVIOUSLY.
But I have absolutely no qualms about letting my geek flag fly when I’m on my own or in front of random strangers.
Which is one of the reasons why I love traveling solo so much – I can basically be the biggest nerd there is and nobody has to know. (Well, that, and the fact that I can wear the same pants for five days straight and nobody has to know. And, you know, eat two breakfasts and nobody has to know. And pretty much DO EVERYTHING EVER and nobody has to know.)So I was super excited when the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation invited me to visit Old Fort Niagara and write a post about my experience as a solo traveler there.
Located less than half an hour away from Niagara Falls, NY, the fort dates all the way back to 1726 when it was built by the French as a means of controlling the Great Lakes, and, subsequently, it played an integral role in the French & Indian War, the American Revolution and the War of 1812. The fort, which is now a National Historic Landmark, is open to the public year-round and hosts a number of cultural events.
And, well, as far as opportunities to be a total nerdball in public, it doesn’t really get much better than visiting a 300-year-old military fort, now does it?When I arrived at the Fort on Friday morning, I was greeted by Jason Buckley, the staff member who would be giving me a tour of the museum and grounds.
I felt a bit bad for the guy.
I mean, he probably had no idea he was in for a two-hour nerdy question-fest by yours truly.
We started off the tour by watching a video that showed a brief overview of the fort’s history.
Honestly, it was all a bit confusing for me because it was nine o’clock in the morning, and I was severely under-caffeinated, and, while I am a huge history nerd, I have never been particularly good at dates or really anything that involves numbers.
Plus, the Fort changed hands almost a half dozen times in less than a hundred years – from French control to British control to American control and then back again to British control before it was finally ceded to the United States in 1815.
Trying to keep track of all of that felt kind of like trying to keep track of Taylor Swift’s love life.
Except with a lot less angsty pop songs.
And a lot more funky hats and half-clad Native American dudes.
Not that I’m complaining as I am a fan of both funky hats and half-clad Native American dudes.
Because, I mean, who isn’t?What the movie failed to mention, and what I learned later on in the tour of the museum, was that all that warring and fort-seiging and basically the entire colonization of North America was caused by beavers.
You see, apparently, everyone in Europe was all crazy about felt hats like this one:
And, apparently, the best kind of felt was made from beaver fur.
And, apparently, the best kind of beaver fur could be found on beavers in North America – specifically those found in Northern United States and Canada.
And, apparently, the French and English were all like, “Let’s go get us some beaver fur. And colonize a continent. And, you know, have a whole bunch of wars and stuff.”
So, yes, beavers.
Totally to blame.
POSSIBLY FOR EVERYTHING.
Which just goes to show you that you probably shouldn’t trust any mammals with webbed feet.Another fun fact that I didn’t know about until my tour of the museum was that back in the day, soldiers drank something called “small beer” for Vitamin C.
I think this means we can all just go ahead and replace our breakfast orange juice with a nice tall glass of beer. And when someone asks you why you’re drinking beer at eight o’clock in the morning you can reply, “Because HISTORY, okay?”In addition to its enlightening displays on beavers and beer, the museum also housed an extensive collection of old weapons.
There were also the remnants of the original flag that used to fly over the fort, which just so happens to be one of the oldest surviving American flags.
As fascinating as the museum was, my favorite part of the tour was definitely when we left the museum and stepped out on to the grounds of the fort.
I totally felt like I was stepping back in history.
I was tempted to start acting all old-timey and throw out some old-timey slang words. But, sadly, I don’t know any old-timey slang words as they hardly ever have any old-timey slang words in commercials.While the fort has been the home of almost one hundred different buildings during its history, today the grounds of the fort contain about a dozen different structures, including many of the original buildings as well as some reconstructed ones.
There were a couple big, impressive stone gates.
There was a storehouse that is now full of displays.
Like this one about the different names for barrels:
Which, I’m not even kidding you, was totally fascinating. And I can’t guarantee you that I won’t get drunk some point soon and start pulling out all my newfound barrel vocabulary.
And there was a bakehouse where they used to bake a million-billion loaves of bread each day.By far the most impressive building on the grounds is definitely the French Castle. It also happened to be the oldest building at the fort.
This is where you could see how the soldiers really lived.
Which, honestly, didn’t seem that bad to me. I mean, usually when I imagine the lives of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century soldiers (and, yes, I have been known to imagine that kind of thing on occasion), I imagine a lot of hardship.
Not an indoor well decorated with oil paintings.
Sure, the barracks room looked like it might be kind of a tight squeeze, especially considering it used to house thirty soldiers.
But, honestly, I’ve seen worse at some hostels.
And check out these officer’s digs:
Pretty fancy pants, right?
The officer’s dining room even had a table set up for the serving of booze and hot chocolate. Somehow I never imagined military officers hanging out, drinking booze and hot chocolate.
I mean, add my cat and a bathrobe, and that sounds pretty much like my typical Friday night.As if my whole tour wasn’t totally awesome enough and so full of interesting tidbits of information that I simply cannot wait to blather on about at the next party I happen to get a bit too tipsy at, I then got to learn how to shoot a musket.
A MUSKET, YOU GUYS.
So, in addition to knowing way too much about beavers and beer and barrels, I now know how to operate old-timey firearms.
You all might want to watch your backs.
Or, at least, make a point of not inviting me to any of your parties.What historic place did you visit and love and then talk about way too much at parties later? P.S. I’d like to give a huge thank you to the fine people of Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation for arranging my tour and to Jason Buckley at Old Fort Niagara for giving me an awesome tour and for putting up with my countless questions about barrels and beavers and bedbugs and pretty much EVERYTHING EVER. P.P.S. It’s the last day to vote for the Bloggies! Voting closes tonight (Sunday, March 17th) at 10 PM EDT. If you haven’t voted already, would you please consider voting for me for the Best Travel Weblog? I would love you forever. And I promise not to bore you at parties with talk of barrels. Okay, so maybe I can’t promise that, but I WILL totally love you forever.