October was the month I was looking forward to the most in 2018. It was a meagre two weeks in October, but it was these two weeks that would mark my very first visit to the United States. And not just any old town: Green Bay, the oldest town in America’s so-called Dairy State. My family and I had a wonderful time exploring this peaceful, friendly town on the coast of its own little leg of Lake Michigan.
The best part was that we travelled there for a wedding. My brother, a sound engineer with four years of Caribbean cruise ship hopping to his name, fell in love with a beautiful girl from Wisconsin. She was a youth counsellor, and they were lucky enough to meet while working on the same ship.
My family and I – the exclusive group of South Africans who got invited – couldn’t wait to spend some time with our soon-to-be in-laws and explore one of the country’s most beautiful states. We showed some patriotic spirit by hosting a steak braai one evening, and in return our new American family gave us our very first Jack-o’-Lantern pumpkin to carve (unfortunately, we weren’t staying until the 31st, so we had to leave it on the porch of our little temporary Green Bay home).
Though I don’t know much about football, the first thing I learned about Green Bay is that it is the proud home of the fan-owned Green Bay Packers. Our Airbnb was filled with Packer merchandise. In fact, the wedding reception took place in none other Lambeau Field. The newlyweds also had their wedding photos taken on the stands, because the bride’s family has two seat tickets that have been passed down for three generations. No really, these people are serious about their football.
The wedding was a little different than the ones I’ve been to in my home country, but since the couple was 50% South African, it turned out to be a nicely balanced combination between American tradition and SA flair. The groom’s cake, for instance, consisted of cupcakes packed in the shape of our national flag. We even had a few rounds of sokkie dancing (unfortunately, the DJ didn’t have any Afrikaans sokkie music, so we had to settle for Summer of ’69).
The happy couple went to Door County on their honeymoon. It was autumn, and the trees there were apparently even more beautiful than it was in Green Bay, which I almost didn’t believe. After the wedding, the rest of us had a week left to explore the town. After research and driving aruond, these are on my top list of things to do in Green Bay:
1. Take a tour of the New Zoo and Adventure Park
This place is fun for the whole family, recommended by our Green Bay local in-laws. You can see various animals, learn more about protecting wildlife, or have some fun at the adventure park, ziplining, bike rentals and other activities.
2. Visit the National Railroad Museum
Also in Ahswaubenon, close to where we stayed. There are interactive railroad exhibits and rides, including a Polar Express train ride from mid-November to early December.
3. Explore Lambeau Field
This is a must when you’re in town. We had it easy since we were literally invited inside for a wedding. Here, you can get to know the history of the Green Bay Packers: book a Stadium Tour, visit the Pro Shop for some merchandise. Then, why not cross the street to spend the afternoon in Titletown? (They have ice skating in the winter!). Fun tip: Packer fans are colloquially known as Cheeseheads.
4. Spend the day at Bay Beach
We spent an entire morning exploring the beautiful Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, where the trees are exceptionally colourful in October. Beware the geese: they come for you if you have food in your hands. There’s a beautiful waterfall (accessible by bridge) that cascades into the Fox River, a Nature Centre where they present educational programs about wildlife, a whole section for large rescue birds, and spacious enclosures for coyotes, wolves, otters, deer and even a puma. Entrance to the park is free!
Around the corner, Bay Beach Amusement Park makes for hours of fun for the whole family. (If you’re an adrenaline junkie, go take a ride on the Zippin Pippin – it’s quite the thrilling experience).
5. Hike the Ahnapee State Trail
It’s an old railroad converted into a hiking trail. You might run into some bikers and horse riders on these trails, too.
6. Take a blast to the past at Heritage Hill
This park gives visitors some insight into the history of Northeastern Wisconsin between 1672 to 1940. Heritage Hill State Historical Park is also a venue for weddings and functions.
7. Go on a cruise with Fox River Tours
What’s better than exploring a town by water? You can hop on board one of the Fox River tour boats, for a relaxing cruise while seeing another side of Green Bay – the waterside.
There are actually lots more to do in Green Bay, if you have more than two weeks. A wedding might have brought us the first time, but my parents are already talking about how nice it would be to retire there, close to their son and extended family…
For me, I can’t wait to visit again the first chance I get.