You don’t plan to visit New York during a blizzard. You have to be really unlucky, or lucky, depending on your point of view.
We arrived in Manhattan in the evening of 22nd Jan 2016, a couple of hours before it started snowing. Straight to the hotel bar, we enjoyed a couple of beers and a few nachos before calling it a night. The next morning, New York was covered knee deep in snow, and it wasn’t going to stop snowing any time soon.
There are not may occasions when you see Madison Avenue completely deserted
Having not had paid a lot of attention to the weather forecast, we expected it to be ‘a bit chilly’ so had packed a big coat, but apart from that we were completely ill-equipped. By the time we had reached the café down the road for bagels and waffles, our shoes were soaked through.
Only after breakfast did we realise that New York seemed to be a very quiet city (we’d never been before but had expected some kind of yellow-cab-hot-dog-cart-manic-pedestrian-madness). We wandered down a deserted Madison Avenue, stood in the middle of 5th Avenue for a lovely picture and ignored any traffic lights since we were pretty much on our own.
At Times Square we stumbled onto the usually hard fought for Kiss Cam, apart from a few confused tourists and some NYPD officers not much was happening here.
New York battens down the hatches
By lunchtime, in Central Park, we sank up to the waist in snow. The weather was vicious now, tiny little icicles relentlessly hitting our faces. Nonetheless, we decided to battle our way through the snow to the famous Katz Delicatessen, somehow ignoring the fact that New York had now officially begun to batten down the hatches. Katz was closed, obviously, like everything else.
Emergency services and countless volunteers worked tirelessly, desperately trying to clear the snow and minimise the risk to the public. The travel ban was now firmly in place and only those who hadn’t made their way home yet were skidding, some skiing, down the streets. With frozen numb toes we returned to the hotel.
At 7pm even our brave hotel bar manager resigned to the weather and asked us to leave the restaurant so she could send her few remaining employees home. Where shall we go? we asked, hungry and thirsty. When even Starbucks closes its doors you know you’re in trouble. The staff directed us to a small underground pub around the corner, one of the very few places still open. The bar was ram packed, a warm and noisy oasis in an otherwise deserted neighbourhood.
The upside: wonderful views and no queues
The next day, New York city services were still battling the insane amount of snow that had brought the city to a standstill, and it was still freezing cold, but at least it had stopped snowing. Blue sky and sunshine.
We made our way to Downtown Manhattan, visited Brooklyn Bridge and Wall Street, glimpsed at the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry and remembered the atrocity of 9/11 at the humbling World Trade Centre memorial. While there was some life in the city again, it remained nicely quiet as trains were only partially running again, many people had stayed at home and tourists hadn’t been able to arrive in New York.
In the afternoon, we climbed the Empire State Building. The audio guide, usually keeping queuing visitors entertained, hadn’t finished Chapter 1 by the time we reached the viewing platform, there were perhaps a mere 100 people in the entire building. The views over the snow covered city were marvellous.
Too cold and exhausted to wander out in the snow again in the evening, we stayed local, thawing ourselves with burritos and ‘Mexican bulldogs’.
Post-blizzard sunshine strolls
The next day, life was almost back to normal. We finally got to see some of the typical New York and spent our day strolling around, exploring the Meatpacking District and China Town. Central Park was passable again as was the fantastic New York High Line. We spent our last night bar hopping in Greenwich, burgers and beers, perfect.
With only a few hours remaining the next morning, we checked out the Upper West and East Sides. After a pastrami sandwich the size of a small suitcase, our cab got stuck in traffic on the way to the airport, New York style.
You don’t plan to visit New York during a blizzard. But we got to see this city in such a unique and memorable way that very few people get the chance to. Covered in snow, closed for business. We loved the experience, but also look forward to coming back and seeing the real New York in all its glory, loud, busy and open 24 hours.