"The Blizzard of 03"

Read the story of
my visit to the
New York Toy Fair 2003.

The trip coincided with the worst
blizzard to hit New York for over
100 years... here's an insight into my memorable journey

We finally boarded QF 107 to LA. There was once a day when we looked forward to flying - particularly the food. In the last few years it has deteriorated to virtually inedible. On the flight from QLD they actually offered us a snack in a cardboard box. The flight to LA was full but reasonably pleasant & seemed to pass quickly. It was no time b4 we were arriving at LA where we were told we would have to collect our luggage & go thru US immigration & customs. When we entered the immigration hall there were 4 immigration staff on duty. 2 to handle visitors & 2 to handle US passport holders. Our flight had nearly 400 people on board & we were one of 2 jumbos that landed at the same time. So assuming they had about 400 on board that was 800 people to be processed by 4 immigration staff. Needless to say it took over an hour to pass thru immigration into the baggage hall. We couldn't find our baggage anywhere & then someone pointed to a pile of luggage in the corner & suggested we look there. Now this is in a secure area where they tell you not to leave your luggage unattended & here's a mountain of bags piled up in the corner. We found our luggage & joined the end of the queue to pass out through customs. This queue was more like a conga, only all the participants had baggage trolleys, it snaked its way around the customs hall & was difficult to work out where it started & where it finished. We had somehow managed to end up somewhere near the end of the queue & it was now 2 hours since we got off the aircraft. Someone came down the queue & asked if there were any passengers for QF107 to New York & we were the last. At this point we thought they were going to pull us out the queue & send us to the front, but no.. they told us the aircraft would be delayed waiting for us to clear customs. As we got nearer to customs they ended up letting people thru without checking them at all. All that security seemed to be wasted. We passed out into the airport & then had to go outside, up the esculator to departures, then queue up again to go through security to get back on the plane. Security has got so tight that it is now just chaos!
The flight to New York was approx 4 hours & the aircraft was almost empty, so a chance to stretch out & sleep was a luxury. When we landed in New York the shock of stepping outside was quite something. We were prepared for the cold but not this cold. Temperature was about minus 5 degrees celcius. We caught the bus to the Casablanca Hotel on west 43rd st & it turned out to be as good as it looked on their website. It was to prove a home away from home - small, personal & with great facilities. By now it's 8pm & we just wanted to get something to eat & go to bed. We didn't even have to leave the hotel there was a door in reception that lead straight into Tony's Italian restaurant next door. We had a great meal of crab meat ravioli washed down with Italian white wine. What surprised us was the other diners & how much they ate! Meals in America are huge. Breakfast was in Rick's Lounge where an array of breakfast fare is laid out every morning.

The "Casablanca" & "Tony's"

Rick's Lounge

Rick's Breakfast Bar

Today is a free day & we decided to get out & see something even though the temperature was well below zero. We set out to walk & headed towards the Hudson river then turned left & followed it towards lower Manhattan. I am the eternal Gold Coast Girl, the strappy sandals, short skirt & sleeveless tops. I couldn't wear any of that in New York, but I did have on my large hooped Spanish earrings. We hadn't gone more than 300 metres before I cried out in pain. At first I thought someone had shot me in the neck, but then soon worked out it was my earrings that by now were minus 10 degrees celcius and had just touched my neck. Lesson One, don't wear earrings in icy cold weather!

New York Stock Exchange

Ground Zero

Paying respects at Ground Zero

We hadn't really intended to visit ground zero today, but we seemed to end up there. Hard to believe what happened there it just looks like a building site. If it wasn't for all the tourists having their pictures taken, it could be just another hole in the ground. We went & found the NY Stock Exchange which turned out to be quite a small building surrounded by police cars & barricades, they really are nervous about terrorism. We turned & started to head home & stopped for lunch & some street market shopping in Soho before catching a taxi to Times Square. On our walk along the Hudson River we must have passed hundreds of Police cars lined up.. each one full of officers. We found out later that day that there was an "anti-war demonstration" being held in the city, so the police were waiting for the trouble to start. It wasn't long before we heard the sirens going up the street & apparently quite a few people were arrested.

Cute Toy Fair friends.

Life Size Polar Bears at the Toy Fair

Left: Amazing lift size elephants

After an exhausting day of walking in the freezing cold, we both have sore feet & decide to have Dinner at the Mexican restaurant a few doors down from the hotel.The next day is the start of the "Toy Fair" - the main reason for our trip. We decide to walk as it is only about 6 blocks away & take in the New York scenery on the way. The Show is enormous & there are large costumed figures walking around everywhere. You've never seen so many Toys, Toys & more Toys.... We can't help but notice a life size stuffed elephant that looks remarkably real. Next to him is a life size giraffe & various other lions, tigers, polar bears ... all very realistic..We dread to think how many metres of fabric made up the elephant! We walked & walked but didn't get round all the halls on day one. The sad thing about these big trade shows is that there is so much to see that your eyes start to glaze over after a few hours. You defintely need to sit down, rest your feet & have a coffee every so often, just to make sure you don't miss anything.

Me.. on my way to the Toy Fair

The New York Skyline

Entrance to The Toy Fair
morning after
"The Blizzard of 03"

When we return to the hotel late in the afternoon, the hotel is a buzz with the weather forecast. CNN is forecasting the "Blizzard of 03". New York is expecting 22 inches of snow to fall from about 6pm tonight till 6pm tomorrow night. I suddenly remember saying "I hope it snows when we're in New York" ... but I think I'm going to get more than I bargained for. The News on the TV is reporting hardware stores that have run out of "Snow Blowers" (whatever they are) & we can sense a feeling of excitement amongst the locals, combined with a touch of panic!

We decide to eat at Tonys again tonight as it's close by & we don't want to go far with the amount of snow forecast. We have spaghetti with shrimp - nice but not as good as last night washed down with a bottle of Italian Frascati. We still can't get over how much people eat. We feel embarassed at how little we order. You get the impression the waiter thinks we're trying to save money. After our meal we move to the bar and sit in the window & watch the snow fall. It's really quite pretty & the flakes are getting larger by the hour. Cars parked in the street are slowly becoming buried in pure white & passers by are writing rude comments on the back of an NYPD police car parked in front of the restaurant.

Deserted Broadway Street

Me in Central Park

New York Taxi.. going nowhere

We awake to 15" of snow and it's predicted to keep snowing until 7pm. There is very little traffic on the roads so we decide to stay in the hotel & have a rest day. By lunch time we decide to brave the cold & find something to eat. We only have to go 100 mtrs to Heartland Brewery in West 43rd St. Again whist ordering our meal e were asked "is that all?". We have a bowl of yummy soup, bread & a serve of wedges with blue cheese dip. Over lunch we decide to visit Central Park. On the news this morning they said that the snow in the park was deeper than the blizzard of 1902! So this was a 1 in 100 year event. We set off along Broadway and apart from the street crossing, it was easy going. Having never seen Central Park it was hard to know what it should look like. There were lots of people out, some on skis, others with tobogans and some just using empty cardboard boxes to slide down the once grassy slopes. We walked for about 30mins in the park then turned to come out but we were at a different exit. We came out at west 72nd St. We were a little lost for a moment then realised what we had done. We had to walk up the side of the park to Columbus Circle to get back to Broadway. There was lots of activity with people clearing snow. There was every tool imaginable from shovels & spades up to giant earth movers that were picking up snow then putting it into huge semi trailers to be taken out of the city. We took a walk around Times Square which is usually wall to wall with traffic, but today was strangely quiet with just the odd taxi squelching along the road... a couple even passed us sideways!

Today is our last visit to the Toy Fair. We re-visit some of our favourite stands & find time to chat with a few bear artists that came from as far away as Sth Africa & UK. We also caught up with Ron Block from Edinburgh Imports.

Tony's Restaurant

The Rockerfeller Skating Rink

Left: Me skating in "the coat"

When we decided to visit New York in winter the first comment from Me was "I haven't got a coat". I spent hours on Ebay looking for a warm second hand coat, it went on for weeks until finally I found one I liked and my bid was successful. I had it sent to a friend of Derek's sister who lives in The Bronx to save posting it to Australia. The friends rang on Saturday saying they would drop the coat off at lunch time. I was worried it may not fit me so when we got back to the hotel I was keen to try it on. Then a problem I had not expected... the coat reeked of cigarette smoke, so badly I couldn't even try it on. We'll have to get it cleaned but tomorrow is Sunday. Oh well Monday then, but then the Blizzard set in & there was no hotel laundry, so I didn't get the coat back till Tuesday (just in time to go skating)...

By early evening I was busting to go ice skating at the Rockerfeller Centre (big outdoor ice skating rink in the middle of New York City), so we headed off down 43rd st to Sixth Avenue & up to 50th St. The rink wasn't that busy so I doned my skates & set off. A bit shaky at first but after a few laps all I'd learned as a kid came back and I was wizzing around like a professional (which is more than can be said of Derek's photographs). I wasn't going that fast, I think his hands were shaking with the cold. 45mins later we made our way down to 5th Ave unfortunately for me the shops were mostly closed, so I didn't to do much oohing & aahing at floors of fashion. Tonight we are going to try to eat less as the size of the New York meals are just too much for us. We had tea in Times Square at "Lindys", it has been there a long time & it shows, we must be more careful in future.

The Staten Island Ferry

Manhattan from the Hudson

Right: Times Square after the blizzard

Next morning our phone rang before 7am, it was Derek's sister calling from the UK. The news of the blizzard had reached her and she was just checking to see how we were coping. Today we are going to check out one of the big craft stores "Micheals". They have a store on Staten Island so we will get the NY metro down to the ferry, then a cab from the ferry to the store. The ferry passes the Statue of liberty on the way over, that's as close as we'll get to her. She look's frozen solid! As we cross to Staten Island there are large patches of ice that have come from the Hudson River which is frozen over further up river. We grab a cab at the ferry and head off to the craft store. The roads are almost impassable in places & our cab skids & shuffles around on the icy road.The journey is further than we thought but finally we arrive. The store setup is a cross between Bunnings, Crazy Clark's & Spotlight & sells nothing but crafty supplies. We spend an hour looking around then catch the bus back to the ferry. As soon as we arrive on Manhattan we look for lunch & settled for sandwhich shop called "Blimpeys". We ordered a "small" roll & had trouble finishing it. The menu advertised a 4ft roll for $89, I'd like to see someone eat that.

Above: Shopping in 5th Ave

Right: "Banjo".. our mascot, tired after a day in the snow

Far Right: Squirrel in Broadway St

Next we took the metro up to 34th St to visit the Empire State Building. When we arrived at the top the wind was blowing quite hard & it was very cold. We spent about 15mins taking pictures and wondering how the people must have felt looking out from the top of the World Trade Centre on that fateful day. It did make you feel a little uneasy & we were glad to be back on street level. Another meal at Tony's tonight, we have looked around at other restaurants but with the snow & the cold we settle for one we know & that has good food. Tonight it's a chicken dish washed down with an Italian white, followed by Tiramisu. A couple of Sambuccas at the bar adds up to another great night. All the waiters are getting to know us now & are even starting to give us free drinks... we chat to them at the bar & they ask us questions about Australia. You get the feeling they know very little about Australia & one of them even asks us what the "America's Cup" is all about! We try to explain that it's an American Race, but they still have a confused look. Oh well... we tried.

Today we have a day for shopping. I'm keen on 5th Ave but Derek suggests Greenwich Village which he hopes is going to be cheaper. We spend 2 hours walking around then have lunch at a small bakery that has great cakes in the window. Finally I can't avoid the shopping any longer we find a row of shoe shops which I am unable to resist. (I have a very strong Shoe Fettish). As it is nearing the end of winter they have a sale on and I buy two pairs of Italian leather boots which are very well priced.. Derek got off cheap! We end up at 5th Ave but it's only to buy presents to take back for friends. I want to visit "Jimmy Choo's Shoes". Now unless your a "Sex & the City Fan" you can skip this bit. For the converted, you'll know that this is where "Carrie" buys all her shoes & there was no way I'm going home without a visit. After almost giving up, we finally spot it. Derek said he has never seen a woman get across a snow laden road so quickly! He leaves me to it & takes a walk up the street while I look at all the shoes I can't afford to buy.

Inside the amazing "Toys R Us"
store in Times Square

Above: Greenwich Village Street

Right: New York street from
Empire State Building

We dedice to take a quick visit to Times Square for a second look at the huge Toys R Us Shop. This shop is absolutely amazing... the stuffed toy section has us fascinated with a huge selection of bears, & animals. This place even has a lifesize dinasour that moves & roars!. At the entrance there is a huge ferris wheel which you can ride & it takes up the entire height of the building. Apparently there's even an ice skating rink!. We only buy two items a white poodle bag & a multi coloured tiger. We can't carry any more so shopping is over. It's our last night & we are going to have a good night at Tony's. I know not Tony's again!, but we can't resist. We have a great meal & too much to drink. Our waiter is from Brooklyn & sounds just like "Columbo". He keeps saying "yes sir" & "Yes maam". We don't get to bed till midnight.
Our flight home is not the best.. we leave NY 1 hour late to LA. Our departure from LA is 1 1/2 hours late then 4 1/2 hours over the pacific we are told we are returning to Hawaii as we have a medical emergency on board which delays us another 3 hours. Arriving 4 hrs late in Sydney we miss our connecting flight to the Gold Coast & have to wait 3 hours for a flight. Finally we walk across the tarmac at Coolangatta & we are home. It is such a great feeling to arrive home I'm sure it doesn't matter where home is.. it's still a great feeling.

The end..