Travel the world in one place. At the EXPO in Milan, you can do just that. To see everything, you need days to see most of the 1.1 million square meters of sprawling area of exhibitions of incredible pavilions from different parts of the world. Left and right, as you walk along its grand main corridor, various participating countries, 145 in total, showcase pavilions of every imaginable architecture exhibiting their unique interpretation of the EXPO's theme: Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.
The core theme of EXPO gives all the participating countries and the food industry that have taken their own spaces in the EXPO, the chance to reflect and represent what the theme means to them. The universal problem of unbalanced distribution of production and consumption results in massive wastes of food and another universal problem of hunger among millions of people.
I went there twice in August as a regular visitor with my family then as part of the media in the Social Media Day (#SMDayExpo) in 18 August. When I had my kids in tow, our pace was slow and leisurely and over everything, long queues to get in were out of the question. If you have kids with you, plan ahead and map out the pavilions that you would like to see to curtail unnecessary walking in great lengths. There are free shuttle buses going around the external road of the EXPO every few minutes.
Both times, I arrived at RHO Fiera Milano Station which was very convenient. First time by the metro from the Duomo station which took 30 minutes and the second time by train directly from Rome which took 3 and a half hours (or more).
If you buy your ticket online, it will save you time from procuring your ticket on-site. From the station, you can go straight towards the entrance where a big number of security x-ray machines are lined up to check the bags and the people entering. Queues might be long but the pace is fast enough to accommodate the huge number of people who are visiting the EXPO. As of a few days ago, I just heard in the news that it is almost reaching its aim of selling 20 million tickets.
From both times I have been there, it was literally crawling with people. I am not big on crowded places especially in the company of my kids but I took it as an exception and just jumped in with the crowd. It's not everyday that we get a chance to see and taste so many countries showcasing their country's contribution to world of food production and the best part being able to taste genuine national dishes and drinks.
There are unanimous favorites of visitors as you can read at the internet and while you are there. You can also gauge the popularity of some pavilions with the endless long queues to go in. Japan and Italy for example have extremely long queues and waiting periods but it doesn't deter anyone from trying to see how both countries represent their unique views of feeding the planet.
But it doesn't really matter what the favorite is of the general public because what your favorite counts more. With so many pavilions to see and national dishes and drinks to try, it's every food lover's haven. One day is not enough, not even two days. I've met some people who have season passes and have been going there since it opened in May (and still at it!). By the end of October when it closes, I hope they have seen everything!
I was able to eat in the pavilions of Indonesia, Chile, Kazakhstan, Hungary and Estonia on both visits. I wanted to eat in Angola and Iran but due to time constraints, we had to skip them. But hey, all five cuisines were exceptional and it's a good thing my kids willingly explored the food too even if McDonald's (really?) was present in the EXPO too.
I was only able to enter a few pavilions because of time constraints but what I visited were enough to give me an impression on how much importance is being given to all aspects of food.
Switzerland for example took a simple yet powerful approach of having 4 towers with food products that represent the country. There were coffee, dried apples, salt and water. Each tower is simply filled up with boxes of each product all the way until the ceiling. The visitors can take them home without any limit to the number that they want. But the concept was to simply reduce unnecessary consumption to diminish waste, to make our lives better and to feed more people. It was a call to personal responsibility of consumption. I took home one of each to take my part.
The concept of urban farming was very interesting as represented by the American pavilion. Being in big cities, farm to table can still be possible by using the right technology to grow the food. With the use of hydroponic growth towers, 90% of the water is saved as opposed to traditional farming and it also recycles the water which helps conserve the nutrients that is usually lost in regular farming.
The Austrian pavilion was my family's unanimous favorite for a very personal reason that the four of us share. We all love the Dolomites and every year, we spend a week or two of our summer there. This mountain range sits in Italy but is close to the border of Austria. We visit Austria every year through that part of the country and in the pavilion, they mimicked an Austrian forest with walking trails and the perfect pure breathing climate that is so typical of that area. Austria's theme was Breathe. Because air is an essential component to a higher level of living condition, better health and quality food.
From what I wasn't able to visit, just strolling along the main corridor of the EXPO was a feast to the eyes as each pavilion is so uniquely beautiful. Here are more pavilions that I was able to capture with my camera during my two-day visit there.
|Upper left: Oman Pavilion; Upper right: Vatican Pavilion|
The Russian Pavilion captivated the attention of a lot of visitors for its long mirrored roof. Its the kind of entrance that makes you grab your phone or camera for a selfie on a long shot. Spot me among the mirrored crowd thing and it gave everyone a lighter mood. Russia took the theme of Growing for the World and Cultivating for the Future. Through scientific and agricultural heritage and the big potential to produce food to feed the world, it focuses on global food security.
You know when you are in the Pavilion of Slovenia when you are labeled with a green sticker heart with its printed theme on it: I Feel Slovenia. Because it is a country of rich natural resources, it aims to show its natural beauty which is ideal for an active and healthy life. I love how airy, simple and pure-looking the pavilion is and it concentrates on one simple thing. It shows the connection between healthy environment to healthy food.
On my second trip to the EXPO, I was a part of the media for its Social Media Day (#SMDayExpo) and the host countries for the day were Hungary and Estonia.
Hungary underlines three fundamental things. One is highlighting the virtues of water which it is very rich of, to stress importance of organic farming as opposed to genetic mutations making the country GMO-free, and to present how its sophisticated IT system can permit the traceability of its food products.
Being a special day of showcasing the country in the EXPO, the pavilion was packed with activities. We were treated to sample some of its local food products that were flown in from Hungary which also included their own bottled water.
Estonia was quite a wonderful discovery after seeing a view of the country through what the multi-leveled pavilion is showcasing. There is a startling fusion of its ancient tradition and unspoilt nature with technological advances. There is a general feel of being warm, casual, fun and a place to relax like how the country wants to portray itself. Indeed it works after weary visitors sat down in gigantic pillows. There are also swings (called energy swings) both for fun and for a more important motive. It is for the awareness how much energy is required to power simple daily things like charging telephones. The kinetic energy is transformed to electrical energy as you swing.
After the tour of the pavilion, we were treated to a table of local delicacies and an ice-filled big bucket of and rye and craft beer (which by the way are very good especially the rye beer). Estonian food is very different with influences from Germany and Russia while the rest are uniquely Estonian. The food alone makes me want to hop on a plane and visit their capital Tallinn, the old town of which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are still 3 weeks remaining before the EXPO concludes and closes its doors so if you still haven't been there, go for it and see what an incredible place it is to discover the world.