Wednesday 9th September
EXPO2015, Milan, Italy
We have been lucky enough to travel to some incredible places over the years, many of which have been linked by one or more of several common themes. For example, most have a decent railway system, because that is our preferred way of getting about. The majority have some kind of local food or drink that I am keen to try, as I tend to specialise in gastro-tourism. And, more by coincidence than careful planning, several have hosted a World’s Fair.
The generally-recognised first World’s Fair, also known as The Great Exhibition, was held in the Crystal Palace (then located in Hyde Park), London in 1851. This was followed by a series of exhibitions in the UK, France and the US, show-casing technological and scientific advances, as industrialisation spread. Over time, they were held in more diverse places across the world and developed into utopian demonstrations of cultural and social ideals, and then later into “nation branding”, setting out each country’s vision of how it wanted to be seen by the rest of the world.
Examples of places that we have visited on which a World’s Fair has left a permanent mark include Paris (the Eiffel Tower), Queens in New York City (the globe featured in the film Men in Black – picture below) and Seattle (the Space Needle and the Monorail). We have also come across reminders of these events in Vancouver and Chicago, amongst others.
As we’ve discovered these remnants on our travels we have idly wondered, on one or two occasions, whether the concept of the World’s Fair still exists. Such events must have been incredibly exciting and exotic at a time when foreign trips were available only to the richest, but surely in these days of mass international travel such an idea would be obsolete?
Well, it turns out that World’s Fairs do still exist, although they are called Expos these days. It also turns out that the 2015 Expo is being held in Milan. With our history of discovering archeological evidence of this event in different places around the world, we couldn’t resist actually going along to a real, live example!
Day tickets for the Expo were EUR35, whereas the evening tickets were only EUR5, so, with a keen eye for a bargain (I am my mother’s daughter, after all!) I voted that we should spend Tuesday exploring Milan and then go to the Expo for the evening.
A 30 minute subway ride (and a 20 minute queue followed by a 20 minute walk!) later, we were in the midst of EXPO2015, the theme of which is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” – the biggest event ever organised on food and nutrition.
The venue is absolutely huge, with the capacity to host up to 250,000 visitors each day. As the event is running from May to October, they are expecting to get a lot of people (20 million, in fact) through their doors! We thought that it would be fairly quiet on random Tuesday evening in September, but we couldn’t have been more wrong – the entire place was packed with families, business people and trade delegations.
We weren’t really sure what to expect and, to be quite honest, we are still not entirely clear on what the purpose of an Expo is!
Each country puts together a “pavilion”, in which it can do pretty much whatever it likes related to the broad theme of the Expo. Some (including fairly unexpected places such as Angola) had apparently spent a good deal of money on building an intricate architectural masterpiece, inside which they were presumably showcasing the best that their country had to offer (although we didn’t find out what was inside many of them, as the queues were fairly off-putting). Brazil had gone for an “inside-out” concept, whereby their entire site appeared to be taken up by a giant climbing frame, which looked as though it might enable visitors to feel that they were taking a tree-top tour of a rainforest. And still others had taken a simpler approach, with a small building housing only a couple of small attractions (such as Cuba, which contained just a Mojito bar – what else does one need?!).
The United Kingdom was represented by a country garden and a bee hive – inspired structure. It seemed to be focused on promoting the UK for business and technology primarily, though it also gave visitors the opportunity to sample traditional British food and drink (including Newcastle Brown Ale, naturally).
France’s wine cellar-style display included information about the various ways in which science and technology can assist in the plan to provide food for the world in the future.
There were also some more general exhibitions, showcasing the types of food and drink available from different regions of the world, such as this rice -themed area.
A centrepiece of the event was the ‘Tree of Life’ – perhaps in years to come this will be seen as Milan’s equivalent of Seattle’s Space Needle?
After walking the full length of the exhibition, we were ready for a sit-down and a Moroccan meal, followed by a visit to one of several “Eataly” sections which contained a Nutella Concept cafe. However, we were slightly disappointed to find that the foods on offer were no more “out there” than a tiramisu with a dollop of Nutella on top, and most people were simply tucking into Nutella on bread or on a crepe!
All in all, visiting a real-life Expo was a great opportunity, and a quite surreal experience. Milan’s hosting of the event has been controversial in some quarters (with even the Pope pointing out the irony of a global temporary exhibition dedicated to sustainability and feeding the poor, despite the fact that, prior to his tenure, Vatican City had committed to having its own pavilion). But getting even a small flavour of what it must have been like to visit the World’s Fair in London, New York, Paris or Seattle was absolutely fantastic.
Food of the day
Sadly, we only discovered this cart where one could order a cone of chocolate shavings after we had been to the Nutella Concept cafe, so perhaps this should be called “missed opportunity of the day”!