Foodies, art and design lovers, travellers, party animals, family, cultural explorer, it does not matter which tribe you belong to, the Expo in Milan is the place to go this summer and autumn. Here is a short preview of what to expect from this mesmerizing experience (in the course of a eight-hour visit).
Expo 2015 is just too much. Too much to see, smell, taste and walk through, an information overload that hits the senses, leaving you dazed and confused… yet caught in a state of childlike enthusiasm. For that is what this three-km-long site is about: a huge celebration of life and its most joyful shapes, represented by food. This endless street party takes place every day from May to October 2015 (from 10am to 11pm during weekdays, and until midnight on weekends), with a carousel of more than 100 design pavilions hosting the countries and organisations participating in the event, food stalls, restaurants, performances, shows, art installations and venues to dance the Milanese night away in a unique, historical setting: that of the Universal Exhibition (to understand the importance of this event, think of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which was designed for the 1889 Expo in Paris, and went on to become the city’s landmark par excellence).
Once you make it through the metal detector gates (choose a weekday and purchase your ticket in advance to avoid queues), start your visit from Zero Pavilion, overlooked by the Guardiani del Cibo statues by Italian Oscar winning production designer Dante Ferretti (inspired by 16th century painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo). The pavillion is a scenic introduction to the history of mankind and its relationship with food, from hunter-gatherer tribes to the modern agriculture. The huge wood-carved library at the entrance is a powerful metaphor that represents the collective memory of the human race, a space where all stories begin and end, and is the first example of the monumental importance of the whole exhibition. The interior of Padiglione Zero is like the hollow belly of a whale: people, images and sounds float through the darkness as if in a dream; in a space that enhances the senses and evokes an emotional connection to the environment. As you head towards the exit, you will encounter an impressive installation displaying a gigantic pile of food waste, a strong image that encapsulates the message Expo is trying to deliver. The message is clear: find a sustainable way to feed the planet that is in harmony with nature.
The first countries along the Decumano axis are Ireland, the Czech Republic and Nepal. To find some shelter from the heat, join the many visitors enjoying the cool water in the small pool by the Czech Pavilion, easy to spot thanks to the light blue half bird- half plane sculpture and the bar serving pints of Pilsner Urquell. The pavillon is dedicated to the theme of water and hosts a small forest (an invitation to silence) as well as an installation illustrating water waste facts with the help of… toilet seats! Drop by the Bahrain Pavillon next door, where a small garden of Eden awaits you surrounded by a blinding white enclosure.
Every pavillion hosts traditional restaurants or bars where you can taste local specialties, like baobab drinks at the Angola Pavillion, bibimpap in the Republic of Korea area, belgian fries and beers in the Belgium Pavillion, ice cream with vodka in Belarus and of course you can’t miss the Italian dishes at the Italian Pavilion and the surrounding areas dedicated to the most charming Italian regions. If you are into art and design, don’t miss your chance to understand more about the installations by asking the many assistants presiding over the pavilions. Besides discovering interesting stories (like for example the Czech Republic hybrid bird represents the country’s love for nature and its mission to develop sustainable technologies), you will also get to know some locals from countries you might never visit otherwise. Walking through the Expo grounds is like travelling beyond borders-without needing a visa. If you want a personal souvenir of your visit, you can buy an Expo passport (5 EUR) and collect country stamps at every pavillion you stop by.
Nepal, Thailand, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan are only a few of the far away lands you will get to know. Listen to visitors marvelling at the great modernity of Azerbaijan (the Land of Fire, as the pavilion is entitled), while images of its beautiful landscape float by on the walls of the glass bubbles inside, watch a traditional dance show at the Malaysian Pavilion and join the performers on the dancefloor for songs and colours reminiscent of Bollywood, and don’t miss a skywalk above the Rainforest at the Brazilian Pavilion (especially if you are accompanied by children).
Moving further east, stop at the China Pavilion to enjoy traditional “face changing” performances, and follow your nose to the nearby Oriental street food stalls to please your tastebuds too. If you are interested in Asia, don’t forget to pay a visit to the Vietnam Pavilion, with its stunning bamboo pillars (which represent the national lotus flower) and mouth watering delicacies such as vietnamese spring rolls at the restaurant. In the Republic of Korea area, you will learn everything about Hansik, the fermentation method at the core of its national cuisine, and witness a dance between digital screens showcasing the world of vegetables from an artistic point of view.
A visit to Expo cannot end without a stop at the Tree of Life, at Lake Arena (in the heart of the Italian quarter by the Cardo axis). This 37- meter- high installation lights up at the sound of modern symphonies composed on purpose for the event, dancing among water and light compositions. Shows are shorter during daytime (about 3 minutes), while evening performances last about 12,5 minutes. It is a truly touching experience that makes everyone realise for a moment, that every living being on the planet is interconnected, and the Earth’s harmony depends on mutual respect. As fireworks go off from the top of this majestic LED-lit tree, you might feel that you witnessed too much beauty for one day.
As you slowly make your way back to the exit, follow the stream of people looking just as blissfully delighted as you and if you have some time and energy left, join the crowd of party-goers for one last dance at the Poland or Belgium Pavilions, the true kingdoms of disco music.
Don’t be disappointed if you only managed to see one third of the attraction on display: it is perfectly normal, as Expo is simply too huge to take in everything in one day. In one day at Expo, you will find some good travel inspiration for your next adventures, taste new dishes and recipes, and glimpse behind the curtain of exotic, fairytale-like realities you can only dream of. And if you still want more, Expo is open until October and will welcome you back a second time…or maybe more.