When I first started working on this EuroTrippin’ series, I was doing pretty well with getting two posts out each weekday, but all that kind of went to a standstill once I got to this part talking about the World Expo in Milan. You see, the Expo is just such a huge event with so many things to see that it was a little overwhelming to think about capturing what I did in a few posts. Anyway, here I am again to try to explain my experiences with this mega-event. Let’s do this.
After spending some time at the Duomo, I didn’t go straight to the expo site. Instead, I stopped by Expo Gate, a location in the center of Milan that acted as a reference venue or information point for visitors. When I was researching ticket options online, the expo website mentioned that Expo Gate was the only place I could get a two-day ticket. I didn’t completely believe that and am pretty sure that I could have gotten the ticket at the expo, but I didn’t want to take the chance. Things actually ended up working out better this way since the man at the counter assumed that I was a student and offered me a season pass at the student price, which was only €58 (~$61.74 USD). This meant that I could actually go more than two days for a cheaper price than what I would have originally paid. With my flashy new season pass in hand, I bought a €5 (~$5.32 USD) return ticket to Rho Fiera, the station designated for the Expo, and headed straight there.
It was a Thursday and there weren’t any lines at the ticket booth or for security, which was nice. There was a bit of a walk involved to get to the actual area where the pavilions were, but it wasn’t too bad. Nearby were more of the food people statues designed by Dante Ferreti that I saw at the airport. The theme for the 2015 Expo was “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” so I was ready to learn more about how countries plan to change the planet through food.
I got a map and then I searched for a gift shop so I could purchase an expo passport. When I went to the 2010 Expo in Shanghai, I bought an expo passport which you could get stamped at all the pavilions that you visited. It was a fun souvenir and I wanted to have another one to document my adventures in Milan. Once that mission was accomplished, it was time to collect stamps.
Because there weren’t a lot of people that day, I thought I would just move in order of pavilions from one side to the other and eventually make my way back again. The first country pavilion that I visited was IRELAND. I ended up jotting down some random facts that I learned while going through their building, which pretty much just highlighted several of Ireland’s food industries. 80% of Irish farmland is grassland, which is double the European average. Livestock have a diet that is over 90% grass-based and Irish cattle graze outdoors on grass 300 days a year. Irish whiskey is the world’s fastest growing premium spirit at 7 million cases exported every year.
NEPAL was next door and consisted of a walk through a Nepalese temple (?). I’m not sure what this pavilion had to do with food actually, other than that they sold some near the exit. I ended up getting some steamed pork momo, a kind of dumpling native to Tibet.
SUDAN showcased some food, but was probably just there to sell all kinds of random souvenirs. Nothing too special there.
So far, the three pavilions that I visited hadn’t been too impressive, but that changed when I got to BELGIUM. At the entrance of the pavilion, I was handed a biscoff cookie and that already made me like this place since free food is always welcome. Continuing on, there was a chocolatier booth showing off some specially-designed chocolate. There were even some samples of chocolate chips that again added to my mood.
Eventually, the path led to a room with these aquaponic systems that “produces both vegetable and animal foodstuffs using a single source of lower-value food for the fish”. These were really cool and reminded me of positive impact loops that I learned about in high school. The fish are fed food once in a while which ends up producing waste in the water that they are swimming in. A biofilter breaks down the ammonia in the waste to produce nitrites and then nitrates that the plants in turn will use to grow and purify water, which returns to the fish tank. The cycle continues again. I thought this idea was impressive and it was the first actual idea for the future of food that I saw at the expo.
At the end of the pavilion was an area where you could purchase more biscuits or cookies, but there was also a bar where you could order some Belgian beer. I took a break and got a Kasteel Rouge, which had a bit of a cherry taste and an 8% volume of alcohol that I definitely started to feel after finishing up.
VIETNAM was basically just a mix between an art gallery, concert hall, and a big gift shop. Nothing much to see, but this pavilion was responsible for all the Asian conical hats that seemed pretty popular with Italian teens especially.
The next few pavilions that I visited were part of larger thematic sections that covered RICE, COCOA AND CHOCOLATE, and COFFEE. In the chocolate section, I got this pancake-on-a-stick kind of thing that was drenched in white chocolate and peanuts. That was really good too and I have to admit that I even ended up licking the chocolate off the plate. In the coffee cluster, I got a sample of some coffee at the El Salvador pavilion and it might have been the first coffee that I actually didn’t hate. I’m just not that much of a coffee person.
AZERBAIJAN was the next country pavilion over and it was my favorite of the day and probably in the Top 3 that I visited during the expo. The building was just so impressive and featured several interactive areas that actually allowed you to learn more about food. Did you know that the best type of apples in Azerbaijan grow in the Guba region and that there is an apple festival there every October? Now you do! I was also able to find out that I am an emphatic kind of traveler while entering a contest for a trip to Baku.
The pavilion was colorful an fun and exactly what it should be to get people who were visiting invested in actually learning about the country and its food. I did end up having an unfortunate experience with some guy who worked there though, spurred on by another assumption. I was getting a stamp for my expo passport when he looks at me and starts saying “Ni hao.” I look at him confused and he asks if I was from China. I told him that I was from the United States (and I’m Filipino, not Chinese) and he looks closely at me with a scrunched up face when he exclaims “What?!” I tell him that yeah, I’m from California and he goes into this obnoxious “California! Wow, let’s get a stamp for my big California friend!” He then stamps my passport upside-down, which I assume wasn’t any hostile act, but still was annoying. That interaction just ended up rubbing me the wrong way and I was bummed out since I had liked everything in the pavilion up to that point.
The sky was starting to darken, but I wanted to make the most of my time at the expo, so I visited a couple more pavilions that day.
Next Post: EuroTrippin’: Milan (Part 4) – World Expo II