As it moved into the evening of my first day at the Milan Expo, more people started to arrive and some pavilions began to develop longer lines. The United Arab Emirates and Kazakhstan pavilions were close to Azerbaijan, but it looked like it would have taken a while to get inside either of those buildings, so I skipped them with the intent of returning on one of the other days I’d be at the expo. I never actually got to go inside.
The UNITED KINGDOM pavilion was next and I was excited to see what this would be like. The UK had one of the most interesting pavilions at the Shanghai Expo, a cube-shaped seed bank known as the Seed Cathedral, and it even won the award for best pavilion design back in 2010, so I had some big expectations. The UK’s contribution for Milan’s expo actually seemed very reminiscent of the Seed Cathedral without possessing the same wow factor.
The building still was interesting architecturally and took inspiration from bees and beehives, the main focus of the pavilion. The pavilion sought to emphasize the importance of bees and highlight the need to prevent the insects from dying out. There was also this interesting interactive display, in which you could out a stick between your mouth and a pole to experience the kind of vibrations that bees use to communicate. It was pretty amusing watching people try it out.
I went to the HUNGARY pavilion next, though that was underwhelming. There was a stage for musical performances, and not much else that I remember. The only note I had jotted down while there read “You sound like ‘hungry’! Why don’t you have more stuff related to food?!” It’s true though. It bothers me that some pavilions had incredibly little to do with the expo theme.
SPAIN did a much better job and highlighted the Mediterranean diet and many of the different foodstuffs produced in regions around the country, including olive oil and wine. The pavilion was themed around “the language of taste” and also included dialogue on tradition and the future of the food industry.
MEXICO started off with the pavilion staff giving each person a bar code sticker. That was a little weird at first since it was kind of like we were being tagged, but it allowed you to scan yourself to create profile that would let you learn more about a certain crop that was assigned to you. I got achiote, a plant “used as a condiment and in the flavoring of exotic Mexican dishes”. There were some interesting art installations, but nothing else too noteworthy.
SLOVENIA‘s pavilion was called “I Feel Slovenia” and emphasized the word “love” in the country’s name. The first section of the pavilion invite visitors to walk on hand-collected salt from the town of Piran. Afterwards, there were a couple exhibits on Slovenian honey and some other random things like hiking. Really, part of this pavilion was geared towards tourism and had nothing to do with food at all, but there was a little restaurant in which I ordered some šmorn, a pancake-y kind of dessert with a wild berry sauce.
Looking up information on šmorn, it actually looks like the dish originated in AUSTRIA, which was actually the pavilion that I visited next. For some reason, the pavilion was called “Breathe Austria” and focused on energy self-sufficiency. There were a lot of plants and reminders to breathe (or accidentally, “brethe”). I even sponsored a tree! Yep, Tree 7925 in the Hone Tauern National Park is mine. Did they miss the memo on food? I did get some paprika hendl (chicken in paprika sauce) to eat, so there’s that.
A couple pavilions were already starting to close, so I bypassed several of them to look for one that was still open. That’s when I came across the pavilion for the UNITED STATES, called American Food 2.0. The flooring in front of the building used wood salvaged from the Coney Island Boardwalk after Hurricane Sandy, which I thought was cool. The inside included a lot of screens, some playing recorded messages from people including President Obama and some hosting interactive games that I always like seeing since I think it does help engage people more.
For some reason, Walgreens was the sponsor of the little gift shop inside. Other highlights of the pavilion included a vertical farm that held 42 different American varieties of vegetables, gardens, and herbs; food trucks to highlight street food culture; and a series of videos as part of a series called “The Great American Foodscape” that I’ll actually go into in a separate post since I experienced that on my second day at the expo.
It was almost time for the expo to close for the day, so I started making my way back to the subway station so that I didn’t have to deal with too much with the crowd.
Once I got back to my hostel, I tried to see if I could book another night so that I could stay in Milan longer. Unfortunately, practically all of the hostels in Milan were booked for the weekend (I was looking for a place to stay for at least Saturday night) and those that were open were charging ridiculous prices that rivaled regular hotel rooms. Alas, I only had a day-and-a-half left to explore the expo.