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Trip Report Review of Milano Expo

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I just attended the Milano Expo today so thought it might be helpful to others considering going this summer. I'm in the middle of a five week trip so the rest of the report will have to wait but it's too hot to do anything else this evening so here it is.

I was able to get both Expo ticket (39€) and train ticket (5€) from my hotel, but they are sold all over, like at the train station as well as in downtown Milano. I took the suburban train from the Repubblica metro station directly (17 minutes) to Rho Fiera stop, the Expo stop. Nice modern station, air conditioned as well as the train itself. Then it’s a 10 minute walk to the entry gate. At 10:04 (it opens at 10) there was at least a 20-30 minute line to go through security and scan your ticket. And there were at least a dozen lines. I didn’t even see where you’d go if you needed to buy a ticket.

I’d give the Expo about a 6-7 out of ten. On the plus side it is very well done – nicely organized, clean, plenty of benches, places to refill your water bottle, rest rooms. Most importantly, the entire length of the main street (about a mile long) is shaded by a huge tent like awning. And there were lots of “misting” fans. Most of the buildings were air-conditioned or at least cool. So it was probably the coolest place you could be in Italy on this brutally hot day (96F/36C). The pavilion buildings are quite impressive – but virtually all are ultra modern and bear no resemblance to the country they represent. There were just a few (Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, Qatar) that looked like the kind of architecture you might see in those countries. But the rest were still nice modern architecture. The exhibits were all colorful and pretty and nice to look at.

However, the displays were pretty much devoid of any useful information, either about the countries or about food production. Lots of displays and pretty, colorful videos and digital displays with pictures of seeds and fruit and plants. In some cases there were also tourist bureau videos about the countries, but these were also devoid of any useful information. For example, Malaysia was a kind of interesting building – made to look like three giant seed pods and in the first one you got to sit in very comfy chairs (after about a 5 minute wait) and they projected pretty video on the floor, walls and ceiling. But even though it was in English, it had less info than the ad Malaysia was running on CNN a few years ago. Most of the others you would just walk through a series of darkened rooms with colorful video floating all around you. Occasionally there were interactive displays where you might touch on a touch screen a grape and it would become a bunch of grapes. Not exactly informative. Most of the written information was in English, Italian and the native language, but most of the audio (when there was some, mostly it was just music) was just in Italian. In the Hungarian pavilion there were a couple of tables with local crafts, and the ceiling was covered with dried red pepper ( and paprika was sold in the gift shop) but the majority of the display were quotes like “Signature cuisine in every neighborhood”, “my teachers gave me wings to create”, and “I learned to cook to the rhythm of a lullaby”. That tells you nothing. A lot of effort and money went into building that pavilion I just wish they had devoted some of it to either educating you about food and sustainability (the theme of the expo) or showing what the country was like but it really ended up doing neither.

So I was hoping to learn a bit about the many countries represented as well as about world wide food production, but I didn’t. None of the information was more in depth than what you’d get in the first paragraph if you googled something. I didn’t go in every pavilion but I did go in a lot of them (I spent over 6 hours there) including many of countries I have been to and many I have not, and found this almost total lack of information to be true. Another example, the UK, one of my favorite countries – cool building but you just walked past a bunch of grass, then through this cool structure, and you could buy fish and chips, a full English breakfast or a Pimms. Really that was about it. It was supposed to be a bee-hive but the information about bee keeping was pretty lame.

Of course there was plenty of food. Tons of restaurants and virtually every pavilion had some place you could buy food. Unfortunately it was all at least twice as expensive as it would have been in the actual country (and that’s just the one’s I’ve been to.) I did get a great iced latte at the Kenya part of the coffee pavilion. But the Vietnamese noodle and veggie dish I got was pretty bad, and at least twice as much as it would have cost at a Vietnamese restaurant in the US or France, and probably way more than it would have cost in Vietnam.

I found the most interesting exhibits to be the “Clusters” – these included: Rice, Cocoa and Chocolate, Coffee, Fruits and Legumes, Spices, Cereals, etc. Many countries that don’t have pavilions of their own participate in these – mostly in the form of just large rooms but with some photos of their country and sometimes some crafts or products for sale. I was particularly happy to see that Coffee and Chocolate rate right up their as important food groups – and they really did have the best exhibits.

There were only a few pavilions with long lines (Japan and Columbia were the worst) and I wasn’t about to stand around in 96 degree weather for 40 minutes so don’t know what was in them. There were a number of pavilions with some singing/dancing which were reasonably good. To see everything you’d really need at least a couple days and that would get pretty expensive.
As I was leaving a bit after 4pm there were no lines at the entrance. This was on a Thursday in July.

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