A couple of days at the fair: Milan’s Expo 2015

A couple of days at the fair: Milan’s Expo 2015

by Fred Steinberg – Clever Magazine

It came as no great surprise to world travelers that the New York Times named Milan as its number one tourist destination for 2015. As Europe’s fashion and design center and Italy’s Northern capital, Milan is particularly chic, modern, clean and fresh feeling, and compared to its Southern neighbors in Italy – Rome, Florence and Venice — surprisingly uncrowded. Milan has a number of first rate tourist attractions including da Vinci’s Last Supper, La Scala Opera and Museum, Italian masters at the Pinacoteca di Brera, The Santa dele Grazie Church, a world heritage site, some of the loveliest parks in Europe, the fashion shops around the Zona Tortona and the shops, restaurants and clubs lining the two canals in the Navigli area. Milan is also the home of the beautifully restored City’s hallmark, the word renowned “Duomo,” the second largest cathedral of its kind in Europe, one of the most impressive sites my wife and I have ever visited.
Italy’s center of commerce, Milan is also the region’s food center. And to top it off, the sanctioned International EXPO 2015, a world’s fair of food, whose theme is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”, is located at the Northwest edge of the City. On a 500 acre site, there are pavilions and food sections representing 147 nations and the Fair is well worth a visit.
So if you plan to be in Northern Italy before November 1, when the Fair closes, a day at Expo is more than worthwhile. We were in Milan during four beautiful days in June, before the summer heat wave which Europe experienced. So a fall visit when crowds and admission prices will be down would be perfect. And while a day may seem to offer to limited a time to visit EXPO, if you plan properly in advance, you can identify the national pavilions and others sections you want to visit. You will find all are located on or just adjacent to a 300 yard covered pedestrian “Documano” (thoroughfare) which can be casually walked in about an hour while you admire many of the brand-name architect’s work for the major country pavilions, from the classic Chinese and Hungarian to the modern Italian and British to the austere Russian.

Russia pavilion Photo credits @modarchitecture

Russia pavilion Photo credits @modarchitecture on Instagram

As you might expect, the French have an outstanding food pavilion. Built to reflect the traditional French covered food markets such as the legendary Les Halles in Paris, it features hundreds of food samples, antique to modern kitchen and dining utensils and appliances, dining furniture, fishing and agricultural implements and cooking gadgets, displayed on ceilings, walls and kiosks, in an open 1,000 sq. ft. area that begs for repeated wandering. Rather than through the traditional gift shop, you exit through a “boulangerie-patisserie” whose smell of freshly-baked pastry is hard to resist.

The juxtaposition of two long, parallel segments, blending traditional and innovation in agricultural and food tradition, is featured in the Spanish pavilion. You circle through a series of cartoon and documentary videos, action wall displays and sound and light productions displayed on walls, floors and ceilings. Themed as: “The Language of Flavour,” segments are devoted to sustainable agricultural production, diet, cuisine and preserving Spain’s landscape, heritage and food culture.

The lower and more unique section of the US “Great American Food Scape” pavilion is a guided walk through a series of videos on American cuisine utilizing cartoons and documentary film segments. The seven part production has segments including Thanksgiving, Spaghetti and Meatballs, BBQ, Hamburgers and fast food.

Adjacent to the pavilion is the heavily publicized “US Food Truck Nation” dining area which is little more than seven food trucks featuring uninspired versions of burgers, BBQ and other fast foods. For fast food, better to wander over to the Netherlands “Bassi” section to find kiosks of wurst, pancakes, meatballs and open sandwiches in a fun-filled outdoor park-like area with rides, games and entertainment.

China Pavilion Photo credits Davide Oliva

China Pavilion Photo credits Davide Oliva

China’s three segment pavilion is designed to reflect farms and rolling wheat fields with a winding field-like entry. Its theme revolves around the richness and diversity of China’s agricultural industry which partially feeds over 40% of the world’s population. It focuses on food and people which is reflected in videos, food sculptures, holographs and a dramatic, colorful sound and light display highlighting the agricultural innovation and achievements of the country.

A short visit to Chile’s modern “El Amor de Chile” is recommended. Its series of video productions, depicting the nation’s people and agriculture industry, take you on a simulated tour of the country utilizing 24 synchronized projectors. The production includes a simulated fishing boat trip on the Chilean Sea and a stroll through the vineyards of Carmenere.

Other EXPO highlights include a series of kiosks along the “Documano” displaying basic food ingredients from rice and pastas to coffees and teas, 21 Giant “Food People” statues and “The Tree of Life”, a 110 ft. tower that displays a colorful hourly water, sound and light show, particularly impressive at night.

Finally, my wife and I enjoyed visiting the “Supermarket of the Future”, a 17,000 sq. ft. multilevel pavilion which displays hundreds of food items produced by Italian sponsors of the Fair from pastas and coffees to chocolates and wines, all for sale. In a way, this pavilion resembled a giant gift shop as it featured the types of food products people like to take home as gifts, but at prices significantly higher than could be bought in local groceries. The exhibit also featured a number of interesting displays and cooking demonstrations as well as automated equipment for stocking and packaging food products.

For dining at the Fair, the choice among over 400 food outlets is overwhelming. But for snacking or lunch, the food court segment of the Netherlands pavilion or one of the informal “take and go” outlets on the lower level of the Eataly complex are good choices. For more formal lunches or dinners, you can’t go wrong with the upscale restaurants in the Mexican pavilion, which features dishes from the nation’s 30 top chefs, Chile’s restaurant, which highlights country’s 28 most popular dishes and the gourmet restaurant in the Spanish pavilion.

Milan has many fine hotels and where we stay is important to us. We look for quiet, convenience, comfort, a neighborhood with good restaurant choices and a helpful front desk. We found the UNA Hotel Cusani, just a 15 minute stroll from the center city Duomo, an excellent choice. The UNA Hotel Cusani is also just across the square from a Milan Metro stop which whisks you to EXPO in 20 minutes.

Duomo Milan Photo credits vpzone

Duomo Milan Photo credits vpzone

For our second full day in Milan, the DUOMO was first on our list. As you approach the square you will stop and stare in awe at this beautiful Gothic structure with its 156 external spires. The no less impressive inside features a magnificent organ and 56 giant marble internal support beams. Take the elevator to the cathedral’s roof and view the spires up close and, on a clear day, get a great view of the city.

My wife and I then went back to the lovely Sempione public park, entering through the impressive Arch of Peace just across the plaza from our hotel. The park contains beautiful gardens and walkways as well as the Milan Aquarium and Sforzesco Castle, built for Milan’s royalty and landed gentry in the 15th century. The park is also home to the innovative Triennale Design Museum which was an unexpected highlight of our trip. Its current exhibit, “Art and Food” immerses the visitor in a vast and excellent display of photos, videos, paintings, antique and modern full kitchens and kitchen appliances, place settings, tableware, dining furniture and a full Spanish mobile Italian Army field kitchen. Old movie clips featuring dining themes were great fun to watch including the famous “automated eating machine” sequence from Chaplin’s Modern Times.

Castello Sforzesco Photo credits Katja Rupp

Castello Sforzesco Photo credits Katja Rupp

An excellent pasta dinner with steamed mussels and complimentary glasses of Prosecco at Café Andry, just around the corner from our hotel, capped off our visit. If you can’t get to Milan before EXPO closes at the end of October, give a thought to EXPO ’17 in Kazakhstan. Its theme will be “Future Energy – Efficiency and Environmental Protection.”