When we arrived to Expo around 1:30pm we were starving so we found Belgium’s pavilion first and got some food! Joey opted for a ham and cheese crisp while I ordered a Belgian waffle complete with nutella and whipped cream. The main difference between what we (Americans) think Europeans eat and what they actually eat is the portion size. If I had ordered a Belgian waffle at IHOP it would have been the size of my plate! But actually in Europe, most portions are smaller than my hand, this waffle included. We enjoyed our first round of snacks with some Belgian beers. We still did not really know very much about Expo at this point, so we began by visiting the Belgium exhibit. We were impressed by the aquaponics systems which combines living aquatic animals such as fish in a symbiotic relationship with plants cultivated in water. Basically, Expo is each country’s chance to brag a little bit. No country held back on displaying their most proud food and sustainability initiatives. The Belgium exhibit also gave out a free piece of chocolate, which was delicious!
After visiting Belgium’s exhibit we picked up a free copy of a map of Expo and gasped as we saw how many other countries exhibits we could visit. It was only 2pm in the afternoon but we found ourselves thinking there would be no way to see everything by 11pm! We turned out to be completely correct, but we did see a lot. The next pavilion we visited was Angola, which had a neat interactive display depicting which foods come from each region of the country. The exhibit was designed to help visitors discover Angolan food and culture and a rooftop garden on the top floor with Angolan plants helped further educate the visitor about the nutritional contents of each plant. Our next country was the Czech Republic which had an interesting exhibit about photosynthesis. You had to stand still without making any noise or movement to get the sensors to optimize and show you plant life at the basic cellular level. Also in this area, we also visited Bahrain, Ireland, Nepal, the Duomo Foundation and Sudan.
Before moving deeper into the expo site, we went through Pavilion Zero which was sponsored by the United Nations. The purpose of the pavilion was to demonstrate the history of human beings food habits from hunting and gathering to settling in urban cities and everything in between. The last few rooms were a call to action to do something about the amount of waste products we are putting into the environment each year via food production and consumption. Joey and I were quite offended when we were rushed through the last few rooms of the exhibit to make way for some big important diplomat and his entourage. We were only trying to educate ourselves when the guards started ushering everyone out for this very important person, whoever he was. We decided that it was time for an espresso anyways, so we made our way to the coffee area. After sipping on espresso freddo (cold), we were ready to see some more countries.
We visited Azerbaijan, then stopped in Poland for some pierogi (dumplings) and beer. Poland’s exhibit promoted the quality of Polish food and included a big tourism push, not that I needed any extra persuading to return to the country after my visit 2 years ago. Poland has it all – food, art, history, culture, nightlife, vodka, sports, cycling and all of it at some of the cheapest prices in Europe. I’m already planning my next trip to show Joey how great it is! After Poland, we went next door to the Netherlands exhibit which was not actually a building, but set up outside like a state fair. I went into the fun house of mirrors, which admonished visitors that the first step towards environmental change requires a look in the mirror; quite clever. The Netherlands also had a bar with a ferris wheel which we only passed up since we had just had a Polish beer, otherwise I would have been on it!
We next visited Hungary, unfortunately the Hungarian pavilion was not very impressive. Next door, the United Kingdom pavilion was equally a bit disappointing. They choose to focus on the importance of the honey bee and created a maze like structure to make visitors feel like bees. At the end of the visit you climbed the stairs into the “beehive”. However educational this exhibit might have been about one small aspect of the UK’s sustainable food methods, it was not nearly as interesting or interactive as many other countries. In this area we also saw the Holy See, Spain, France, Israel, Romania, Mexico, and Switzerland. Israel had a particularly interactive video exhibit all about how their smart scientists have revolutionized agriculture for the rest of the world. They also showcased a gigantic vertical garden!
The space in the very center of Expo was reserved for all of the regions of Italy. In Lombardia, I tried special 3D simulation glasses which made it look as though I was seeing the “Last Supper” in the church in Milan, then hiking through the lake country to the north. I have never paid to see the “Last Supper” in person and now I feel as though I have, so I will never need to! Those 3D simulation glasses are so crystal clear and precise, it is easy to get dizzy when you take them off because it feels as though you were actually standing in another place. In the Italian section, we took the “stairway to vino” to purchase our Italian wine tasting passes. The head sommelier quickly began asking my preferences and guided me to taste 3 different red wines from different regions in Italy. I was so happy to have his help because there were more than 1,200 wines in the pavilion, far too many to choose from! These (in the photos) were his recommendations for my preferences; big, bold, earthy red. I would highly recommend them to anyone who is a fan of darker red wines!
After our vino, we visited Morocco where I was lured in to purchase a lamb tajine… We had put off eating any real dinner all day because we were so busy seeing everything! The lamb tajine was delicious but we were still a bit hungry so after going through the Qatar exhibit next door we enjoyed a sampler plate full of flavor, grape leaf wraps, and a date and almond smoothie. Delicious! Who knew Qatar had such good food?!
We only made it to two more countries before Expo started to close up for the night. We went to Slovakia and it was great! They had ipads to guide your visit through the exhibit just like in the Trienalle. They also had the 3D simulators to show various parts of the country, so many beautiful outdoor spaces! I really liked the Slovakia exhibit because of all of the interactive displays and it was very educational. We also visited Iran which was not as interactive or educational. Unfortunately after that it was 10:30pm and we had to begin the walk back to the other side of the Expo in order to exit by 11 and get on the metro.
I left more than a little upset by all of the countries we didn’t see. Because I loved the experience so much, I am certainly considering a return visit later this summer. Expo is the perfect place to learn about other cultures and the food of other countries in one spot. Expo made me add several more places to my bucket list because of the excellent presentations by many countries I had never before considered visiting. Expo is a once in a lifetime experience, everyone should go now before it ends in October 2015! The next Expo is not until 2020 in Dubai… Can you tell I am already planning to attend?