This post is also available in: French
I’ve visited the Universal Exhibition in Milan during the May bank holidays and believe me when I say it was totally awesome. You travel around the whole world in just one day, your senses are blown away and you will leave full of memories.
There are so many Pavilions. 145 countries are represented at the Expo, on top of pavilions gathered by food category (coffee, rice, cereals…) and some Corporate or NGO Pavilions. In order to sort all of this, I’ve decided to make my own Top 10 Pavilions, according to my experiences and feelings following my visit to the Expo.
1. The can’t be missed: the Coca-Cola Experience
For addicted people like me, you will be super thrilled to know that Coca-Cola has a Pavilion at the Expo (McDonald’s also). I can already hear anti-globalization people complain. Me too, I don’t think Coca-Cola belongs to this kind of exhibition, especially when it’s about world nutrition and energy. But Coca-Cola is my favorite brand, not a day goes by without me drinking some Coke. And I’ve got to admit their Pavilion at the Expo is very well thought. Going there is a memorable experience.
The hostess greets you with a magnetic card that you can beep on the terminals you can find in the Pavilion. The terminals talk to you in your native language and call you by your name, you will learn fun facts about the brand. At the entrance, you are served a first bottle of Coca-Cola. While you are enjoying it, especially under this heat in May, the guide tells you all about the history of the company and you finish with a quizz.
Then comes the time to burn all those calories. There’s a huge dance floor with “Just Dance” game on the Wii. The better your moves are, the higher the music volume will play. That’s how we started a wild choregraphy on “Happy” from Pharell Williams. The hostess was going full throttle for us to gain as many points as possible.
We continue slowly with facts about Coca-Cola and their business model. We learn that plastic bottles are recycled into t-shirts and that glass bottles are melted into other bottles or to make other souvenir objects (mugs, bottle opener…). So we throw the bottle we were given at the beginning into the glass recycling box and you must smile at this very moment, because the webcam is taking a photo of you.
To finish, you are invited to get some more drinks on the unlimited self-serve machine. This time, not only Coca-Cola. You can choose between the full range of all the brands that belong to the company: Sprite, Nestea, Fanta, Powerade. I tasted raspberry Coca-Cola and my brother vanilla-strawberry Coca-Cola. It tasted very chemical, I prefer to stick to the Classic.
Anyway, when you get out of this Pavilion, your stomach is full and you want to pee. But I’m so glad, I got my daily dose of Coke and it was all free. And frankly, the atmosphere in this Pavilion really rocks, I loved the concept. You’re here to have fun
2. The funniest: Brasil
The Brasilian Pavilion is composed of a giant trampoline. A huge net is set high up and expands over a few hundreds of meters (I would say 200m). In the first place, it was more an invitation to relax (a giant hammock) but many people, like me, use it as a trampoline. It’s a lot of fun to cross it with friends and family, jumping together or just sitting on the highest point and observing people. Organizers are nice and as long as you you’re not being brutal, you can do whatever you want on this net and stay as long as you want. However, the ropes are very big and very tight. If your shoes have a thin sole, it may hurt your feet. You can leave the net half-way and keep walking on a flat surface. Obviously, flip flops and heels shouldn’t be worn.
At the end of the giant net, you finish your walk by wandering in a vegetable garden composed of several cultivated squares with plant or vegetable species. Tables with touch screens explain to you Brasil’s resources or agricultural productions.
3. The good surprise: Israel
I didn’t know what to expect from the Israeli Pavilion, especially with this theme. In the end, it was a wonderful surprise. They told us the history of agriculture in Israel through the story of a local family. I found they combined perfectly humor and emotions through a mix of screens and real interactions with the host. We learnt a lot of things, in particular about how Israeli innovations are used today to irriguate fields in the whole world. The Israelis also invented the cherry tomato, did you know that ?
Anyway, we’ve spent a very nice time at the Israeli Pavilion.
4. The power of water: Kuwait
From the outside, the Kuwait Pavilion is composed of big white sails, like a boat. When you reach the entrance of the Pavilion, you are blocked by a big water curtain. Raise your eyes to read the message: “Water for survival”. The message is written in Italian, Arabic and English.
The water curtain rises and we enter some sort of cave where an introductory movie is shown to us in a sphere, about life in the desert. We then enter a second room in the dark with mirrors covering the walls. In fact, we are experiencing a storm in the desert, with sound, image and even the freshness.
Then you continue your visit on the exhibition side of the Pavilion. Plants are covering the walls up to 10m high, frescoes on the walls are telling the story of a family and how they survive in the desert thanks to their idea to tame water and wind. We can smell spices, fragrances and even do a camel race on a kid’s game.
I really liked the Kuwaiti Pavilion and how they balanced their stand with a “visitor experience” part and an “exhibition” part on the daily lives of Kuwaiti individuals living in rural areas.
5. The pavilion purveyor of dreams: Morocco
The Moroccan Pavilion is the best invitation to travel I have met during the Expo. We cross several rooms representing the various regions of Morocco. Here, you will be guided by various scents: clementine, almonds, rose, spices. Some sceneries have been built (the desert, a tea shop) and a relaxing soundtrack is following you around the Pavilion. At the exit, a beautiful souvenir shop: food, jewellery or tableware. Everything was so pretty, I almost gave in. But I prefer to get a real souvenir from the souk rather than objects from the Expo which are awfully overpriced.
6. The most beautiful in terms of architecture : Qatar and Angola
Those two buildings stand out from the rest. They are exquisite to look from the outside.
The Qatari Pavilion was built as a Palace from the Arabian Nights with in its centre, a huge traditional basket used to carry fruits and vegetables from the market. This doesn’t mean that it will be interesting inside. We were disappointed by the visit of the Qatari Pavilion. There is a big buffet and in another room a container is hanging in the air with cardboxes falling off. Only the whirlwind slope to get out was nice and enjoyable. It was an immense tree made of stretched canvas with light and sound projections.
I also really appreciated the style of the Angola Pavilion. Very imposing with its tribal symbols. It reminded me of aboriginal paintings from Australia.
7. The most relaxing: Germany
The German Pavilion consists, on its upper part, of a relaxing promenade, like on a cruise ship. There were giant wooden deck-chairs, shade and fake grass. On the way, some inventions to test by yourself to make your own energy (with relaxing music) or how to help the bees. On your way out, you have to take the slide.
The Austrian Pavilion was on the same principle. It was an oxygenizing walk in the forest. But the zen effect was minor on me, considering we had to wait a long queue to access it. I didn’t feel it as health walk, unlike in Germany.
8. The most colorful: Ecuador
What a stunning Pavilion with all those brilliant colors. You spot this one from far away. In fact, they are hanging colored chains, forming inca patterns on its facade. Inside, you are invited to an olfactory experience with Ecuador’s products (banana, flowers, cocoa beans, the sea), always with a wealth of colors. Next, the presentation movie, full of emotions, will make you want to catch the first plane to Quito. The small shop on your way out, with typical objects, will allow you to extend your trip.
9. The most demonstrative: Belgium
Regarding this year’s theme, “Feeding the planet, Energy for life”, I found the Belgian Pavilion was the most demonstrative and also the most generous to make us taste their culinary specialties. We were greeted with a Speculoos biscuit and during the visit we get to observe some chocolate makers from Godiva working on a chocolate sculpture. We are then invited to eat the chocolate they have just made in front of us. Mhh, so delicious ! We continue the visit underground, dedicated to innovations. Belgium has really offered some solutions for the future of our planet. How to produce lettuce on the smallest surface ever, with the least water possible, how to feed the 9 billion people we will be in 2050 ?
This Pavilion was really innovative. They had a real plants nursery with 3D hologrammes on the glass windows, showing the future production machines. The modern design of the bar makes you want to stay longer here but you are also attracted with the wonderful smell of the Belgian fries just outside.
10. The disappointment: USA
I was expecting a lot more from the American Pavilion. They are so powerful in the world, such a powerful agriculture and industry, an innovative country. This Pavilion had huge potential but they didn’t do anything with it. On the ground floor, panels explaining American agriculture, production and harvest but absolutely nothing interactive. You pass it quickly. On the first floor, a huge terrace, agreeable, but totally off topic. A bar playing loud music and two hostesses dancing are trying to liven things up. A real night club. In conclusion, go to this Pavilion for the laid-back atmosphere, but don’t expect anything more.
Off course, other Pavilions were also pointless. We come in and come out in no time at all. I’m thinking about Ukraine or many stands from the Coffee Cluster. When they are not completely closed to the public (that was the case of Ouganda, Salvador, Yémen), they only consist of a small room with beach or forest posters on the walls and touristic brochures to pick up (Timor, Guatemala). It’s OK to use the Expo to promote your country but the whole point of it is to show your country’s resources at least, and at best to explain how they deal with the issue of nutrition and energy.
That’s the end of my Top 10. I give special support to the Nepalese Pavilion. It’s a pretty Pavilion with numerous carved wooden columns with typical patterns that we see in Asian temples. They even built a real Temple. Unfortunately, the Pavilion was unfinished when we visited the Expo. Considering the dramatic events that happened in Nepal last month, we can’t blame them. You can still access the Pavilion but you will see workers finishing the Temple.
You see, the Universal Exhibition is a memorable experience. You discover new cultures, new countries. You test by yourself new sustainable solutions to put in practice in our globalized society.
In fact, there is a drawback to visiting the Expo. You will be hit by the travel bug, wanting to go on a round-the-world trip and visiting countries you were never attracted to before.
For more info, you will soon be able to read the Complete Guide Part 1 and Part 2.