Feeling hungry? Then visit Milan this summer.
The big thing on Milan's plate this year is EXPO Milano 2015.
Held every 5 years since 1851, EXPO is the international showcase for countries to display and demonstrate the best of their technologies and innovations, and hopefully stimulate human progress.
The theme for this EXPO, which will run from 01 May to 31 October, is "Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life", and the mission is to promote international discussion through the events organised both inside and outside the exhibition space in order to arrive at solutions that will ensure enough healthy food for all while respecting Nature & its delicate balance, and avoiding food excess and injustice.
Some 140+ participating countries will present technical solutions at their Pavilions in the huge (twice the size of Disneyland Paris), one million square meter EXPO showground on the north-west outskirts of the city. Built as a city surrounded by a canal, with streets (shielded from the sun & rain by large canopies), restaurants, places for events and concerts, the entire site will be a live stage from morning to night (open from 10 am to 11 pm every day of the week), animated by thousands of performances, concerts, workshops and exhibitions. The organisers estimate that in a typical 7-hour visit, you will only get to see around 15% of the site.
Ironically, while the issues this EXPO seeks to address - namely that there are about 870 million undernourished people in the world (2010-2012) and on the other hand around 2.8 million deaths from diseases related to excessive eating, obesity or weight problems - EXPO's general Manager, Piero Galli, says the EXPO park will be "the world's largest restaurant. Each night 250 trucks of food will replenish the stocks in the restaurants and other food outlets."
A number of countries will build their own dedicated pavilions.
For example, the UK Pavilion, designed by Nottingham based artist, Wolfgang Buttress, focuses on the best of British food, music and fashion. It is designed to highlight the ecological interdependencies of the environment and agriculture, and showcase new achievements and innovations reached in each stage of the food chain, from seed to plate, from field to table: agricultural technologies, food security, food and drink, functional food, logistics, openness to global markets and international cooperation.
Visitors will walk through a fruit orchard and enter a natural wildflower meadow. As they near the centre of the meadow, the focal point of the structure will come into view: a golden orb made of fine steel lattice based on the design of a honeycomb. The ‘Hive’ will pulsate and buzz with the noise of a real bee colony.
Other countries that do not wish to have their own pavilion, will "cluster" together in shared exhibition areas.
These 'villages', which will be located throughout the site, will allow these Countries to represent the food history, culture and tradition which characterize them most. In fact, some Clusters will be dedicated to the presentation and tasting of timeless products, such as rice, coffee, spices, fruit and vegetables, cereals and tubers. However, others will group Countries around themes that characterize specific regions such as the Bio-Mediterranean, islands and arid areas.
Overall, EXPO Milano 2015 is expected to attract some 20 million visitors over the 180 days, of which 7-8m will come from overseas. There is a daily cap on park entry, set at 250,000 people max, but you don't have to restrict yourself to the 1170 scheduled events (including 88 National Days) in the park, which lies 25 minutes away by high speed metro train from the city centre (Duomo). Special exhhitions (EG, of Leonardo da Vinci works), cultural events and performances will be will also be taking place all over the city, including one of Milan's most popular summer events, Piano City, when 300 pianos are played in locations city wide over three days.
Ticket* sales for EXPO Milano 2015 are going well, with 7.8m sold already, and construction work is on schedule according to Piero Galli. So what gives him sleepless nights?
"Only the weather", he says.
It's not just what the weather might do to construction & preparation schedules, but also how it will be during the EXPO months. All the same, he thinks...hopes... they're prepared for everything it can throw at them.
For example, the huge shades over the walking areas. They tested them last summer, which was the hottest on record, and found they lowered the temperature underneath by 5°c. But they have to be designed for every eventuality, including snow (well, the event does close at the end of October)! So they are also designed to support up to 10cms of wet snow!
"What happens if we get more?!" He says. "We've thought of that! Every shade has a climbing wire and if we get over 10cms, we phone the army who send soldiers to climb up and clear it!"
Fact (& opinion) box
- Wonderful EXPO 2015 is the official tourism board for Expo Milano 2015, encompassing not just EXPO, but the EXPO associated events and locations all over the city and in the Lombardy region.
- Online at www.expo2015.org/en/tickets.
- As you might expect, there's a range of ticket prices - family, student, OAP, 1-day/2-day, advance purchase, dated or flexible - but the average prices are around 22/23 Euros per adult per day, rising to a maximum of 39 Euros.
- Accommodation might be at a premium at peak times in the season but there are over 60,000 beds available in Milan, which copes regularly with big influxes of people for events like fashion shows.
- On my recent trip to Milan I was hosted at one of StarHotels' six properties in Milan. It's a stylish Italian brand that's expanding into Europe (including London) that I rather like. I was at the StarHotel Anderson, right next door to the (ginormous) Centrale train station, but you might want to consider - taking the spirit of EXPO into account - their eco hotel across the road. I never got a chance to see over it, but it looks fun.