Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Day out at Expo

From May 1st to October 31st this year Milan is hosting Expo, the Universal Exposition, or as it used to be known back in the day, the World's Fair. The theme is 'Feeding the planet, energy for life' and countries from all over the world have come to Milan to show their view on nutrition and respecting the planet. It's been a massive talking point in Milan and all over Italy for months now, mostly for the negative side of the event such as the race to get all the structures completed in time. A few weeks ago my friend S told me than she would be coming to visit it with some of her friends, and asked if I wanted to come along, so I decided to put off my first visit until then.

We arrived at Expo around 10.30, half an hour after opening. We got there with the metro, and from the station there's a bit of a walk after passing through the airport style security to the actual site. The first stop was Pavilion Zero, which is one of the most popular ones from visitors I've spoken to and online reviews. And it's pretty impressive! Unlike the other pavilions, it isn't linked to a particular county (or company) but it deals with the world in general. It demonstrates the different food types, and also the history of nutrition and how the world has evolved with the change in diet and manufacturing of food.

Just nearby that is Belgium's pavilion. Both me and S were getting quite hungry by then, having both been up early - very early in S's case! - but we decided to stop by before heading off to get some food. The free Biscoff biscuit they give to you at the entrance was very much appreciated! There's also a little chocolate kitchen, and we arrived just on time to have an piece of out of this world chocolate created by the chef. Downstairs there's a display on how plants could be grown in the near future, and there's also a shop where S bought some Biscoff biscuits to take home.

Next stop was lunch, and we headed to Holland's pavilion, where I'd heard there were street food trucks. And we weren't disappointed! We pigged out and had hot dog (mine with a delicious curry sauce) and a cone of very delicious chips. The prices are a bit on the expensive side, which I imagined, with the hot dog costing 6.50 euro and the chips 5 euro.

Almost next door there's the UK pavilion. I have to agree with what I'd heard about it, it's not to great. It focuses on bees, and it's built to look like a big silver beehive, which I thought was clever, but there's really not much to it. There is however, a pub upstairs - could there not be??

Italy has four pavilions, or to be more precise, a lot of small pavilions which take up the space of four normal ones. Some of the regions have their own, such as the Expo's home region of Lombardia, and there's also some of the southern regions such as Sicily and Calabria. Some Italian companies have pavilions in this area, such as Granarolo and Citterio. It's also here that the Tree of Life lives. Unfortunately we didn't get to see it at night all lit up, but there were displays during the day with music and light. There's also a wine pavilion - again, how could there not be?? - which I was very impressed with. In one section of the pavilion there's 'Cheers' in gold writing on the wall in different languages, and they even had the Welsh!

After that we visited Germany, which I'd heard good things about. It's very interactive and technological, and focuses on many different aspects involving food and the environment. One thing I didn't like was the show at the end, two all-singing all-instrument playing boys who seemed to enjoy getting the audience doing animal noises. Not really my thing, seeing as I'm not 6 years old.

It was July 4th, and at the USA pavilion there was a party spirit upstairs. I wasn't particularly impressed with any of the displays inside, I think there was a bit too much chaos to enjoy it properly. The one good thing though was the freebies - Pepsi and Lay's crisps!

Just behind the USA is Coca Cola's pavilion. Obviously, where else would you have it? I have to admit, I don't drink the stuff, but S is a massive fan of it. There's a little tour which involves the history of the company, and their involvement in sport. My favourite part was at the end, they have machines where you can choose your own drink, and there was so much to choose from! I choose a flavour of Fanta I'd never seen before, Fruit Punch. It was just what I needed in the heat!

Kuwait's pavilion focuses on the challenges of feeding a desert nation, I loved the miniture cities, the detail was amazing. Another middle-eastern country, Qatar, was also very interesting. The structure of their pavilion is beautiful, and it gives a real insight of the culture of the country.

The longest we had to queue was for Japan - an hour! Luckily most of it was in the shade, and the people working at that pavilion allowed us to leave the queue to get out water bottles refilled at the nearby station, to then re-join it at the same place. They have some brilliant animated films, one of them focusing on world-wide issues such as over-population and climate. The last part of the visit is the Future Restaurant. It's designed as a real restaurant, but instead of plates you have a screen on your table. You use chopsticks to choose a meal based on preferences including your favourite type of food and season, and then you're shown a series of traditional Japanese meals for every season with details on their ingredients. It was very interesting, but the over-enthusiastic Italian co-presenting it all with a Japanese lady was straight out of a children's holiday camp...

Austria has a forest! Their pavilion is based around air. The change in climate between the inside and outside of the pavilion is amazing, and a welcome change in the 30+ heat! It's pretty small, but worth a visit.

By now it was nearly time for S and her friends to go home, and we were all seriously flagging due to the heat. We still wanted to pack as much into the visit as possible, so we went to see a couple of other pavilions - the ones we chose were mainly due to queue size. Poland can into Expo! (Obligatory Polandball reference) They have a pretty little garden on the roof, and inside there was a pianist playing pieces by Chopin. There's not really much else to it, but there is a shop downstairs if you want some Polish souvenirs.

Azerbaijan left us all a bit puzzle, we failed to see what their pavilion had to do with the theme. It was all to do with music, with a few plants thrown in. It all looked very pretty, I'll give them that, but had little relevance to food.

After that it was time to go home. I was exhausted and it felt like I was dragging two slabs of concrete on my feet. It was definitely a worth-while visit, and I'm planning on going back to visit the areas I miss before the end of the event.

Some tips:
You can reach the site by train or metro, tickets cost 2.50 one way, 5 euro return, and there's also a giornaliero ticket which is valid for an unlimited amount of journeys to and from Expo from its first use to end of service on that day.
There are water stations throughout the site, you can fill up your water bottle with still or sparkling water free of charge. You're allowed to take plastic bottles into the event, but not glass.
You're also allowed to take your own food in.
The main walkway through the site is nearly all completely covered.
Don't expect freebies! The only pavilions we went to where we got free food was Belgium and USA, and the latter was probably because they were celebrating their National Day.
There are plenty of benches to sit down on.
Wear comfortable shoes, there's a lot of walking!!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Adverts from Italy 6

Who remembers the episode from Friends where everyone found out that Joey had made an advert for male lipstick in Japan?

Well, Italy's a bit like that.

Recently we've had a few foreigners on adverts here. The most well-known (and most damn awful) are the Mulino Bianco ones with Antonio Banderas, some also feature his friend Rosita the chicken. Yes, he actually talks to a chicken. I wish I were joking.

There's also been Crodino, who after using a talking gorilla decided to go for Owen Wilson. Dubbed.

The latest one is for Vodafone with Bruce Willis. He speaks a few words of Italian, the beginning translates to 'Lost! There's no signal!', then he pretty much spends the rest of the time smiling and nodding.

It just makes me wonder, what next??

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Word of The Week

la marmellata - jam

Don't be fooled! Marmalade is very British, the vast majority of the time in Italy marmellata refers to jam. Every so often I go through a phase of craving random foods, in the past it's been tuna, orange juice, chips... Over the last couple of weeks it's been burro (butter) and marmellata - how very British of me. When I had my allergic reaction to more (blackberries) last year, the doctor advised me not to eat more fragole (strawberries) or lamponi (raspberries), and I'm playing it extra safe - no more delicious strawberry jam. Sob. I've settled on albicocche (apricots) which is a popular flavour in Italy, if you ask to have a croissant (or brioche as it's called in my part of Italy) alla marmellata in a bar, you'll be given a croissant with apricot filling.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


Yes, that's my fridge.

I've been ranting and raving about the trouble of getting from Italy to Wales for years, but at the beginning of the month Cardiff airport finally started a route to Milan! For the first time in all the years I've been here there's now a direct flight. For now Flybe only have one flight a week to Milan Malpensa which will increase to three in the autumn.

The new route was announced a couple of weeks after I'd booked my last trip back to Wales, but as Flybe started operating from Cardiff on the 1st of June I wouldn't have been able to have my outbound flight with them, but I would have very much appreciated a direct return flight!

Previously the only way to get to Italy from Cardiff was via Amsterdam Schiphol, and I really would not recommend it to anyone. Apart from how I got stranded there for a day on my way back to Italy in March, the checks are excessive and time-wasting (I've just come off a plane, ran to the gate, and I now have to get my bag and everything scanned again to get back on the same airline?), it's always such a race to get from one gate to another, and there are always always problems. On my flight back at the beginning of the month we got told just as we were about to board that there were technical problems with the plane and that they had to find another one, which wouldn't be easy. I saw red. After my experience in March I got so angry I could've strangled someone (so much for curling up in a ball and crying that time). So if you wanted to avoid all that (and I really really did), you had to cross the border to go to an English airport.

When I moved to Italy in 2008 I flew from Bristol to Milan Malpensa, a route that now no longer exists. Ryanair only do summer flights to Milan Bergamo from Bristol three times a week, so that's no good any other time of year. For nearly the whole almost-seven-years I've been living in Milan I've had to fly to Heathrow. I've tried a few different options, Lufthansa (before they too scrapped that route), BA (until they threatened to go on strike at Christmas), but over the last few years it was Alitalia's Milan Linate-Heathrow. From Heathrow it's then around a five hour journey to get back to my mam's house, and we sometimes broke the journey up into two days as it got so late. Door to door would take around 10 hours on a good day. All this obviously didn't just make things difficult for me, but also anyone coming to visit me, and it put many off.

It's been almost 10 years since I first flew to Italy, for my Erasmus year, and even then I had to fly from Bristol. The rest of the year was spent connecting at Amsterdam, who managed to keep my luggage an extra day once. Oh, the fun I've had over the years. The idea of a direct flight seems like a luxury, and it will cut my travel time by about half. Hopefully this will also mean that more Welsh people will come and visit Italy, and hopefully my friends who have been saying for years that they want to visit my home country but have been put off by the complicated travel will take advantage of it!

Sunday Classic

25 years ago in 1990 (argh!) Gianna Nannini and Edoardo Bennato were at No.1 in Italy with Un'estate italiana (an Italian summer), which was the official song of the Italia 90 world cup.