Italy 2015 Parte Uno - Milan World Expo

Our five-yearly pilgrimage to the World Expo started with Hannover in the year 2000. Sited in Milan for 2015, there is no reason why we would give this episode a miss. While Shanghai Expo 2010 was rather disappointing due to uncivilization, we were quite confident that this Italian metropolis and world capital of design, architecture and fashion would not disappoint in the same way.

After spending a few days in Milan and at the Expo, we decided to travel south towards Rome, making stops at the magnificent coast of Cinque Terre and the beautiful city of Florence. The 13-day trip was overdosed with everything from art and design to food and wine. Foster, Libeskind and Herzog at the Expo; Botticelli, da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo at the museums, it was a visual feast of masterpieces that exemplify the finest in civilisation.

Infusing the spirit of Milan Expo 2015. What could feel better than a cup of ice cold beer in the scorching European summer.

Would have been perfect if I could enjoy my drink in this pool at the Czech Republic pavilion.

A meaningful quote in the Ireland pavilion - "We did not inherit this world from our parents, we borrowed it from our children. One day, we will return it to them. When we do, it should be every bit as bountiful as it was when we found it."

One of my favourite pavilions - the Kingdom of Bahrain. No fancy facades, no quirky forms, no shimmering LEDs shouting for attention. An elegant and humble single-storey structure.

Spaces layer and sweep across the length of the pavilion, punctuated with courtyards that bathe the interior spaces with an interplay of daylight, all sewn together with beautiful and thoughtful details.

Rising red in the Republic of Angola pavilion.

 A warm welcome at the Belgian Pavilion. Facts and figures presented in Belgian "beer" towers.

 Mouth-watering Belgian chocolates, freshly made. Best of all, they are free!

The massive membrane structure running along the entire Expo ground, providing much-needed shade during the hot summer.

The much-featured Brazil Pavilion. A sculptural mild steel signage greeting visitors at the entrance.

Some bravery required to walk across this netted structure that leads visitors into the Brazil Pavilion. Of course, there is always a ramp (on the right) for those who prefer the usual path.

Hanging garden of Brazil.

The all-white Korea Pavilion.

Walking up the Uruguay Pavilion.

China Pavilion's LED installation of a digital landscape of wheat. Good idea but execution could have been better.

Augmented reality in action.

"High walls continue through the 140 metre site in a series of parallel waves, unifying the visitor spaces within a dynamic formal language designed to convey the ridges and texture of sand dunes." Foster+Partners, UAE Pavilion.

"Visitors are drawn into the mouth of a canyon-like space, defined by two undulating 12-metre-high walls. Influenced by ancient planning principles, the pavilion’s interior evokes the narrow pedestrian streets and courtyards of the traditional desert city..." Foster+Partners, UAE Pavilion.

The auditorium "Drum" in the heart of the site, shimmering in the evening Milano sun.

"Conveying a unique sense of place, the landscaping around the pavilion is designed to evoke the UAE’s terrain and flora, while the texture of the glass-fibre reinforced concrete walls derives from a scan of dunes." Foster+Partners, UAE Pavilion.

Bought tickets to Alla Vita!, a spectacular show created and performed by Cirque du Soleil specially for Milan World Expo.

Actors lighting up at the start of the show among the audience.

Huge puppets animated in perfect synchronisation.

The grand cast of Alla Vita! against a magnificent stage set design.

Busy Metro with people all leaving the Expo ground at night.

Second day at the Expo - long queue at the entrance in the morning before gates open. Despite the stringent security checks, access was always swift and hassle-free.

Our first stop on our second day was the Italian Pavilion, possibly the most talked about and popular pavilion. Being the first group in queue for the day had significantly reduced our waiting time.

The Italian confusion. Mirrored walls, floors and ceilings all round, interspersed and layered with full-height LED media screens. It was a weirdly interesting but disorientating experience walking through spaces in such condition. And yes, good luck to those wearing short skirts.

Refuelling time. Cheers!

The Swiss Pavilion has never disappointed us since Hannover. In this tiny exhibition room, a 21-ton granite model representing thousands of square miles (1:25000 scale) of the San Gottardo Massif sits in the middle. Water drips onto the model from wooden sluices suspended from the ceiling, and then runs out through "rivers" on the pavilion floor, including the famous Rhone and Rhine.

A "river" on the floor channelling water to the wall and feeding back onto the wooden sluices on the ceiling.

Close-up on the wooden sluices executing their team work.

The German Pavilion entitled Fields of Ideas. At the entrance, each visitor was given a bi-fold card, called the “seedboard”. Sensors in the Pavilion pick up the individual card's location and project relevant information about each exhibit once the card is lifted. To "flip" and view "pages", simply flick the seedboard and new information would be projected exactly where each card is regardless of where you move it. Amazing...

Intricate and ingenious Japanese woodwork. The Japan Pavilion's iconic exterior wall employs sustainably sourced timber and assembled using compressive strain method combining traditional Japanese craftsmanship and the latest technology, without a single nail or screw.

Close-up of Japanese ingenuity.

Another memorable installation is the Austria Pavilion. A clever play of perspective and optical illusion along the entrance footpath.

Another iconic structure at the Milan Expo by Daniel Libeskind - the Vanke Pavilion. Clad in more than 4,000 red metalized ceramic tiles that is evocative of a dragon-like skin soring into the sky.

Coop supermarket of the future. Above each bin was an interactive screen listing details about its products. Inside each screen was an Xbox Kinect sensor, which allows customers to use hand gestures to highlight a particular food to find out more about it, including its nutritional content, where it came from, its carbon footprint and allergens.

The UK Pavilion designed by artist Wolfgang Buttress. Visitors follow the dance of a bee travelling through a series of landscapes. The experience starts with a journey through an orchard, followed by a wildflower meadow and finally to the impressive centrepiece - The Hive, a 14m-cubed sculptural element that uses light and sound to simulate the activity of a real beehive.

The Hive is constructed from 169,300 individual aluminium components. Assembled in 32 horizontal layers, the structure comprises three main components: chords, rods and nodes. A spherical void in the centre of the Hive allows visitors to walk in and experience the sensory representation of the bees’ activity. The LED lights embedded into the aluminium node components glow and pulsate to represent the activity captured via an accelerometer within a real beehive located almost a thousand miles away in Nottingham.

A rare moment within the centre of the Hive when I was all alone.

To be continued in Part 2...

Italy 2015 Parte Due - Milan

Had enough of mad rush and long queues at the World Expo, with each day overwhelmed by contemporary architecture, bright multimedia screens and massive exhibition walls. It's time to give our mind a break, take things slow, smell the Milano air and start the day with a cup of frothy cappuccino...


 Our Airbnb accommodation, a beautiful attic located just 3 minutes walk from Cadorna Station.

 Small but well-equipped attic.

View from our tiny roof balcony into the courtyard of the residential cluster.

A visit to the famous Castello Sforzesco in Milan. A massive castle and fortress built from the 14th to 15th century.

Beautiful exhibits in the numerous museums within the castle.

Remains of Leonardo da Vinci's decorated painting at the Sforza Court, the Sala delle Asse (Room of Wooden Boards). Probably the most iconic room in the castle.

Sculptural conversation.

The Pietà Rondanini by Michelangelo on exhibit. It's placed on a specially designed seismic pedestal and platform to absorb the slightest vibrations from the subway lines running below the castle, as well as any seismic shock. Too precious for a sculpture that Michelangelo had worked on till the last days of his life.

"The last incomplete work by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), the Pietà is a meditation on death and the salvation of the soul. In this work the sculptor discards the perfection of the human body and its heroic beauty and transforms the dead Christ into an emblem of suffering. The physical arrangement of Mary and Jesus, the mother's head above that of the son, is suggestive of various moments of the life of Christ: the deposition from the cross; the burial and even the resurrection: in the dissolution of Christ's body in the mother's embrace. Left incomplete due to the death of Michelangelo, the Pietà is a testament to the last period of the great master's creative genius." - Castello Sforzesco

Love birds at Castello Sforzesco.

A panoramic view of the huge compound in Castello Sforzesco. Be prepared to spend at least half a day in this massive complex.

One of the many ubiquitous Italian icons on the streets.

Walking down the streets of Milan and peeking through the entrance of different houses.

Graffiti or playground? Walking down the beautiful via Dante - a pedestrian street lined with shops, restaurants and cafes.

Classic trams still run around the city, adding a rich historical flavour of sight and sound. A good place to catch all the trams in action is at Piazza Cordusio.

Beautiful architecture along the streets.

The awe-inspiring symbol of Milan - The Milan Cathedral, commonly called Duomo di Milano. Dedicated to St. Mary of the Nativity, it is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan. This exquisite gothic cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete and is the largest cathedral in Italy. Standing across the square is a bronze equestrian statue of the first king of united Italy - Viktor Emmanuel II.


A fisheye view of Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral behind me).

Tourists flooding the Piazza.

 Grand and monumental architecture of the Milan Cathedral.

The height of the nave is about 45 meters, the highest Gothic vaults of a completed church. The five broad naves are divided by 40 majestic pillars.

Beneath Milan Duomo lies the Battistero Paleocristiano, ruins of an early Christian baptistery dating from the 4th century. The Battistero is a magnificent example of an ancient octagonal baptistery and it is almost certainly where St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, baptized St. Augustine.

Flooring was designed by Pellegrino Tibaldi and installed in 1584 - 1940. It is made from the white Candoglia marble with Varenna black marble and Arzo red marble.

 The awe-inspiring interior and central nave.

Do not miss the tour of the cathedral's roof. The perfect way to get to know the Duomo better and closer. There are 135 spires that rise above the cathedral like a marble forest all linked with flying buttresses.

 Looking up between the flying buttresses.

 135 unique gargoyles detailing the spires, each serving as a drainage spout.

 Exquisite carvings on the flying buttress.

The cathedral is adorned with some 3,400 statues. These statues have been made and donated by numerous sculptors and made in numerous styles - starting from the Gothic style and ending with Art Deco from the 20th century.

 An array of flying buttresses lining the cathedral exterior.

A different (contemporary) view of the Duomo roof.

For the first time in history on the roof terraces of the Duomo of Milan, a contemporary art exhibition by Tony Cragg, an internationally renowned artist, with his works animated by movements ascending towards the sky.

Looking down from the roof terrace and admiring how majestic the cathedral is.

Welcome to Prada. Their first store which opened in 1913 at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

Mario Prada and his brother Martino set up their first shop as a leather goods shop in 1913. They called in Fratelli Prada, meaning Prada Brothers.

The Turin Coat of Arms in mosaic on the floor of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Tradition says that if a person spins around three times with a heel on the testicles of the bull, it will bring them good luck. This practice causes a deep hole on the bull's genitals. Ouch...

Main facade of Duomo di Milano painted by the evening sun. Probably the best time of the day to visit this majestic architecture.

A panoramic view of Piazza del Duomo.

In the heart of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the world's oldest shopping malls built between 1865 and 1877. The structure consists of two glass-vaulted arcades intersecting in an octagon.

The street is covered by an arching glass and cast iron roof, with the central octagonal space is topped with a glass dome.

Beautiful façade and glass-vaulted arcade.

Piazza del Duomo at night (Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II on the left and Milan Cathedral on the right).

Walking back to the hotel along via Dante.

The Milan train station, waiting for our train en-route Cinque Terre.
To be continued in Part 3...