Thursday, 13 August 2015

Our Italian Adventure: Part Quattro - Meeting the World in Milano

    It has been a hectic few weeks since I last updated this blog. I finally have the time to now present the last installment to "Our Italian Adventure". After wandering around Tuscany and Florence, we found ourselves back on the Freccia Rosa, travelling towards Milan. Milan was to be our final stop. Most people, the Italians themselves included, would raise their eyebrows when we tell them that we would spend the next few few days in Milan. "But there's nothing there to see," would be the usual refrain. This year things are different. This time, we're going to Milano to meet the world...

World Expo 2015: Milano

    This year's World Expo is held, yes you guessed it, in Milano. Actually in a suburb, a train's ride from the city center. The World Expo consists of pavilions from 145 countries, 3 international organizations and a host of other NGOs and commercial companies. The theme this year is "Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life." Being the foodies that we are, we anticipated that this year's expo would be interesting. We first headed to the Italian pavilion, which was one of the largest. We figured that the host nation would have one of the best around. After a long wait in  a snaking queue, we found that this was not the case.
Nutella pop-up concept store
    Two notable pavilions were those from Israel and Japan, Israel's was the epitome of "minimal effort, maximum output." They made the best use of interactive video technology to present a multimedia showcase of how they managed to first make the dessert bloom, and then export their technology to benefit the rest of the world. Do you know that cherry tomatoes are an Israeli invention? I was taken by the similarity of the Israeli work culture as compared to Singapore's. Both value efficiency to the extent of being clinical. Both are pragmatic to the extreme. I believe it is this work ethic that allows for the success that both enjoy.
    The other note-worthy pavilion belonged to Japan. True to their culture, the Japanese's presentation was tip-top, high-quality and no effort spared, from entertaining the people in the queue down to the very exhibits themselves. Similar to the Israel, Japan made excellent use of multimedia technology. The centerpiece was a rendition of their concept of the future restaurant. "Guests" (that means us), were treated to a "meal", with entertainment at the Japanese future restaurant.
walking through multimedia grass from Japan
Future restaurant
    Besides the various country pavilions, we also got to experience a future supermarket. Here details of every item are displayed on LED screens when one points to the item. Such information can really come in handy when deciding which type of food or which brand to buy from. Details include, the source of the ingredients, the carbon footprint used to produced the item, and whether it is organic or not. The checkout process was also fully automated.
Our trophy from the World Expo
    One thing I found disconcerting about the World Expo was that most of the countries were more interested in showcasing their food. Most presented no solution to the main issue, which was to feed the planet and create sustainable energy. Take the Vatican for example. The Holy See was only interested in showcasing it's charitable arms. What it offered was simply for the world to recognize where it "went wrong" and to pray. Iran was even worse. I couldn't care less about the "great" historical figures they showcased. Even the better pavilions, such as Japan, had no real idea of how they could contribute to the future betterment of the planet. Only Israel stood out with practical solutions to meet world hunger. In the end, as fantastic as it made itself out to be, in my view, the World Expo had more entertainment value than to be of any practical use.

Art and Culture

    Contrary to popular belief, there is lots to see and experience in Milano. No visit would be complete without a visit to the Duomo. We didn't climb the dome this time. Nevertheless, the facade and main sanctuary provided a feast that was more than enough for the eye.
Did Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi get his inspiration for the Statue of Liberty from the Milan Duomo?
Giant columns holding up the roof of the Milan Cathedral. They were designed to resemble giant cedar trunks, giving the sanctuary a sense of natural tranquility. As one's gaze follow the row of  forest trunks, one is led to the alter, which is the focal point. If you look closely enough, you can spot a red light slightly below the crucifix. This indicated the box which supposedly contains one of the nails that pierced Jesus during the Crucifixion.
Keystone representing the head of God the Father - cathedral museum.
     Besides the Duomo and related buildings, we also explored Sforza Castle. It is here that a entire room decorated by the great Leonardo Da Vinci is being restored and Michelangelo's final Pieta is housed.
Milan - fashion capital of Italy. How can we leave shopping out? In a way, shopping is part of the tourist culture in Milan.
Local Tradition - Stepping on a certain spot of the Turin Bull for good luck.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II - where history and shopping meets
Visiting the Navigli Canal district
Food Glorious Food

    When it came to food, Milan did not disappoint. Introducing the World Expo Limited Edition McAngus Burger and Lobster Panini from, of all places, McDonald's!
Fancy having a meal on a farm in the heart of the city? "Un Posto A Milano" would be your best bet. This 1700s farmstead now hosts a kitchen, bar, and even a guest house. Feast your eyes...
Which trip of ours would be complete without going for a Michelin starred meal? This time the wifey chose "Al Pont de Ferr" situated on the banks of the river. This nondescript restaurant hides it's identity really well. We could've walked past it if we weren't purposely looking out for it. Nevertheless, its Michelin Star is truly well-deserved. The excellent quality of food was a given. What was more surprising was that this was the least expensive meal of our entire Italian trip!
Foie gras with olives soaked in martini anyone? Potent!
I simply love the pumpkin rolls. Finished both of course.
Crazy Wheels pasta
We decided to take a stroll around the district after a more than hearty lunch. Just around the corner we stumbled on this gelateria. At first we were totally confused by the variety of ice-cream available, Thank God for kind grandmother who was buying ice-cream for her grandchildren. She explained the different flavours to us. We settled on "noblesse". Smooth sticky chocolate. Absolutely yummy. The only other gelato that gives this a fight is the one at Dubrovnik. Interestingly, this is the first time we came across this flavour. And we've never come across this flavour ever since. Definitely a must try.
To round off our Italian adventure, we decided to have dinner at the restaurant around the corner from our hotel. We had dinner here the night before and were taken by the size of the veal fillet. We had to give it a try. The picture does't do justice to the size of this fillet. It was nicely breaded, thin yet juicy enough to provide a good mouthful.
The maitre 'd offered us some limoncello to round up our meal. I'm not much of a drinker, so at first we declined. Moreover, we first tried the liqueur in Rome a few years ago, and it tasted absolutely horrible. However, the kind man pressed us  and offered "two drops". We couldn't turn down his generosity and relented. The "drops" turned out to be two glasses. I took a sip and was pleasantly surprised by the sweetness that greeted my palate. It was totally different from the one we tried in Capri (or was it outside Pompeii?). Another sip and the warmth hit me like a tonne of bricks! The sweetness masked a potent punch. Even the wifey who prides herself on having a healthy tolerance for alcohol went soft as fabric under its spell. We stumbled our way back to the hotel. Thankfully it was only across the road.

    It was indeed an apt conclusion to our adventure in Italy. Stay tune for our next adventure, coming up in a few weeks. This time,we head to Switzerland!

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