The first hurdle was getting there: as we had to attend an introductory meeting on the Thursday and there were no suitable flights from Hamburg (18h layover in Bruxelles, anyone?), I took the train to Berlin, spent an evening there and left early the next morning. Since Ryanair lands at Malpensa Airport, it takes another hour by bus to reach the city. Berlin had been cool enough to wear a leather jacket over a blazer, but any layering proved detrimental as soon as I stumbled onto the sidewalk next to the central station - beads of sweat started pearling on my top lip and the feeling of sweating what could well fill a swimming pool didn't stop until I boarded a different plane heading back to Germany.
At the central station, I embarked on a linguistic adventure by trying to buy a two-week pass for the underground. None of the four tellers could speak anything except Italian (being multilingual this was very annoying, as normally I can get by with jumbling all Romance or Germanic languages), but after half an hour of drawing images and pointing at a calendar the friendly man and I seemed to have reached an agreement on what I wanted, and I walked out with a metro card. Sadly, it turned out to be only for the inner city, and the Expo is situated riiiiight outside of this. So near, and yet so far. The linguistic-ticket adventure continued the next day with the help of Italian volunteer Anna, who sacrificed some time to help me with the ticketing dilemma, but it all worked out (basically because I just nodded and Anna told me when to pay).
From there I rolled my suitcase to a bench near where our meet up would be. Ever so often a whiff of dog piss would waft over and pigeons were trying to camp out on my suitcase, but I feared moving since I'd probably get lost. When I did walk the last metres to the Fondazione Stelline where our group would be meeting up, I noticed that the bench I had been chilling on was right next to Santa Maria delle Grazie, the church where Da Vinci's Last Supper is housed. Despite efforts during the following weeks to get an appointment to go in, everything had been booked solid weeks in advance and sadly I never managed to see it (but am finding solace is knowing I had kind of lain near a masterpiece).
After meeting everyone, getting various passes and official outfits, the group headed to a student residence just south of the Duomo, which would be our accommodation during our stay. The next two weeks had a similar daily rhythm: the first shift would meet up in the lobby, take the train to the Expo together, work the shift, have lunch together and then little groups would explore different pavilions or head into the city. For dinner we'd sometimes could something together or those on the upper floor would hang out on the terrace. Then the same thing would happen again the next day.
|Empty Expo site.|
|Ecuadorian National Day.|
|Wicked headdress in even worse heat.|
|Pavilion Zero, where the history of food is traced.|
|German cartons making sense.|
|Germany: practical advice to take home.|
|The UK Hive|
|From the outside.|
|Kazakhstan in 5D|
|The Czech Republic's great pool.|
Listen, I am not all doom and darkness. The weeks at the EU pavilion provided the opportunity to gain valuable insights into how the Union works, on how delicate political relationships need to be handled (case in point: India being absent from the Expo as there is some beef with Italy for Italian marines having mistaken Indian fishermen for pirates and thus shooting them dead. Now India wishes the marines to be tried in India, as they were in Indian waters, but Italy is refusing to hand them over. Something like that) and how human error seeps in everywhere, especially into events of this magnitude. I also learned what Snapchat was for (ok, I still don't get it, but I have downloaded it), how to say bad words in Italian and how to compromise when my personal desires contradict with what the group wants to do. This was a great group of enthusiastic young adults who want to make the world a better, more accepting, more integrated place and who were all very willing to both share their own culture and learn from others (yay EU).
But on the last night of our stay, we all gather on the roof of the pavilion to witness the marvel that is the Tree of Life, an interplay of light, water and music that makes the crowd cheer every time (and every half hour if I remember correctly). Everyone was tired but exited as we drank Aperol Spritz or beer and looked down on the masses that had gathered below to see this display. People were taking uncountable group photos and already reminiscing about how we'd stay in contact and never forget this.
|Aperol for all.|
|Shine baby shine.|