Our visit to the World Expo in Dubai was a fascinating experience. A phantasmagoria of light and colour, the Expo was a wonderful demonstration of how art can be created by technology. At times, visiting the Expo was like being in a giant kaleidoscope. Each participating country showcased their technological expertise and cultural identity, whilst simultaneously embracing the themes of sustainability and working together to make our planet a better place.
The Expo was originally scheduled to open in 2020, but because of the pandemic, it was delayed for a whole year. We finally managed to visit in January 2022. We booked on a whim in October 2021 when travel regulations were easing, but by the time we were due to travel, omicron had taken hold and everything became rather more complicated. We considered cancelling. I am so pleased we didn’t. The Expo was interesting, thought-provoking, educational, imaginative and entertaining. We loved it!
Why visit the World Expo in Dubai?
In truth, Dubai has never really been on our radar of places to visit. However, we were watching a tech show on television one weekend and were captivated. With a focus on both art and technology, it looked fascinating. A hundred and ninety two countries were participating, including the UK, and there were other themed exhibitions in addition to those from each nation. The overarching mission of the Expo was to show how we can “build a better world and shape the future…… through sustainability, mobility and opportunity”.
One of the exhibitions which caught our interest as we watched on television was from Italy and it demonstrates perfectly how art can be created or enabled by technology. Michelangelo’s statue of David had been digitally scanned in minute detail and then these detailed scans were used to make a 3D print of the statue using an acrylic gel. The resulting statue was then covered in resin and marble dust to create a perfect replica of this fabulous work of art. Wow!
As we watched, I said “We could go!” and we could. Why not? The world was opening up, travel was becoming easier, restrictions were being relaxed and so we looked into it. That was the start of our visit to the World Expo in Dubai.
Tickets for the World Expo
I went online to find out how much tickets cost to visit the Expo. I really did not believe it when I read that for seniors (we had both reached this landmark age – just!) the tickets were free. Gratis! I booked tickets and they were emailed to me. Until we actually arrived at the Expo though, I fully expected that I had missed something in the small print, but no: everything worked perfectly and we were admitted at no cost.
However, I think we were the oldest people at the World Expo. Honestly! And we really are not that old having only just achieved “senior” status. It was quite disconcerting on our last day at the Expo when we were accosted by a young woman attendant whilst standing in line for the Russian Pavilion. “How old are you?” she demanded to know. No preamble. No “Excuse me for asking….” Just “How old are you?” Slightly taken aback, I laughed. Was there an upper age limit for entry to Russia? We fessed up and she immediately told us we should not be queuing anywhere in the World Expo. At our age we were to go directly to the front of the line. She unhooked the barrier and ushered us past the waiting crowds into the pavilion. We were speechless.
Although we had not known about this concession for seniors until we were almost ready to leave the Expo for the last time, in truth we probably would not have taken advantage of it. We would have been too embarrassed to march to the front of the lines, and actually, the queues were not that bad. We are reasonably fit (for our age!) and perfectly capable of standing to wait our turn. Nice touch though.
Access to the World Expo
Gaining access to the World Expo park was very easy and efficient. There were regular shuttle busses from the city. Most of the hotels, including ours, also ran shuttles and using this communal travel certainly complemented the theme of sustainability.
Once at the park, entry was swift and well organised. Not once did we have to queue. Our tickets were scanned, we flashed our Al Hosn app which showed our vaccination and covid test status, our bags were quickly scanned and the whole process took less than five minutes.
Inside the World Expo
The Pavilions: an overview
Each participating country had designed their own pavilion, a structure in which to convey something of the unique identity and culture of their nation as well as showcasing their artistic and technological expertise. At the same time, there was an expectation that they would contribute to the overall themes of the Expo: sustainability, mobility and opportunity. Every pavilion was different and each country approached the themes in their own unique way.
Some Pavilions utilised high tech to tell their story: the most enormous, floor-to-ceiling television screens, lights, robots, projections, models; in some pavilions we wandered through fantastic demonstrations and marvelled at the show; in others we were expected to participate in a range of interactive experiences. Some pavilions were simple, almost rustic; others were a fabulous spectacle of light and colour. The variety was astounding.
Over four full days we wandered through the park admiring the vast range of architecture in the pavilions. At night especially, with all the structures illuminated, this was a show in itself. At the centre was the Al Wasl Plaza, with the its beautiful projection dome, the world’s largest 360 degree projection dome.
The Emirates Pavilion was white and elegant, with the Al Wasl Dome behind it
The Algerian Pavilion captured the character of Algerian buildings
The Russian Pavilion was eye-catching in candy stripes
The Brazilian Pavilion had a water feature to represent the Amazon
The pavilion for Peru was covered in fabric, like a carpet…
And so it goes on, the fabulous architecture of the pavilions creating their own art form.
Most Pavilions also had a food outlet serving national dishes. We did not indulge too much, but we did enjoy some fabulous Curry Wurst in Germany and could not walk by the Belgian waffles! We also enjoyed some very tasty Portuguese food: those custard tarts were delicious!
The Pavilions: a closer look
It is impossible to give a detailed description of every Pavilion and the experience within; there were a hundred and ninety two participating countries plus the themed pavilions. Over four full days, we visited about 20 in detail and another 20 superficially. And that was quite exhausting! Below is an insight into a select few.
The German Pavilion
The German Pavilion was very popular and there was usually a long line for admission. This was partly because it was so interactive with lots of different games and activities designed to demonstrate various scientific ideas. The pavilion was organised as if it were a college campus and the tour was a learning experience.
At the end of the tour, participants entered the “Graduation Hall” and sat on swings for the graduation and concluding ceremony.
We really enjoyed the German Pavilion. It was colourful, fun and instructive.
The Italian Pavilion
We were keen to see the Italian Pavilion and David’s twin. The Pavilion was really quite beautiful with ever-changing panoramic scenes from the Italian countryside projected through windows. The Pavilion was constructed largely from re-usable and re-cyclable materials – including orange peel for the floor covering!
David was beautiful, but also disappointing. Cultural sensitivities meant that his nudity was censored and we could only see his head and shoulders.
Apparently, VIPs were admitted to a downstairs viewing gallery, but our senior status did not make us VIPs. Go figure!
The Japanese Pavilion
The Japanese Pavilion was distinctly Japanese in presentation. Each visitor had a personalised experience via an iPhone and headphones. Participants were assigned a Japanese flower based on answers to certain questions. The text and displays in the Pavilion were triggered by the iPhone as we toured and it was different for each person, depending on information we had given and choices we had made. Very clever!
The Russian Pavilion
The Russian Pavilion was as colourful inside as it was outside. The focus was on the power and creativity of the human brain. The message was that it was via science and creativity that people will overcome differences to progress. In other words, leave it to the scientists! The exhibition was interesting and visually stunning.
The United Kingdom Pavilion
As it is my home country, I was particularly interested in visiting the United Kingdom Pavilion on our visit to the World Expo. Afterall, it started with the Great Exhibition in 1851 in London so we have a proud history as far as the World Expo is concerned.
It was certainly eye-catching from the outside.
The concept behind the pavilion was to show how the UK is a world leader in Artificial Intelligence and it made reference to the ground-breaking work of Professor Stephen Hawking. He had posed the question of what and how we might one day communicate with other civilisations. The idea was to show how AI could be used to communicate, and, in this instance, to create poetry. Visitors to the Pavilion were to be asked to contribute one word using an iPad and the AI software would use these words to create poetry. Great! Art enabled by technology and interactive. Who would not want to contribute a word?
As we entered the Pavilion it was like entering a concrete bunker. There was no display, apart from the rear of the external display; no colour, nothing to catch the imagination or give a flavour of our beautiful country. Around the perimeter of this bunker were a number of iPads where we entered our words and received back a couplet containing the word. And that was it.
We headed up the stair and out into the open and then wound our towards the exit down a helter skelter path along which were placed various information stations. These were quite dull, to say the least, and some of them could not even be read as the lights had failed. They were also dusty and grubby looking, possibly the only place in the entire park where this was the case.
From the land which gave the world Chaucer, Shakespeare, Burns, Milton, Wordsworth, Heaney, Keats …. and has such a rich literary heritage, it was entirely fitting that the focus of the Pavilion was on language and poetry. However, there was no mention of these greats. I am aghast at this omission.
The only reference to the history of the World Expo was hidden downstairs in the “pub” on a faded poster which one could not read without the aid of the torch on a mobile phone.
The United Kingdom Pavilion was disappointing: excellent concept, but the execution failed to deliver.
The Mobility Pavilion
The Mobility Pavilion was a different story. This was one of the themed Pavilions in the World Expo and it was outstanding.
The building was stunning from the outside and the inside was clever, interesting and visually appealing.
The focus was on exploration and travel through the ages, across the globe and beyond. The tour started with a ride in the world’s largest lift and then visitors walked back down to ground level through the fabulous displays and demonstrations about the evolution of travel and its future.
A Favourite Pavilion?
Impossible to say as there was simply so much to see and the pavilions were all unique. However, I would not have wanted to miss Russia or the Mobility Pavilion.
Live performances at the World Expo
Another aspect of the World Expo was live performance, an art form in itself. We saw several performances during our visit to Expo.
What happens after the World Expo?
The plan for the Expo Park when the Expo 2020 closes is for the site to be transformed into District 2020, a city of the future, and in line with the theme of sustainability, at least 80% of the structures are to be reused. I really hope that this is achieved.
A Visit to the World Expo 2020: conclusions
In short, we loved it. There was so much to see and do with and with an ever-changing programme of events, we could easily have spent several weeks at the Expo. It was also exhausting! We were entertained and educated throughout. This was exactly what a world fair should be.
The next World Expo is in Osaka in 2025. Sounds good to me!
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