future proof | 

Expo 2020 Dubai provides the perfect opportunity to get out and discover the world as you step into the future

The Mobility Pavilion

The Mobility Pavilion

Brian at the Expo 2020 entrance

Brian at the Expo 2020 entrance

Brian at Sonara Desert Camp

Brian at Sonara Desert Camp

The Russian Pavilion at Expo 2022

The Russian Pavilion at Expo 2022

The famous Burj Khalifa in the background

The famous Burj Khalifa in the background

Brian with a Squid Game cosplay character at Expo 2020

Brian with a Squid Game cosplay character at Expo 2020

Brian Farrell

‘Come with me and you’ll see a world of pure imagination!’

For those of us of a certain vintage, it will be fondly remembered as the line sung by Gene Wilder in his lead role in the 1971 children’s classic Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory.

The sense of wonderment etched on the faces of Charlie Bucket and his band of misfit friends as they expectantly step into Wonka’s ‘chocolate room’ in the Roald Dahl-inspired movie always fills me with utter joy.

Now, more than 50 years after the movie’s release, I may just have experienced a similar sensation as I wandered through the impressive entry gates to Dubai Expo 2020 (you get free tickets to the incredible event when you fly with Emirates).

Brian at the Expo 2020 entrance

Brian at the Expo 2020 entrance

Delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Expo is a global gathering of almost 200 countries - 191 to be exact - all keen to showcase their advances and achievements in the fields of culture, innovation and technology.

Originally termed the ‘Great Exhibition’ when it made its debut at the Crystal Palace in London’s Hyde Park in 1851, the subsequent World Fairs have been the platform from which many of mankind’s greatest inventions have been launched, including the telephone, colour TVs and the first touch screen.

And the 1,000-acre oasis of discovery that has sprung up in the Middle Eastern desert might just be the most outrageous ever created.

In what was my first overseas trip since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, I was hugely reassured by measures Emirates Airlines, the government of Dubai and event organisers had put in place for visitors.

Entry to the exhibition - and to the country itself - is regulated by the strictest precautions, including negative PCR tests, vaccination certs, mask wearing and a limitation on numbers attending the Fair.

The theme of Dubai Expo 2020 is ‘Connecting minds, Creating the Future’, and from the moment you step through 70ft-high, carbon-fibre entry gates you’ll realise that the future is way beyond what we ever imagined.

The Russian Pavilion at Expo 2022

The Russian Pavilion at Expo 2022

Food delivery robots that can help give directions, space-age pavilions that seem to defy gravity and autonomous transport that once we could only have dreamed of.

In truth, the exhibition is so vast that you will probably need to give yourself two or three full days to explore - and even then, you’ll only see a fraction of what’s on offer.

Our first port of call was the Emirates Airline pavilion where plans for next-gen flight are afoot. The technology on display is mind boggling, from robotic arms demonstrating innovative technologies designed to make the aircraft of the future faster, lighter and stronger to forecasting what we’ll be eating for our onboard meals.

The interactive exhibit visualises the airport of the future, where they predict passengers will enjoy spending more and more time in some dystopian-like pre-flight paradise. It’s all a far cry from a five-hour delay at Dublin airport with only the duty free as a distraction.

There’s a chance to design your own aircraft and determine what will power the commercial airline of the future. Visitors can build their own planes based on range, engine type, wings and livery and run their creation through a flight simulator for instant feedback.

Using virtual reality headsets, you can also experience the long-haul trip of the next decades which, to be honest, is quite surreal and sterile. Friendly cabin crew have been replaced by Ai intelligence, your inflight meal arrives via robot and even your conventional cabin view has been replaced by a ‘windowless’ experience.

Brian with a Squid Game cosplay character at Expo 2020

Brian with a Squid Game cosplay character at Expo 2020

At the Korean pavilion, the focus is very much on the advancement in technology and sustainability - but, without doubt, the greatest excitement surrounded the chance to participate in the country’s most famous ‘game show’.

For many, the TV highlight of the year was the Netflix blockbuster The Squid Game, and fans of the survival drama can play real-life versions of the contest - although the consequences for losing are far less deadly.

I was among an army of enthusiasts who lined up to take part in the infamous ‘Red light, green light’ event, where one false move and the armed, red-suited guards will unload their water pistols in your direction. In the end, unlike the TV series, every participant walks away unscathed with a souvenir in hand.

While many of the exhibits rely heavily on technology and futuristic displays to impress, over at the Ireland pavilion, the Irish are doing what the Irish do best – having the craic.

Brian at Sonara Desert Camp

Brian at Sonara Desert Camp

The pavilion itself has been cleverly designed by a team from the Office of Public Works (OPW) with a nod to the Neolithic tomb at Newgrange, Co Meath, and the focus inside is to showcase our ‘island of inspiration and creativity’.

Groups of young musicians who rotate monthly have been specially selected by the National Concert Hall to entertain visitors, while the best of Irish culture, art and produce is on display.

Within the pavilion ‘The Maker’s Gallery’ contains a selection of handmade items, including Aran sweaters, sculptures, glasswork, jewellery and musical instruments, all produced by some of the most creative talents in the country.

And while Expo may boast more than 200 food outlets with every delicacy imaginable, they say that there’s nothing like the taste of home – and certainly nothing could beat the sambo, Barry’s Tea and packet of Kehoe’s crisps we were served by our fellow country men and women.

At Expo’s Jubilee Park, an outdoor amphitheatre with a capacity of 7,500, everybody claimed to be Irish as one of the country’s greatest exports entertained the masses.

Riverdance has been making waves since it debuted at 1994 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin, and a special production of the stage show has been commissioned for the Fair. In all, the cast - the majority of whom are Irish - will put on 25 live shows, along with a programme of 52 masterclasses and pop-up performances.

The famous Burj Khalifa in the background

The famous Burj Khalifa in the background

Expo ends in March of this year and many of the space-age structures built for the Fair will remain in place – most likely for educational purposes - as Dubai continues its impressive drive to attract overseas tourists and talent.

Not only has the region become a haven for influencers and Insta-glammers posing poolside on their social media accounts, but it has become a hub for business and major sporting events.

On the week we travelled there in November, the World Cup of Cricket was in its final throes.

Seven days later the mega-money, end-of-season European Golf tour arrived in town and added to that the famous rugby sevens and horse racing’s Dubai World Cup and you’ll see why there is such a buzz about the place.

As Willy Wonka himself said: ‘If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it’!

Dubai Expo 2020 will run until March 31 this year and there is still time to fly there with Emirates and avail of their free entry offer.

TRAVEL FACTFILE ■ Emirates currently operate a daily flight between Dublin and Dubai (usually it’s twice daily). From Dubai, Emirates connects to 120 plus onward destinations. See emirates.ie. ■ Brian stayed at the five-star Shangri-La Hotel, centrally located in downtown Dubai, offering spectacular views of the city’s famous skyline. See shangri-la.com. ■ For further information on the EXPO itself check out expo2020dubai.com


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