We were curious about the Hannover Expo 2000; it had been decades since our last Expo / World's Fair. And it was easily accessible by train. And we thought it wouldn't be crowded, because the fair was closing at the end of the month, and summer vacations were over.

We caught the 7:49 ICE headed for Stuttgart and found it jammed with business travelers. We made the best of it and found seats in the smoking section of the coffee car where we spent the hour and a half eating a Danish and translating a German crime story set in Hamburg. The men in suits seemed to get a kick out of our efforts with the dictionary. Two camels in a pen Camels

We weren't sure if the ICE would stop at the Expo station, so we changed trains in Hannover. This gave us an opportunity to see that Hannover got a brand spanking new Hauptbahnhof for the Expo; good for them! The station at Expo was pretty spiffy, too.

There have been trade fairs at Hannover for many years, so it was a relatively easy change to take the large exposition facilities and expand them to allow 180 nations, more or less, to set up exhibits or, in some cases, whole pavilions.

We had bought our tickets from the hotel concierge, so all we had to do was pick up an expo guide book and head on in, just as the grounds were opening at 9:00 a.m.

But as it turned out, we left the Expo five hours later, generally disappointed. The guide book was of little use picking out which pavilions we wanted to see; the lines were so long that it took an hour or more to see many of the larger pavilions; and once we waited in line we were sometimes quite disappointed. The bus decorations are intricately detailed in a rainbow of colors Pakistan Bus

To give a fair evaluation of Expo 2000, one would have to spend at least a week or more, going through all the country exhibits in detail. Since we didn't spend that time, our criticism is based on highly incomplete information.

Our chief complaint was that there seemed to be a great deal of confusion as to what the countries were expected to do with their pavilions. Japan's pavilion was directed towards environmental issues, and had nothing at all to say about Japan. Vietnam's pavilion was like a cheap row of stores in an Asian district in a U.S. city. The Latvian exhibit featured a small courtyard surrounded on four sides by thatched roof coming down almost to the ground. Some of the teenagers leaned back against the thatched roof to see how soft it was.

Pakistan had brought probably the most decorated bus in the world. The United Arab Emirates had taken what seemed to be the most real estate, and constructed, first of all, a desert, with palm trees brought in for the occasion; second, a gigantic pavilion that looked like it came out of 1001 nights; and third, at least two camels, which we saw in the back being tended by someone dressed like a Bedouin sheikh. The line wrapped around the building, and we didn't wait.

We went to one of the theme pavilions, entitled Mensch (Man). The exhibit was a lot of stuff we already knew, about the chemistry of man, the genetic code, and some of the perceived issues connected with biological Masses of people spread over a larged paved tarmac at the Hannover Expo, stopping at small vendors of refreshments Expo scene research.

We really liked the Singapore pavilion, which seemed to us to understand the purpose of a Worlds' Fair. It delivered the message of Singapore's prosperity and advanced development and natural beauty. We also enjoyed the Slovakia pavilion, which was very artistic.

As the day wore on the crowds grew thicker, with lots and lots of pushing teenagers. After being bumped hard for the third or fourth time, we decided we didn't feel like standing in any more long lines to risk finding a pavilion that failed to interest us. So we left.

Worlds' Fairs were a wonderful idea in the nineteenth and early twentieth century to celebrate a growing global trade and awareness; many people who attended some of the early Fairs learned a great deal about other countries, their customs, dress, food, and products.

But we reflected as we rode the train back to Hamburg that that kind of information is easily available, in print, on radio and TV, in films and, most recently, on the internet. In fact, we decided we could have obtained most of the information with far less hassle and expense and time just by surfing the World-Wide Web; all the exhibits we saw referred to their web sites.

There were, of course, a number of rides, and some musical performances -- and for people (like those teenagers we mentioned) who like crowd scenes, there's nothing like a Worlds Fair.

Addendum: We learned on television last night that the Hannover Expo has lost a billion dollars and has been declared a flop.