Photo Essays

lativa storks

Photo Essay: Latvians Love Storks

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Nesting storks; Latvia

We’ve all heard the legend about storks — that they bring babies.  In fact, I think that’s what I was told when my younger brother was born.  I was 3 at the time and the explanation seemed plausible.

In Latvia, though, storks mean much more than babies and fertility.  In this northern European country, storks are considered sacred and a good-luck symbol.  You’ll even find them on Latvian coins.  Souvenir shops carry “I Love Latvia” tee-shirts and other items engraved with stork emblems.

Many Latvians go out of their way to attract the big white birds.  When I would take trips into the countryside, it seemed as if there was a pair of storks nesting in a pole next to practically every other house.  The storks are often enticed by locals who hoist a wheel on top of a pole to supply the foundation for a nest.  Some Latvians believe the birds protect their homes from fire and also bring prosperity and happiness.

Storks seem to like Latvia as much as Latvia likes storks.  I’ve seen one report that estimates 10,000 pairs of white storks nest in Latvia each year, making it one of Europe’s most popular destinations for the birds that typically spend their winters in Africa.

I took this photo on the road between Riga and Daugavpils, Latvia’s two largest cities.  Whether the people who live in the adjacent farmhouse are any better off because of the storks’ presence, I have no idea.  But I do know that they are majestic birds that offered a nice diversion — and maybe even a little luck — during long drives through the Latvian countryside.

Copyright © Dan Fellner 2013

san diego moon

Photo Essay: Moon over San Diego

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San Diego skyline at dusk

There’s an old Chinese proverb:  “When a finger points to the moon, an imbecile looks at the finger.”

I would have felt like an imbecile had I missed this stunning view of the moon over the San Diego skyline as our cruise ship set sail for Mexico.

Most of the photos on this website are from far-away places.  But this picture is a reminder of the breathtaking beauty – manmade and natural – found right here in our own backyard.

Copyright © Dan Fellner 2013

vietnam smile

Photo Essay: Smiles in Vietnam

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Smiling street vendors; Vietnam

I’ve never met a people as quick with a smile as the Vietnamese.  For a country that’s endured so much turmoil and tragedy in the past half-century, its people seem remarkably upbeat and cheerful.

Vietnamese fruit vendors

  Vietnamese fruit vendors

I took the photo above of a Vietnamese woman selling baguettes along the road in a village in the Mekong Delta.

Of course, baguettes are a vestige of French colonial rule; the French colonized the region in the mid-19th century and didn’t leave until 1954.  Their departure left Vietnam divided into two states – North and South Vietnam.  Conflict between the two sides intensified, foreign powers got involved, and you know the rest …

A Vietnamese baguette, known here as bánh mì, tends to have a thinner crust than its French counterpart, and is sometimes made with rice flour.  I had bánh mì for lunch one day and don’t remember anything particularly distinctive about it.  It tasted like bread.

But I do remember well the genuine warmth – and smiles — of the Vietnamese people.

Copyright © Dan Fellner 2013

machu picchu llama

Photo Essay: Machu Picchu Llama

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Llama on the Loose; Machu Picchu, Peru

This diminutive creature lives in one of the most magnificent homes on earth.  He (or she – I’m not really sure) is a young llama that is part of a herd that roams wild at the historic sanctuary of Machu Picchu, high in the Andes Mountains in Peru.

I encountered this llama while exploring the ruins of what used to be a thriving city.  Machu Picchu was built around 1450 at the height of the Inca Empire.  It was abandoned by the Incas 100 years later and wasn’t rediscovered by the outside world until 1911.  Llamas, which are South American cousins of the camel, have been used as pack animals for centuries by Andean dwellers.  They also are a source of meat and wool.  

In 2007, Machu Picchu was voted one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World” in a global Internet poll.  It’s hard to disagree.

I found it to be one of the most breathtaking places on Earth.  Literally.  Machu Picchu is nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, an elevation that takes getting used to.  I was short of breath and had a constant headache.

But these relatively minor maladies were well worth the payoff – a chance to view a well-preserved ancient city with a spectacular backdrop.

And seeing some wildlife – like this little llama – was an unexpected treat.

Copyright © Dan Fellner 2013

swiss guards at vatican

Photo Essay: Swiss Guards at the Vatican

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Swiss Guards; Vatican City

From head to toe, these are some funky-looking outfits.  The guys wearing them resemble a couple of unemployed actors who just got a gig working at a renaissance festival.

Actually, though, they are members of one of the oldest and most prestigious military outfits in the world – the Swiss Guard.

Known for their discipline and loyalty, various units of the Swiss Guard have existed since the 1500s.  They have served as bodyguards, ceremonial guards and palace guards at various European courts.

These men are part of the only Swiss Guard unit still in existence – the Papal Swiss Guard.  They are the de facto military of Vatican City, home of the Pope and a sovereign city-state whose territory consists of a walled enclave inside Rome.  In terms of size, the Vatican is the smallest sovereign state in the world.  I took this photo right outside St. Peter’s Basilica.

Yes, members of the Swiss Guard really are Swiss.  They must be single, Catholic males with Swiss citizenship.

And they better not be fashion-conscious or camera-shy.

Copyright © Dan Fellner 2013

Macau bridal couple

Photo Essay: Macau Bridal Couple

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Bridal Couple Posing for Pictures; Macau

Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese-born American poet, once said:  “The Earth is like a beautiful bride who needs no man-made jewels to heighten her loveliness.”

This bride is wearing some man-made jewels, including a striking tiara.  But I suspect — as Gibran suggested — she would have been just as lovely without them.

I happened upon this couple posing for wedding photos while wandering around the backstreets of Macau, a former Portuguese colony that is now a “Special Administrative Region” of China.

The street sign is in both Cantonese and Portuguese, the two official languages of Macau.  The Portuguese first settled here in the 1550s and held on to Macau until 1999, when they handed it back to China.

Macau is best known for its growing number of huge and opulent casinos, which are within walking distance of where I took this photo.  In fact, Macau has now surpassed Las Vegas in gambling revenues.

Looking at the exquisite bride smiling for the camera, it appears as if this lucky groom has hit the jackpot.  

Copyright © Dan Fellner 2013

paris bridge lovelocks

Photo Essay: Lovelocks on Paris Bridge

By | France, Photo Essays | No Comments

Lovelocks; Paris, France

Matt and Tiera have a thing for each other.  So do Helio and Monica, and for that matter, Runar and Lena.  I learned this while crossing a bridge in the heart of Paris called the Pont de l’Archevêché.

Those were just three of literally hundreds of couples who wrote their names and initials on locks and then attached them to a chain-link fence overlooking the Seine River.  It’s a way of publicly professing eternal love for each other.

And it’s much cheaper – and lasts a whole lot longer — than a dozen roses.

These so-called “love padlocks” are part of a growing worldwide phenomenon.  No one is actually sure of where it all started, but lovelocks on bridges are increasingly becoming a common sight, particularly in France, Italy and Germany.

The French government, though, doesn’t particularly appreciate these stainless steel symbols of amour, saying they “raise problems for the preservation of our architectural heritage.”  A couple of years ago, the locks were removed from another bridge in Paris.

But that hasn’t deterred young lovers.  The locks have since appeared on several other bridges – like the Pont de l’Archevêché — more plentiful than before.

As the famous French novelist Marcel Proust once said: “Love is space and time measured by the heart.”

What Proust didn’t say was that you can find it in the hardware section at Home Depot for $7.99.

Copyright © Dan Fellner 2012

belfast war mural

Photo Essay: Remnants of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland

By | Northern Ireland, Photo Essays | No Comments

Protestant mural in Belfast

War Murals; Belfast, Northern Ireland

This is actually the back of someone’s home.  In Northern Ireland, there are about 2,000 of these murals painted on houses.  They vividly depict the region’s recent past, known here simply as “The Troubles.”

Bobby Sands mural in Belfast

  Mural of Bobby Sands 

I took this photo in the Protestant section of Belfast.  The homeowners are staunch “Unionists” (also referred to as “Loyalists”), meaning they believe Northern Ireland should remain under British control.  And they’re not shy about expressing their willingness to back-up their beliefs with force.

The Catholic part of town is just a few blocks away, on the other side of a steel-reinforced wall that still divides much of Belfast.  There, the murals present an entirely different point of view.

The Catholics who want the British out of Northern Ireland are known as “Republicans.”  Their murals support the Irish Republican Army and salute people like Bobby Sands, a member of the IRA who died in prison during a hunger strike.

Tensions in the region have greatly subsided in recent years.  Violence between Catholics and Protestants is becoming more and more infrequent.

Fortunately, a wave of peace has made these murals outdated relics of the past, rather than realistic portraits of life today in Northern Ireland.

Copyright © Dan Fellner 2012

Moldova fish market

Photo Essay: Fish for sale in Moldova

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Outdoor Market; Chisinau, Moldova

Supermarkets are largely an American and Western European phenomenon.  In much of the world, a majority of locals shop for their groceries in huge outdoor markets, like this one in Chisinau, Moldova, called the Piaţa Centrală.

If you want to learn more about a country and its culture, visit one of these outdoor markets.  They always seem to be jammed with people picking up fresh ingredients to prepare their meals for the day.

Besides food, you can find almost anything imaginable here – batteries, underwear, watches, bootleg DVDs, bed linens, and some items you likely won’t be able to identify. 

It’s sort of like a third-world version of Wal-Mart — without the greeters, muzac or climate control.

Finding the fish stalls is easy.  Just take a whiff and follow the scent.  This Moldovan – sporting a silver-capped tooth and babushka – didn’t need much coaxing to proudly display her merchandise.

Despite the seller’s enthusiasm, I wasn’t a buyer that day.  We tended to shop at more conventional stores, where the fish was kept in refrigerated glass-covered cases instead of buckets full of water.  

Yes, the food in supermarkets may be more sanitary.  But in terms of atmosphere – and photo opportunities — outdoor markets offer much more local flavor.

Copyright © Dan Fellner 2012

Tokyo subway map

Photo Essay: Tokyo Mass Confusion

By | Japan, Photo Essays | No Comments

Mass Transit; Tokyo, Japan

I’ve never climbed Mt. Everest, hiked the Inca Trail, or even bungee-jumped.

But after a great deal of trial and error, I have conquered (barely) one of the world’s most difficult travel challenges – the Tokyo mass transit system.

With 882 stations, Tokyo’s subways and trains transport 40 million passengers to school and work each day, making it easily the largest and most complicated mass transit system in the world.  This map at the Ueno train and subway station near my Tokyo hotel illustrates the complexity of getting around the city. 

I found the map more difficult to decipher than a James Joyce novel. 

Everything is automated so you buy your tickets from vending machines.  And good luck finding someone to ask for help.  In fact, I was surprised at how few people in Tokyo spoke English.

Nevertheless, I only had a few relatively minor snafus.  I got on the wrong train once, but quickly realized my mistake and was able to get off after the first stop and hop-on the correct train across the platform.

When first arriving in Japan, I did fine getting from Narita Airport to the station closest to my hotel.  But what should have been a five-minute walk from the train to my hotel, took me about an hour (in the pouring rain).  In my part of town, not many street signs were in English.

Admittedly, in terms of degree of difficulty, getting from point A to point B in Tokyo is nothing close to scaling Mt. Everest.  But at the end of my week in Japan, I did feel a sense of accomplishment.

Now if I could only figure out how to use chopsticks …

Copyright © Dan Fellner 2012