Today I am particularly sad. Sad about all of the ugliness in our world. Senseless mass murders. Terrorist threats and attacks. Donald Trump. I don’t want to listen to or read about any more hate and negativity. I’m trying to think only of good and happy today, which led me down the path of remembering a few of the amazing people we met on our most recent travels to Italy. This is a story about one of those people. 

Originally when planning the Sicily part of our trip, I reserved an apartment in Palermo. Of all of Sicily, I was most interested in seeing Taormina based only on photos I’ve seen. After meeting with a friend who used to live there, I changed my mind and decided our base should be Catania rather than Palermo for a variety reasons, one of which was its proximity to Taormina.

We tried to get the 8:30am train for the one hour ride, but we just couldn’t get out of the apartment in time. Luckily there are frequent trains to and from, so we joined the crowd comprised mostly of street vendors with their large white boards covered in sheets and their backpacks full of sunglasses and bracelets, waiting for the next train. The street vendors here are low key as opposed to the market vendors who are akin to carnies trying to lure you in with whistles and song in hopes you will spend your time and money tossing rings in their booth as opposed to their neighbor.

Just before 9:00am a bus entered the outdoor terminal and the vendors, totaling maybe 25, were quickly on their feet only to learn it was not our bus. Two minutes later our bus arrived and I am here to tell you, I still can’t wrap my brain around what happened. The bus had not yet even opened the door and the crowd starting pushing towards it. My husband took the hand of our 9 year old son and the plan was to get on the bus and get us seats and my 5 year old daughter and I would follow after the crowd. The plan, however, quickly foiled when the pushy crowd became a serious mosh pit – the kind which could easily crush and kill a 9 year old – and I am in no way being dramatic. It was suddenly terrifying because I just couldn’t understand the behavior of these people when they were clearly all going to get a seat – why the danger and madness?? My son was trying to stay with his dad but he didn’t stand a chance so as soon as I saw they were separated and the crowd became too dangerous I reached for him and pulled him out. Both kids were scared to death and crying, my son was holding his arm which had black marks on it from the ordeal.

A very kind and gentle man saw me with two crying kids and escorted us from the chaos. He told us not to worry because another bus would arrive in just a few minutes. He calmed the kids by trying to make them laugh – and when he saw that I was worried about my husband who was still missing in the crowd, he worked even harder to distract the children so they wouldn’t notice my fear. This kind man did not leave our side. He continued to chat with us, continued to make the kids laugh, continued to make sure we were all okay. When my husband found us, he was so grateful for the kindness of this stranger. The next bus arrived while the first bus was still loading and our new friend took us to the front of the line and made sure we were safely first on board. I truly do not know what I would’ve done had it not been for him.

By the time we arrived in Taormina our nerves had settled and our appetites soared so we stopped for a quick snack before exploring what turned out to be my favorite town thus far. The streets and alleys were incredibly charming, the views were amazing and there was plenty to do and see that kept kids and parents alike happy. My husband found a man to make him a leather bracelet, while the kids and I entertained ourselves by walking in and out of all the darling little shops. We found an artist cooperative that featured an artist who created figures from metal objects. Both of my kids could have spent hours there looking at each and every one – they were completely mesmerized.

We continued our walk up the hill, dodging in and out of the quaint little shops looking for a few more gifts and eventually found the main attraction, the amazing Greek theatre. There was a stage set up with lighting all about as the Taormina Film Festival had just come to a close and they had not yet broken anything down. As ruins go, this was one of my favorite mostly because of its location. As you sit in the 2000 year old bleachers looking toward the stage, it’s easy to imagine being treated to not one but two spectacular views – that of whatever was unfolding on the stage, and that of the beauty of the ocean view directly behind.

It took a good hour and a half to explore the theatre and by the end we were hot and hungry. Again. We found a darling little restaurant with tables perched delicately along a curving staircase and were treated to song by a few local entertainers as well as our waiter. After lunching we continued exploring around town and I was surprised to learn that it was much larger than it had originally appeared.

Eventually we reluctantly headed back to the bus stop. On our walk back we saw our guardian angel from the morning. He was selling sunglasses along the main street and lit up with a huge smile when he saw us. We stopped to talk, found out that his name is Max and, of course, bought some sunglasses from him. He then generously gave each of the kids a pair of glasses and refused to take our money. The kids talked about Max the entire evening and how sad they are that they won’t get to see him again.

Meet Max

In the end, Taormina not only lived up to my expectations but far surpassed. Though it’s been more than two years since our visit, I often think of Max and how grateful I am to have met such a wonderful and kind human being. And today, in particular, it’s thinking of people like Max that gives me comfort.