I Rode the Train in Ogema with Robin Esrock, and I Get to Give Away One of His Books!

My partner, Aidan, has been to Ogema, Saskatchewan and ridden the train there twice without me, so I was excited when I was asked along on a trip there with a few travel writers. It is a tiny little town in southern Saskatchewan, but its unassuming nature holds two great secrets: the Southern Prairie Railway and Solo Italia, which has the most authentic Italian cuisine you will find within at least 500, if not a 1000, kilometres. But I'll get to that.

First, I have to brag about getting to hang out with Robin Esrock. He doesn't sit still very much, and I neglected to wrestle him into a selfie, so this grainy photo below is all I have of him.

Robin Esrock! You may know him from such things as these bestselling books and these tv shows.

Wait. Here is a better, if completely unrelated, photo from Robin's website of him with a lobster:

photo credit: Neil Maclean

photo credit: Neil Maclean

If you like to travel or you like reading about and watching other people travel, and if you're not already familiar with Robin Esrock, get familiar. After he was hit by a car while biking in Vancouver and broke his kneecap, he realized that life was short and there was some adventuring he wanted to do. He quit his job, started a year-long trip to 24 countries, and along the way he flowered into a travel writer and tv host who just never quit moving.

And then, because writing on the internet creates connections all over the place, Ford Canada let Robin Esrock, Jordon Cooper, Jenn Smith Nelson, and I take one of their Explorers out to Ogema to do some exploring.

The Ford Explorer we drove to Ogema.
Photo courtesy of Jenn Smith Nelson.

The train! The train! (I tried to play it cool, but that is not in my skill set.

It was a gorgeous day when we went (in early May, because I was slow to post this), so we ate a little picnic, and this SAD-sufferer started believing in the future again. The darling buds of May are always a sign of great things to come.

After our snack, we went to Solo Italia, which has been on my to-do list for a long time already. Aidan and I buy their ravioli at the Italian Star Deli in Regina, but I have wanted to taste their pasta fresh, and this was my chance.

Solo Italia is owned by Marco and Tracey de Michele. Marco and Tracey met while on vacation, he from Italy and she from Saskatchewan, and they fell in love and moved back to Italy together. They eventually decided to move back to Canada, and Marco took the bold leap of starting an Italian cuisine business in the town of Ogema, which has a whopping population of about 368 people, give or take. I love these kinds of leaps of faith.

Marco ordered in the machinery he needed from Italy, and he even built this incredible wood-fired pizza oven by himself. They had to knock out part of the building's front wall to bring it in.

Marco cooked up a fresh pasta meal for all of us in about five minutes, which is something real Italian chefs can do and I cannot. It was delicious.

And then it was time for the train!

The Southern Prairie Railway was set up in 2012 to show people what travelling across the prairies would have been like in the 1920s. The train is beautifully restored. I'm kind of sad that train travel isn't what it once was, but you can at least get a small taste of it here.

I sat near the back of the train, because I knew I wouldn't be able to sit still, and I didn't. I shot video out the windows and played with the seats (the backs can be pulled over so you can sit forward or backward) and walked the aisles. 

This was our handsome conductor, who kept his cool the whole time and never told me to sit down.

I NEED MORE TRAIN TRAVEL IN MY FUTURE, UNIVERSE.

 
riding the Southern Prairie Railway out of Ogema
 

This trip was not long after the Fort McMurray wildfire had gotten out of control, so when we noticed a couple of small grass fires, a few of us jumped out to help. Luckily, we had some jugs of water on board to control it until the fire trucks could arrive and take over.

My one big regret is that I didn't get shots of one of the fire trucks racing straight across the field. I didn't know those things could handle offroading. It's kind of impressive to witness.

See this video below? THIS. I want to do this for days. I could kick back with books, listen to the ka-thunka-thunk of the tracks, and watch the world spread away behind us.

 
riding the Southern Prairie Railway out of Ogema
 

I feel like I am not done with Ogema yet. It was a lovely trip, but I have to go again on a Friday so I can eat Solo Italia's Naples-style wood-fired pizza (they only serve it on certain days), and I need to get more train action. AGAIN, MORE TRAIN ACTION, UNIVERSE.

Dear Aidan, my loving partner:

Please take me to Ogema soon. Like, really, really soon.

Sincerely,
Elan

 

And now for the giveaway!

I have three Robin Esrock books myself — The Great Canadian Prairies Bucket List, The Great Western Canada Bucket List, and The Great Canadian Bucket List — and they're pretty great travel books, so I'm going to send my favourite of them, The Great Canadian Bucket List, to one of you!

How to enter to win this book:

  • comment on this entry, and/or
  • send me a tweet (@schmutzie) with the hashtag #winbucketlistbk.

I will pick one lucky winner at random by putting all the entries in a numbered list and using random.org to generate a random list number. Good luck!

Robin's busy doing things like getting covered in snakes and meeting polar bears in Manitoba right now, I think (again with the not sitting still), so give @RobinEsrock and @FordCanada a follow on Twitter if you like. He stays interesting.