“Are you sure you want to go the whole way?”, I asked in German
“Yes, absolutely. I think it would be really interesting,” she replied. “For our readers.”
I was flattered, but slightly concerned. It wasn’t what I’d had in mind at all, but then maybe it would be fun. After all sitting on trains for 24 hours all by my self with nothing for company except Alan Bennet’s musings might get a bit tiring.
And you were all thinking…
Here was the plan: I was going to attempt to travel through all 26 of Switzerland’s cantons (yes, I know there are technically 23 cantons and three of them have 2 half-cantons each, but lets just say 26 and be happy)… through all 26 cantons in 24 hours using only the train. It had taken some planning. On one hand, Switzerland has a remarkably dense, reliable and frequent train network; on the other there are 26 cantons spread across the country. The outline of the fastest route was relatively easy to determine; but the exact starting time and point and some of the intricacies were not so straightforward – and could it be done in 24 hours?
I’d finally nailed a schedule that would go from station to station in 23hrs and 11 minutes. This was as fast as possible unless I could make a simultaneous connection, which would save an hour but was unlikely to work out. I think that I may have found the only route/time on which this endeavour would succeed.
A few press releases fired out to the Swiss media generated some interest; in particular from the Tribune de Genève. I did a rather fractured telephone interview with one of the paper’s journalists on my way from Italy to Switzerland by train through tunnels and thunderstorms. But now they wanted to send someone with me on the whole trip!
Wednesday June 6th, 14:00
Eating an ice cream in Martigny, a mid-size town in Canton Valais in the French-speaking south-west of Switzerland. My phone rings. It’s Nadine, the Lausanne-based journalist who’s going to be coming with me. We’re arranging where to meet (the train station, obviously) when she casually mentions that she’s bringing a photographer with her. I assume just to take some pics as I get on the first train. “I presume the photographer isn’t coming on the whole trip as well?” I ask. “Oh, yes, she is. We will both be coming with you.”
Wed Jun 6, 16:59
I take a few photos of Martigny station myself and one of the train from Lausanne that is bearing my two travelling companions. They take ages to get off the train, which doesn’t bode well given how many tight connections we have and, despite my exhortations to pack light, they seem to have quite a lot of luggage with them. We retire to a nearby bar to get acquainted.
Wed Jun 6, 17:35
We amble back over to the station. Both girls seem nice enough, but still hard to envisage 24 hours with them. Nadine – blonde and cigarette-toting, has explained that they’re going to do a live blog commentary on the trip taking mobile phone pics as they go – if that’s ok with me. I can’t imagine who would want to read such a thing, but it’s nice for my friends and family I guess so why not. Odile, the brunette photographer, is quieter and efficiently snaps away maneouvring me into various positions with the charm of someone who’s used to doing this.
Wed Jun 6, 17:51
It begins. We board the 17:51 train destined for Geneva airport, although we’re getting off in Geneva main station. The sun is shining between the scattered clouds and all three of us are in quite an excited mood. We have 24 hours to travel round the country and get to our final destination. Part of the deal with the newspaper is that I’ve refused to pre-announce the exact route so no-one apart from me knows exactly where we’re going. The train is busy and the woman sitting opposite me looks a little bemused at being surrounded by cameras, phones and general hubbub; but she takes it all in her stride.
Wed Jun 6, 18:02
We’re into canton #2 as we crossed over from the valleys of the Valais to the vineyards of the Vaud. Vaud is a pretty big canton with the large Lake Geneva towns of Montreux and Lausanne at its heart. This stretch of the train journey is particularly pleasant as we skirt the shores of Lake Geneva with vineyards producing some of the best of Swiss wine.
Wed Jun 6, 18:40
We pass through the girls’ hometown, Lausanne, for the first time today. We’ll be back but they’re extolling the virtues of the city. They’re already on about the ninth blog posting of the day. They’ll never maintain that rate. Today we have some of the longer uninterrupted stretches of train travel, and this first 90 minute journey is a gentle introduction to the dashing about that will follow.
Wed Jun 6, 19:24
Geneva. The third canton (Geneva) actually has an isolated outpost that the train hurtled through about 10 minutes earlier as it passed through the village of Celigny. We have 20 minutes to wait here, so no pressure on the change. Nadine tries to find an image to represent the city, while Odile chats away to some guy down the platform who waves rather entertainingly as I take a photo of her.
Wed Jun 6, 19:45
Onto the second train. It’s heading to Zurich, but we’re going as far as the national capital, Bern (or Berne depending which language you want to use: Bern and Valais are the only two officially bilingual cantons). We head straight to the restaurant car to grab some food. We’ve still got more than five hours ahead of us today and nine more cantons.
Wed Jun 6, 20:40
We backtracked all the way to Lausanne before veering north away from the lake and into the hills. We’ve all tucked into some quite nice food and a half-bottle of Ticino red wine. Nadine points out some historical village, which I’m sure isn’t what she’s indicating (and confirm quietly to myself later that I’m right). We’ve passed into the canton of Fribourg, which I don’t have much to comment on, and next up will be Bern, one of the large cantons that I had to try to spend as little time in as possible.
Someone sends us a blog message saying that he’d already done the trip… except he used the bus. Doesn’t count. Switzerland’s rather amazing postbus network would make the trip much easier but that takes the fun out of it. Maybe I’ll try the absolute “public transport” record next.
Wed Jun 6, 21:26
We’ve arrived in the capital and it’s dark outside now. A 12-minute change onto platform 13. An omen? I hope not. We’re waiting for a local train now to Neuchatel. We’ve been going for three and a half hours and I’m a bit surprised that there’s been almost no attempt to “interview” me. We haven’t really chatted about anything of consequence despite the fact that Nadine generally reports on Swiss politics (rather than loony foreigners doing daft things), and that I am pretty well informed about things Swiss. She’s got to write a full-page feature on this tomorrow evening for Friday’s paper.
Wed Jun 6, 21:38
Onto the BLS local train.
Wed Jun 6, 21:42
Momentary panic. As the girls gabble away, I’m actually listening to the announcements and am a bit confused by the network map on the wall. Turns out this train splits in two later on and we’re in the wrong half of the train. What a mistake that would be. We’re thankfully in a carriage right behind the correct part of the train and we manage to scoot between the two at the next stop. Disaster averted.
Wed Jun 6, 22:20
Arrive in Neuchatel, we’re in our sixth canton after just three trains. We have only four minutes for this change some there’s some genuine scampering. This is a crucial train for us. If it is running too late (as of course late night trains can do) then the whole plan will be scuppered as we have to get to Basel in time to get the final train of the day over to Zurich.
Wed Jun 6, 22:24
We make the train. It’s quiet and we spread out trying to stay awake. We’ll cross off four cantons on this train, the most of any single journey.
Wed, Jun 6 23:00
We’ve crossed into Solothurn, not a canton I know much about. There’s only one canton (actually one of the half cantons) that I’ve never been through – but we won’t get there until tomorrow morning.
Wed, Jun 6, 23:15
We just clipped Solothurn and are now into Jura, the most recent addition to the Swiss cantonal map having joined in 1979 when it split from Canton Bern.
Wed, Jun 6, 23:26
The first of the six half-cantons is Basel Land, literally the countryside around Basel Stadt. We’re entering the industrial heartland of Switzerland but it’s dark outside and there’s not much to see. Most importantly, the train is still on time but the buffet car is closed and we’re all in need of a caffeine hit.
Wed, Jun 6, 23:53
Basel is a large station but easy to navigate. I’m conscious that I know most of these stations from previous visits so I’m quietly confident that we can make all our connections. We have 15 minutes here but all the coffee outlets are just closing so we’re foiled again.
Thu, Jun 7, 00:08
Our train was already at the platform so we get on board. Odile takes some artistic photos while Nadine thinks about how to start her article. I’m still not sure how she’s going to write anything interesting. I think her editor has already been on the phone saying the blog isn’t interesting enough (although it’s gettig quite a good following), and should be more about me and my views. I know how I’d write the piece, but I figure she should know her audience better.
Thu, Jun 7, 00:15
Aargau is the penultimate canton of day one, just Zurich to go. Aargau is part of what the Swiss refer to as the flatlands although having hiked across it I can testify that it’s far from flat; it’s a series of sharp wooded ridges that although not high combine to produce some quite tiring days’ walks if you’re cutting across a few of them. Odile is trying to catch a snooze; I’m determined to stay awake.
Thu, Jun 7, 01:17
Zurich station is deserted and a bit eerie. We’re a bit shattered and need to find our hotel. Originally I’d planned to sleep overnight in the station where allegedly guards lock you up in a waiting room; but sanity had prevailed and I’d booked into the Hotel Walhalla, which happens to be the nearest hotel to the station and mercifully is neither a brothel nor a horribly expensive luxury palace. The girls have booked the same place getting the final room.
Thu Jun 7, 01:25
Now I feel bad. Les deux filles are so trusting they just troop after me wherever I go, even though I’ve set off in the wrong direction for the hotel. Luckily I realise that we’ve gone wrong and turn back and we stagger into reception a few minutes later to check in. We agree to meet at 4.45am the next morning.
Thu Jun 7, 01:40
My head hits the pillow with multiple alarms set. Although there are far more trains on Day 2, I’m more confident. I was worried that the trains around Geneva and Bern would be our downfall and we’ve survived them intact. Time to sleep.
Thu Jun 7, 04:30
The phone rings to wake me up and I’m completely disoriented for a few moments. To the shower!
Thu Jun 7, 04:48
The girls are running a couple of minutes late and I’m just about to ask the night porter through the haze of cigarette smoke that encircles him whether he could give their room a call. But they arrive and off we go.
Thu Jun 7, 04:52
Our first train of the day leaves from one of the mysterious underground platforms at Zurich station and I’ve allowed a few minutes extra to find it as I’ve been caught out by this before. Not to worry – there is a subway entrance right by the hotel and it leads straight to our platform. Could have had 10 minutes more in bed! The platform is deserted as we wait for our local train service to trundle in.
Thu Jun 7, 05:04
We board the train to Schaffhausen, famous for the Rheinfalls (the largest waterfalls in Europe). We’re all pretty hungry.
Thu Jun 7, 06:00
We’re actually doing 26 cantons and two countries. The train route to Schaffhausen goes through Germany. The two stations on this track are Swiss-owned but we are definitely in Germany and I can see the border signs and a few police and customs officials even at this early hour. Our brief flirtation with the European Union is not the most striking thing about this trip though. The scenery is beautiful as the sun rises and the morning fog slowly lifts.
Thu Jun 7, 06:05
The Rheinfalls come up all of a sudden taking us by surprise. Odile doesn’t manage to get a photo in time and I’m the wrong side of the train. I last came here in 1996 I think and in the morning light and uncluttered by tourists they really do look dramatic. Nadine wonders, not for the first time, what something is called in French. All I’m interested in is that we’ve made it to canton 13. Last time we hit a 13 (platform 13 in Bern) something almost went wrong.
Thu Jun 7, 06:10
We pull into Schaffhausen and I’ve already spotted the station cafe which is open. Within two minutes I predict we’ll have coffee and probably a pain au chocolat in our hands.
Thu Jun 7, 06:15
I haven’t told the girls but we have two options here. Either of the next two trains will get us to Winterthur on time. My preference is for the first train, which is slightly slower but still gets us in before the next one. Why take the risk! We have indeed got coffee and the station is already busy with early rush hour traffic.
Thu Jun 7, 06:21
All aboard the train to Winterthur. This is the first train that won’t take us through any new cantons. Winterthur (famous for the eponymous insurance company and art collections) is in Canton Zurich so we’ll be back where we were at 1am this morning.
Thu Jun 7, 06:54
We arrive in rush hour at Winterthur.
Thu Jun 7, 07:07
Having managed to stop Nadine from boarding the wrong train, we head off to Gossau in Canton St. Gallen, another large canton, via Thurgau – possibly one of the least pass-remarkable cantons in the federation.
Thu Jun 7, 07:15
Here’s Thurgau (Thurgovie in French), and for the first time I have to show my passport with my rail pass. I’m still amazed at who buys these monster rail passes. Mine is a 4-day unlimited ticket and it cost £111. I costed up all the tickets I would have had to buy and although they were inevitably more expensive; they weren’t THAT much more expensive – and I’m covering the entire country! Who finds these are good value for money? If you’re a foreigner you are usually much better off buying a monthly half-fare card, which is just SFr 99 and means that you pay half-price for all trains and most cable cars as well.
Thu Jun 7, 07:43
We’re in Gossau with a four minute change and it’s busy so we’ll have to fight our way through. This is the 15th canton and we still have over nine hours until we finish. We’re heading towards Appenzell, the most rural part of Switzerland “Suisse profonde” if you will. I’ve only been through on the train once, and the girls have never been to this rather romanticised part of the country which is tucked away in the north-east.
Thu Jun 7, 07:47
We’ve made the change but the train is packed. A sudden increase in the number of older people is very noticeable.
Thu Jun 7, 07:55
We’ve entered the first of the two Appenzell half cantons: Appenzell Ausserrhoden. The scenery here is quite picture postcard with distinctive farmhouses: large square buildings with very steep gabled roofs; very different to what you see in the more famous Alpine valleys although almost every region has its own style.
Thu Jun 7 08:30
We’ve made it to Appenzell and it’s confusing with no track numbers and all sorts of small red trains coming and going. As we wait for our train Nadine points out that we all look rather incongruous in our urban fashions, sunglasses, and lack of blue-rinse. It’s true that we’ve brought a young (!) metropolitan air to this rural hideaway.
Thu Jun 7, 08:34
Onto the next train as we labour our way through the farmland and villages of Appenzell. This whole section is slow as the local trains trundle along with lots of stops being request stops only.
Thu Jun 7 08:50
At Gais, a town the girls have never heard of, we’re once again unsure of what’s going on, but I figure it has to be the train that’s ahead of us, which will take us back down into the Rhine valley. We’re the only ones making the connection.
Thu Jun 7, 09:00
This is a particularly idyllic journey – as the trains and stations have got smaller and smaller so our mood has relaxed. As Odile takes some dramatic shots from the train window, Nadine finally quizzes me on my views on Swiss politics, which I’m happy to share. She’s not taking any notes and the editor in me finds myself thinking that I’d be wondering whether she was working or just enjoying herself on this trip.
Thu Jun 7, 09:30
We arrived in Altstaetten at 09:13, which it turns out is Nadine’s family’s hometown as her mother is Austrian and we’re very close to the Austrian border now. We have a slight change of pace now because we’ve had to change not just trains, but stations. We have just under 30 minutes, and judging from the map we have loads of time but I hadn’t initially reckoned on a) having two people accompanying me and b) market day. Partly out of chivalry and partly to speed us up I take one of Nadine’s three bags and set my usual brisk pace. Odile runs ahead to get some shots of me walking through the street market although I’ve usually caught her up by the time she turns round. Alstaetten main station, which we’ve reached with time to spare, is being rebuilt and it’s not clear exactly where we’re supposed to be or how we reach the platform but we end up standing by some track that looks promising.
Thu Jun 7, 09:40
Turns out we’re not quite in the right place and as the train comes into view round the corner a railway guard shouts at us to move down to where he is standing, so it’s us versus the train as we zip across a narrow wooden planks. There would have been plenty of room for us and the train, but I can see that health & safety might have thought otherwise.
Thu Jun 7, 09:50
We’re on the train and heading due south. The sun is beating through the window and for the first time I’m really struggling to stay awake. Nadine’s eyes are closed and I’m reduced to reading the St Gallen newspaper that the woman in the seat opposite has left behind. It’s typical of the uncontroversial brand of Swiss journalism. In an article about the rubbish collection in the city, several vox pops say “We love living here” in various ways.
Thu Jun 7, 10:20
We’ve crossed the Rhine and are now in Graubunden, the largest canton. It accounts for the south-eastern part of the country and is about a sixth of the total area. Obviously we want to spend as little time here as possible, but the trains don’t work out that way. Graubunden is possibly the most beautiful canton. Bern and the Valais have the big mountains: the Eiger, the Matterhorn; but Graubunden has Switzerland’s only national park and some stunning scenery. Tourism is a large part of the economy here. The canton is also home to the country’s small Romansch-speaking population, who live in a few valleys in the Engadine.
The crossing into Graubunden is particularly interesting for me because I want to see whether there’s a footbridge built into the rail bridge. There is. This could provide a way of shaving an hour off the total time. If you got off the train at Bad Ragaz, which is the St Gallen side of the river, then ran across the bridge into Graubunden and ran back again you ought to be able to pick up the train coming back the other way, which otherwise you just miss at the next station. It would be doable but tricky. I’m not going to attempt it anyway and Nadine is insistent that it would be against the spirit of the trip not to get a train into every canton.
Thu Jun 7, 10:26
We arrive in Landquart, and the train that was due to depart at the same time we arrived has already passed us, so we’re stuck in Landquart for an hour. Luckily there is a station cafe.
Thu Jun 7, 11:10
We’ve been sitting out in the sun munching on a sandwich or two. Nadine’s had another call from the editor about the blog. It’s still not enough about me. For what it’s worth, I think the blog (which I’m following on my mobile phone) is quite good. It’s a bit stream-of-consciousness at times, but then it’s a blog and it’s funny. Nadine has at least told me now that her editor is telling her what he wants, and I sense she’s a bit fed up about it. I decide to make more effort over the next hour or so to try and steer the overall article a bit more in the direction I want.
Thu Jun 7, 11:26
An hour after we got here and we’re leaving Landquart for Lake Zurich. From here on in, I know the countryside pretty well and we’re still on target.
Thu Jun 7, 11;54
Another small canton is crossed off the list. It won’t take us long to whizz through Glarus, which has a distinctive flag with a monk (Saint Fridolin, since you ask). We’ll then enter Schwyz, canton number 20, before returning once again to Canton Zurich.
Thu Jun 7, 12:05
I mention to Nadine that all I’m really looking for from this article she’s writing is some reference to the book that I’m very slowly writing about Switzerland based on my long walk across the country back in 2003; and some vague point about being a well-informed source about the nation. She nods, but not sure that I’m going to get my wish – she’s more concerned with comparing me to fictional characters. So far, we’ve had Jack Bauer, Mary Poppins, Phileas Fogg and Inspector Gadget!
Thu, Jun 7, 12:40
Panic. We are at Thalwil, an uninspiring town on the western bank of Lake Zurich. We’re waiting for a train to Luzern, from where we have an ample 12 minutes to transfer onto a local train to pick off Obwalden and Nidwalden. But the train is running 5 minutes late. It’s the first time a train has been late so far – and just after I was more or less reckoning that this was a done deal.
Thu, Jun 7, 12:42
Five minutes wasn’t a problem; but now we’re up to 8 minutes late, reducing our transfer time to just four minutes, and more worryingly of course if the train itself is running slow then we might lose more time between here and Luzern.
Thu Jun 7, 12:47
My phone rings. It’s a Geneva-based TV station. “I believe you are going to be doing a trip across Switzerland by train soon?” “Yes, I’m doing it right now.” “Ah, will you be passing through Geneva?” “Yes, about 17 hours ago.” “Oh”.
A train comes into our platform but it’s not ours. More panic in case there’s a platform change. But this is Switzerland and such things tend not to happen
Thu Jun 7, 12:56
Our train arrived 8 minutes late. As soon as we got on board I used my phone’s web browser to check what happens if we miss our connection. In fact, all would not be lost as we have quite a lot of time to do this next stage. I don’t tell the girls in order to heighten the dramatic tension.
Thu Jun 7, 13:30
We reach Luzern, having made up a couple of minutes and passed through Canton Zug. Hilariously the conductor apologises for the delay, blaming it squarely on the “ETS”. He goes on to explain that ETS stands for “European Train System”. In other words it’s not the fault of the Swiss, it’s those poxy Europeans. We have enough time to make the connection, onto another small local train.
Thu Jun 7, 13:37
This train will take us through Nidwalden and onto Obwalden at a community called Alpnachstad, which I’ve had to spell at least three times for Nadine. Alpnachstad is where one can catch the world’s steepest funicular railway up to Mount Pilatus. We’re not doing that.
Thu Jun 7, 13:47
We have only two trains after this one. As we run along the edge of the Alpnachersee, I reflect on this trip. Overall, I’m glad to have had the company of the girls. They’ve been entertaining and although I’m not sure whether it’s been a good use of the paper’s resources, I’ve certainly enjoyed having them along. Odile asks me whether there’s any point to this at all. “No, not really,” I reply… thinking that a half-decent insightful article would be one point.
Thu Jun 7, 14:00
We could have waited half an hour at Alpnachstad, but we’ve managed to make a two minute connection instead, which wasn’t as easy as I had hoped and for the first time we’ve genuinely had to run. The advantage of this is that we have a long spell in Luzern before the final train, allowing us time for a coffee.
Thu Jun 7, 14:25
Back in Luzern, Nadine and I head over to the conference centre’s outside cafe, while Odile disappears. We have almost an hour here before our final train. The weather is gorgeous, and the view of the lake’s steamships is as pleasing as ever. Definitely one of the great views of Switzerland.
Thu Jun 7, 14:45
Odile appears. She’s very generously bought me a tube of Cenovis, which is a Marmite-like spread that comes in a tube. They’ve also bought me pate in a tube, which I know as Tartex, but here is branded as le Parfait. It will be too big to take on the aircraft with the current regulations, so I suggest we eat it on the crackers they’ve also bought.
Thu Jun 7, 15:05
When I did my cross-Switzerland walk the final few days walking were an inevitable anti-climax. The real climax had been reaching Montreux at the end of one of the hardest day’s walking of the whole trip – a day that I could never have managed six weeks earlier. Having reached Lake Geneva I found it hard to get inspired to actually walk the final miles especially as I hadn’t planned the routes very well. I was having a similar feeling here in Luzern, albeit at a much lower level. Having made it to Luzern, with one train to go, it was like we’d already done it. I could very happily have stayed there drinking beer for the next few hours. In a way, the whole trip is unnecessary. You would just need someone to confirm that the particular trains had been on time, and assumed you would always make any connection. But that wasn’t the spirit. We had one final train to take, and it was one of the most impressive stretches of track in western Europe. We were heading up to the Gotthard pass and would emerge from the Gotthard tunnel in Italian-speaking Ticino, our final canton. On the way we’d pass through Uri, one of the original cantons from 1291, and a canton with rather mystical and mythical connotations for the Swiss.
Thu, Jun 7, 15:21
Our final train departed on time. The weather was closing in.
Thu, Jun 7, 15:50
I was checking the responses to the blog and there was a postscript from the guy who’d done the same thing using the bus. He confessed that they’d also accidentally missed out a whole canton.
Thu Jun 7, 16:15
We were travelling alongside Lake Uri and the mountains were looming in a threatening manner. Nadine was particuarly excited about being in this part of the country and was very eager that I point out where the Ruetli meadow was. The Ruetli meadow is where the very first Swiss constitution was allegedly signed. It is on the opposite side of the lake and is rather hard to spot from the train but I was able to point it out. We’ve been tucking into crackers and pate as the rain started to lash against the windows at Fluelen at the end of the lake. From here we’d start climbing up the corkscrew track towards the Gotthard.
Thu Jun 7, 16:50
Goeschenen is the final station before the Gotthard. It’s a slightly spooky place. This was it. Twenty three hours after we’d started we were heading into the tunnel and our final canton. This was where Nadine commented that she didn’t like tunnels.
Thu Jun 7, 17:02
Airolo. We’ve done it. Falling off the train slightly unsure what to do next the first thing that strikes us is the cold. But then we are at 1100m above sea level, and we’d come up from about 400m down at Lake Luzern. Airolo has little to recommend it – it has the air of a town that the world has bypassed, quite literally as the Gotthard pass road now skips the town. The girls would be staying the night here, while I had to get down to Bellinzona to collect my luggage and make an early morning train to Milan and my flight home. However, I didn’t want to just abandon them. “It’s like The Shining,” said Odile, nervously.
Thu Jun 7, 18:03
“Tre espresso?” “No, tre prosecco”. I took the girls to the nearest bar, where they looked surprised to see us – to see anyone in fact – and we had a glass of sparkling wine to celebrate. Having spent the past 24 hours together it was all over. They joined me on the platform as I got my train down the valley. The next day Nadine was going to Zurich to meet a friend, Odile was going all the way back to Lausanne, a really long journey from where we were. We hugged and they waved me off. I promised to hunt out a copy of the paper the following morning.
Fri Jun 8, 08:48
At Chiasso, on the Swiss/Italian border, my bags were thoroughly searched by customs. “What is your job?” asked the customs official. “I’m a journalist,” I answered semi-truthfully. I hoped he wouldn’t pull out the copy of the paper folded open at the full-page article about the trip and splashed with photos of me. I’m not sure he’d have understood. I’m not entirely sure I understood. Had I learned anything about Switzerland? Not a great deal; I already knew quite a lot but seeing it all so quickly did give me a much clearer sense of the regional differences and travelling with two French-speaking Swiss also gave me more of an insight into how they – as a sizeable minority – feel about the country. Was it worth it? You bet.