Getting around Beijing’s Olympic bubble isn’t easy, but traveling 100 miles from central Beijing to Zhangjiakou is an experience in itself.
The journey begins with Covid testing just outside my hotel – a daily ritual of life in the bubble.
My first destination is the main media center, serving as the hub for the three dozen bus lines that operate in central Beijing – one of three “zones” within the Olympic closed loop where the sporting events take place.
The media center is the only place I can catch a bus to the train station in the northwestern suburb of the city.
As the bus moves through the streets of Beijing, it becomes its own mobile mini-bubble, passing local residents going about their daily lives. The front of the bus is completely closed off behind a thick transparent screen, intended to protect the driver against the spread of the virus.
After arriving at the media center, I wait half an hour for the bus to Qinghe train station. Then the ride takes another 20 minutes.
The train station is split into two parts: one inside the Olympic bubble and one outside. We go through a special gate for Olympic personnel to our own waiting room, with the main departure hall for local travelers enclosed behind glass walls.
There is no paper train ticket, just a QR code obtained in advance on a phone app. The check-in process is all contactless — you just scan the code and walk through the gate.
on the platform, even the train itself is split: carriages 1 to 5 are for those inside the bubble, and carriages 6 to 8 are for travelers outside of it. A series of barricades prevents us from getting into the wrong carriages.
In the train, everything seems brand new. The smell of disinfectant fills the air, pungent even through N-95 masks. Crew members all wear safety glasses or face shields in addition to masks.
The train ride itself is very comfortable. As we head northwest, the urban landscape gives way to open fields and rural villages, cradled by brown mountains in the distance. We Also Pass Wind Turbines and Solar Panels — Beijing has claimed that the Winter Games are 100% powered by wind and solar energy, mostly transported from Zhangjiakou.
After 50 minutes we arrive at Taizicheng station in Zhangjiakou. When you get off the train, the air is noticeably colder – the temperature is about 10 degrees Celsius lower than in central Beijing. Parts of the ground are covered in white: it had snowed the previous day, a cleaning lady at the station told me.
But higher up the mountain, the white ski slopes are made with artificial snow — and they’re ready for the start of the Games.