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2016
TRAVELS

CITY TRAM LINE: a graphic diary

How does everyday life go at the stops of the first, the longest and the oldest Irkutsk tram route?

illustrations and text
SASHA
YANCHENKO
A tram is a romantic kind of transport. Poems and songs have been dedicated to it, it has become a literary character and at times has acquired truly mystical features. Still, despite all its mysteriousness, the tram remains a reliable form of transportation. Thousands of people use it daily.

Tram line № 1 is the oldest in Irkutsk. Its first branch was laid from the Central Market to the train station as far back as 1947, and in 1961 it was prolonged to the campus district (Studgorodok). Now the line is 20.5 kilometres long. Tram number one goes through Sverdlovskiy, Kirovskiy and Oktyabrskiy districts, crosses the river Angara over Glaskovskiy bridge and catches a view of part of the historical city centre. The diversity of city views alternating outside the tram’s windows makes it a real tour of the city. To many tourists coming to Irkutsk with only the goal of visiting Lake Baikal, the tram ride from train station to bus station is the only impression they manage to get of the city.

The route includes thirty stops, at each of which I have made several sketches. The main characters of these sketches are the people who happened to be at the stops at the time. Some other things that "got caught in the lens" were the details of background, buildings, odd structures and, naturally, the trams themselves. I am inviting you to set out on a journey following the oldest tram route in Irkutsk and hoping that one day you will really be able to get on this tram.
The section Studgorodok – Zhukovskogo – Griboedova – Lomonosova
The section Studgorodok – Zhukovskogo – Griboedova – Lomonosova
One of the cosiest sections of the route, since the line does not intersect with major roads. This section could be considered the most "literary" - Studgorodok stop is in Lermontov Street, followed by Roscha Zvezdochka ("Little Star" Grove) in Pushkin Street. Even though these names are the only reminders of poetry here, walking along this section of the tram line is delightful.
One of the cosiest sections of the route, since the line does not intersect with major roads. This section could be considered the most "literary" - Studgorodok stop is in Lermontov Street, followed by Roscha Zvezdochka ("Little Star" Grove) in Pushkin Street. Even though these names are the only reminders of poetry here, walking along this section of the tram line is delightful.
1. Studgorodok (Campus district)
1. Studgorodok (Campus district)
The stop where Irkutsk once started for me. It has changed greatly in the last ten years. It used to be an awkward line of twenty-four-hour stalls and a crowd of youngsters hanging around in a place once called "the ring". The ring of the line is still there, but a shopping mall has replaced the stalls, and the youngsters have moved to cafes. The Catholic cathedral looking like a lump of rock and a Chinese man making keys on a small machine are the only witnesses of the past that are still there. Trams turn gracefully around here demonstrating their sides covered with ads. You can use this time to drop into a bakery shop and buy a freshly baked, still warm hackberry bun and then start exploring Irkutsk from the wide tram windows.
2. Lomonosov Street
2. Lomonosov Street
On one side of the rails there are student hostels, on the other side — some private houses often also used to accommodate students. When the tram is coming from the city centre, the ticket collector gets off here to get some fresh air or have a smoke. Having made a circle, the tram goes back and picks up the ticket collector who is ready for the new ride. One more thing you would like to know badly is who this "Saulites", whose name adorns the store right at the tram stop, is.
3. Zhukovskiy Street
3. Zhukovskiy Street
The tram stop is unpretentious and barely distinguishable against the background of fences. It is situated back to back with a huge hyper-market, which has increased the flow of passengers. A little further down there is the noisy Lermontov Street full of traffic, but here in Griboedov Street the only sounds are those of conversations between the people waiting and the clanking noise of the approaching tram.
4. Griboedov Street
4. Griboedov Street
A cosy stop where everyone seems to know each other. Right around the corner there is Lermontov Street, one of the widest and busiest in the city, but here it is so calm, almost in a family way, that you can go to get some bread still wearing your pajamas (I have seen this once). In conversations at the station you can hear neighbours' gossip, annoyance with the weather, information on seedlings for someone’s garden and complaints about long queues to the ENT doctor at the local children’s clinic. There is also a wonderful sight here — a birch wood — a glimpse of which you can catch from the stop.
5. Roscha Zvezdochka ("Little star" Grove)
5. Roscha Zvezdochka ("Little star" Grove)
A sweet little stop made of two benches on both sides of the tram line flanked by tall grass. It is quiet and peaceful despite the noisy Lermontov Street and the many-voiced train station nearby. It may seem at first sight that there is nothing to look at here. However, if you look closer, you will see giant poplars framing the tram line all the way down to the next stop — Chaika ("Seagull") Cinema. You cannot but notice a residential house that in some sense serves as the stop's pavilion. It is a new house but it is thoroughly styled to look like an old one and adorned generously with carving on wood.
6. "Chaika (Seagull)" Cinema
6. "Chaika (Seagull)" Cinema
This stop is also called "on Tereshkova" because of the street of the same name. At one side there is a towering newly built building with offices and shops on the ground floor (this is where I got my chest of drawers!), and at the other side a shadowy, half-abandoned grove. You can reach the next stop — the train station — in a couple of minutes on foot while enjoying the old houses. The cinema itself can’t be seen from the stop, it is situated much further up the street.
7. Train Station
7. Train Station
Not just a stop, but a very busy transport hub, where tram and bus lines, auto routes and the tracks of the East Siberian Railway intersect. From this point you can leave for both Moscow and the other bank of the river Angara. On a hot summer day you can find pretty much anyone here — people heading to work in their gardens in a hurry, hikers with huge backpacks, groups of international tourists, children going to summer camps, taxi drivers waiting for newcomers and ordinary city dwellers going about their business past this passenger and traffic congestion. All this colourful crowd can be found at the tram stop situated right in front of the main entrance. This is one of the stops that is not equipped even with benches, let alone a separate stop medley. The tram stops right in the middle of the road, with a ringing signal urging passengers to be more careful.
8. Mayakovskiy Street
8. Mayakovskiy Street
Technically this is the second stop at the train station, because it is on the edge of the huge railway depot. If you need the booking office for long-distanced trains and not the passage to the platforms, it is more convenient to get off at this stop. There is not so much bustling and rushing typical of train stations, but the people are still the same — tourists, campers, backpacks and bags. "Mayakovskogo" is right next to the turnoff to the old Angarskiy Bridge (currently called Glazkovskiy). Don’t miss the chance of taking a stroll over this bridge crossing the wide Siberian river.
The Chkalova – Stepana Razina – Gorkogo section
The Chkalova – Stepana Razina – Gorkogo section
This small section is wonderful if you look out of the tram windows, but it is even more interesting if you walk. Walking along the rails will not take more than fifteen minutes, but if you start looking into yards and back alleys, the stroll could take much longer. But you will definitely want to do so. From Chkalov Street to Gorkiy Street one can find parts of the oldest streets in Irkutsk, old stone and wooden houses still preserved, cozy little squares and unusual nooks and crannies of the city.
This small section is wonderful if you look out of the tram windows, but it is even more interesting if you walk. Walking along the rails will not take more than fifteen minutes, but if you start looking into yards and back alleys, the stroll could take much longer. But you will definitely want to do so. From Chkalov Street to Gorkiy Street one can find parts of the oldest streets in Irkutsk, old stone and wooden houses still preserved, cozy little squares and unusual nooks and crannies of the city.
9. Chkalov Street
9. Chkalov Street
This stop is also called "Bytovaya". Tram № 1's first stop on the right bank of the river Angara and the historical centre of Irkutsk. This is where the picturesque, in every sense, section going through the old city starts. The stop itself is always quite busy, since there are lots of organisations concentrated around it — from the Court of Arbitrage to the Mariott hotel — and several bustling traffic junctions. While I was drawing here I met an elderly gentleman who took a lively interest in my sketches and even posed enthusiastically. I find myself at this stop almost every day because my studio and my Yoga classes are also here.
10. Stepan Razin Street
10. Stepan Razin Street
I always feel like calling this stop "Chaika" because of the kiosk of the same name here. Still, it is not "Chaika", not even the "Ocean" store around the corner and definitely not "Lapsha New York" ("New York Noodles" as the stop is sometimes called). On Stepana Razina there is a two-storied wooden house with carved architraves and the paint wearing off. There are several flats in the building, and the entrance is almost at the rails. Someone who would never miss their tram are definitely the people who live here.
11. Gorkiy Street
11. Gorkiy Street
Tricky stop, since from here you can only go in one direction — towards Volzhskaya; if you want to go to Studgorodok, you will have to go down to Stepana Razina. This is also the place for the blinking traffic light with the longest green signal — the time for pedestrians to cross is as much as sixty seconds. Right around the corner the main street of the city — Lenin street — swings open.
12. Lenin Street
12. Lenin Street
Technically this stop is at Timiryazev Street, but it is no distance from Lenin Street. On one side, at the foot of Krestovozdvizhenskaya church there is a big stop pavilion with the large inscription "Lenina", on the other side — just one nameless small shop. Despite the fact that District 130 — the social heart of Irkutsk — is near at hand, there are very few swish dressers at the stop. It is more common to see elderly ladies making their way from the church or people who live in wooden houses in Podgornaya Street. I happened to talk to one of them, someone called Igor, who confessed that he had always wanted to learn how to draw, but the creativity in his life was limited to his work as a cook.
13. The Institute of Traumatology and Orthopedics
13. The Institute of Traumatology and Orthopedics
Also called Kievskaya since it is located in front of the street of the same name. Kievskaya is one of the most homely and pleasant streets in Irkutsk centre. If you have some time to spare, get off the tram at this stop and stroll towards Karl Marks Street. To me personally this street (and the stop itself) are memorable because of our freaky project of modern culture "Ikra" that has been around for about six months now. The Institute itself, also known as the Scientific Centre for Surgery and Traumatology is a bit further off. Sometimes you can get a somewhat amusing scene of patients from this centre swiftly running across the road with Ilizarov’s apparatus still on — all because the pedestrian crossing is far away and inconvenient.
Section "from market to market": Central market – Sofyi Perovskoy – Gornaya – Zavodskaya – "New" Market
Section "from market to market": Central market – Sofyi Perovskoy – Gornaya – Zavodskaya – "New" Market
This section can claim the title of the trade axis of Irkutsk. You can get a lot if not everything here. Central Market, Partizanskaya Street with shops all over, the "Caramel" commercial centre, the furniture store "Etalon" and the New Market complex — tramline № 1 makes its way through this enormous commercial district. This, probably the least attractive section, is always full of vendors and shoppers.
This section can claim the title of the trade axis of Irkutsk. You can get a lot if not everything here. Central Market, Partizanskaya Street with shops all over, the "Caramel" commercial centre, the furniture store "Etalon" and the New Market complex — tramline № 1 makes its way through this enormous commercial district. This, probably the least attractive section, is always full of vendors and shoppers.
14. Central Market
14. Central Market
One of the longest stops — it seems it flows on with no limits and gradually transforms itself into the rows of the food market. Upon getting off the tram, the passenger is caught in the whirlwind of market relations. Right at the stepping board of the tram there are long stalls looking like barricades made of cardboard. Having come to draw first thing in the morning I saw the way a salesman put up this construction in mere minutes following his precise daily routine. Here you can hastily buy socks, underwear, tank tops, slippers and — a bestseller! — foam bath sponges. Further off is a heartbreaking pet market, where puppies and kittens squeal pitifully in cramped boxes.
15. Sofia Perovskaya Street
15. Sofia Perovskaya Street
At the curve of Partizanskaya Street, among the tight knot of tram rails and bus lines it is easy to get confused. Here several tram lines meet, and it is difficult to see where the one you need stops. The stop at Sofia Perovskaya Street is easier in this respect, it is a bit further down, with a graceful glass pavilion framed with chrome plated edging. The pavilion is comfortable and has a nice bench, on which you can seldom sit — too many people loaded with their shopping bags.
16. Gornaya Street
16. Gornaya Street
Despite the name (from "gora" - "mountain") there are no mountains but a large commercial centre called "Caramel" and some smaller shops. One of them, proudly called "Khleb" ("Bread") I have always liked the most. Surprisingly, bread only occupies one shelf in the shop, while the rest of them stock beer and different snacks. "Bread" is located in a lopsided wooden house, the second floor of which is half-burnt, while the first is clad indifferently with white siding panels. This beauty is right in front of the stop, so I couldn’t overlook it in my sketches.
17. Zavodskaya Street
17. Zavodskaya Street
There is no factory either (the name of the stop comes from "zavod" - a factory). Actually, the factory building is still there but is now home to a furniture store. The one thing they have in common is the name — "Etalon". The stop is situated at the intersection with the wide and animated Sovetskaya Street, which we will come to again as we follow the route of line № 1. To me personally this stop seems spacious, especially after "Gornaya" and "Sofii Perovskoy", squeezed between the shopping spaces. Here the tram so to speak emerges onto the surface to look around and continue the journey into the depths of the city.
The Section New Market — Weather Station — 4th Sovetskaya
The Section New Market — Weather Station — 4th Sovetskaya
This section lies in the part of the city where I do not find myself very often, so I felt that I was more of a tourist than a local. There was a particular drive to it. Since I mostly have a traveller’s mood when I’m abroad, I started noticing inscriptions in foreign languages and hearing the echoes of foreign speech. These feelings did not last long, but they did leave a pleasant aftertaste. The distances between the stops here are very small, which makes it easy to walk; the tram moves even faster.
This section lies in the part of the city where I do not find myself very often, so I felt that I was more of a tourist than a local. There was a particular drive to it. Since I mostly have a traveller’s mood when I’m abroad, I started noticing inscriptions in foreign languages and hearing the echoes of foreign speech. These feelings did not last long, but they did leave a pleasant aftertaste. The distances between the stops here are very small, which makes it easy to walk; the tram moves even faster.
18. New Market
18. New Market
This was the stop where I suddenly realized that I only had fifteen roubles left in my pocket — just enough for the ride home. The situation was not sad but interesting. I was stunned to realize that, in effect, having a very small amount of money, I can get to a completely different, even distant place. Since the area of the new market was so unfamiliar, I felt as if I was in a different city, and fifteen roubles had become the sum of money enough to travel between cities. If you have a little more than fifteen roubles though, you can spend it right in the market, which has recently been turned into a huge shopping centre. Despite this, the tram stops are modest and completely different.
19. Weather Station
19. Weather Station
This stop is famous for being just a single bench at the very edge of the road. Sitting on this bench is quite an adventure, because cars are flying past you dangerously close to your shoes. Despite this, while I was drawing, there were quite a lot of fearless passengers (both at the stop and on the bench). Across the road there is one of the most unusual city monuments — a monument to a kopeck.
20. 4th Sovetskaya Street
20. 4th Sovetskaya Street
This stop is very close to the previous one, which is probably why there are not many passengers getting on and off. I had to wait on a bench for a quarter of an hour before someone showed up that I could draw. However the way from the 4th Sovetskaya to 6th Sovetskaya (please do not ask me where the 5th has gone) is very interesting. Between these two stops there is a wide turnoff to the new bridge and a beautiful panoramic view of the junctions and the left bank of the river. I haven’t tried walking there but the view from the window is splendid.
21. 6th Sovetskaya Street
21. 6th Sovetskaya Street
This station often goes by the names of the nearest buildings: "Zeon" (a residential building), "Barguzin" (a cinema) or the Diagnostic Centre. Saying this people don’t really make a mistake, they just give you a hint where to get off to find one of these places. The stops are in front of each other but very different — a lonely bench on one side and a big stop pavilion with shops and a kiosk on the other. This pavilion is obviously better than a bench because one can find shelter from rain or sun. However, it is so inconveniently located that it is impossible to see an approaching tram without leaving. Luckily, the tram rumbles loudly and passengers can always tell it is coming by the sound. It does help a lot at reversed stops like these.
22. Volzhskaya Street
22. Volzhskaya Street
I had to come here several times — so eventful was the life of this stop. It is the final stop for tram № 1, still, it does not turn around but continues its circular journey to come back to the Central Market and on back to Studgorodok. The dispatchers' office is also here, so drivers and ticket collectors get off for a short break or changeover. A lot of trams gather here, which makes it possible to get a better look at them and draw. Naturally, in a place where tram lines intersect, a lot of interesting characters can be found as well as many different commercial buildings. Volzhskaya is a trade centre, agricultural fair, all-in-one market and groups of pensioners selling vegetables and berries, mushrooms and fish, and also bunches of gladioli for the upcoming Day of Knowledge.
23. Karl Libknecht Street
23. Karl Libknecht Street
This stop is a couple of minutes away from Volzhskaya, but the atmosphere is completely different. Instead of stores and a market there is the brick building of the Baby Food Centre and a short row of residential houses with lilac bushes behind fences. At the stop itself for some reason both a pavilion and a freestanding bench can be found. While I was there to draw both were empty. I had to "ambush" my models next to the Baby Food Centre until the tram brought new characters for me to draw.
24. Deputatskaya Street
24. Deputatskaya Street
Before Deputatskaya the tram makes a bold manoeuvre turning left. Here it seemed to me that the rails were a river, with one of its banks flat and another steep. The same was true for the tram stops — a fancy pavilion on one side and a humble bench on the other. Booths can be found on both sides, but on one of them there is an assemblage of tiny shops turning the place into a commercial oasis. While I was there both stops were still waiting for passengers so I started drawing what was around. All of a sudden it started raining, umbrellas appeared all around and a colourful crowd gathered under the roofs of the pavilions.
25. Piskunova Street
25. Piskunova Street
At this stop I was finally able to draw the tram itself, since it broke and got stuck at the crossing. The experienced driver fixed it confidently and quickly, so I was only able to depict the nose of the tram. After it had gone I started examining less mobile things. For example, the old house with its closed shutters overlooking the stop. It is hard to say if there are any people living in it, but the carvings on its architraves are so spectacular that it could be considered the main sight at this intersection.
26. Trilisser Street
26. Trilisser Street
The stop is at a busy crossroads. Everything is moving including people who have become the main characters of my sketches. I got the feeling that the trams at Trilisser Street are more frequent, so quickly did the passengers get on and off the tram-cars. Barely had I started drawing one gentleman when he hopped onto his tram and was gone. As a result it is his legs that are still in the drawing. The kiosk with fruits and vegetables turned out to be the most obliging model, zealously showing me everything it had to offer.
27. 1st Sovetskaya Street
27. 1st Sovetskaya Street
In a way this stop is similar to Volzhskaya. There are many trading spots — from supermarkets to nameless kiosks (I even noticed a rare thing nowadays — a CD stand). Besides, just as in Volzhskaya Street, there is an informal market where pensioners sell the harvest from their dacha plots. It seems that the stop is this very trading stretch, which makes it very extended. Having gone past this shopping corridor, the tram crosses the wide Sovetskaya Street yet another time and darts on towards Decembrists' Square.
The Section Decembrists' Square — Krasnogvardeyskaya Street — Decembrist Museum
The Section Decembrists' Square — Krasnogvardeyskaya Street — Decembrist Museum
This section expectedly goes along the Dekabrskikh Sobytiy Street and deserves a walk. In this relatively short section you can see a spacious square with fountains, a range of historical buildings including the lacelike House of Europe and simply enjoy the stroll. If you get carried away and leave the tram route, you can walk up to Karl Marks Street, where another interesting fountain will be waiting at the crossing of the two streets.
Этот отрезок пути закономерно проходит по улице Декабрьских событий и заслуживает того, чтобы прогуляться по нему пешком. За этот относительно короткий промежуток пути можно увидеть и просторную площадь с фонтанами, и ряд исторических построек, включая кружевной Дом Европы, а также просто насладиться прогулкой. Если войти во вкус и уйти с маршрута трамвая, можно догулять и до улицы Карла Маркса, на пересечении с которой будет еще один необычный фонтан.
28. Decembrists' Square
28. Decembrists' Square
At the 1st Sovetskaya Street I was drawing on a scorching hot midday, but, at the end of August, it was a gloomy day when I came to Decembrists' Square. Thus the two neighbouring stops turned out to be different for me in terms of both time and weather. The stop definitely owns its name, because Decembrists' Square with its fountains, marriage registration hall and memorial is clearly seen. The giant Pension Fund building is even more conspicuous as it towers above the humble tram stop which is pressing closer to an ice-cream stand.
29. Krasnogvardeyskaya Street
29. Krasnogvardeyskaya Street
Некоторое время назад эта остановка была очень популярна у местных СМИ. Там установили инновационный остановочный павильон, оборудованный солнечными батареями, точкой wi-fi и другими высокотехнологичными функциями. И хотя бесплатного интернета я не поймала, сам павильон и все три массивные солнечные батарей на его крыше по-прежнему на месте. Остановка из ударопрочного стекла особенно выделяется на фоне старинного дома с каменной лепниной и кружевного Дома Европы, стоящего поодаль. Но ее инновационная отстранённость как-то сглаживается, когда среди пассажиров появляются бодрые пенсионеры с брезентовыми рюкзаками и сумками на колесиках.
30. Decembrist Museum
30. Decembrist Museum
Some time ago this stop was the subject of lively speculation in the local media. The reason was the brand new innovative stop pavilion equipped with solar panels, wi-fi and other hi-tech functions. Although I haven’t managed to get any free internet, the pavilion itself with three solar panels on its roof is still there. The stop made of safety glass shines out against the old-time house with plasterwork and the lacelike House of Europe standing nearby. Still, its innovative detachment is somehow smoothed when vivacious pensioners with canvas backpacks and trolleys appear among the passengers.
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