Tramline of the city: a graphic diary of tram No.1

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Illustrations and text: Sasha Ianchenko

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, tram remains a reliable form of transportation. Thousands of people use it daily.

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Line one is the oldest tram route 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). Nowadays the line is 20,5 kilometres long. Tram number one goes through Sverdlovskiy, Kirovskiy and Oktyabrskiy districts, crosses the Angara river over Glaskovskiy bridge and captures the view of some part of historical city centre. The diversity of the city views alternating outside the tram’s windows makes it a real tour of the city. To many tourists coming to Irkutsk with the only goal of visiting lake Baikal this tram ride from train station to bus station is the only impression they manage to get of the city.

The route includes thirty stations, at each of which I have made several sketches. The main characters of these sketches are the people who happened to be at the tram stations at the time. Some other things that “got caught in the lens” were the details of background, buildings, structures and, naturally, the trams themselves. I am inviting you to set out on a journey following the oldest tram route of Irkutsk and hoping that one day you will be able to really get on this tram.

Section Studgorodok – Zhukovskogo – Griboedova – Lomonosova

One of the coziest sections of the route, since the line does not intersect with major roads. This section could be considered the most “literary” – Studgorodok station is located in Lermontov street, followed by Roscha Zvezdochka (“Little Star” Bosket) in Pushkin street. Even though these names are the only reminders of poetry here, walking along this section of tram line is delightful.

1. Studgorodok (Campus district)

The station 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-seven stalls and a crowd of youngsters hanging around in a place once called «the ring”. The ring of the belt 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 here turn gracefully around 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

On one side of the rails there are student dormitories, on the other side – some private houses oftentimes used to also accommodate students. When the tram is going from the city centre, the ticket collector gets off here to get some fresh air or a smoke. Having made a circle, the tram goes back and picks up a ticket collector who is ready for the new ride. One more thing you want to know badly is who this Saulites, who gave the name to a local store right at the tram station, is.

3. Zhukovskyi 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 passengers flow. A little further down there is a 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

A cozy station 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 neighbors’ gossip, annoyance with the weather, information on seedling for someone’s garden and complaints about long queues to the ENT doctor at the local pediatric ambulatory. There is also a wonderful sight here – a birch wood – a glimpse of which you can catch from the station.

5. Roscha “Zvezdochka” (“Little star” Bosket)

Sweet little station made of two benches on both sides of tram rails 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 station – Chaika (“Seagull”) Cinema. You cannot but notice a residential house that serves as the station pavilion of some sort. 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

The station is vulgarly called “At Tereshkova” because of the street of the same name. At one side there is a towering new-built with offices and shops in the ground floors (this is where I got my chest of drawers!), 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 admiring the old houses. The cinema itself can’t be seen from the station, it is situated much further up the street.

7. Train station

Not just stop, but the busiest 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 Angara river. 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 the newcomers and usual city dwellers going about their business past this passenger and traffic congestion.  All this colourful crowd can be found at the tram station situated right in front of the main entrance. This is one of the stops that is not equipped with even benches, let alone the separate station complex. The tram stops right in the middle of the road urging the passengers to be more attentive with the ringing signal.

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 don’t need the exit to the platforms but the booking office for long-distanced trains, it is more convenient to get off at this stop. There is not so much of excitement and rush typical for the train station, but the people are still the same – tourists, campers, backpacks and bags. “Mayakovskogo” is located 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.

Section Chkalova – Stepana Razina – Gorkogo

This small section is wonderful if you look outside 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 may run over time.   You will definitely want to do so. From Chkalov street to Gorkiy street one can find parts of the oldest streets of Irkutsk, old stone and wooden houses still preserved, cozy little squares and unusual nooks and crannies of the city.

9. Chkalov street

The station also called “Bytovaya”. First stop at the first tram line on the left bank of the Angara river and the historical centre of Irkutsk. Here starts the section picturesque in every sense going through the old city. The station itself is always rather busy, since there are many agencies concentrated around it – from the arbitrage to the Mariott hotel – and several bustling auto loops. While I was drawing here I met an elderly gentleman who got sincerely interested in my sketches and even posed enthusiastically. I find myself at this station almost every day because my studio and my Yoga class are also here.

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. There is a two-storied wooden house with carved architraves and the paint wearing off at Stepana Razina. 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

Tricky stop, since you can only leave it 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 pedestrian crossing is as much as sixty seconds. Right around the corner the main street of the city – Lenin street – swings open.

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 station pavilion with the large inscription “Lenina”, on another side – just one nameless small shop. Despite the fact that District 130 – the partying heart of Irkutsk – is near at hand, there are very few fashionistas at the station. 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 those, 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 orthopedy

Also called Kievskaya since it is located in front of the street of the same name. Kievskaya is one of the most homely and cute streets in Irkutsk centre. If you have some time to spare, get off the tram at this station and stroll towards Karl Marks street. To me personally this street (and the station itself) are memorable because of our freaky project of modern culture “Ikra” that has existed for about six months. The institute itself, also known as Scientific centre for surgery and traumatology is a bit further off. Sometimes you can get a funny view of the patients of this centre friskily running across the road with the Ilizarov frame still on – all because of the pedestrian crossing being far and inconvenient.

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 anything. Central market, Partizanskaya street with shops all over, “Caramel” commercial centre, furniture store “Etalon” and the complex of the New market – line one makes its way through this massive trade. This, probably the least scenic section, is always full of vendors and customers.

14. Central market

One of the longest stations – it seems it flows 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! – bast wisps made of foam. Further off is a heartbreaking pet market, where puppies and kittens squeal pitifully in cramped boxes.

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 station at Sofia Perovskaya street is easier in this respect, it is a bit further down, with a graceful glass pavilion framed with a chrome plated edging. The pavilion is comfortable and has a nice bench, on which you can rarely sit – too many people loaded with their shopping bags.

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 store 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 with white siding panels indifferently.  This beauty is right in front of the station, so I couldn’t overlook it in my sketches.

17. Zavodskaya street

There is no plant either (the name of the station comes from “zavod” – a plant). The building of the plant is still there but is now home to a furniture store. One thing they have in common is a name – “Etalon”. The station is situated at the intersection with a wide and vivid Sovetskaya street, which we will come across following the route of line one. To me personally this station seems spacious, especially after “Gornaya” and “Sofii Perovskoy”, squeezed between the shopping spaces. Here the tram so to speak emerges on the surface to look around and continue the journey into the depths of the city.

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, rather than a city dweller. There was a particular drive to it. Since I mostly have a traveller’s mood while I’m abroad,  I started noticing inscriptions in foreign languages and hearing the aftersounds 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

This was the station where I suddenly realized that I only had fifteen roubles left in my pocket – just enough for a 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 remote space point. Since the area of the new market was so unfamiliar that I felt as if I was in a different city, fifteen roubles have become the sum of money enough to travel between the cities. If you have a little more than fifteen roubles though, you may spend it directly at the market, which has recently been turned into a huge shopping mall. Despite this, the tram stations are modest and completely different.

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 the 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 station 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

This station is very close to the previous one, which is probably why there are not so 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 the 6th Sovetskaya (please do not ask me where the 5th has gone) is very interesting. Between these two stations 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 was splendid.

21. 6th Sovetskaya street

This station often goes by the names of the nearest buildings: “Zeon” (a residential building), “Barguzin” (a cinema) or 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 objects.  The stations are in front of each other but very different – a lonely bench on one side and a big station pavilion with shops and a kiosk on another. 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 is very resonant and the passengers can always guess it is coming by the sound.  It does help a lot at reversed stations like these.

22. Volzhskaya street

I had to come here several times – so eventful was the life of this station. It is a final stop for tram one, still, it does not turn around but continues its circular journey to come back to the Central market and further on to Studgorodok. The dispatchers’ office is also here, so drivers and ticket collectors get off here for a short break or changeover. There are a lot of trams gathering here, which makes it possible to get a better look on 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 corn flags for the upcoming Knowledge Day.

23. Karl Libknecht street

The station is a couple of minutes away from Volzhskaya, but the atmosphere is completely different. Instead of stores and a market there is a brick building of the infant-feeding centre and a short range of residential houses with bushes of lilac behind fences.   At the stop itself for some reason both a station 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 infant-feeding centre until the tram brought new characters for me to draw.

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 bank flat and another steep. The same was right for the tram stops – a fancy station pavilion on one side and a humble bench on the other. The 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 the 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 station pavillions.

25. Piskunov street

At this station 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 was gone I started examining the less mobile objects. For example, the old house with its closed shutters overlooking the station. 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

The stop located at a busy crossroad. Everything is moving including people who have become the main characters of my sketches. I had a feeling that the trams at Trilissera are more frequent, so quickly did the passengers get on and off the tram-car. Barely had I started drawing one gentleman when he hopped on 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 dealable model, having shown friendly everything it had to offer.

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 like in Volzhskaya street, there is a spontaneous market where pensioners sell the harvest from their country gardens. It seems that the station is this very trading block, 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 the Decembrists square.

Section Decembrists’ Square – Krasnogvardeyskaya street – Decembrists’ 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 excited and leave the tram route, you can walk up to the Karl Marks street, where another interesting fountain will be waiting at the crossing of the two streets.

28. Decembrists’ Square

At the 1st Sovetskaya street I was drawing on a scorching hot midday, while it was a gloomy day at the end of August when I came to the 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 the Decembrists Square with its fountains, marriage registration hall and the memorial is clearly seen. The giant retirement 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

Some time ago this station was the subject of the vivid speculation among the local media. The reason was the brand new innovative station pavilion equipped with the solar batteries, wi-fi and other hi tech functions. Although I haven’t managed to get any free internet, the pavilion itself with three solar batteries 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 near. Still, its innovative detachment is somehow smoothed when vivacious pensioners with canvas backpacks and rolling bags appear among the passengers.

30. Decembrists’ museum

Despite the fact that there are many wooden buildings seen from the station, the museum itself hides behind the station. There is also a golden steeple of the church looming in the back and the start of the road to bus station. Here the tram turns off Dekabrskikh Sobytiy and heading to the Central market completes its journey. The section from this station to the market I call the “funeral street” because of the huge amount of funeral service agencies.