I’ve finally figured out where the bicycle bazaar is here. Actually, I didn’t even know that it existed until a few days ago when another Fulbrighter told me about it. You go to the Old Market near Skanderbeg Square and work your way to Qemal Stafa. More than one website I saw refers to it as the “antique bicycle bazaar” but most of the bikes I see in Tirana, maybe half, are “antiques.” At the actual bazaar, though, most of the bikes I saw, dissapointingly, were fairly contemporary bikes. Most were of a great variety of manufacture—Germany and Italy but also China and South Korea. Some looked very good and were almost new; others were cheaper models a la Wal Mart and others were used better built bikes. Many were either mountain bikes or commuter bikes.
The bazaar is less like the wonderful disorder you might imagine of a bazaar (as you see in the New Bazaar here) and more a street with a bunch of small bike kiosks lining each side. Some of the bikes are hanging on the outsides of the buildings and some line the edge of the street. One of the first vendors I met was quite excited to show me everything he had. Despite trying to fit in (or perhaps because of wife and daughter being there) I’m sure he tagged me immediately as an American or European with money to spend. How do I explain in my limited Shqip all the bikes I have in America are at least twenty years old, that the oldest one is forty years old and that I haven’t paid more than $50 for any of them? I nodded politely and put him off so I could look at the other shops, but I wasn’t really ready to buy anything and certainly nothing of the price and polish that he had.
I’m hoping that I can find something for about $50 here, a beater sort of commuter like I see on the streets, something that’s in solid shape but doesn’t look like much. I’ll have to sell it or give it away when I leave anyway and I don’t want to worry too much about when I lock it up.
While it initially seems suicidal to ride a bike around here, I’ve decided from watching traffic that the drivers, while they don’t really follow the sort of rules we’re used to back home, do usually yield to pedestrians and cyclists in a way that Florida drivers don’t. Florida (and probably most US) drivers have the attitude that the road is theirs and no one else belongs there. This attitude leads to motorists continuing to accelerate or head towards a pedestrian or cyclist when they really should prepare to stop. Here, motorists prepare to stop, even if it’s very close to cyclists and pedestrians. The route down Ismail Qemali, which I sometimes take to work, doesn’t look too bad and I sometimes see older men and women in professional-looking outfits cycling to or from work, sometimes with briefcases or other sorts of portfolios strapped to their Pletscher racks. If they feel comfortable doing it, I imagine I can if I exercise due caution. Other roads look a lot more dangerous so, as usual, it’s important to choose one’s routes.
I want to spend a little time with the camera documenting the different bicycles around Tirana. The cycle use here definitely refutes the general arguments in Florida that bikes are for recreational use primarily.