In the last few years, my travelling has been by bike – I’m a keen cyclist. I wouldn’t describe my trips as holidays – I’d say they were mini challenges!
In 2009, I decided to visit Europe’s 52 capitals. I cycled for six months, each year, for three years, covering 22,000 miles.
My favourite destination is one of the cities I visited; it’s Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It isn’t traditionally beautiful, but it is pretty. I had read a lot about how it was besieged by Bosnian Serb forces during the Bosnian war in the Nineties. When I saw the geography of the city, I got an even better idea of what it must have been like to live there.
The capital is long and thin and surrounded by hills, which is where the snipers were, picking off people in the streets. Locals stayed put, because unlike other towns in the former Yugoslavia, Sarajevo was a very multi-cultural place. People got along and wanted to stick together. It’s incredible how they tried to continue life as normal.
I was mainly interested in Sarajevo’s history, but it’s a good place to visit if you’re on a budget too. There’s plenty of reasonably-priced accommodation and the food is cheap and tasty. I ate burek - filo pastry in the shape of a sausage with mincemeat inside - and drank local beer. The bars charged about a pound a pint!
I was doing an Open University course at the time and met up with a British guy who had worked as a UN peacekeeper during the siege, and was teaching local soldiers how to manage peace. He took me to the bobsleigh run, built when Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics. It’s fallen apart now and covered with graffiti, but during the conflict, soldiers (defending the city) used it as a trench. It was early evening when we visited and the run, in the hills, is surrounded by woods. It was very eerie.
We also visited a local brewery. During the siege, the city had no water supply, but the brewery had a natural well where locals would collect water.
If the snipers were feeling mean and playful, they would wait, then shoot holes in people’s buckets so the water would leak out.
I was diagnosed with high blood pressure in 2009, just before my European bike ride. I ended up in intensive care and postponed my trip until the end of the year. Doctors feared I’d had three small brain haemorrhages. I now take five tablets a day but I don’t let my condition restrict what I do. In fact, after a trip in the saddle, I often find my blood pressure has dropped because of all the exercise I’ve done!
Blood Pressure UK works to raise awareness that high blood pressure can be treated and prevented. Visit www.bloodpressureuk.org to find out more.