Our pre-trip research indicated that a museum pass would be our best bet, so despite the touts out front trying to guide us in around the line, we waited for the box office at the Hagia Sophia. The automated kiosks weren’t working (though we later found out there were more on the south side of the square) but it was still only a 10 minute wait, and they took credit cards (not common in Istanbul). Once we had our pass all we had to do was scan it for entry to each site with no more lines.
The Hagia Sophia is quite large, but not quite as ornate on the outside as I had anticipated. Internally it feels even larger given the openness (no columns like most of the large European cathedrals). The center had a large scaffold for restoration that marred some of the view, but it is still a magnificent structure.
After wandering around the ground floor for several minutes attempting to get some photos without a ton of people in the way, we made our way to the upper floor, not by stairs but via a wide switchback ramp instead. Views upstairs were better and included some uncovered mosaics. Combined with the smaller crowds we definitely enjoyed the second floor better.
Leaving the Hagia Sophia we walked around the corner to the tombs for various sultans. Leandra donned her scarf as a head covering, and we were in for free after a quick trip through a metal detector. The tile work and wooden details in each building were quite ornate, and the crowds were substantially smaller than most of the other sites on our trip.
Just a few hundred yards from the Hagia Sofia is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, aka the Blue Mosque, so we walked over there next. In the middle is a small park with benches and lots of lounging canines (places seem to be either occupied by cats or dogs, never both).
main courtyard of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque
Since it was Friday, the mosque was closed to visitors until 2:30p. Around 2:15p we got in line, and about 20 minutes later they started letting people in again. Our clothing passed inspection (yeah!) and a few minutes later we were in the visitor section. Indoors is massive with lots of lights on very long cords and miles of carpet.
Later that evening I stopped in at Sent Antuan Kilisesi, the Orthodox Christian church, then continued to the Archeology Museum. Due to renovations only parts of the museum are open, but entry was included with my museum pass. There were some interesting artifacts (pottery, funeral pieces, etc) but I wouldn’t go out of my way for it.
Since I was nearby I also returned to the Blue Mosque when it was, well, blue.
And so concluded a day where I walked ~7 miles, tired but happy.