Happy birthday, Dave! An exotic birthday two years in a row now - last year in the Ecuadorian Andes, this year in the historic heart of Istanbul...
The Hagia Sophia, or the Aya Sofya as it's known here, was the first place we went to after breakfast. At 9.30, the place was already really busy, but despite the multitude of selfie sticks (the first time I'd really seen them being used), it didn't take anything away from the magnificence of the place! Neither did the scaffolding on one wall of the interior.
We both found the mixture of Christianity and Islam within the Hagia Sophia an interesting combination. It was set up like a mosque, but also had remnants of decorations it had when it was still a church, before its conversion into a mosque. There was a fresco of the Virgin Mary & Child above where I guessed the main altar used to be, and on the first floor (where there were viewing galleries) there were very intricate and colourful mosaic frescoes of Jesus and the saints.
We also really liked other objects of interest sprinkled around; these included a huge marble jar which was used for storing water and sherbet, graffiti left by the Viking soldiers in the Imperial Guard in Constantinople and a huge stone bowl with a stone snake wrapped round it.
Once we'd left the main building, we came out into the courtyard, where there was a small stone building which is now the manager's office but used to be a religious elementary school, and another small historic building which is now an office.
We then walked round the corner to the Hagia Sophia's Tombs of the Sultans. At least five Sultans are buried here, along with their families. We had to remove our shoes before entry to each tomb.
The decoration inside each one was very ornate, with colourful patterned tiles on the walls and interior of the dome. The coffins were all covered in green felt.
After leaving the Hagia Sophia I took a couple of photos, we bought a drink each and sat on a wall to one side.
A man came up and started chatting - his ulterior motive became obvious very quickly, however, when he claimed that Topkapi Palace (which we were in clear sight of) had a wait of an hour and a half to get into and what we really should do instead was let him guide us round the corner to the Basilica Cistern and then his carpet shop... Luckily we realised he was talking through his hat about Topkapi Palace, and in any case had no desire to be guided by him or to see his shop, so we refused his advances.
To be continued...