It was an early morning with our wake up call beginning at 4:45 a.m. We needed as much time as possible to reach the airport to ensure that we could make it through security and reach our gate on time. Israeli airport security, however, was not as bad as I had heard. We made it through all the checkpoints with speed and reached the gate with plenty of time to spare.
Despite the early start, we ended up arriving in Istanbul two hours late. We sat on the runway in Israel for an hour waiting to take off, and we had to circle Istanbul for 45 minutes before we could land. It was raining when we landed and our tour guide, Ozan, said we brought the poor weather with us. in spite of the weather, we were able to see the Hagia Sophia.
This beautiful church turned mosque turned museum was truly magnificent. Church and state are completely separate in Turkey even though 90% of the population is Muslim. The Hagia Sophia has the fourth largest dome in the world (see the picture below). The building was large, so large in fact that it began to shift and has become structurally unsound. Beautiful Byzantine mosaics could be found on the inside due to the restoration for the museum. It was once one of the truly most beautiful churches in the world.
We then visited the Blue Mosque which was right across the street. It was incredible to hear the call to prayer while standing outside this magnificent building. After removing our shoes, we were able to enter the mosque and marvel at its beauty. The roof consisted of several half domes and mosaic tiles also covered the inside of the building. The mosque gets its name from the blue tiles on the inside (see picture below). While the mosque certainly smelled like feet, it was easy to ignore in favor of gazing at our surroundings. Even though it was a Muslim place of worship, it was still amazing to stand in such a religious place.