Before every trip to Iran, I get the same concerned looks from many of my friends. "Be safe," they'll say. Each time, I smile and assure them that, politics aside, Iran is one of the most welcoming countries I visit, in the region and around the world.
The truth is, I look forward to my trips here. Tehran is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city with an electric, sometimes precarious mix of ancient traditions and modern fashions and outlook.
Visit the bazaar, and surrounded by vendors selling spices and traditional snacks like laboo (steamed sugar beet), you see scenes little changed from centuries ago. But in the cafes and restaurants of north Tehran -- or in the raucous house parties the middle and upper-classes hold behind closed doors -- you could be in New York or L.A.
Today's Tehran has real and severe problems. Many Iranians, especially young people, have given up on the political process, even following the election of a more moderate leadership under President Hassan Rouhani.
Sanctions and international isolation have broken the economy. Inflation and unemployment is high and the economy is contracting at a rate not seen since the Iran-Iraq war. However, somewhat like the Lebanese in Beirut, Iranians find a way to survive and -- where they can -- enjoy themselves.
Among some Iranians I met this trip, I have heard a renewed if skeptical hope that -- with the new rapprochement with the United States and the West -- Iran may be ready to escape this national paralysis.
I spent some time with the founders of a new Internet start-up, Welcome to Iran, with ambitions to be the TripAdvisor, TimeOut, Foursquare of Iran all rolled into one. How ventures like this one fare will be one of the best measures of whether Iran is truly entering a new chapter. I look forward to coming back to find out.