One thing did shock me on my visit to Iran last month: the immigration officer at Tehran Airport smiled as he stamped my passport.
This rare travel incident set the tone for the rest of my trip.
You wouldn't know it for all the diplomatic sound and fury that surround the country, but possibly the most exceptional thing about Iran compared with the other Middle Eastern countries I've been to -- and I've visited them all, as a roving travel correspondent and Middle East specialist -- is how almost manically welcoming everyone is.
Other than that, its extraordinary archaeological wealth, palaces dripping with former regal indulgence, elaborate Islamic gardens and urban skylines bristling with minarets deserve to place it alongside Turkey and Dubai on the international tourist circuit.
Whether the election of Hassan Rouhani to the presidency earlier this month will spur more travel to the country remains to be seen, but his moderate political stance at home and abroad at least bodes well for tourism.
Sure, there are things you might not be used to in Iran.
The country follows Sharia law, of course, but it's not as sinister as some people think.
Women must cover their heads with a shawl (including in the photo they send in with their visa application) and alcohol is prohibited.
But most of the obstacles to travel in Iran arise before you get there.
No doubt your acquaintances will try to put you off, for a start, made wary by the overwhelmingly tense news that emanates from the country.
Tourist visas, too, can take up to a month to obtain.
On the bright side, most are -- eventually -- issued without question.
Then there are the typically dire but, in my experience, exaggerated Western government travel advisories on the country. Curiously, while Britain advises "against all travel" to Iran, the U.S. State Department merely suggests its citizens "carefully consider the risks" of a trip.
Those ultra-cautious advisories, like an overprotective aunt, also risk invalidating your travel insurance -- so be sure to check the fine print of your policy if you have one.
Oh, and you might be profiled
Perhaps the greatest risk of visiting this member of the former "axis of evil," as George W. Bush memorably described it, is being profiled by your own government.
Lots of attractions
Am I putting you off yet?
Well, let's consider what you'll miss out on if you don't one day slot Iran into your travel itinerary.
Most travelers who do take the plunge come away raving about the place.
Among the highlights of my recent visit was the Zoroastrian fire temple in the city of Yazd, whose flame is said to have burned since 470 AD.
Nearby, I climbed to the hilltop Tower of Silence, where the Zoroastrian dead were picked clean by vultures to avoid contaminating the earth right up until the 1960s.
Then there's the National Jewels Museum (Ferdowsi Avenue; +98 21 6446 3785) in Tehran -- where most travelers start their Iranian trip -- located in a vault beneath the Central Bank of Iran. Among its treasures are the 182-carat Darya-e Nur diamond, so chunky and iridescent it virtually constitutes its own light source.
There, too, you'll find the emerald, sapphire and pearl-studded Peacock Throne, stolen by one of the shahs from a Mughal emperor.