Iran is one of the great destinations of the world, but many travelers are hesitant to go. After listening to Pattie Ehsaei, born and raised in Iran, you'll want to, soon. She describes her birth-country's beauty, history and culture in cities including Tehran, Esfahan, Persepolis and Shiraz. She tells of castles, mosques, ziggurats, lagoons, islands, beaches, scenic mountain roads, and ancient pigeon towers.
Pattie came to the U.S. when she was seven, on the last plane out, in the Iranian Revolution. Pattie and Lea discuss the expat community of Persians in the U.S. and what travelers need to do in terms of visas and such.
Besides the sites, Pattie reflects on family gatherings in Iran, the food and drink, and friendliness of the people.
She ends, as all our episodes do, with a favorite travel memory. And we end knowing so much more of what makes Iran an exceptional country to visit.
Born in Iran, Pattie Ehsaei (TikTok: “duchessofdecorum”),has established herself as the expert of “P’s and Q’s” on the platform where she's received over 1.8 million likes and nearly a half million followers as she teaches social and workplace etiquette, along with financial literacy. A lawyer by trade and currently a Senior Vice President of Mergers and Acquisitions lending for a major national bank, she believes that success comes from information and empowerment.
Podcast host Lea Lane blogs at forbes.com, has traveled to over 100 countries, written nine books, including Places I Remember, and contributed to guidebooks. She's @lealane on Twitter; PlacesIRememberLeaLane on Insta; on Facebook, it's Places I Remember with Lea Lane. Website: placesirememberlealane.com. Please follow, rate and review this award-winning travel podcast!
And exciting news! In 2022 we'll be dropping podcasts bi-weekly, on Tuesdays. Every other week, starting mid- February, we'll be on YouTube with travel tips and trips. Now you can watch us one week and listen the next!
* Transcript edited for clarity.
Lea Lane 0:04
Hi, I'm Lea Lane, an award-winning travel writer and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world.
I've visited most of the places we talk about on Places I Remember, and I love to share information and memories with our guests from all over the world. But sometimes I talk about places I hope to get to. And today is one of those times. It's called aspirational travel, and most of us have it, hearing and learning about places we long to visit. Often we can make it happen with planning and patience.
Lea Lane 0:47
I just missed going to Iran a couple of years ago, and friends who've traveled there rave about the friendly people, the ancient treasures, and the beauty. They describe mountains such as Mount Damavand, lush forests of northern Iran, the unique blue desert, and historic cities filled with tilework, such as Shiraz, and Esfahan. The many centuries of the Persian Empire are layered throughout the country. Iran is one of the oldest, richest and most influential art heritages in the world. Think of literature and poetry, music, dance architecture, painting, weaving, pottery, calligraphy, metalworking, and stone masonry. And Iranian or Persian people, as they are often known, are incredibly friendly. I've heard that from friends, and remember a segment with Anthony Bourdain on his travel show on location there, marveling at the friendliness. So today we'll be talking about Iran, with Pattie Ehsaei, who was born in Iran, known as the Duchess of Decorum by her loyal 850,000 TikTok followers. Pattie has established herself as the expert of p's and q's. She's a lawyer, and has moved to Los Angeles and spent the last 20 years in a multifaceted career focused in finance. Hi, Pattie, and welcome to Places I Remember.
Pattie Ehsaei 2:04
Hi, thank you so much for having me.
Lea Lane 2:06
So let's talk about Iran where you were born and lived for at least a few years. How old were you when you came to the United States?
Pattie Ehsaei 2:13
I was seven. When I came to the United States, we actually had to flee due to the Iranian Revolution. Yeah, it was really hectic trying to get out. We were actually on the last flight allowed out of Iran. After our flight left, they closed down the airspace.
Lea Lane 2:27
Now you just made it. I know you've returned. But what do you remember most about Iran?
Pattie Ehsaei 2:33
I really remember being with my family the most. We had a big family. My dad has, you know, a lot of brothers and sisters. So we used to spend so much time together and we would have these huge family gatherings. I mean, huge and 30, 40 people would show up and that's just family. That's really one of my favorite memories out of Iran.
Lea Lane 2:57
There are many Iranians who call themselves Persians in LA where you live. I'm thinking of the Shahs of Sunset, that show that I've watched. Tell us about the expat community here.
Pattie Ehsaei 3:08
It's interesting that LA has the largest Iranian population outside of Iran. So there are tons of Iranians in LA. And actually, I didn't grow up in LA, we first moved to Texas, and then I lived in Colorado. I didn't move to LA until 2001. It's really a different culture, because you know, they have an area in LA they call Tehrangeles or Irangeles. And it's yeah, it's really so amazing. Like, it's all Iranian restaurants and bookstores, and everything's written in Iranian writing. I love living in LA, if just for that reason alone.
Lea Lane 3:47
Well, let's talk a little bit about the tourism situation. People can travel to Iran freely, including Americans, but they do need to know about tours and visas before planning their trip. What can you tell us about that?
Pattie Ehsaei 3:58
Yes, you do need a visa to travel to Iran. And one thing people need to be aware of is just like any other country that you go to, there are rules that you have to follow. There's rules when I went to Thailand, for example, that I have to follow that I didn't know. So in Iran, there's rules you have to follow. Women have to cover their hair, and you have to wear kind of like a light coat. You can't wear tight fitting clothing or anything that shows your body. But other than that, it's pretty casual. It's not what people think it may be.
Lea Lane 4:28
I know, I've heard that a lot. Yeah, I mentioned that. It's so friendly. It's outstanding. I do think you should check with the State Department and the Centers for Disease Control, obviously, before you go anywhere today, especially in a country where there's a complicated relationship, but Iran is a very safe place to travel. I've heard it described as "the safest country I've ever been to." That's a quote, much safer than traveling in Europe. So that's good to know.
Pattie Ehsaei 4:53
It's very safe because I mean, the laws are pretty strict, right? You know, you don't have the same issues you have as far as like women walking down the street and being afraid to get raped or anything like that, because the laws are very strict and it deters a lot of crime.
Lea Lane 5:06
Right. So I know you've returned to Iran several times since living here. Now I've done a bit of research and hoping to go there someday. So let's talk a bit about what makes Iran special as a place to visit whenever the time comes. Let's start with the capital city.
Pattie Ehsaei 5:21
Tehran is an incredible city, it used to be called the Paris of the Middle East when the Shah was there. So it's a huge metropolis, great shopping, great food, and it's really a mountainous region. People think of Iran like the rest of the Middle East, just flat desert, and it couldn't be further from the truth. There's a mountainous region, within 30 minutes of Tehran, you can go skiing, and there's hills and valleys.
Lea Lane 5:48
Well, sounds beautiful. I know from 1592 to 1722, Esfehan was the capital of Persia, and I know that is a beautiful place. Tell us a little bit why it's so known for beauty.
Pattie Ehsaei 6:00
Oh my gosh, just the architecture alone and Esfehan is amazing. [_____] is amazing, and it's smaller, so it's easier to get to. They have this whole waterfront area where, you know, people gather around the water and all these just fountains and just the architecture alone is just mind blowing. Whoever designed Esfehan is just incredible.
Lea Lane 6:25
I heard about the bridges of Esfehan where there are many arches and people read Persian poetry there, and it echoes through the arches, and it's like Sheherazad 1001 nights, and there are nine of them, nine bridges. So that alone is something to see. But I know the main square, which was once a royal polo field, has many things around it. It has mosques and palaces in pictures, and it's beautiful. And the lighting.
Pattie Ehsaei 6:52
Especially at night. I mean, it's just gorgeous. It looks unlike anything you've ever seen.
Lea Lane 6:58
There's a nearby desert city called Keshawn. And I know there are many historical homes there and I was told that try to visit a few of them if you can, that because of the ceilings, the frescoes the courtyards, with pomegranate trees. And in the spring, especially, would that be the best time to visit would you say?
Pattie Ehsaei 7:16
Absolutely in the spring because it gets very hot in the summer and humid. So the spring is really a great time to visit and everything's blooming again. Iran just has a lot of green foliage. Springtime is amazing.
Lea Lane 7:31
How about the ancient capital city, Persepolis?
Pattie Ehsaei 7:36
Yes, about that, I've been there and just the site itself and the monuments that are there. And you know, what you see is a lot of it was destroyed, right and burnt down, but there are still remains and ruins there.
Lea Lane 7:48
The closest I've gotten was in Berlin, I visited the Pergamon Museum and they have some thing called the Persepolis Friezes where yes, pictures. I know, it's only a tiny bit of it. But it is so spectacular that the museum is one of the most visited, it is the most visited museums in Germany. Oh, man. That's one of the one of the reasons is the great, the great things that you can find there. How about some other special things? There's some place called Babak Castle, tell us about that.
Pattie Ehsaei 8:16
Yes. Well, Babak castle, it's gorgeous. You walk in and just the intricacies inside of the castle, just gold everywhere. You know, we're [_____] right. And we love gold and our ancestors love gold. So it's cute.
Lea Lane 8:31
I know it's at the top of a mountain. It was once a fort. And it's the national symbol of Iran. So it must be quite something to get up there and worth it. I think it's about 1000 feet up there but worth it for people who aren't afraid of heights. Okay, what about Chogha Zanbil, the first Iranian site registered with UNESCO. It says ziggurat, you know, a ziggurat is a type of ancient pyramid and it has baked bricks layered within the structure. And a centuries old footprint of a child is roped off towards the back. Have you visited that?
Pattie Ehsaei 9:05
I remember visiting that as a child because we had also gone to Egypt. And when I was a kid, I was like, oh my god, we have pyramids in Iran as well.
Lea Lane 9:14
Yeah, yeah. They're more special because they have more interesting structure. They’re like Lego.
Pattie Ehsaei 9:20
Right? Exactly. They're a lot more interesting. It's not just like this plain pyramid. It's really thought through as far as how the structure was put together.
Lea Lane 9:29
Right. It's amazing. I again, I've only seen pictures, but that's one of the places I would want to go. How about a boat ride on the lagoon?
Pattie Ehsaei 9:38
I have never been on that boat ride. However, I know plenty of people that have and just rave about it. But unfortunately, that's one thing that I've done yet.
Lea Lane 9:47
Well, the houses are built on stilts. I know that and they're birds all over and water lilies and water lotuses. So it sounds gorgeous. We should both go there. For sure. Let me see how that [______] castle. Tell me about that.
Pattie Ehsaei 10:05
I visited that as a child, and you know, these castles are just so ornate and you know being a kid you walk in, and then you see all these layers just when you first walk in all the foliage and the trees and just like this is this amazing just like all these tall trees and you're just looking up like as a child going, oh my gosh, you walk in and just the neatness of it.
Lea Lane 10:29
And it's ancient and you're also looking up because it's called the castle of 1000 steps.
Pattie Ehsaei 10:35
My poor dad had me like on his shoulders getting me up those stairs. Oh, my goodness. Yeah, ‘cause I was a kid, you know, you can't climb the stairs.
Lea Lane 10:43
Oh, but Dad had quite a quite a road to go there. That to get to some of these interesting places to travel to the north, this road called the Chalice Road, do you recommend taking that road?
Pattie Ehsaei 10:55
Well, I don't know if I recommend it. But I've taken it. So it's a mountainous region, right? It is. So the lanes are really small. If a big truck is coming, you have to kind of pull over, it's a very scary ride. Last time I was in Iran I took the drive. Yeah, it's very scary there. The cliff was right there. One wrong move and …
Lea Lane 11:17
That's why it's so pretty. Yeah, always that way, all around the world are pretty drives, the scary drives depends on your risk factor. I guess, right. Now, there's something called pigeon towers that really intrigued me when I read about them. Pigeons are nuisances to most people, but they were valuable in Iran because they were used for their droppings to use as fertilizer. So these towers would be built, holding as many as 14,000 pigeons. And they're very ancient. Have you have you seen any?
Pattie Ehsaei 11:45
I remember my father taking me to one of these towers. And you know, you’re a kid and birds are like the thing for you, right? And all these pigeons all over the place and, and I couldn't wrap my head around why pigeons were in this one tower. But yeah, they were used for fertilizer. That's exactly it. That's why we kept them around.
Lea Lane 12:04
Yeah, very interesting. Now Hormuz Island, have you visited there?
Pattie Ehsaei 12:09
Yes, Hormuz Island, I have. And Hormuz Island is an island off of Iran. And it's a little bit more relaxed than the country itself. So I haven't been in a while but it's beautiful.
Lea Lane 12:23
Yeah, I’m told the colors are red and orange and yellow; so a gorgeous place for geologists and nature enthusiasts.
Pattie Ehsaei 12:30
It’s very, very colorful. I mean, you can't even, it's something again, that you can't describe, that you won't see any other place.
Lea Lane 12:37
Are there places that are fun, like a beach place that you would recommend?
Pattie Ehsaei 12:41
We always went to [_____] and as a child and that's like I say the classy Jersey Shore of Tehran or Iran. And we would go there as a child and we would always go to the beach. And we would just have so much fun. It was just like the place to go. And I remember my uncle having a home there. We would go with my cousins and we just have the best time on the beach and it's still there and has great hotels. Women have to be very modest. And I think they've separated out the beach, men versus women side. But it's still an amazing place to have great hotels there. So I recommend anybody going into that area.
Lea Lane 13:21
Good to know. Now Shiraz I have left that for last. I think it's especially beautiful. It's an ancient city, once rivaling Baghdad. In 1724, the city was sacked by Afghan invaders, but there are many buildings from that era remaining. And also gorgeous mosques, the pink mosque. Can you tell what makes that one of the most beautiful of many?
Pattie Ehsaei 13:45
My gosh, the pink mosque is just like this different, it changes colors depending on time of day. So you have light pink, and it's dark pink and just it's the way that they built it is really reflective of how the sun's going to hit it. So when the sun hits it differently, it changes like a different color of pink. And it is just gorgeous.
Lea Lane 14:09
It's like a kaleidoscope when the stained glass comes down in different places like you're saying ,covers you and everything else. And there's a, you know, it was built with that in mind that the idea of beauty at all times of the day, which is Iran. So also there is a poet named Hafez buried in Shiraz and I hear you can stroll through the gardens and read his 700- year old romantic poems.
Pattie Ehsaei 14:35
I've done that, it’s amazing. I've seen it, too; his poems are just incredible. So yeah, I took a tour there and all those poems are there and you could read them.
Lea Lane 14:46
Sounds like I want to go to Shiraz.
Pattie Ehsaei 14:48
Do, you really do.
Lea Lane 14:50
Now I know there's a name of a grape called shiraz and they create a great red wine through history. Although Muslims today in the country are forbidden to drink alcohol, others can. But of course it's great Persian food. So I would like to know a little bit about an ideal meal. What would you have at a table where you were just enjoying yourself immensely. What are some of your favorites?
Pattie Ehsaei 15:11
So okay, it depends on whether you're going out to eat or at home. So let's start without tea. So if you're going out to eat, this typical Persian meal is called chelo kebab. So you have different types of kebabs and you have a plate of rice, and you eat that together, that's typically served with raw onions and sumach. Chelo kebabs typically something you don't make it home because kebabs are really an art. And you know, you always say you can't really make the kebabs at home like you do, or like they do at a restaurant. So that is really what you do with like the fancy thing you do when you go out. However, inside the home to use you typically eat inside the home and not out because they're just not as good as when you make it at home. So one of the stews is a green stew called ghormeh sabzi. And this green stew is made with five different types of greens, it’s made of cilantro, parsley, spinach, and it's mixed with meat like beef typically and red kidney beans. And you serve that over rice. It's a very earthy type flavor to it.
Lea Lane 16:16
It sounds very healthy and delicious.
Pattie Ehsaei 16:19
Very, although we put a little bit of butter in there somewhere. Okay. But yeah, all right. And then another stew is called gheymey. And this is a red stew. It also has beef in it, but you make it with yellow lentils, you make it with yellow lentils and beef. And then sometimes you actually put eggplant in there. It's called nbademjan, which is an eggplant that goes into that. So those are the two I would say, most famous types of stews in Iran that you would eat at home.
Lea Lane 16:50
And how would you eat? What would you sit around the table? Would you use your hands or your fingers?
Pattie Ehsaei 16:55
Oh, well, Iranians really don't use their fingers too much. That's an ancient tradition. But we've really grown away from that. So I don't know anyone in Iran that uses their hands to eat anymore. But we do use a different from the US we use a spoon and a fork to eat our meals. Basically what you do is you use the spoon as a scoop and then you use your fork to like scoop the food inside your spoon. And then you put the spoon in your mouth. Make sense?
Lea Lane 17:20
Because yeah, the sauce. That sauce falls to the fork. It does make sense. Right, that exactly. Now tell me what would you drink with a meal like that?
Pattie Ehsaei 17:31
Typically, okay. Coca Cola is huge with meals like that. But we have another drink is called doogh. It is a yogurt drink. And it's a sour yogurt drink. So people that aren't used to it feel like it tastes like sour milk. You know, they'll drink it. They're like, what is this, but it's a carbonated yogurt drink that’s sour and you can get with or without mint. And that is a very traditional drink to have with your meals.
Lea Lane 18:00
Pattie Ehsaei 18:01
Oh, it's very fresh. And I love it. Again, I grew up on it. It's sour, but I really enjoy it.
Lea Lane 18:06
Well, the name of the podcast is Places I Remember. So Pattie, please give us one more favorite memory of Iran.
Pattie Ehsaei 18:18
One of my favorite memories of Iran is being with my dad in the car, and going to get the kebabs from the restaurant. And what you do is if you don't want to eat the kebabs at the restaurant, you take a big pot, your own pot, and you take it to the restaurant and they fill it up with rice and they fill it up with kebab. And yeah, and they put the lid on it. And then you bring that home and we used to do that every weekend, we would do that. And that was just a special time that I spent with my dad one on one. And to be able to do something cool like that was so much fun. I remember that very, very vividly.
Lea Lane 18:54
That’s lovely. Food is so often a favorite memory of our guests. For whatever reason, family senses, whatever it is, it brings back a lot of memories. Well, thank you, Pattie Ehsaei, and TikTok. You're the popular SI factor, the Duchess of Decorum. Yeah, thank you for helping us to see the wonders of Iran. I hope some time to visit and I hope some of the many special things we've mentioned will help encourage listeners to visit as well. And I have big news. In 2022, Places I Remember is bi-weekly, dropping every other Tuesday and on alternate weeks I'll be featuring tips and trips on YouTube. So you can continue listening to our Places I Remember podcasts and also watch me on our Places I Remember videos. See you soon.
Lea Lane 19:49
Thanks for sharing travel memories with us. My book, Places I Remember, is available on Amazon and in bookstores, in print, on Kindle, and I read the audio version. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. Until next time, join us wherever in the world we're going.