Javier Menor de las Casas owns the longest name in Rick Steves' guide pool. He is 100% Spanish (going back many generations) with a deep, operatic voice that belies his slim physique. After getting rave reviews as a local guide in Madrid and Segovia, Javier has continued that trend as a guide on Rick Steves' tours throughout Spain.
Before you began leading Rick Steves' Best of Spain tour and Barcelona & Madrid tour, you worked as a city guide. What is it like staying with a group for days instead of hours?
The dynamics change completely. In Segovia, I would just talk briefly to tour members and then miss the wine after the tour! As a lead guide you take care of the logistics and needs of tour members (sometimes needs they don't even know they have!) and get to know them so much better. It is an incredible feeling when, after 16 days together, you can be proud of your tour members because they have really come to understand what my country is about.
You recently attended your first Rick Steves tour member reunion and tour guides summit in Edmonds, WA. Can you give us your impressions of your experience?
I was highly impressed by the Rick Steves reunion event. I know of no other tour company that is able to bring together tour members and guides from all over the States and Europe. I really feel that this — along with the guide workshops during the week — helps me be a better Rick Steves guide. I also enjoyed meeting more of my fellow guides (and oh boy, some of those girls are pretty!). A few of my tour members came to the reunion, and it was so nice to see them. I got a bottle of wine, some very nice pictures — and lots of hugs!
Rick Steves' Best of Spain tour spends two nights in Tangiers. Is this unusual for a Spain tour? What does Morocco add to the overall tour experience?
Morocco is only eight miles away from Spain — can you believe that? But it is such a social and cultural shock when you get there, it's a real highlight. Tour members who feel adventurous can explore parts of Tangiers on their own, and that's an experience they will never forget. I have been in Morocco several times in the last few years and my passport is now filled with Arabic writing (I hope US customs doesn't mind that)!
Do Spanish boys grow up wanting to be matadors?
Past generations of boys grew up with the desire of becoming matadors but now kids are moving towards soccer (FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are two of Europe's top soccer teams, with a great rivalry). But who would not want to be a matador? Defy death, challenge the bull, vanquish the beast and end victorious...What a blast! Famous matadors still make lots of money, marry beautiful girls and have the respect of the society. Madrid hosts every spring the biggest festival in the world (San Isidro Festival) with approximately 36 bullfights in a row, one per day. Picture the bullring, 24,000 people all dressed up...The atmosphere is incredible.
You have recently elected a new, more conservative president in your country. Are Spaniards confident that he will be an effective leader?
After 7 years of Socialist government, most of the country had the feeling that Zapatero had not done a good job commanding the ship during the economic crisis. They felt the conservative contender, Mariano Rajoy, was now the right man — and he got more votes than any other president in the history of modern Spain. It is too soon to tell, but I think we are going in the right direction now. Can you imagine taking over a country with a 21% unemployment rate? That is Spain right now. But the Socialist government also accomplished some nice goals, like gay marriage. I don't think that will be undone by the new government, as European conservatives are much more liberal than American ones.