Interview with Javier Menor de las Casas

Javier sports the longest name in the Rick Steves guide pool. He is 100 percent 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 lead 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 14 days together, I can be proud of my tour members because they have really come to understand what my country is about.

Now that you've attended several Rick Steves tour reunions and tour-guide workshops at the Rick Steves home base in Edmonds, Wash., can you give us your impressions?

My first time in Edmonds was in 2010, and I can say by now it feels like a second home. I always look forward to this event in January. Coming back every year and talking with all the other Rick Steves guides, meeting the new ones, and getting to know all the people at the office who work hard behind the scenes so we can shine on tour — it is a great opportunity. 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. When my tour members come to the reunion, it is so nice to see them. I get lots of hugs!

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 toward 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 society. Madrid hosts every spring the biggest festival in the world (San Isidro Festival), with around two dozen bullfights in a row, one per day. Picture the bullring, 24,000 people all dressed up... The atmosphere is incredible.

How is the political situation in Spain today?

That's a good question. Who really knows what is going on with politics anymore? It seems like people are finding ways to express discontent in forms that didn't exist a few years ago. The good news is that, after years of polarization, the government is more like a functioning coalition now, and we hope that this should give the country a push forward.