In 2002, California native Nygil packed his bags and moved to Spain, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Now based in Madrid, Nygil turned his love for his adopted country into a profession: He's a much-raved-about guide for our Rick Steves Spain tours, including the Best of Barcelona & Madrid tour.
Nygil, tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up in Chico, California. After graduating high school, I studied psychology at the U of Oregon, although I ended up working in IT consulting. I wasn't well suited for the job and decided to move to Barcelona to try teaching English. I met my wife (who's from Barcelona) the following year and have been living happily in Europe since then, mostly in Madrid along with four years in Berlin.
And how did you get into leading tours?
My dear friend Amanda Buttinger (also a Rick Steves Spain guide) started working for Rick Steves in 2005 and put me in touch with the company when I was living in Berlin. They were looking for guides for the Best of Berlin, Prague & Vienna tour, and it sounded like the greatest job in the world. It was and still is! I started working for Rick in 2007 and have loved every season since then.
What do you like best about leading Rick Steves tours?
I think every guide (myself included) loves showing tour members what we think is most authentic, most exciting, most interesting, or simply most delicious about the stops on our tours. You want tour members to experience that same wonderful sensation that you yourself had when you first encountered that town or city. On a more personal level, having lived abroad for 17 years and having married a Spaniard, I really like sharing with tour members the combination of an American perspective from growing up in the states with a European perspective from living here, where I've become an adult and where I feel most at home now.
Do you have a favorite stop on the Best of Barcelona & Madrid tour?
It's hard to say, as there are so many. La Sagrada Família is always a highlight, regardless of one's background or religion. I'm really looking forward to the day it's complete! Following that we get to see another Gaudí structure at Casa Milà, which combines early 20th-century modernism with a walk through a furnished apartment that shows how wealthy families lived in that time period, something I always find fascinating. In Madrid the focus changes to Castilian Baroque architecture, while Toledo's medieval streets are another highlight. For art lovers, the tour is packed with an in-depth look at Spain's greatest painters, from El Greco to Velazquez to Goya to Picasso. And on a very personal level, I love doing the wine tastings!
What have been some of your most rewarding moments as a guide?
There are many, but one really stands out, as I had just started guiding. We were in a major traffic jam upon arriving in Prague, going so slowly that we were going to miss our dinner reservation. I had the "brilliant" idea of having the bus driver stop in the outskirts of town in order to take the metro to the city center and arrive just in time. The problem was, some of Prague's older metro stations back then didn't have station attendants who sold tickets, and the ticket machines only accepted small coins — no bills. We had only entered the Czech Republic that morning, and I had nothing but big bills on me. When I realized this, I turned around to tell the group the crushing news, wondering how I was going to feed 25 people last minute in the outskirts of Prague where very little English was spoken (and I only spoke a smattering of Czech). Luckily, most tour members had made purchases at our WC stop earlier upon crossing the Czech border, and between all of them, they had just enough small change to buy one ticket for each person. We raced off to the metro (suitcases in tow!) and made it just in time to drop the bags at the hotel and run off to dinner. What teamwork!
What do you do when you're not leading tours?
I work as the coordinator, wine buyer, and wine educator at a Wine & Spirit Education Trust school in Madrid called The Wine Studio. Our classes focus on wine theory and explaining the differences between the world's classic wine regions as well as evaluating wine quality through tastings.
Tell us something about yourself that no one would ever guess.
I had to live in a closet for three months in Barcelona, as it was all the rent I could afford!
Here's what Nygil won't tell you…but his tour members will:
"Nygil was fantastic. He really made our tour special and fun. We felt his personal touch throughout, from his choice of guest guides to the restaurant meals where you felt like you were eating like a local. His suggestions for what to do or where to eat on our own time were spot on, and when we got colder weather and more rain than expected, he switched plans seamlessly. We felt well taken care of throughout our week."
— Michelle in Prescott, AZ