Lauren Frayer

Every rush hour, bumper-to-bumper traffic belches out diesel fumes along Madrid's Gran Via, a six-lane artery that bisects the Spanish capital. Art Deco facades line the grand boulevard.

But they're blackened with soot.

"The pollution hurts my eyes, and I can feel it in my throat," says commuter María Villallega, 48, who lives in the city center and walks to work. "I don't own a car myself, and I'll be happy when they're not allowed here anymore. We need to protect the planet, and ourselves."

In recent years, Spain has had a devastating economic crash, an influx of migrants and corruption scandals that left people fed up with politicians. All these factors might make Spain fertile ground for the sort of right-wing, anti-immigrant political parties gaining ground in other parts of Europe. But unlike much of the continent, Spain has no such far-right movement.

Why?

On a mild, sunny afternoon, hordes of tourists stroll down Barcelona's famous tree-lined pedestrian avenue, La Rambla. They love it — the weather, the tapas, the laid-back bohemian vibe. One tourist from Australia says he's visited Barcelona 12 times in 10 years.

But the city doesn't always love them back.

In January, thousands of Barcelona residents marched down La Rambla and "occupied" the entrance to a hotel there, to protest the volume of tourists and gentrification in the city.

At the height of Spain's economic crisis a few years ago, protesters used to form human chains around houses to prevent authorities from serving eviction papers to homeowners who'd fallen behind on their mortgages.

Often at the center of the crowd, with a megaphone, was Ada Colau.

At a political rally in March 2014, Geert Wilders, a member of the Dutch parliament and head of the far-right Freedom Party, asked supporters:

"In the Netherlands, do you want more or fewer Moroccans?"

"Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!" the crowd chanted in The Hague.

"Then I'll arrange it," Wilders replied with a smirk. The crowd cheered.

That scene, carried live on Dutch TV and replayed over and over again, offended many Dutch citizens. Within months, more than 5,000 of them joined a class action lawsuit suing Wilders for discrimination.

On a frigid winter night, a man wearing two coats shuffles into a brightly lit brick restaurant in downtown Madrid. Staff greet him warmly; he's been here many times. The maître d' stamps his ID card, and the hungry man selects a table with a red tablecloth, under a big brass chandelier.

The man, Luis Gallardo, is homeless — and so are all the diners, every night, at the city's Robin Hood restaurant. Its mission is to charge the rich and feed the poor. Paying customers at breakfast and lunch foot the bill for the restaurant to serve dinner to homeless people, free of charge.

If you book a tour of old-fashioned Holland, the guide may take you to Volendam. It's a picturesque village north of Amsterdam, with cobblestone streets, tulips and a little old lady selling the local delicacy, smoked eels, from a kiosk at the end of the pier.

Volendam is a small but prosperous place, with waterfront homes and sailboats tied up at the docks. There's almost full employment, and very few immigrants. About a dozen people NPR stopped on the street all used the same words to describe their town: Hard-working. Traditional. A good place to raise kids.

Sylvana Simons got her start as a soul music VJ on the Dutch version of MTV. She went on to anchor the evening news in the Netherlands, and performed on the local version of Dancing with the Stars.

On my first New Year's Eve in Madrid a few years ago, we went out around 10 p.m., and found the streets deserted. The bars were closed.

It threw me for a loop: Weren't Madrileños supposed to be notorious party animals? Where were they all?

It turns out, I just went out way too early.

Spaniards often spend Nochevieja — literally, the "old night" — at home. They watch the countdown to the new year on live TV, surrounded by family. And only then do they kiss grandma goodnight and go out partying.

Carola Garcia-Calvo spends her days poring over Islamic State propaganda. It's part of her job as a global terrorism analyst at Madrid's Elcano Royal Institute, a think tank.

Recently, she has noticed a shift.

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