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Zipping along the Pacific Coast in the small, yet powerful 2014 Chevrolet Spark, an Italian expat marvels at the grand wonders of America’s landscape.

By Annalisa Merelli

When you live in New York City like I do now, getting in a car and driving around is already somewhat novel and thrilling; it’s not an opportunity that comes up all that often. But the excitement pales in comparison to a four-wheeled exploration of San Francisco—where I lived after first moving to the United States from Italy last year. No subway, no taxi, no bus—just sheer joy in a country where everything seems possible, especially from the vantage point of the road.

Like the Chevrolet Spark, I'm an intrepid urban explorer who got my start abroad before making the leap across the Atlantic. Built in Korea and sold globally, Spark is loved around the world and is now available in the United States.

Thrilled by the adventure, opportunities and challenges, I got into the passenger seat of my friend’s car on a glorious San Francisco morning in November. We drove north through the city, then across the Golden Gate Bridge, on to Marin County. The warm golden light of a California Saturday, with the wind blowing and the sky so blue and infinite, it was a picture-perfect day to drive around and discover San Francisco Bay. Everything is bigger in America, and that may be my favorite cliché about the country I've been living in for the past year. I was accustomed to a comparatively small land where there’s an altogether different sense of space. In Italy, an eight-hour drive is considered “very far.” In New York, a two-hour flight is considered a “short trip.” But the distance between New York and California is far, even by American standards. It’s the West Coast. The frontier. And I got sucked in.

On our drive, my friend explained the San Francisco geography to me like only a local can: how the bay was shaped, how it’s so big that the first explorers thought it to be open sea, why the strait that connects it to open water is called a gate. I tried to understand, but as we drove across it I couldn’t fully grasp the enormity of the landscape. I looked at the bridge’s red pillars, so high and iconic, and tried to take a picture through the windshield. But it was only once we were on the other side of the Golden Gate, as we climbed up to a viewing point and got out for the panoramic view, that it hit me. The ocean! And not just any ocean, but the Pacific! The biggest--and the farthest--from my home in Italy. This was the first time I’d seen it. Looking back from Marin County toward the city, it was suddenly so easy to understand why they call it a Golden Gate of water. It looked like an exit to me, not an entrance: An invitation to the land of pioneers and Gold Rushers. The Pacific is enchanting, majestic, inviting. It is daunting yet tempting, full of sirens calling for the vast unknown, for adventure.

We were on an adventure of our own, so we got back in the car. Compact, but packing a punch, the Spark glided easily along the coast. Every time we approached a curve, the glare of the light reflected off the ocean startled my eyes. I couldn’t fully see the water from the passenger seat, but I could see the hills. We got to another vantage point and stopped again to take in the view. The road winded neatly on the side of the hills: long, perfect, and nearly empty. Everything is bigger in America, I thought again. Just like a giant in a children’s book has enormous fingers and toes, America has a huge personality and the features to match; you can feel the size of the continent in every detail of its vast landscape.

There was not a single cloud in the sky as we continued our journey. With the sun bouncing off the ocean, light was everywhere. I looked up and thought of an American friend who once wondered, “Why is the sky so small in Europe?” And now, in that instance, it made perfect sense. Even the sky is bigger in America, and there’s no place like the open road and the rugged California coast to experience its true beauty.

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Annalisa Merelli is an Italian writer and editor based in New York, currently working for Narratively as a features editor and social media strategist. You can find her on twitter at @missanabeem.


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