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Is it correct to say “there was a long drive to <somewhere>”? or should I say “it was a long drive to <somewhere>”?

I googled this term and I found this sentence: "Although it is a long drive to get to, arriving at Elephant sands was amazing." http://www.tripadvisor.com.au/ShowUserReviews-g316100-d1447545-r87275381-Elephant_Sands_Botswana-Nata_Central_District.html

So I presume "it" is more common, but is using "there" wrong, noticing the fact that "there" means some thing exists? I read about "it" that it refers to time and weather. But does it also refer to distance?

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The "there be" phrases (with 'be' in the proper tense, person and number) require that "where" (to correspond to the "there") is either expressed or implied and not so hard to figure out. The question you need to ask (and answer) is "where was that long drive?"

When we say

There will be hell to pay.

we imply there = in the resulting conditions/circumstances. When we say

There was a visit to Florida.

we imply there = among other trips during that summer. When we start the story with

There is this guy who keeps butting in on others' conversations.

we imply there = among my acquaintances.

So, in your story, is there a way for the reader to figure out where was that long drive? If so, you're safe. If not really, perhaps you should stick other constructs, like 'it' as you suggested.

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Using there is just fine.

"To somewhere" works as a prepositional phrase that modifies "drive". Some similar examples are as follows.

Trip to Italy made me so depressed.

There was a visit to Florida.

But I think that "it" will be used more commonly as "there" makes this sentence a little unidiomatic to me.

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According to The Free Dictionary, you also use "it" as the impersonal subject of the verb "to be" to refer to time, distance, and the weather.

You normally say "It was a long drive to somewhere (say Paris)".

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