For more a decade the UUPCC Pilgrimage Service has helped to cement the bonds between North American UUs and their partners overseas. In recent years we have expanded our portfolio of travel services in order to provide multiple and varied pilgrimage opportunities for Unitarian Universalists of all ages. However, the focus and core offering of our service remains Congregational Pilgrimages. In the past five years, almost 1000 US and Canadian UUs representing more than 150 congregations travel with us to visit partners around the globe.
To download the current Travel Guide for Transylvania click here.
Resources for Trip Planners
Congregational Pilgrimages have been the core offering of the UUPCC Pilgrimage Service since its inception in 1994. Our in-country experts work with groups as small as four to customize an itinerary that matches their interests, timeframe, pace, and overall travel goals. Most European pilgrimages combine 3 or 4 basic elements:
- Unitarian religious and historical sites such as Kolozsar, Torda, Gyulafehervar, Szekelyderzs, & Deva.
- A stay with your partner congregation in their village or town (more about this later). For those groups which are from unpartnered churches we normally recommend a stay in a Unitarian village in order to experience - albeit briefly - the lives of many of our co-religionists.
- Romanian & Transylvanian locations with broader tourist appeal such as Peles & Bran Castles in the Southern Carpathians, the Saxon fortress churches at Biertan & Viscri , the Saxon walled cities of Brasov (Brasso), Sighisoara (Segesvar), and Sibiu (Nagyszeben), the Painted Monasteries of Bucovina, and/or the Wooden Churches of Maramures.
- A Central European capital city. Budapest, Vienna, & Prague are the most common.
The precise mix of these is determined by the group during the planning process. The specific locations visited are then shaped by 4 other considerations
European cities of arrival and departure. Most groups fly into and out of either Bucharest or Budapest. Many fly "open-jaw" routes. That is they fly into one city and out of another. These tickets are usually only a few dollars more expensive and this has the advantage of avoiding retracing your steps. It is also possible to fly directly to Transylvania. There is increasing service at Cluj (Kolozsvar) - CLJ and TG-Mures (Marosvasarhely) - TGM. Flag carriers such as Luftansa, Austrian Air, Malev and other new discounters such as Wizzair serve these airports several times a week from their hubs. If your time is limited you may want to consider these airports in your flight plans. It will save you a much as a 2 travel days.
The location of your partner congregation. Most people do not want to spend an inordinate amount of time sitting in a bus or a van. Sometimes, however, it is just part of the deal - particularly if you are intent on visiting some of the more remote areas. Romania is the size of Pennsylvania and New York together, and Transylvania comprises some 40% of the Romanian land mass (Transylvania is slightly larger than Hungary proper). This coupled with the fact that the road infrastructure is not great can mean that even short distances by North American standards can mean hours of driving. Cluj/Kolozsvar is halfway between Budapest and Bucharest - about 8 driving hours by van or train from each. Brasov/Brasso to Cluj/Kolozsvar is 5-6 hours of driving time without stops. If you are not partnered but do want to include a village stay in your itinerary we would select a Unitarian village along your route of travel.
The duration of your stay with your partner congregation. 3-4 days is an average stay. If this is an introductory visit (your first time visiting your partners or the first time in a long time) then this is probably sufficient. However, if you have established strong friendships with members of your partner congregation or are planning a joint service project then you may wish to stay longer. Typically with longer stays we program day trips to local sites of interest.
The overall duration of your trip. The average pilgrimage is 10-12 days, but we have programmed groups for as many as 18 days and as few as 5 days.
Congregational trips are easy to organize with our assistance and fun! Group sizes range from 4 to 40 people and often include choir groups, partner church committees and friends of all ages. We work with each of group to customize an itinerary that met their time frame and interests. We will help with all ground arrangements including hotels and home stays, meals, transportation, translators and guides. To see sample itineraries, click here.
Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to organize a trip in your congregation.
If your church is not partnered and you do not have a group that wants to travel, you can still experience life with Unitarians and UUs worldwide. We offer a number of group tours for UUs of all ages and interest. Please click here to learn more or contact us at email@example.com if you have specific questions.
Choir Concert Tours
A European Concert Tour can be the highlight of any performer's career. Concert tours have been a part of the UUPCC Pilgrimage Service portfolio since 2004. Over the past 5 years we have organized tours for choirs from Olympia, Annapolis, Madison, Belmont, Houston, Concord, Summit, NJ, and folk music bands from Vermont & New York. Arrangements for these tours extend beyond transportation, meals & accommodations to include venue selection, instrument rental, advertisement & rehearsal space.
Some considerations to help with your planning:
- Look over the congregational pilgrimage page. This is after all a group tour and many of the same rules apply.
- What sort of venues would suit your repetoire? Many choirs perform in churches, but we can also arrange for town/city cultural halls as well as orphanages, retirement homes, and outdoor public spaces. The latter is particularly appropriate for secular music.
- Do you need amplification or electricity? Some older churches will not have working organs and may have limited electrical outlets.
- Do you need a keyboard or other instrument that is not easily transported overseas?
- Will there be non-performers along on the trip. Will you need a alternative programming for them during rehearsal times?
- To get an idea of possible concert itineraries click here.
For 11 of the past 15 years the UUPCC has conducted a Youth Pilgrimage to Transylvania for young people ages 15-19. This life - changing trip enables teens from different US & Canadian congregations to meet Unitarians from another culture, explore the roots of their faith, perform a service project, and have a great time! Increasingly many larger North American congregations are organizing their own youth trips. We view this as an encouraging development. Youth exchanges are evidence of maturing partnerships moving beyond congregations just getting to know each other.
If you are considering organizing a youth trip here are a few things to get you started.
- Read through the Congregational Pilgrimage ideas. Youth groups will face the same logistical issues.
- A youth trip typically contains 4 elements - Religious education, Service, Partnership development, and Fun. The latter is hopefully spread throughout the other three.
- The RE element usually involves visiting Unitarian historic and holy places such as Torda, Deva, Gyulaferhervar, Koloszvar, etc and telling the stories of famous Unitarian figures in history like Francis David, John Sigismond and others
- The Service element should be developed in cooperation with your partners - assuming that you want to execute your project in collaboration with your partners. Examples of successful projects include stream & cemetery cleaning, church beautification (flower garden, bulb planting, etc), oral histories of parishoners,and painting/repair of church buildings. If you do not have a partner church or for some reason your project needs to take place outside of your village the UUPCC can assist in this effort. There are numerous opportunities at orphanages, retirement homes, English language summer camps for young people and other venues for your youth to engage in service.
- The Partnership Development piece is a bit more ambiguous. Our most successful youth trips have involved a neutral off-site camp location where youth from your partner village and your youth can engage in a series of cultural, religious exchange exercises that work to educate each group about the other and to develop bonds of friendship between individuals. If the demographics of your partner congregation are such that there are a number of teenage youth this may be one idea to pursue.
- If time permits try to fold into all of this the some more touristy elements such as a visit to Dracula's castle, days in Budapest, etc.
Money. By utilizing the Unitarian dorms in Kolozsvar along with guest houses and hostels we can provide a very inexpensive land package for your youth. The sooner you can put together a tentative itinerary and budgetary quotation the better as this gives your group more time to engage in fund raising activities.
You can view actual UU youth trip itineraries by clicking here.