One day in Stockholm

This was my third trip to Stockholm but my first visit as an escape room tourist.  I managed to pick up some pretty reasonable flights with Monarch.  The flight itself is just under 2 hours and although the plane was very cramped, Luton is on my door step so it made sense to travel budget because, boy, was I going to need all the cash I could lay my hands on.

Yes Stockholm is expensive but if you do your research and put a bit of effort in before hand it needn’t break the bank.  Once you arrive you have a few options.  Like most places the bus is always cheaper but always longer.  A single is about 10 quid and takes about 40 mins.  The train is double the cost but takes half the time.

There are some interesting accommodation options.  I went with a room on the Red Boat.  This is a reasonably priced floating hostel with the option of double rooms.  I stayed in the engine room.  It was spacious and the gentle rock of the waves proved conducive for a good nights sleep.

Because we arrived so early we tagged onto a free tour.  The old town tour takes you through the back streets of Gamla stan exploring the history of early Stockholm.  This is the kind of thing I usually enjoy but to honest to didn’t do it for me.   I slipped away from the crowd as quietly as I had joined.

Escape Rooms

There are 6 escape room companies in Stockholm, all with fairly positive reviews on Tripadvisor.  I was lucky enough to play 4 different rooms from two companies.  The first two were in Soldermalm.  ExitGames has been in Stockholm for the last two years initially opening up two games in Gamlastan, Valhalla, Crazy Grandma and more recently The Cell.  There other venue is a year old hosting the slightly more edgier games, the Collector and Mission Undercover.  Goran, one of the business partners, an engineer by trade, mentioned that the Gamla stan venue is a hub for tourists with Crazy Grandma being the most popular game.  Corporate events are common place in Gamla stan but the Soldermalm venue has seen a spike in the number of bachelor party requests. It seems Swedish bachelor parties are much better behaved than their English counterparts.  The Soldermalm venue had a rustic, rough and ready quality that was in keeping with the games.

Mission Undercover

During the cold war CCCP established a secret military spybase right in the middle of Stockholm. The base was the center for contra spionage with food and water to survive for many years. The base has now been discovered and a team has been sent there for termination. Mission Undercover – you and your well-equipped team shall sneak all the way into the heart of the base and adapt the explosives. Maybe you will also escape the room before the bomb explodes, maybe not…Put all your creativeness together and use the adrenalin to accomplish the mission – and survive!  This room was a fairly robust room with a fairly low tech approach that was appropriate for the game.  The mechanical emphasis of the room was good and most of the puzzles made sense apart from the last one which did spoil it a little bit for me.  Tip… don’t wear your best clothes. *


The Collector

In the deepest catacombs, behind locked metal bars and without any hope to survive. You are just in line to become a part of a human collection. But a phone call interrupts the process and the ”Collector” just disappears to his office. Suddenly your team might have chance to escape or is this also just a game for him after all. It is you against HIM. Your team must collaborate to escape and please, dont waste any blood – every drop counts in the end!  I really liked this game.  It had all the elements of a classic escape room with the added benefit of making you jump… a lot!  The ambience was excellent, the music really accentuated the experience and above all things made sense.  I hate leaving a room wondering why.  The GM had perfected the art of making you think you are about to be scared and then holding off until you feel safe and then scarring you.  This is Hitchcock meets John Carpenter.  I liked how the puzzles appealed to the different senses.  Overall this is a really good room that will definitely appeal to thrill seekers.  It carries an 18+ age recommendation.*


Heading north, a short walk for the central train station you will find Escape Stories and Roomescape Stockholm.  Roomescape is the one of the Fox in a Box flagship rooms.  I had been invited by Fox in a Box CEO Bob Melkus to play the remaining games in the Fox in a Box family, having played Zombie, Heist and Bunker in Nice and Prison break in Gran Canaria.


Tesla’s Mystery

Tesla died in 1943 in the famous New Yorker Hotel’s room 3327. After his death you have received a letter from Nikola Tesla himself. In the letter he asks you to come to his room to find his last invention and share it with mankind before the FBI gets to it. When you arrive to the room FBI is already on their way… you have 60 minutes before they get there and arrest you for trespassing.  Our GM was an enthusiastic young man who quickly took you into the time period, the story and then the room.  Now there are some rooms where you feel like you are still in the same building you entered.  This is not one of those rooms.  You really do feel like you are in a hotel room in the 40s.  From the beginning you get a sense that the individual puzzles contribute to a larger meta puzzle.  Tesla is a challenging game, particularly for two, but has a definite classic appeal that will please those for whom story line is essential to the enjoyment factor.  We didn’t get out but I blame T man completely and even though he now denies it, he did accept full responsibly for our failure to escape.  This is an impressive game with a few impressive wow factors for good measure.  *


Zodiac

You are captured by a serial killer. Tied up and left in his lair, escape is your only chance. His method of operation is much like one Infamous Zodiac killer had. Has the real Zodiac returned or is this his copycat? You have only 60 minutes to escape, or the next body in a morgue will be yours.

I must admit I had high hopes for this room and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.  There is a high level of authenticity and the variety of different types of quality puzzles.  Thanks to my tendency to over complicate and over analyse things we lost 20 minutes on one puzzles that we solved 5 minutes into tackling it without realising.  Remember two monologues do not make a dialogue.

There were plenty of wow factors in the room and like it’s Tesla counterpart we were left several times thinking… this is really cool.  Zodiac is the complete package and despite me still waking up in the middle of the night with that damn tune in my head, I can honestly say this game now features in my top ten.  If you are not able to play it in Stockholm, and believe me Fox in a Box books up fast, then you could try getting in on the action in Madrid, Paris, LA or Miami to name a few.  *


Food and Drink

Meatballs for the People

If you want some traditional Swedish meatballs then this is decent option that doesn’t require a second mortgage.   Its about 12 quid for what you see below.  It wasn’t amazing but it was good enough.  If you are really hungry go to the one of the Lion Bars for something to eat.  Cheap by any standards and super sized portions.


Medusa Bar


Things to do

So here are the things I did.  Went to the Fotografiska.  This is great if you like photographic art.  Warning, check the the details of the exhibition before you go.  I was expecting something distinctly Swedish on permanent collection but it was horses and minority people groups when I went.  The view of Stockholm from the top floor restaurant is stunning.

The churches and historical buildings are fairly standard.   I asked Bob and the rest of the Fox in a Box guys what one thing would you do if you had one day in Stockholm and they all replied visit the Vasa museum.  This museum houses a 333 year old warship and is the most visited museum in Scandinavia.  On my fourth visit this will be top of the list.

Summary

Stay: the Red Boat

Escape Room: Zodiac at Escape Room Stockholm aka Fox in a Box

Eat: Meatballs for the people

Drink: Medusa Bar (also eat – super sized portions)

Visit: Vasa Museum
*no payment was taken for these games.

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One day in Helsinki

There are plenty of ways to get to Finland. I took an SAS flight from Arlanda, Stockholm, to Vantaa, Helsinki. It was a pretty short flight with some interesting company en route. Once there, the easiest way to get to the centre is by train. I'm convinced we got the wrong ticket but no one checked.  If you want to be ultra prepared download the trainline app and get your ticket in advance.   I was excited about visiting Helsinki but found it a bit tricky to navigate at first.  The best thing to do is get a travel card and go everywhere by tram. The locals are really helpful and of course speak perfect English. For some reason I had it in my head that Helsinki was smaller than it was. It's pretty sprawling. Most of the cool architectural stuff is within walking distance from each other.  We bumped into the Danish royal yacht again with the members of the royal family in Helsinki to celebrate 100 years of Finnish independence.

Escape Rooms

According to Tripadvisor there are 14 Escape Room companies in and around the city of Helsinki.  I was lucky enough to visit Escape Room Helsinki.  This should be confused with Exitroom Helsinki who has subsequently changed their name but still exists on Tripadvisor. Escape  Room Helsinki is one of the oldest in the city, opened in December 2014 and expanded rapidly.  They now operate in 5 locations around the City, all within 5/10 minutes walking distance of each other although I understand they are seeking to draw all there rooms together in one place.  Owner Yvonne was initially reluctant to do this because many of the rooms have connections to the place they are in such as Ghost of the Opera, set in a real life "haunted" opera house.  Yvonne is a story teller and the power of the story is the driving force to their immersive philosophy.  When the company began they wanted to 'do it right' so they enlisted the help of an the already establish company in Manchester.  Ed Roberts from Breakout travelled over to help guide the company in technical aspects of the setup.  Since then the company has gone from strength to strength.  According to Yvonne, tourism is a growing part of the trade they do but word of mouth and their growing fan base on Facebook has attracted more and more Finns from Helsinki's 600k strong population.  Even with the puzzle savvy Finns Yvonne thinks only about half of Finns have ever heard of Escape rooms.  And like in many Escape Rooms, VR is a growing trade although currently not as popular as the rooms themselves.  So what about the rooms…  I only had time to play one game and that was the Dinner Party.

The Dinner Party

You have received a dinner invitation from an unknown hostess. Out of curiosity you have accepted it, and arrive to her beautiful apartment in the middle of Helsinki. Who is your hostess and why has she invited you? Has she got a hidden agenda for her dinner party? As you step into the dimly lit dining room, the door snaps shut behind you. The table is set, but what do the strange symbols on top of it mean? You have 60 minutes to find out what is going on and escape, before it’s too late.

This is one of their oldest and most popular rooms.  Set in a fairly ornate apartment building, the game begins in an atmospheric well decorated dining room.  Whilst I wouldn't say it was was particularly scary or even creepy, there was a definite 'otherness' to the room that kept me interested throughout.  As ever the important things to me are how much the puzzles make sense in the context of the rooms.  Here they did.  The music supported the pace throughout.  There were some clever touches to the room but the abiding feeling you got was this was created through love more than a high tech desire to impress.  We didn't quite make it out but again T Man accepts full responsibility in this area and admits he definitely didn't pull his weight.

Should I return their Sauna room is a must do.  Yes I'm not joking, a Finnish Escape Room where you have to escape from a sauna.

Food and Drink

Magneetti Vallila – Mashiro is a great little Japaneses restaurant a short walk from where we were staying.  It was pretty empty but the food was good and the price was reasonable.  The salmon as you would expect was excellent.

This places is easy to get to, its just next door to the outdoor  market square.   There a multitude of small shops and eateries the best of which I thought was Soppakeittio.  It's basically a tiny soup cafe.  Have the sea food.  It is was seriously one of the best things I have eaten/drunk in a long time.

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Things to do

There are 287 things to do on Tripadvisor.  I managed to do 3,4,6,7,8,9,10.  It was mostly walking around looking at things from the outside.  Helsinki Cathedral (no7) overlooking Senate Square (no.10)  is impressive and in the right light quite beautiful.  I stood and looked at it for a while and then moved on.   Number 3 believe it or not is the public tram system.  I spent a lot of time on that getting lost.  Always ask the locals, it way quicker than trying to work it out for yourself.  I did use it however to get to the slightly out of the way to the slightly underwhelming Sebelius monument.  No. 6 in the TA list is the Uspenskin Cathedral, an austere looking Orthodox Church that looks down on the harbour.  When we went it wasn't open. They rest were markets and gardens that to be honest I didn't realise they were things to do until afterwards.  What do the locals say is the best thing to do?  Well again its the thing we didn't do.  You really should visit the fortress of Soumenlina.

Summary

Stay: I stayed in CheapSleeps – its a short bus ride outside the city centre.  I wouldn't wholeheartedly recommend it.  It is a hostel with some private rooms.  I stayed in a private room.  Apart from the American gentleman calling everyone arseholes for taking his coffee from the Kitchen it was a fairly average affair.

Escape Room: Escape Room Helsinki

Eat: Without doubt go to Vanha kauppahalli

Drink: Magneetti Vallila – Ok so its cheap (for Helsinki) and has to be seen to be believed.  Only go if you are near by.  It looks like a 1980s Christmas party that never got cleared away.

Visit: Soumenlina, a short boat ride from the harbour near the outdoor market.
*no payment was taken for this game