Looking out of a window in the Hermitage museum, the choice is clear: enjoy the impressive collection of works by impressionist Claude Monet, after which I could impress learned friends by commenting on the subtlety of the artist’s brushstrokes, or get out in the square and see the start of something big.

It’s a no-brainer.

After all, it was here in St Petersburg that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was born. In October 1917 Vladimir Lenin led the Bolsheviks to power by overthrowing a provisional government.

And it was in this square that Bolshevik forces later marched under the grand arches of the military building that sides part of Dvortsovaya Place, where troops now stand to attention.

Despite my journalistic (read perverse) desire to witness a military coup, there will be no blood in the streets nor political leaders strung from lamp posts today.

The soldiers are practising for Victory Day on May 9, an annual celebration that marks the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.

While Soviet Russia is now a remnant of history like its defeated foe, the soldiers before me are a potent reminder of the Russian pride that has risen again in the 21st century.

If the sight of the square becoming a sea of precision movement and military green isn’t enough to impress, the sound certainly is.

A commander stands on stage before his men, as snow falls, yelling “Victory for Russia”. In perfect unison the men boom “hurrah, hurrah,” which reverberates around the square.

If I needed any further reminder that the victorious deeds of the former Red Army are still cherished by modern Russians, the national anthem, which the 50-strong band belts out, leaves me in no doubt.

The stirring music is the same as the USSR’s anthem, and was re-adopted (with some changes in the lyrics) by former president Vladimir Putin in 2000 to restore a sense of national pride.

The USSR may well be gone, but its legacy still bubbles below the surface.

» Krysten Booth travelled with On The Go (020 7371 1113). Group tours start from £299.


Get Out of Town

Catherine Palace

Head to the town of Pushkin (named after the famous Russian poet) to see the Catherine Palace, in the countryside about 25km south of St Petersburg.

The summer residence of Russia’s tsars from 1756, the palace’s grand design is mighty impressive.

It was extensively damaged by the Nazis in World War II and there are photos on display of this destruction, which clearly demonstrate the wonderful work done to restore the building to its former glory.

To see the palace you must join a tour, which can be a problem because they’re all in Russian unless otherwise arranged. But it’s a popular attraction with more than 5000 people passing through a day, making it easy to drop off the back of your group and explore by yourself.