Monday, April 15, 2019, will go down as a tragic and sad day in the storied history of Paris, France. And a Pine Bluff, Arkansas, resident just happened to be there to experience it — the before and the after, according to the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce newsletter.

People returning from European vacations usually have some great stories to tell. They ate at quaint cafes. They walked a lot and saw impressive sights. They bought some local artwork or found an amazing leather purse. They visited museums. They took in the architecture and grandeur of historic cathedrals.

Nancy Lee McNew did all of that and more in mid-April during a Viking River Cruise along the River Seine through the French countryside.

Beginning in Paris, the week-long cruise included excursions into towns along the river and ended in Normandy before returning to Paris for departure.

But that Monday, her first day in France, was spent visiting notable Paris landmarks such as Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower. And that’s how McNew and her traveling companions found themselves, just before noon, taking in the breath-taking splendor of the renowned Gothic cathedral, along with a crowd of tourists from around the world.

Only a few hours later, while at the Eiffel Tower, McNew and the other tourists around her began receiving messages about The Fire. Co-workers back home texted her that an inferno was raging at the cathedral. And she realized it was destroying the centuries-old magnificence she had experienced — and photographed — only hours before.

Soon, the entire world was watching the blaze on television or the Internet. And Parisians and tourists began gathering at a safe distance looking on in despair as the cathedral’s spire and roof collapsed.

McNew made the trip with her aunts, Kathleen Charles of Little Rock and Lee Scoggins of Newport, both of whom also saw the cathedral in the morning and in the fire’s aftermath. They were accompanied on the trip by Sue Trulock of Pine Bluff, who was not with them during the cathedral tour.

The family cruise had been planned and booked last fall by McNew’s late grandmother, Nancye McNew, before her unexpected death in November. Little did she know at the time that it would prove to be scheduled for such a momentous date in history.